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.
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?
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.