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CHILDHOOD: MY VILLAGE, MY SELF: THE AWAKENING-2 (Dr. AKB Pillai)

Published on 17 August, 2020
CHILDHOOD: MY VILLAGE, MY SELF: THE AWAKENING-2  (Dr. AKB Pillai)
  1. THE AFFECTION FROM THE MEMBERS OF MY EXTENDED FAMILY

 

With my mother I visited regularly, our branch family, named Nalloor, meaning good house. I had the happiest experience from a young man and his wife, there. His name was late sri Narayana Pillai and his wife's name late sree Sarada Amma. His son and grandson, sri Rajan Narayana Pillai, and Dr. Sreeraj are active members of my Facebook. All the members of the branch families called each other kinship terms. I called him Narayana Chettan (older brother) and his wife, chettai, meaning older brother's wife. They were very affectionate toward me. One day he took me in a canoe all the way to Alleppey to see a play. He was very much interested in theatrical presentations. His affection toward me was unreserved. This article is dedicated also to him. These affectionate persons of my village also taught me how to be affectionate to others. Affection is a great humanistic tool for the giver and the receiver to be happy. Our seniormost branch matriarch, the senior most woman of our family is Puthanmatom, Pankajashi Amma (my chechi, older sister) around ninety-two years of age, respected by all of us, lives with her son, Radhakrishnan’s family. Near her lives her brother, Gopinatha Pillai and his wife Ratnamma, both persons being very affectionate, all my life, toward me.The celebrated movie actor, sri Suresh Gopi, who is presently a member of Indian parliament, maternally belongs to Nallur.

 It was quite moving to me, with warm feelings when younger persons of my extended family addressed me with kinship terms, even when I was a child,- Narayana Pillai chettan’s, nieces, Ratnamma and Vijamma called me ‘ammavan’ (uncle) and his older brother’s daughters, Rajamma Chandrika, and Ammu called me ‘Chittappan’ (father’s younger brother) His son, Manikkuttan late sri Kasey Pillai, affectionate and honest person with whom I functioned to rebuild the temple of serpent deity at my family Arreckal and supported the family organization with another member of Nalloor, late sri Gopala Pillai (mani). This article is also dedicated to Kasey Pillai Kuttan and his wife late sri Mangalam, an honest and loving woman,- both treated me most affectionately and caringly all the time. Even now I have many nieces and nephews, endearingly calling me many different kinship terms, and keeping in touch with me, giving me utmost joy.

In my village, Vallady, the neighboring three houses belonged to the Pazhoor family, traditionally very old. It was the original home of the Chalai family. Around four miles west in Kavalam, the famous writer and diplomat, K.M. Panicker and his grandnephews- the Malayalam dramatist, Kavalam Narayana Panicker and the poet Ayyappa Panicker belonged to that family. Both of them were my good friends, even from childhood. In Valady, Pazhoor and the two branch families had one person each almost around my age, who were my best friends in my village. They were Damodara Panicker of Paloor, late sri Gopala Krishnan Menor of Eleven Madom, and late sri Kesava Panicker of Madom. The youngest of all of us, Madom just east of my house. His mother used to call my mother Areeckal Changalthi, meaning ‘friend’. I called her Chitta, meaning ‘mother’s younger sister’. Her oldest daughter, late sri Saraswathi Amma was like an older sister to me. I called her ‘Chechi’. I gratefully remember that I stayed a few days with them, during my field study of Vallady.

 

Sri P.G. Panicker, who is an active associate of my Facebook, belongs to the Pazhoor family, and his brother sri Manilal Panicker belongs to Donna’s Facebook, respectively.  In the village, among the Nayars everybody used kinship terms to call each other, according to the ranking of the age. Every family was very hospitable toward members of other families, especially to children. To explain, if I was within any of the houses when they ate their food, it was offered to me along with their children. Persons visited each other without any reservations. There was no phone, or the custom of making appointments at that time. If there was a wedding in any house, any kind of festivity or death, all the members of the village came together to the house concerned and helped. These occasions, especially the wedding, were of great social gathering. The older persons guided. The familial and community relationships of my village is of agrarian culture. As a contrast, in industrial culture, increasingly number of children call their parents by name, as observed in the United States. In Japan, traditionally known for the humanistic culture, the emotional aspects have been breaking down because of the impact of industrial, materialistic and combative culture. Japan is presently using sharing and volunteer services to cope with the contemporary isolation and jointness of people. It is reported that single mothers have a child get men by paying them to become surrogate fathers to their children. It is consoling to note that the mothers understand the need for fathers for their children. 

  1. THE CONTRAST: TODAY’S INDUSTRIAL CULTURE

 As a contrast, the children of today’s industrial society are largely confined to their own families and friends. In many cases the parents themselves do not allow the children to move freely with others including members of their extended families. This kind of monopolistic behavior has created a psychological attitude of businesslike relationships, not humanistic.

  1. THE TEMPLE FESTIVITIES

Ritual offerings are made to Mother Goddess every morning and evening. The offerings were accompanied by the religious orchestra of five instruments (this is pancha vadyam). It was very moving, and devotional. The villagers came to worship in the morning and evening. Our temple, although small when compared with the many large temples of India, is a traditional architectural gem, built mostly with wood. As in all the temples in India, our temple has been holding annual festivities every year for many days. It was a great time when all the people in my village and neighbouring villages will be together and socially interact. However men and women did not sit together or socially interact. Women always sat separate from the men, to see traditional theatrical arts, of which Kathakali, probably most outstanding theatrical arts of pre industrial agrarian culture of the world.

The men acted in Kathakali the parts of women also. They were enormously dressed with multicolor clothing and facial paintings and headdresses. The actors danced and acted in different scenes of a play, silently,  accompanied by native drums, other musical instruments, enlightening the songs. They acted stories from Hindu legends and epics. The Hindu deities such as sri Krishna, Siva, Vishnu, are the main characters. There are special dressings for evil characters such as Ravana from the Hindu epic Ramayana. The ideal Indian woman, traditionally, was chaste, loyal and submissive to her husband. Such were the characters.

XII. KATHAKALI, THE GREATEST THEATRICAL ART OF AGRARIAN CULTURE OF THE WORLD. COMPARISON OF ASIAN-INDIAN AND WESTERN DANCES

The unique character or Katakali is that the characters express different emotions directly and symbolically, in association with the songs sung by songsters from the stage. As a contrast to the Western manner, Kathakali is gentle in their movements, while vigorous, with reference to evil characters. I should say, while the Western and African dancers demonstrate physical movements, Kathakali focuses on emotional expressions, of which the actors are experts. This is done by the movements of the facial muscles and eyes. Further, the theatrical quality is enhanced by heavy and multicolored costumes that extend to the feet. Simple musical instruments and songs, the contents of which constitute the performance of the dancers.

The riches of Kathakali have been revived by the epic poet of Kerala, the late sri Vallathol Narayana Menon by establishing a university of training programs, called Kala Mandalam. The theatrical arts of the temple, including Kathakali were originally played by persons of upper castes.  But in Kala Mandalam, teachings are offered to all the Hindus as well as Christians and Muslims, and even foreigners. Kathakali is related to several dance forms of Aboriginal peoples of Kerala as well as to the modern dance form of Pharada Bharat Natyam, the celebrated dance form of South India. Mohini Aatom (the dance of the beautiful woman), a highly sophisticated dance form of Kerala is an amalgamation of Kathakali and Bharta Natyam. The costume and movements of the actress in Mohini Aatom are gentle and enchanting.  

There are other traditional theatrical arts. They also have been performed in temples.

XIII. THE FESTIVITIES AND THE JOYS OF THE VILLAGERS

Onam, the national festival of Kerala, has been the greatest celebration in my village, Valady. Onam has a religious legend,- in ancient Kerala there was a king Mahabali. He was truthful, honest, totally caring his subjects, most religious and spiritual. God Vishnu wanted to test his character. He came in the form of a dwarf and asked Mahabali to give him enough space of the size of three times his foot. Mahabali told him to take the space. The dwarf took his entire kingdom in two spaces of his foot. Then Mahabali showed his head after third space of the dwarf’s foot. The dwarf put his right leg on the head of Mahabali and blessed him and sent him to the presence of the God in heaven. Mahabali was so devoted to his subjects that he begged God Vishnu who came as a dwarf to let him come to his people once a year. During his time the people were all honest and happy with no caste or class differences. They were all equal and alike. Onam is the celebration of the yearly coming of Mahabali to Kerala, to his people.

During Onam the people of the entire village, for four days, will be under celebration. The Christians also took part. There will be big feasts with more than twenty dishes and rice. Kerala, because of the riches of natural ecology, uses the most wide varieties of spices and vegetables in their diet.

The girls of the village will go into the woods and collect wild flowers and make beautiful round decorations of four to six feet wide in the front yard of their houses. The girls also have a dance, called ‘thumbi thullal’. The women will dance, Thiruvathira. The boys play many different games with and without a ball. It’s interesting to note that nobody quarrels or get into fights in these celebrations.

All the peoples of Kerala wear clean clothes, especially white, the favorite color of the Keralites, probably as a contrast to the multicolored nature which is all over in Kerala.

YEARLY FISHING IN THE PONDS, CANALS AND FIELDS SUBMERGED IN WATER IS A FESTIVITY AMONG MEN

They use a technique ,- they will move around these shallow waters very briskly with roaring joy and make the waters muddy. Then the fishes come to the surface. They catch the fishes with nets, baskets etc. The villagers stand around the waters and enjoy seeing the men fishing. The fishes caught, are shared not only by the men but also among others.

The village, because of the wide number of the trees, are blessed with so many varieties of birds. In my village, nobody caught even the edible birds and ate them.

XIV. HINDU-CHRISTIAN INTEGRATION

It is historically believed that St. Thomas came to Kerala in 52 A.D.

It is important to note, that the oil for the temple lamps for the yearly ritual has been brought by a traditional Christian family. This is a mark of communal and religious  harmony between Hindus and Christians. In some parts or Kerala, Hindus and Muslims also interact, ritually. A unique importance of Kerala is that it’s a region where all the religions come together and interact. Historically. It is believed that St. Thomas came to Kerala in 5280 and he started the first Christian community. Islam came in 7th century times.   

In my village, Vallady, the neighboring three houses belonged to the Pazhoor family, traditionally very old. It was the original home of the Chalai family. Around four miles west in Kavalam, the famous writer and diplomat, K.M. Panicker and his grandnephews- the Malayalam dramatist, Kavalam Narayana Panicker and the poet Ayyappa Panicker belonged to that family. Both of them were my good friends, even from childhood. In Valady, Pazhoor and the two branch families had one person each almost around my age, who were my best friends in my village. They were Damodara Panicker of Paloor, late sri Gopala Krishnan Menor of Eleven Madom, and late sri Kesava Panicker of Madom. The youngest of all of us, Madom just east of my house. His mother used to call my mother Areeckal Changalthi, meaning friend.

As I stated earlier, my village, the nature and people there have given me permanent joy in my life. Even in my childhood I used to walk along, sometimes with grandfather or mother on the banks of the canals to see the rice fields and the water. Once I saw many small species of three to four inches long, catfish, hundreds of them being together on the side of a canal as if they were playing Thiruvathira.

The waterways and the rice fields reinforced my travels even during my childhood through the backwaters of Kerala have given me incredible joy. While in the USA from 1966 I have enjoyed seeing every nature show including landscape, animals, birds and aquatic beings, in channels 13, national geographic, animal planet, etc. This could be my addiction, although I can be free from it. I wove to my village, my joyous passion for nature.

My village has taught me the experience of being in agrarian culture, the foundation of anthropology which has given me personally and professionally the best of life. Agrarian culture is the foundation for all knowledge and wisdom, unadulterated by the evils and manipulations of industrial culture. After lessons of life, especially being adapted to nature, we learn from agrarian culture the original pristine agrarian culture which I directly experienced, is no more there in any part of the world, including my village. Anthropologists both in training and practice should learn about it through available books and films.

During my childhood the canals, rice fields and backwaters in the West had plenty of different fishes,- the perch-spot (karimeen) with two other smaller subspecies, found in Kerala, was the prized fish. Valli (a fish similar to the valli in the USA) and several varieties of mullets are found mainly in the backwaters. The white fish, around one foot long, and the white perch are almost extinct. There were many varieties of catfish, at least four; another prized fish is the snakehead, two subspecies, the big more than a foot in size, and the smaller one below a foot.

  1. KERALA, THE FESTIVAL OF FISHES

During my childhood the rice fields were only cultivated in alternate years. When not under cultivation, the rice would be filled with water, which the farmers kept for natural fertilization, especially getting into the fields with yearly floods. Immediately after the harvest, specializing farmers brought thousands of ducklings to eat in the fields. Both the ducks and duck eggs have been popular among the people of Kuttanad. The shallow waters of the rice fields in my childhood had plenty of frogs and the aquatic creature called feeldoppel. The frogs had been caught for their legs to export to the USA and Europe. Presently, there are not many left. The waters in that time were also the nurturing places of one species of shrimp, which will grow as long as a foot, usually, half a foot and more. The shrimp was very highly priced, for its taste, but unfortunately like many other fishes and plants the shrimp is almost extinct now. I am sure an intensive effort by the authorities concerned can revive this species. Another fish that has become extinct is eels which grew in abundance in the rice fields. It is a very prized fish for the Japanese as well as Chinese, as I have seen myself in stores and restaurants. Probably more important than the Japanese was for the Chinese in many fish markets I have gone to in China, hills of live eels will be in the markets. The Chinese and the Japanese have advanced techniques to farm eels and other fishes. India can learn from them.

XVI. KERALA: A GREAT GLOBAL MODEL OF NATURAL ECOLOGY

Kerala is an ecological, rich resource center of the world. It’s a narrow strip of land between the Arabian sea and Western Ghats, a mountain range originally with heavy forests and wild animals including tigers, leopards and numerous varieties of birds including the peacock that extends from South to North.The ecological riches of this area is globally unique. Turmeric, that is known in modern medicine and alternative medical systems as the number one herb in the world, grew wild in the Western ghats. Besides, cardamom and above all, globally known, black pepper, ginger. Mango originated here and became an important fruit as apple all over the world; similarly jackfruit. Unfortunately many plants and animals in Kerala are yet to be studied, especially in the area known as Silent Valley. Many are becoming extinct. On the other hand, the Western part of Kerala is joining the Arabic ocean, and has rings of many backwaters, which once was filled with many different fishes.

 All of these made Kerala a great tourist center of the world. I should say, Kerala is also a training center of natural ecology.

XVII. MAKING OF MY PERSONALITY: LOVE OF NATURE AND PEOPLE

Kerala, especially my village, Valady is not only my joy of life, but also the training center of my personality, the land and the people, especially my grandfather. Almost all the core characteristics of being human, the foundation, I earned from my village. I have tried to see many outstanding areas of nature in the world, both directly and in films and television programs. Thanks to television channels such as National Geographic, BBC, Channel 13, Animal Planet, etc. Nature gives me not only joy but a sense of well being with strength and inspiration. Quite often I go to see the Hudson River, the neighborhood of which I live, in New york. Just as Henry David Thoreau walked regularly to see a tree in walden. I have trees all around my house, some of my friends call my house a hermitage.           

XVIII. MAKING OF MY CHARACTER

I am most lucky of my grandfather who taught me to live with truth and integrity of character, respecting all living beings. The sociality which my mother inculcated in me is the blessing which let me to enable all human kind whatever may be their religious, regional and class differences as the same. All of these characteristics enabled me to become a totalistic and integrated anthropologist. The spirit of learning that my grandfather and mother inculcated in me has grown boundless, taking several high degrees from some outstanding centers of learning in the world guided by great teachers. Seeking wisdom has become my living spirit with travel studies that I started as a teenager in Kerala extending to many parts of the world, culture, environment and people,- extensive travel studies that I made with a very good team of delegates from the USA, in China; I made travel studies with my spouse, professor Donna Pompa-Pillai in Japan, Norway, France, Costa Rica, Thailand, Cambodia, Laos, Mexico, etc. India and the USA have been the foundations for my studies in agrarian and industrial cultures, respectively

XIX. LIVING IN THE USA, INTELLECTUAL FREEDOM

 I should say that it is the intellectual freedom that the United States of America has been the atmosphere of my pursuits. Besides, my work as a professor and psychotherapist have given me just enough money for my learning and human service pursuits. I learned the art and attitude of human service from Kerala, especially Kallady, which became one of my passions as well as medium of growth.

At age 91 I can still remember many things that happened to me at age two. I should point out here, pursuit and practice of learning increases brain power, memory, creative imagination, systemic thinking, and even visionary power, more than any medicine in the world  

My native village, Valady, and its people, the joy of my life and foundation of my personality!  ( To be continued)

MathewvZachariakuttanadannewyorker 2020-08-17 16:29:09
Dr.Pillai's awakening. Brings forth my identity as kuttanadan and its upbringing. Pleasurable reminiscence. Looking forward to read and reflect my journey in Edathua, in the heart of kuttanad. Mathew v. Zacharia, new yorker
Dr. AKB Pillai 2020-09-18 00:57:04
Dear Sri Zacharia, Thanks for your comments and hoping to see your writing on Kuttanad also. Dr. AKB
മലയാളത്തില്‍ ടൈപ്പ് ചെയ്യാന്‍ ഇവിടെ ക്ലിക്ക് ചെയ്യുക