Sulini’s manjadi

“Acceptance. Thats all what Vaikom was about. Tucked away between the Ithipuzha and Vembanad lake, little changes there. The drive from Cochin is breathtakingly beautiful. Green all around with the sun filtering through in green hue, green rays of light through the foliage! The old bridge across the Ithipuzha with luxuriant coconut palms lining the river on either side. The tiny patch of island right in the middle of the Murinjapuzha river with interlinked canals and canoes and people out on their coconut felling sprees. The tiny wayside shops with the smell of freshly fried fresh water fish. The drive has offered the same sights for so many years! The familiar feel of going home…. Country roads/ take me home/……

My earliest memories of this tiny town are about the school summer holidays when I would be packed off to my maternal grandparents’ place here. An old house surrounded by thick green vegetation, and paddy fields a little across, this became a fertile field for my imagination to run riot in my childhood days. Joined by two other cousins, we would find endless sources of inspiration and entertainment here. Since we girls were the majority, the other hapless little fellow would have to tag along and join us in our girlish games!

If it was a lucky day, ammumma would allow us to bathe in the pond where Shanta, the house help would be washing clothes. By the time we would finish, it would be mid morning and Shanta would have finished her laundry by then and hung up ammumma’s and appuppan’s mundus all white and starched crisp. During the holidays ammumma would have a nice little swing put up for us in the compound. The swing was always a centre point of most of our games. It would be the mango season then and raw green mangoes with a dash of salt and chillies and ripe golden yellow sweet ones always found eager takers in us.

So too the juicy pink chambakkas on the huge towering tree right in front of the house. Ammumma would not be totally happy with us just frolicking around all the time. So she would get us Amar Chitra Katha books from the local library and reading had to be part of the holidays. So too, much hated sessions of Maths and English taught by the college student next door! Thus we all got hooked to reading. Later on when we were much older and would be found sitting absorbed in books in various parts of the house, she often had to reprimand us saying, “this is a home, not a reading room and library!” Appuppan was a quiet person who would very stoically put up with three noisy children (the rest of us were abroad then!) running around and upsetting most of the curios in the house. At 4, every evening, Krishnan the man friday would bring the cows back to their shed from the various parts of the compound where they would be grazing. I remember one particular cow ammumma called Rambha!!! It was always an awesome sight for us, watching Krishnan mix their feed in huge bowls with a huge ladle. We would stand and watch till the cows had their fill slowly, their tails gently driving flies away! After that we would help ourselves to ammumma’s cutlery and conduct our cooking experiments using the powdery white sand. Of course we weren’t disciplined enough to put them back and she would come scurrying at dusk and dig out spoons and plates and knives shooing us away for our evening baths.

Those days in Vaikom, late evenings were dimly lit due to the voltage problem and we had to finish all our reading before that! My imagination would be a source of endless agony for me with every little corner seeming awfully spooky. We would have to gather flowers then for the evening puja, which we would do most happily. Ammumma would then sit in the front verandah and string garlands using vazhanaaru and tell us stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata. She would try to teach us how to string them as well, but the flowers would only clumsily fall from between our fingers!

Once after repeated requests from us, Krishnan built us a tiny thatched hut with two rooms in the compound so we wouldn’t have to trouble our imaginations to create our own ‘house’! We were terribly excited and after thoroughly cleaning up the place and arranging some of ammumma’s cutlery in there, we proudly invited them to ‘visit’ our ‘house’ the next morning. It was to be our ‘housewarming’ ceremony. We insisted that they come in their best clothes and most obligingly they did so. We had arranged a few toffees to give our ‘guests’ and we all walked in, in our best attire. Appuppan and ammumma very kindly made some polite noises and we beamed happily. Right then an army of red ants started charging at us from all sides sending all of us scurrying out of the house in great hurry. The housewarming and the house were happily abandoned then and there and Krishnan promptly demolished the house.

A very colourful and happy memory of Vaikom is the talappolis that we girls had to participate in. Local little temples would have these little festivals which would include talappolis, or women’s procession from one temple to another to the beat of instruments and chanting. Ammumma would have prayed that she would make us participate and we would go gaily dressed in traditional pattu pavadas carrying a lamp in broken coconut kept in a plate which would have sacred rice in it along with flowers. Women would chant, occasionally come to say hello, little children would scamper about enjoying the sights and sounds of it all. Temple visits were a very integral part of our holidays. The Vaikom temple with it ancient oily stone walls and the huge compound with banyan trees and an occasional elephant were major attractions. Visits at dusk were most peaceful and we sat in the compound enjoying the breeze carrying the fragrance of agarbattis, oil and sandal paste. So also the Udayanapuram temple close by which totally captured our imagination because of the presence of peacocks there, a rare sight in Kerala. Our visits were mainly to watch them with awe, rather than to pray, and go and brag about it later in school!

The simple sight of grandmothers with their silvery white hair, content faces with sandal paste on their wrinkled foreheads, dressed simply in fresh white mundus with the smell of the sun and wind in them, going about their chores silently – something we so easily took for granted those days – is such a rarity in today’s times. Contentment too has become such a rare quality! These days we have them removed from their natural environs in such tiny villages and moved to small apartment rooms, captive in our worlds.. I guess we are the last generation to have had the luxury of a childhood close to nature and a natural world. It was pure joy to get dirty playing in the mud, not have computer games and gizmos to keep one company!

Memories of Vaikom are about all these things… A noisy, bratty, naughty childhood in the best possible setting for such qualities to prosper! Grandparents who have always been epitomes of tolerance! Cousins who’ve spent all our summer vacations with me messing up in the sand and catching fish in tiny streams, ‘running away’ from home to the nearby paddy field when someone scolded only to be caught and beaten mercilessly with flimsy sticks of eerkali from coconut leaves! And about a strong sense of security that comes from belonging, being part of a large family.

So thats Vaikom. Acceptance with a big letter A.”

Sulini Nair is a classical dancer with a flair for writing & design.

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