My husband hails from a small village, tucked a kilometer and a half away from National Highway 47, between Thrissur and Palakkad, two important districts of Kerala.
Ayakkad has its own quaint old-world charm, with its rolling fields, swaying palm fronds, and is swathed in green for most part of the year… The gramam or the village begins with the mannam, a square kind of junction dotted with small shops. On a normal day, you can hear the brisk ‘tik-tak’ of Krishnan Kutty’s sewing machine in a small shop filled with uniform cloth, blouse pieces and more recently, material to be shaped into salwar kameezes. Right next door is another small shop selling a few essentials, enough to tide you over till that next trip to Wadakkancherry, the nearest town one and a half kilometers away. At the mannam, if you are lucky, you can see a couple of autos parked… perhaps for a break after numerous school trips or after ferrying people to temples in the vicinity.
Our home is the first in the gramam, an old one characterised by its blue and white paint, conjoined with the house next door (long ago, both homes were one… built by my husband’s grandmother, till a grand uncle sold his part to someone else… and we constantly hope that it will become one, some day!). The house is a typical Palakkad village home, the thinai… (or the verandah), followed by the nezhi (an inner room) with its arais (wooden concealed storage places for grain), then the koodam (the biggest room of the house which is essentially the living room) with the customary aatukattil (or the huge swing), the kitchen and the dining room. After this is the courtyard with a few plants and trees and then the randam kattu (used as an alternative kitchen long ago for big functions and now used to heat hot water in firewood stoves!) The toilets and bathrooms are away from the main house… and after them comes the kolai (the backyard with the coconut trees and plants). There’s also the machumol – two upstairs rooms so cosy that you wouldn’t want to wake up in the mornings (my most favoured retreat on all vacations!). There’s also a deep well, from which, I hope, I will be finally able to draw water from, without dropping the bucket atleast 10 times in the process.
It was here, for the first time, that I saw paddy fields (the house is flanked on one side by them), and savoured the taste of fresh vegetables from the garden. There is the marthangalikai (a kind of fruit dried and then used in the famed vathal kuzhambu), the keerai (spinach), the pavakkai (bitter gourd), juicy mangoes, the maanam paarkum molagai (green chillies that point at the sky) and much more. For my city-bred tastes, this is indeed, manna!
The grammam , I am told, is not like what it used to be before. Most people have sold their homes and migrated either to Mumbai (Bambai as the Tamilians fondly call it) or to chase the golden pot at the end of the Gulf rainbow. But unfailingly, they do make it, atleast once a year, to visit the temple deity, Ayakkad Ganapathy. The temple is a small one, but neatly maintained and has a charm of its own. It overlooks the gramakulam (the village pond)… where I’ve never dared to take a bath and probably never will.
And then the people! I am always amazed by their resilience, love and respect… Though initially, I did find a few of them a little interfering. Soon after my marriage, a nearby maami asked me, “How much gold did your parents give you?” I was stumped but I just acted coy and smiled. And then there’s the usual, “Eppo vannu? Thamasam undo?” in the sing-song voice so characteristic of Palakkadians (When did you come? Will you stay long?) or if you are going out somewhere, it would be (Evide kka? – Or where are you off to?” I learnt to take all these by just smiling… these were simple folk I realized who did not mean anything… but were just curious! This is where everyone knows everyone… and you don’t need to lock your doors during the day, ever! Everyone just seems to be there for everyone, even though the population is very limited in number.
And then the auto-drivers… Amma has quite a few on her list, and they are just a call away. There’s the ever-smiling young Manikandan who always drops me at the bus-top and makes sure to deposit me and my baggage on the right bus to Cochin whenever required. And if you ask for the fare, it’s always ‘Chechi Ethrayanavecha thanolu!) (translated into ‘Give what you think is right!)
Don’t mistake a Kerala village as one of those rural ‘beyond the back ages’ Indian villages you read about. A Kerala village is like a little town. Where broadband Internet and DTH co-exists peacefully with the traditional ayyappan paatu (community songs sung in praise of Lord Ayappa), the thers (the village chariot festivals) and the aarattus (a temple festival).
A few garish houses have come up and things will certainly change in the years to come. The city may move to the village but I hope the heart and soul of a Kerala village remains the same. And perhaps, many years from now, I, a city-bred girl may retire to a peaceful life in the village…
I can see the rolling fields and the swaying palms beckon me… And my heart does a happy song and dance of its own!
Yes, Country roads, take me home, to the place I belong!