Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
Something to say?

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Tiny Communities

There wasn't much of a choice. Our little world had to be small:

   There were about four buses a day plying between Kunnoor and Kuthuparamba. If they went further north - or south - none of us really comprehended such distances by bus. If you needed to go to Vadagara or Kanjyankadu, you thought hard and wondered how far the train would take you.

   To go to Maliyil house, which I sometimes did, with Damuettan directing proceedings (I bet he still does that, given half a chance), you had to do some serious planning. Bus? How much walking if you went by bus? Or train? Again, could we go the distance on foot?  

   In our house, our world was a microcosm containing just a few households. And we knew everything about them. The people even had the same names. We hadn't yet tapped that vast directory of north Indian names, all of which got amputated at the end. For instance Shankar, insteady of that nice dignified Shankaran. Sometimes it got to Sankarankutty too. Bliss!

   We had a Madhavi, and a Nani in our house. Next door, the two sisters were also called Madhavi and Nani. A few Ammus were scattered in the mix and a few Rohinis, mainly in the Thiya community.

   All of us had similar homes, some thatched, some partially tiled, others fully tiled like the rich Muslim houses near by. Mukkattil was such a house slowly decaying due to lack of care.

   None of the women had got beyond basic Malayalam literacy. So the only people with books were the lawyers on the road. They had impressive tomes called Law Books. In addition, my father actually brought home books to read for pleasure. To this day many of my friends in India are surprised at my library in Kochi.

   All the things we needed to buy were within walking distance at the turn of the road, near the Civil Courts. A dry goods man, who was also our neighbour, a tearoom owned by another neighbour, a tailor on our doorstep in a veranda room, a corner shop run by Mammadu for coconut oil or salt in a hurry.

   If someone got ill, the whole neighbourhood held their breath, while the native Vaidyar came and went. The 'doctors' were only called in-extremis. Children wandered around from house to house and adopted sisters and families. Mani, my cousin and I, adopted the house behind ours and all in it. They baby-sat, bathed us sometimes, took us to their temple and made jasmine garlands for our short hair.

   When my father was in jail, gifts turned up from many houses. Sugar, kerosene, sweet-meats; this was their way of showing solidarity.

   School was the limit of our world. A sparse world, but then all the houses were like that. There was nothing for display and nothing wasted. Even the beggars were local beggars; they knew when the mid-day meal was eaten in our houses and when alms would be distributed.

   Education as a given arrived with my generation and that was when the world expanded and we glimpsed imaginary lands.

No comments:

Post a Comment