Sunday, December 30, 2007

Nostalgic thoughts on a New Year Eve

I am now 52 and living in another part of the globe as different from where I was born. Since I look at me every day in the mirror, the passing of the years have not exactly entered my mind though the hairs going grey remind me of the need for coloring it periodically.

Recently, at the marriage function of my niece Remya in Cherthala, Kunjunniyannan, the redoubtable pediatric surgeon, reminded me that my former physical charms have indeed waned. I jokingly accepted it and blamed it on the vicissitudes of a tough life.

I have always maintained that our generation is quite unique. This post independent generation, younger to the midnight’s children – apologies to Rushdie- happens to be the last link of a long chain which has experienced two different worlds: the old world of shortages and less choices and the new world of luxuries and aplenty.

In our childhood, there were large tracts of agricultural lands around the houses and there were many places to play. There were no chocolates, pizzas, colas and biscuits. But there were natural mangoes, tender coconuts, and many home made delicacies like unniyappams. There was no car and most of the travels were by bus if not by foot. Choices for dresses were very limited and fashions and brands were rather unheard of. Toys were mostly hand-made using locally available natural materials and nobody thought it prudent to spend any money on these.

Our ancestors followed Marumakkathayam, the matrilineal system of inheritance by which the female members got the family properties. We were thus settled in Cherthala where my mother had the Tharavadu (ancestral house) consisting of a Nalukettu (traditional houses with a central courtyard) Sarppakkavu (woods by which the serpents were worshipped) and farm lands. Though my father was in the government service and was working in different parts of the State we the children stayed with our mother and with other members of the joint family in the Tharavadu.

We spent our mid summer vacations at Ayroor Kovilakom in Vellarappilly where my father was born and where his only sister, Ammini Ammayi was staying with her husband and their children. Her husband, Rama Varma Thampan was one of the first graduates from the community and had worked as the managing editor of Malayalarajyam a prominent Malayalam daily from the erstwhile princely state of Travancore.

The family had migrated from Vanneri, near Guruvayur, about two hundred years ago as companions to the then royal family of Cochin. My father’s house was a large and beautiful multistoried building built on the best traditions amidst mango gardens and adjoining farm lands. Just opposite to the house was the Kovilakom where Maharaja Ramavarma of Cochin (AD 1751-1805) popularly known as Sakthan Thampuran was born. This place is within a radius of 3 kilometres from the present international airport of Kochi.

The Kovilakom had scores of large mango trees –Nattumaavu- around it and we, the children, used to play around these vast tracts of land. The gang consisted of my elder brother Vijayan, my cousins Vijayan, Thankamani and Rajeswari and sometimes Harikrishnan of Kattil Kovilakom. Since the mid summer vacations coincided with the mango season, all these grandma trees were ready with tasty mangoes filled with nectar like pulps for the children. The cool breezes made the ripe mangoes to fall and we ran around collecting and eating these exotic fruits. Hundreds of small sweet mangoes were always around and our grandma used to make Mangaathira from the mango pulp by spreading layers and layers of the pulp and sun-drying it over so many days on country mats.

By the time the holidays were over and we were ready to go back to maternal house, our grandma used to bid farewell to us with a lots of food items which included many rolls of Mangaathira. During off seasons, when no mangoes were available, my mother used to make exotic pulissery using these Mangaathira. The taste of this can never be forgotten and no great hotel in Europe, Africa and Asia where I have been privileged to stay in recent years could cater to my palate the way Mangaathira Pulissery could.

Dubai, 31st December 2007.

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