Parakkattu Bagavathi of Kavassery
The bus travel in the morning hours, through the peripheral villages of Palakkad, with cool breeze petting and patting from all sides, is alluring, especially when the paddy fields on both sides are rich with crops ready for harvesting. There is a rhythm in the movement of women walking with their head-loads, across the narrow borders of the fields, the silent grazing of cattle on the bank of ponds or the chirping and chattering of the school children in uniform.
People rush out of their house hearing the noise of the approaching bus or stand on the road side and command the bus to stop by hand motion. They do not wave the hand, as we do in the cities, while seeking a lift, but hold it in a particular angle or sometime simply nod to request for a halt. The driver does not grumble even if he had to stop the vehicle every five or ten yards. The conductor does not blow the whistle or ring the bell soon after the passenger gets into the bus but gives a vocal clearance ‘haa’ or bangs on the body of the bus with his wrist. The traveler- friendly attitude of the private buses is a boon to those who commutes in the early hours to attend to their work.
Malayalees, perhaps, use the body language, as a supplement and sometime even as a substitute, more than others. While driving through the outskirts of the Hyderabad city,sometime ago, I sought the help of a pedestrian, to reach a particular place. He stretched his right hand above the shoulder, closed his eyes, bent his head slightly to left and said,”straiiiiiight!”, giving an idea of the distance , the way he dragged the word ’straight’.
“‘Malayaliyanu alle? -you are from Kerala, I guess”, I remarked, to thank him.
‘Athey, athey, athey” Yes’ he confirmed nodding thrice.
Parakkatu Baghavaty temple at Kavassery, like many other small temples, including my ‘kuladevada (family deity)’s at Chittellenchery, is prospering, thanks to the financial support mostly from the non-Brahmin community. It is satisfying to worship at those places, mostly silent and solitary ,with their own simplicity and sanctity.You feel at home. The surroundings are generally clean and tidy and the gush of unwanted thoughts into the mind, minimum . It provides an ideal ambiance for meditation.
From the Parakkattu temple, I walked down the narrow lanes, to visit my mother’s ‘tharavadu’ or ancestral house, perhaps the only Brahmin abode now,in the Kongalakkodu village . I was visiting that sleepy village dotted with a silent Srikrishna temple and a small pond, after several years. My elder cousin, lives there. Neither the vicissitudes of life nor the waning health has tampered his temerity or temperament and he continues to be proud and boisterous as he was during his prime period. His ‘poda-po’- dare-devil attitude while facing insurmountable problems of life, is admirable. He is, in fact,the role model for my ‘Parasu’ character, in my “Oh, pramasukham” story .He needed my support to get up from his bed but once he was seated on the ‘thinnai’, an elevated extension in the frontage, he started commanding, ‘aarada avade-who there?”. I remembered my father: with not an anna – a small coin- in his pocket, he had the proud of a millionaire and capacity to tide over adverse conditions like an expert sailor.
I was excited to imagine that my mother as a child would have played along with her sibling around the small tank and my grand father, with his fore-head, chest and arms glistening with ‘vibhooti’ marks and silver edged ‘Rudrasham’, would have recited ‘Vishnu sahsranamam’ inside the temple. Both of them have left this world but the house, temple and pond remains. Non-living things often outlive what we call ‘living’ ones.
A big pendulum clock acquired by my grand father or his father, still standing erect in a corner of my library , strikes in agreement, loudly and lavishly.
I met two more persons close to our family in Pallavur, another small and sleepy village with a disproportionately big Siva temple, famous for the ‘ Ezham vilakku’ festival during the Navarathry days. One was my cousin sister, who has chosen to live alone in the village though her only daughter in the city and her children would like her to be with them. She might be between eighty five and ninety, but prefer to toddle down the slippery steps leading to the pond almost every morning, for ablution, instead of having her bath inside a closed room. There is a pleasure in taking bath in a village pond,when the sun smiles from above and small fishes tickle your feet from below. And our elders, thoughtfully, dug out one or two ponds in every village. Kalpathy is an exception; it is on the bank of a river.
I sent word for Paru Amma, who served our family for nearly fifty years. As usual, clad in a snow white ‘mundu’ she came smiling from ear to ear, when I realised that there is no need for a set of sparkling teeth to flash a smile. For, like cry, smile emerges out of the heart of villagers. Paru Amma,also in her late eighties,is not our kin but lived as one for several years in our family. She was picked up by my father from the Valayar forests while collecting fire wood and employed in our house, initially to take care of the cattle. By unalloyed affection, admirable integrity and sustained hard work, she became a de facto member of the family and served three generations.
‘Appaachy’s atmasanthi’, was molded keeping her in my mind. This is how I introduced my leading character in the story.
“She was there, with us, in the family when I was born, when my siblings were born and also when our children were born; she was there with us through the vicissitudes of life for over 50 years, when our parents and a few others passed away, when we got married and when some of our children got married,and in almost all family functions, when we went on pilgrimage or almost wherever we went.She helped our parents to bring us up and helped us to bring up our children.. Her habits were clean, her hands cleaner with the result that the house always remained unlocked when she was at home and never had we to regret on that count. She quarreled some time with us, collected her cloth bundle and walked away, vowing that she would never step into our house again, only to return before the next meal time for the kids. Father used to shout at her and threaten to throw her out, but in the next five minutes he could be seen pleading for a tobacco bit from her. ”She behaves like a mother-in-law” the daughters -in-law of the house used to complain to their husbands but used to rush to her for her advice if their kids sneeze more than once or wet their garment more than twice. All the children in the family loved,respected and treated her as they would treat their mother or grand mother as they all were aware of the role played by her in nourishing and nursing them up with unalloyed affection and undiluted care.”
Under a cool sky, embraced by the benevolent breeze from the pond, three of us spent the whole night, recapitulating the past.