Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Departure of a noble soul

Mrs. Subbalakshmi Karyakkar (1925-2010)

Mrs. Subbalakshmi Karyakkar of Chathapuram Gramam in Palakkad died on the 17th of November 2010 at the ripe old age of 85. A widow, she left behind her two elderly daughters, Rajam and Rukmini. A simple old Brahmin lady, she was not of much consequence to the present day society of Palakkad which is fighting hard to catch up with the rest of this consumer state for the fast moving life that we witness all around. Who was this venerable lady –who we fondly used to call Mami -to me? To put it straight, I must say that she was more like a mother to me, though we were not blood- related.

Sixteen years back, when I made a career change and when I and Sindhu were expecting our second child, we were at Palakkad enjoying the good winter weather and the delicious foods the place was famous for.

As it happened with me, my spare time often used to be spent on visiting some of the local traders who dealt in antiques. Most of them were raw dealers who were neither well read nor knowledgeable about the items they handled. However they were nevertheless shrewd businessmen who knew how to extract the best price from a yearning collector. One of them whom I know for the last 25 years and who had humble beginnings, is presently a very rich man who supplies old and remodeled furniture to the makers of Mollywood movies for its set

One such trader, a friend, the old and simple Kunhippakkutty Sahib of Melamuri told me that I may meet the Karyakkar family at Chathapuram that used to do some family business in old and antique goods from their home. This led me to the house of Mami and the first meeting with her and her two daughters was the beginning of a lasting association of mutual respect, affection and un-adulterated sentiments which has been continuing ever since.

Chathapuram Gramam, Old Kalpathy, Palakkad

Mami personified grace, charm, warmth and hospitality for which her generation was famous for. She was particularly graceful and always reminded me of the inimitable M.S.Subbalakshmi whose name she too shared. Mami had resplendent and big nose- rings set with the finest of old diamonds. She was an expert in judging the precious stones. Mr.C.S.Raja Karyakkar, her husband belonging to the renowned Karyakkar family of old Kalpathy was a fine scholar in Sanskrit and Indian Philosophy. The Karyakkar family was originally from Kozhikode where they were the officials of the Zamorin. Some unpleasantness in the relationship caused the family to move to Palakkad more than two centuries back and they were welcomed by the then ruling family of Palakkad with all respect. Raja Karyakkar was also a dealer in diamonds and knew the subject of gemology like the palm of his hand. He also traded in elephants and was an expert in the subjects like Hasthiayurveda-Ayurveda of Elephants- and was adept in books like Mathangaleela. One of my regrets in life-I have quite a few- is that I could not meet and acquaint with the family when he was alive. Mami used to tell me that I am like a son to her and that her husband would have been immensely pleased to meet this humble chronicler during his life time.

Chathapuram Vinayaka Temple

Mami was born in Kizhakke Madhom in North Parur in the erstwhile Cochin State as the daughter of Mr.S.Devaraja Iyer and Mrs. Nagalakshmi, who had 6 sons and 6 daughters. Theirs was a rich and influential family and Mami inherited all the great qualities of her roots. She was always cheerful, gracious and was like goddess Annapurneswari. Lots of people visited her house and always had the most delicious foods served. All the hardships in her life could not take away the smile on her face with which she made her abode a most cozy one. She lost her husband early in life and had to see the death of her son- in –law, Mani Swami, another jewel of a person whom I had the privilege to meet. Of her two daughters, Rukmini, the younger one who earned a degree chose to remain a bachelor and despite offers of employments wanted to be with her devoted mother. Rajam, the eldest daughter whose husband died and whose daughter Radha had to wriggle out of wedlock, was also staying with the mother and Mami certainly was very fortunate to get the caring and loving treatments from her devoted daughters during her old age.

Mami was a great devotee of Lord Vinayaka, the presiding deity of the ancient Chathapuram temple. She earnestly believed that the “Remover of obstacles-Lord Vighneswara- is always there as an all-encompassing presence to protect all of us. As high priests to the temple, the Karyakkar family had special privileges. On many occasions, Mami and her daughters had arranged special pujas for us at the temple and the offerings included the tastiest of succulent modakas- Modaka is small and steamed rice ball filled with a fine mixture of grated coconuts and melted jaggery-

Mami’s house was a Kalavara-store house of food articles-of sumptuous snacks and varieties of south Indian vegetarian delicacies for which the Keralite Tamil Brahmins were always famous. T.N.Seshan, former CEC of India had famously remarked that the Keralite Tamil Brahmin excelled in three Cs; Civil Servants, Cooks and Crooks. Mami was not a civil servant and she was anything but a crook. But she was indeed a great Cook. How many times have we relished the murukkus, pakkavadas, laddus, ada dosais and the freshly brewed filter coffee Mami used to make with the greatest of care and the fullest of warmth with dashes of innocent smiles thrown in?

She got a golden ring done for me with three small and exquisite diamonds from her possession. She had sat through with the goldsmith to personally oversee the work.

Mami left for her last journey rather peacefully on the auspicious Ekadasi day of Lord Guruvayoorappan. It was also the day when the famous Ratham festival of Kalpathy concluded. Devotees believe that those who die on this auspicious day join the lotus feet of the Lord. I am sure; Mami’s noble soul rests in peace with the Almighty.

Every trip of ours to Palakkad always included a visit to Chathapuram and Mami’s house. The visits will continue but we shall surely miss the warmth and the maternal love we were always privileged to earn.

Fort, Tripunithura, South India,
23rd November 2010.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Defending our Honour

Dying with honour- Seppuku-

One of the most shameful incidents of corruption in public life in post independent India has come out with the exposition of the Adarsh society scam from Mumbai.

Whatever may be said and justified by the VVIPs involved –which includes Chief Ministers, Cabinet ministers, Service Chiefs, Chief Secretary/Secretaries, politicians etc etc- , it is clear as crystal that all of them were aware of the gravity of the outrage they were committing. If someone claimed that he was ignorant of the facts surrounding the housing project, we can safely presume that he was not fit to be in the exalted pedestal where we had placed him.

Here you see greedy, powerful and rich people manipulating every rule and grabbing the land which belonged to the Indian Army. This was the force which was expected to protect 1.1 billion people of this country from enemies. The army in its wisdom and good intention had proposed to build a small housing complex in the prime area of Mumbai adjacent to the Defence offices mainly for the widows and families of the Kargil war veterans. The project was scuttled and the day-light robbery was committed with scant respect for the rule of the law.

Operation Vijay medal awarded to soldiers of Kargil war

Amitabh Naik, my esteemed friend and the son of a most illustrious father who belonged to the last batch of ICS of pre independent India, recently wrote to me about the value the Samurais- the warriors of medieval Japan- attached to their personal honour. Suicide by Seppuku (stomach-cutting) was invariably carried out by the Samurais to die with honour if they had committed any act of shame. Alas! Our leaders are blissfully ignorant of history. May be these ravenous animals do not understand the meaning of honour. Otherwise, how could a General/Admiral forget the tears of the widows of the soldiers he commanded who laid down their lives with honour for the country?

None of those involved shall go for Sepukku because he has to lose much and he does not really care for the country or its people.

The least we expect from the government is a speedy investigation to bring out the culprits and to punish them severely by impounding their ill-gotten assets so that it should act as a deterrent to the other wily animals around who may have nasty intentions.

Let us bow our heads in shame before the real heroes and their families of the Kargil war!

Tripunithura, South India
Diwali, 2010.

A passionate soccer enthusiast

Sudhakara Varma and Radhika Varma

Last week, we were invited to the Shashtyabdapoorthi-6oth birthday- of Sudhakara Varma, a relative and I was suddenly made more aware of my own generation which has just entered the wrong side of fifties. He hails from Kilimanoor Palace and is a great grand nephew of the illustrious painter Raja Ravi Varma. He is also the brother of my brother-in-law (my sister’s husband) and is the brother-in-law of my elder brother. To avoid confusions, I must add that his brother and sister married my sister and brother respectively.

He stays at Kamalalayam Palace at Tripunithura, just opposite to the house where I stay now. His devoted wife Radhika Varma is the grand niece of Col. Goda Varma Raja (brother-in-law of Maharaja Chithira Thirunal of Travancore) and is the daughter of Captain Kerala Varma who had served during the II WW and who was the first to be commissioned to the British India Army from the royal household of Cochin. He was also one to be stripped of his commission for the alleged connection with the communists during the pre-independence days. He also served as ADC to Maharaja Kerala Varma (r.1946-48) popularly known as Aikya-keralam Thampuran.

Maharaja Kerala Varma of Cochin - Aiykya Keralam Thampuran - r.1946-48)

Maharaja Kerala Varma of Cochin - Midukkan Thampuran - (r.1941-43)

We went to his house for the birthday lunch which was quite a modest affair with only the immediate family in attendance. Sri. Rama Varma Raja, the Valiya Raja of Poonjar Palace and the youngest brother of Col. G.V.Raja, was there in all simplicity. He was quite shy when I asked for his confirmation of the title. I also met Kunjappan Chettan, a grand nephew of Maharaja Kerala Varma Midukkan Thampuran of Cochin (r.1941-43) who shared many stories about this unusual Maharaja.

Sri.Rama Varma Raja, Valiya raja of Poonjar Palace

Sudhakara Varma is one of the most unassuming, kind, affectionate and large- hearted personalities, I have ever met. Professionally, he is a foot ball coach and rides on his bicycle to the ground. His life is dedicated to Football and he runs a football academy at Tripunithura named Top Notch Football Academy. He is the chief coach and mentor to the academy. Rain or shine, he is seen cycling to the ground early in the morning to train the youngsters. During the recently concluded WC Football matches, I used to hear his incisive analysis of the games. A great admirer of Diego Maradona, Sudhakara Varma surprisingly shares the same birth day of the legend, though separated by a decade.

I was quite amused to hear his stories about the difficulties being faced to make the youngsters reach the ground early in the morning. Present day youngsters who love their sleep are hesitant to wake up early and Sudhakara Varma often had to use the persuasive skills of a fellow enthusiast- a police officer- to make the young footballers awake and make them run to the ground for training.

Passion for the game alone has shaped this unique coach. He imports journals and training manuals and follows the international games closely to develop his own strategies for moulding young Lionel Messis, Wayne Rooneys or Zinadine Zidanes of the future. No wonder, in five years of the formation of the academy, Top Notch Football team has won the championship in the Ernakulum District league during this year. A promising student of the game from the academy recently left to the UK to play in the local clubs there.

The coach in the field

Rarely do we find such fine individuals with all simplicity and with such passion for a cause. Money has never been a motivation for such individuals and in their personal lives ignominy is accepted with as much dispassion as recognition. The driving force for them is always the love for the cause and the satisfaction they derive on seeing the seeds they sowed sprout with promises.

I left the place reciting in my mind the Rig-Vedic verse starting with; “Jeevema Sarada Satham”- Let you live a hundred autumns----

Tripunithura, South India
3rd November 2010

Notre Dame Cathedral and my visit of 2006

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