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.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

On My New Year Resolutions
















The New Year is always associated with new resolutions too. I was wondering if I needed to take any resolution at this stage of my life.

Having hit a fifty and feeling not too old, I have to go on. Taking resolutions to cast away vices seem to be the in-thing with youngsters. But, resolutions do not seem my cup of tea.

I was born a vegetarian and I dazzled with non-vegetarianism in my early youth. Later, I found it abominable enough and turned myself into a lacto-vegetarian.

The renowned writer, Kamala Das once wrote: “We cut the dead body of an animal, keep it in the freezer and take it out to eat when we are hungry. A piece of the dead body is again cut, and minced with spices we fry it and eat and again the rest of the cadaver goes back to the freezer”. This action is repeated like Ksheerabala (a fortified Ayurvedic medicine) and after filling our stomach with all these toxins we claim ourselves to be refined and want to be seated on a higher platform in the ladder of evolution.

Buddha taught that we don’t have the right to take away a life when we cannot give one. In a civil society, the call for the ban of capital punishment seems to stem from this principle.

These thoughts were enough to keep me completely away from eating non vegetarian food whatsoever. My wife Sindhu of course was an influencing presence.

In Malawi, in Southern Africa, where I worked for a couple of years, people seemed quite unaware of the practice of vegetarianism. The Director General of Television Malawi, who happened to be a friend, once asked me to give a talk on the subject of vegetarianism for the benefit of the viewers. In a country where fried insects are a delicacy, vegetarianism indeed is a casualty.

Returning home in Malawi on an evening after the first showers of the season, I was amused to find my cook, gardener and the security guard busy catching the flies. I thought that it was a good teamwork ensured by them to keep me away from the disturbance of the flies. But, the real reason lay elsewhere. They were after the exotic food which they used to make by frying these flies!

While in Malawi, I used to enjoy, a round of golf, my pint of beer (Outside Denmark, Carlsberg has its only factory in Malawi) and my Dunhill cigarettes. The climate in Malawi was always good for all these indulgences. In 2005, I had to leave the country rather in a hurry and off went my habits, save the beer.

Though I don’t smoke these days, as my young scientist brother says, it is a relaxing thought to have a good fag after a hearty meal.

I have not left my occasional ‘spirits’’ as these are often the instruments to break the ice in business meetings. I hope, my esteemed friend Shankar Reddy who is a teetotaler and an exemplary human being and who heads the State Beverages Corporation in Kerala , will permit this occasional indulgence though with a pinch of salt because it is his official duty to increase the business volumes.

That brings to me to the remaining vices if any I have to leave behind for the New Year. I don’t think I have any serious issues here except for my simple behavioural problems like restlessness, hurried responses and the occasional irritability.

As a simple person with malice towards none and charity for all my prayers are for all my dear ones, friends, colleagues, relatives and the world at large.

“O, God! Bestow on you the Best Treasures,
The Efficient Mind and the Spiritual Luster,
The Increase of Wealth, the Health of Bodies,
The Sweetness of Speech and the Fairness of Days” –
Rig-Veda

Dubai, 30th December 2007.