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Crossing the compound wall

part 1

During my childhood, unmarried middle- aged men and elderly widowers, from Andhra and Tanjore districts used to come to our villages in search of brides from poor Brahmin families. My father sheltered one such person from Andhra and provided him free food, just for the sake of refurbishing his Telugu, learned during his young days in the Kadappa districts. I was told that bending their head down and holding it with their hands, parents of teenage girls remaining unmarried, used to curse their destiny and moan, ‘thalayai thookki nadakkamaudiyallaye”  തലയയ്‌  തൂക്കി നടക്ക മുടിയലയെ”   I cannot walk on the street keeping my head erect “. Pre-puberty weddings were the order of the day and perhaps the dictate of the religious law-books too, I do not know. Education or employment was not girls’  priority but the marriage was. ‘Who will look after my daughter, when I am out of the scene?” was the parents’ worry. A genuine one in deed.
When such parents were not able to find grooms with age-computability for their daughters, dumped them, with a heavy heart on widowers or from outside their state or province, speaking a different language, with or without children. Horoscopes matching, sagotra thiraskaram, koottu desai, kalasarpadosham, nakshthra porutham, yoniporutham, all poruthams, comparabilities were there except for a very minor incompatability- the bride was younger to her man by twenty or thirty  years! Mostly the men were cooks, vaadyars, gumasthas, petty clerks or without any regular income. The girls, mostly in their teens or even younger, were too young to understand the implications of marrying a man of her father’s age or even elder and even if they were aware of, had little say in the matter.
വിധി വിഹിത മേവനും ലംഖിട്ച്ചു കൂടുമോ?
Who can  challenge the Fate!
That ready-made card of consolation was there for every one to pocket and find peace.
Anyway, the family prestige was saved, the society was happy the girl enters the small house where she had to spend the rest of her life, a house full of old people, young children, one or two cows, lot of pooja vessels be taken care of by her. The person who is sharing her bed today,is the one whom she used to call athai, athimbar, ammanji or an entirely an unknown man speaking an unknown language, from a place unheard of .
However, the inborn inspiration, unique to women, to adapt to the new environment,
awakes in her and she adjusts quickly to the new way of life and the new people and by her silent observation and smart decisions and actions, again unique to women, she becomes the center of action and attraction, a granite pillar of strength to the family. Her influence slowly spreads to the neighbor hood too, She has started wearing the customary 9 yards saries, stands behind her husband holding the sacred darbahi while he performes the monthly, annually, or more frequent rites and rituals, prepares twenty varieties of food,with her clean hand, simultaneously, pounding, roasting,mixing,frying different ingredients,faithfully serves the Brahmans,guests and eats late after feeding every one in the family. She always gets up first, sleeps last and while awake, keeps on attending to others’ needs.Whatever be the provocations from within or out, she does not allow her benign smile to fade from her face  She had thus played her role in making those in the sky and below it, happy. Her  own happiness was not an issue at all and nobody except her own mother, if she were alive, used to worry, mostly alone and some time with her husband.
The parents, if their house was far and in another province, used to visit their daughter’s house only on very rare occasions. They hardly communicated with their offspring but always carried their love concealed in the depth of their hearts. On the rare occasions when they met, the mother used to inquire in privacy, ‘hope everything is fine?” ‘Ennamma soukiyama iruukkiya?”  എന്നാമ്മാ, സൌക്യമായിരുക്കായാ ?” If she replies, ‘Ov, namma irukken amma; nee kavalai pedathe, appakkum chollu’.ഓവ് നന്നൈരുക്കെന്‍ അമ്മാ നീ കവലയ്‌ പാടാതെ; അപ്പാക്കിട്ടേം ചൊല്ല്”, the mother returns home happily and convey the message to every one back in her house and village. If the reply is,’oh, nannairukken’,ഓവ് നന്നൈരുക്കെന്‍, I am alright”,  the mother weeps, covering her face with her sari after returning home, in the privacy of her bed room.
Only a daughter and only a mother can understand that language,.
The daughter lives for many more years, after serving and seeing off her husband and many others in the family.When she leaves for her eternal in-law’ place, where age or language,wealth or wisdom hardly matters, the young and old in the house and village weeps, the Brahmins, who were served several sumptuous doses of food by her, bows their head and cover their face with their angavastram, upper cloth, to conceal the surging tears. The neighbors who were benefited by her words of wisdom and consolation, sit and sob at  her feet.  The servant maids, the village barber, the washer woman,the tree-climber, the wood-cutter, the cows and crows – every living thing, who had eaten and drank from her hands, moans her loss.
They lost, no doubt. But did she loose or gain in death?
“ജീവിച്ച്ചിടുന്നു  മ്രിതിയാല്‍ ചിലര്‍, ചെത്ത് കൊണ്ട് ജീവിക്കയാണ് പലര്‍ മൃത്യുവില്‍ ഞാന്‍ മരിക്കാ.”  Mahakavi G.Sankara kurup
“Jeevichidunnu mrithiyaal chilar,
chethukondu jeevikkayanu palar,
mrityuvil jnan marikka”
Some live by dying, for many, living is dying. I will not die in death.
You will see one such ‘athai’ walking among us, if you happen to bother to read my Pitchumani story.
Ocala, Florida
02 June 2010

part 2
Some 30/40 years ago, when school education and higher studies gained momentum among our girls,, there was a sudden awareness of a living pattern  different from the one they are familiar with in their villages. You will not believe that in my own case, I was ashamed to realize when I visited the houses of Nair college mates, that there were no good furniture in my own house, though our economic status was higher than theirs. In those days pattar houses hardly had any  furniture. One of my dreams then was to buy costly sofas when I have my own house. I have an own house for the past 40 years but I am yet to think of buying a sofa set! So perceptions change when time moves on.
So the exposure to an entirely new style of life around, away from the Ekadashi, pradosham,kovil,kolam surroundings, invoked in the yet-to-settle young minds, the thoughts of crossing the fence even at the cost of foregoing the affection and attachment of their parents and home where they were born and which affectionately nourished them till then. It was the result of an instant impulse, rather than a deep thinking about the future,in many cases,that triggered the monkey in their mind and you know what happens when monkeys and elephants go amuck! Some of our girls and boys looked at the opposite ones, as if they were seeing the full-moon for the first time, landed in their cool hands and then in their hot beds.
As usual, after the initial wailing and weeping helplessly,the parents tried to forget what they called the treachery of their offspring and wanted to forgo them. Blood undoubtedly, is thicker than water and the goats of gossip always prefer fresh fodder to munch.The mother goes to see her first grand child, though hesitantly, with or without her husband. Time, tragic or auspicious events in the family and several other happenings reunite and when the grand children are grown to adulthood, the old story is blissfully forgotten.
It is not that all such marriages were a story of success or failure. Marriages, arranged by parents or self-arranged, become a complex issue in some cases and there are several contributing factors. It was a simple issue as long as the husband was the only bread-earner and his word was the law. The wife knew where her place was and mostly it was in the kitchen. Her union with the husband and his family was ordained by the Gods rather a gift from Him, which she preserved as a privileged person. She was proud of her position,though physically and mentally it was a trauma for some. Those days are gone for ever.
It is not that all love marriages failed. Most of them did not in fact, thanks to the inbuilt tendency of our girls, to adjust to the changing environment. In my close circle, there were several such marriages and I give below my observation, purely personal, not meant to tarnish the image of our set-up or to influence your thinking.
I write for my satisfaction to express my views and not to preach.
At least in two cases which I remember, the girls crossed the fencing due to the hostile environment at home. The fathers were irresponsible drunkards,mothers meek house-wives ill treated by their wayward husbands, tolerated them without protest or insisting on their rights or authority in the family. The fear that their father will never be able to find a suitable partner from their own community which will not come forward to accept the daughter of a worthless vagabond, could be one of the reasons for the girls to migrate into another caste or religion. There were protests from the boys’ side too but in due course things became smoother and they are continuing as husbands and wife, children growing up well.There would have been a lot of adjustment problems en route and let us not worry about them now as the offspring are looking for full-moons either in their own garden or beyond the fencing!
Now the things are different. Both the boys and girls do not jump over the compound walls unless they are certain that the crossing is worth and there is a good pasture-land and not deserts or vacant lands on the other side. They discuss thread bare the problems bound to arise,even to the extend of naming their offspring!.
I attended half a dozen marriages before coming to US. Three girls were from rich thiyya communities, who met their partners in the University library or working place. The boys were from orthodox Iyer/Iyengar families,the boys were doctors or engineers or finance managers,their parents including some very old ladies attended the wedding, pure vegetable meals prepared by Uduppi brahmins were provided. So, I hardly noticed any difference-no,that is not a correct statement.- the girls were dark in complexion but it was difficult to notice their skin colour unless your eyes are as sharp as mine, since they were covered with dazzling gold ornaments head to toe, and today’s gold rate is 19,ooo and odd.per 10 gm!
It is not correct to say that our boys and girls are grabbed from the other side as our stock is better and theirs are of an inferior quality. if you can set aside for a moment your varnasrama dharma criteria of superiority of our children, the partners they select are matching in education, intelligence or income. Otherwise our children would not have chosen them. And another thing I would like to tell my friends is, if your son or daughter has selected a partner from other community,You need not bend your head,put a thorthumundu over it and sit on your thinnai. It is not your fault; it has nothing to do with your way of upbringing them. My children woke up from their cradle hearing the sound of my Rudra-Chamaka recitation or crinkling sound of my harati bells but today they neither do harati nor wait for an young sumangali to come from the opposite side, to take their car out of the shed. My friend sitting in Chennai, enjoying a mouthful of Panthalam vettalai can afford that but not mine or your children. Even in India it is not possible.
One more thing I would like to remind you is that just as we have reservation to accept boys or girls from other communities,their parents too have objections. I have spoken to many parents and found that given an option, they would like to have the alliance within their own community. Some thirty years ago, I went to Kottayam to attend an intercaste marriage. The granny of the boy was almost in tears,when she hugged me with a haggard face, swallowed her saliva, addressed me as  ‘Atcho!” (It is still a mystery for me why she called me so ) and mentioned in a pathetically stammering voice that she tried to stop this wedding but could not, as her grand son was adamant .
“‘will she have the same feeling as I do, while lighting candles in front of Yeshu? Will she have the same feeling as I do, when she covers the head before prayers?’
Over an year ago, one boy related to me married a Gowder girl.The Gowder took me aside ( I don’t know why the parents are always catching me!)  and explained how hard he tried to persuade the girl to forget the boy.the women-folk too were against it. But the marriage took place. The Gowder was happy because, while taking leave of him, I gifted him a bunch of Guntur suruttu. I was also happy as I could weave a story, apart from sharing the happiness of the couple, that I did attend their wedding despite some inconveniences .
Enjoy the story,” call me to sing a kathakali song” in the below given link:
Call me to sing a Kathakali song
Love and regards,
Ocala, Florida
03 June 2010
Pattars- their faces and phrases –contd– chapter 4‏
From:[email protected] on behalf of shanti subra ([email protected])
Sent:04 June 2010 04:16AM
To:Sivasubramanian Perinkulam ([email protected]); Iyer123 ([email protected])
Dear Sivasubramanian ji
Excellent writing.  Extremely saddned to know  about the sorry state and the plight of erstwhile girls/ladies of brahmin household.  It was a curse to be born as a FEMALE in the MALE dominated brahmin community two generations up.
The ones who raised the topic of Brahmin boys not getting suitable brides or girls marrying outside the community which makes rounds for sometime now in the forum wil read this?
Now when the Female try to over come the many curses put on them by the yester year Males thru education and awareness, the MALEs who no more can over power poor FEMALES, now cry in silence to get a Wife, a Daughter-in-law.  The Egoistic MALES could not accept this down turn.  So they put the blame on the prospective brides and their mothers that they ask “what is the salary etc?”  They could not digest this? They are bewildered.
Hope the MALE bastion realises this no sooner than late and let their mothers change their outlook towards their DiLs and learn to treat them well if their sons ever get a female partner.
Kind Regards

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