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My Trichur days – part 3

My father left for Palakkad leaving me with our relative Doctor Vaidynatha Iyer who arranged my accommodation in Korangnathu pishAram, in the Vadakkan angAdi Road. PishAram is the house of pishArodi, or Sharodi in short, an ambalavAsi, traditionally a supporting staff for the temple activities. They used to serve temples and temples used to take care of them . My house owner, however, was not a temple dependent, unlike his ancestors.
I joined a small group of bachelors in the side portion of his house and soon became the pet child of VArasiAr , the lady of the house and more importantly, her mother, who treated me kindly and somewhat respectfully too, probably due to my parentage. The Ambalavasies and old women generally had a soft corner for those belonging to Brahmin community and added to that was my age and innocent looks.
With a ‘Kindi’ ( brass vessel with a long nose for delivery) of water, home made tooth powder, tender neem stick for cleaning teeth and tender coconut leaf mid strip for cleaning tongue, the grand ma of the house used to sit near my head and wake me up. ” Swamy kutty, get up. I’m not happy to wake you up, but what to do my child! You have to go for work ” Not used to getting up early, it was initially difficult for me to get up before the sun rise. No excuse though, as I had to be ready by 6.30 am, the schedule time of arrival of the UNICEF jeep, with other teammates to pick me up. The grand ma was insistent that I should visit all the three important temples in the surrounding area of one kilometer after a dip in the pond close by, called Vadakkae chera and then only go for my breakfast in the nearby Krishna Iyer’s hotel, every morning. For a few coins, Iyer used to supply sumptuous snacks and hot filter- coffee . Add one nethrampazam ( banana fruit of special Kerala variety), the breakfast became royal.
It was a difficult task initially to get up before sunrise, but the pre dawn dip in the cold waters of the pond followed by temple visits, became enjoyable, in due course. The morning air was pure and sanctified in the temple town of Trichur where people , after a cold water bath visited temples , wearing neatly washed and well pressed white clothes . The women were appealing with their Golden bordered Kerala saris, pleasing faces and chandanakuri, the sandal pasted forehead.
Though my stay at Trichur was hardly for six months, I enjoyed every moment, my work as well as my living. In villages as well as in the Laboratory, we worked as a cohesive, friendly unit and all of us were treated equal, thanks to the broad mindedness of the two officers, Dr.M.C. Swaminathan ( my Facebook friend now) and Doctor Ganapathy ( RIP) Field work was pleasant and we had a satisfaction that we all were contributing for the health improvement of the poor working class.
I never felt home sick, thanks to the homely environment in the kshAram and periodical visits to my home. My father, who made a visit to see how I was living, was impressed by my schedule , went back and reported to my mother, ” can you believe, he heated water for me and prepared chukkuvellam ( spiced hot water for drinking ), though Varasyar volunteered to provide ? I’m relieved that he can stand on his own”. Appa had arthritics and preferred warm water for bathing.
It was a total surprise for him that not only I got up before him, in the morning, but had kept water ready for his bath!
There was an interesting episode in my Trichur life. I used to visit my home during alternate week ends and in one such trip, a person seated next to me in the bus, casually enquired about my job. Nothing new about it. In my place every one does it. His query deserved only a one- liner but I gave a lecture! My response was an enthusiastic youngster’s boastful talk of his organization about which he was proud of.
“Have you heard about ICMR( Indian Council of of Medical Research in Delhi?. Have you heard about Nutrition Research Laboratories in Coonoor ? Have you ever visited Coonoor ?” Suddenly I recalled that myself had never visited that place, not once before. That didn’t happen even during my service. I could visit that hill station only ten years after my retirement, when my children took me there, in one of their holiday trips. And from Palakkad, Connor was as close as New Jersey or New York from Baltimore, to which places, along with my children, I travel frequently now.
The fair-skinned, soft spoken gentleman in Snow White dothy and kurtha, heard my elaborate talk silently and smilingly and while alighting from the bus at Palakkad, he said,
“I’ll be accompanying you up to Olavakkode as I have to catch a train from there. Would you like to take me to your house, which is on the way, so that I can meet your parents and convey my happiness in meeting with their well articulated son?”
“My pleasure, Sir”, I replied, but wondered what could be the purpose of his meeting . I mused,” he might perhaps be having a daughter of marriageable age. and going by his looks, she is bound to be a charming girl. But, is it not too early to think of my marriage? Why not? Appa got married at a much younger age.”
My thought train was an express and not a passenger locomotive.
Appa received my bus -mate, extending his betel casket, as was his usual way and Amma went inside to bring coffee, as was her usual way. The talk went on for 10 minutes, 20 minutes, they covered almost every subject under the sky but there was no mention of a charming daughter of a handsome man.
At the end, when my father asked me to accompany the guest to the Railway station and see him off, my bus friend addressed Appa by his first name and said
“Anantha Iyer, it was me who signed the appointment order of your son, on behalf of my Director”
That was my first and last meeting with Sri. Chellam Iyer, office head of my Institute, who gave me a job on the recommendation of his friend and counter part in the Pasture Institute, where our Laboratory was housed in Connoor.
Our twin projects in Trichur, ‘protein malnutrition in children’ and ‘Anaemia in pregnancy’ supported by the World Health Organization, was wound up in December 1959 and our Institue in Connoor was shifted to Hyderabad, where a much bigger set up in the 36 – acre land, in the Osmania University premises was coming up.

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