Valady in Kuttanad, Kerala, India is the idyllic village celebrated by Dr. A.K.B. Pillai in his internationally acclaimed articles presented in social media, books, and other writings. He is a native son of Valady.
Valady is situated about 10 kilometers from the town of Changanassery in Kerala, India. As Dr. Pillai has made known, Valady was a typical agrarian village. People lived by farming and handicrafts. Dr. Pillai was inspired by his village to write hisPh.D. dissertation (Columbia University, New York) on matrilineal culture. His book ‘The Culture of Social Stratification/ Sexism: The Nayars’ (1975) is dedicated to ‘Valady, my native village and its people.’ He has written most endearingly of the people of Valady and its beautiful natural ecology in the first chapter of his autobiography, published on Facebook and E-Malayalee.
He himself is endearingly viewed on Facebook by people not only from Valady but other places of India and the world at large. At the age of 92, he recalls his childhood memories of the nature and people of Valady, very vividly. He was born in the family known as Arrackal, meaning ‘family of grainery.’
I was born in the adjoining family known as Pazhoor. I am many years junior to Dr. A.K.B. My youngest uncle was his childhood friend. He used kinship terms towards my grandmother, ‘Peramma’ (‘older mother’) and my three uncles, ‘Chettan’ (elder brother). Such kinship terms were used among close members of different families, even one’s neighbors, all over India. In social media responses to his posts he is often referred to in these kinship terms, even by many strangers. This could be because the emotional closeness they feel toward him through his humanistic writings. As a child he was known as ‘Balakkuttan,’ an endearingly shorter form of Balakrishnan. I have been calling him ‘Chettan.’ His two other childhood friends were also from the branch families of Pazhoor. Another family he had close relationship within his childhood was called Nalloor, a branch family of Arrackal. Pazhoor, Kalarickal and Arrackal were the three dominating families in the village. The members of the first two families, traditionally taught Kalaripayattu. They organized armies, probably for the local king, in the past. The king also must have given them landed properties.
Kalaripayattu, from which ‘karate’ originated and spread all over the world, was the fighting technique of the soldiers in Kerala. Those who taught ‘kalaripayattu’ were called ‘Assans,’ meaning teachers. Dr. A.K.B’s grandfather, Kalarickal Parameswaran Kurup, and members of Pazhoor family were locally known as ‘Assan.’ Late ParameswaraKurup was a scholar in Hinduism and an expert on legal issues. As his autobiographical writings state, Dr. A.K.B.’s socialization in spirituality, as well as in secular life, was the result of his grandfather’s efforts.Arrackal, Dr. A.K.B’s native family, was quite rich until about 150 years ago. It is possible that a king granted his wife landed properties in Arrackal. Even 100 years ago, Arrackal was noted for a two-storied building, which was quite unusual, even in Kerala as a whole. The family is very old- the family’s idols of serpent deities have inscriptions, on the soles of their feet, in a language older than Malayalam. So the Arrackal family may date back to more than 500 years ago. There are two stone monuments in the local temple that are associated with the Arrackal family. They represent two heroes. On one of the monuments it is written ‘parakum kuthira,’ meaning ‘flying horse.’
My family, Pazhoor, is also historically important. Many years ago a member of my family, Kesava Panikkar, even at the age of 16, was socially active.He migrated to kavalam with two lady cousins to look after the properties of the family around Kavalam. He led the movement to transform the shallow areas adjoining the Vembanad Lake into rice fields. Kesava Panikkar faced lot of problems when he led the movement of Kayal Krishi .Even British engineers were against him as they feared cultivating in Kayallands may create problems for Cochin port. But KesavaPanikkar could convince his opponents with his wisdom and vision . King of Travancore gave him permission to go ahead with his idea. Now, many of these paddy fields reclaimed under his leader ship are cultivated twice in a year against once in two years they were cultivated in his time .This has become a boon to Kerala which imports rice from other states like Andhra
He founded a new branch of his family by the name of Chalayil in the nearby village called Kavalam. The famous historian and diplomat Sardar K.M. Panikkar and the writers KavalamNaryana Panikkar and Dr Ayyappa Panikkar belong to the Kavalam branches of Pazhoor family.DrkarmaChandraNair who expired recently in US and his elder brother Dr Vijayachandran Nair etc also belonged to Kavalam branch of Pazhoor family .
Dr. A.K.B. had close relations with Kavalam panikkars also. He met Sardar K.M. Panikkar and presented his book on Kashmir to him. Dr. A.K.B. was also close friends ofKavalamNarayanaPanikkar and DrAyyapapaniker two persons also.
In the past, the Arrackal family had a lawyer known as Arrackal Vakil (lawyer). Dr. A.K.B’s one uncle and his grandfather’s brother’s son were also lawyers. The famous Malayalam film star Suresh Gopi’s mother is from Nalloor,which is a branch family of Arrackal. There was also a famous musician in Nalloor, the late Vasudevan Pillai.
The Bhagavathy (Mother Goddess) Temple was the central place in Valady known as Valady Koottummel temple. During the brutal conquest of Tippu Sultan from the neighboring state of Mysore, many royal and Brahmin families, being afraid of Tippu’s brutality, came from northern parts of Kerala to the interior parts of the south. The king of Paravoor came to Pazhoor and married a lady there. He brought two idols of deities with him. He worshipped them daily. In his old age he went back to his native family, as was the custom of the time. At his wife’s request, he donated the idols, one of which Pazhoor family donated .It made the deity of the Valady Temple. It is in the form ofBhadrakali. The other idol ofDurga was kept in the family and the deity is worshipped even now. The Valady Temple has nine trustees. Pazhoor and Arrackal are two of them.
During the childhood of Dr. A.K.B., his family had become poor, because the maternal uncles were continuously wasting the wealth. The family property had disintegrated through individual partition. Dr. AKB had bought back the area of the serpent Deity Temple and completely rebuilt it. There is an Arrackal-Nalloor family association, under the auspices of which periodical rituals have been conducted at the serpent deity temples, both at Arrackal and Nallor.
DrAKB`s father, a Brahmin priest, was in Alleppey, around 16 miles away. In the matrilineal families, the custom was that the Brahmin fathers did not care for their Nayar wives and children. On the other hand, in rich Nayar families the Brahmin husband and father lived in the same compound, eating from his own separate kitchen. His grandfather, although most concerned about him, eventually stopped working as an assistant to lawyers, because his eyesight was failing in his old age. His oldest son, Arrackal Vasudevan Pillai, was a merchant of gold jewelry in Quilon around 50 miles away. Dr. A.K.B finished his primary classes in the local school, in the middle of his second year, living with his middle uncle at Kottayam. It was there that he met, at the age of 6, Mahatma Gandhi, and touched him, as written in the chapter two of his autobiography (posted in Facebook). This incident had a tremendous impact on his personality, making him accept the philosophy of non-violence and motivated him to take part in the Freedom Movement (from the British) of India, at the age of 15.
DrAKB`s native village of Valady did not have roads and people depended wooden country boats for travel. It used to take long hours even to reach Changanassery by country boat. The paddy cultivation was done those days only once in two years. Income from land was meager for a common man for survival .The students who were interested for higher studies had to go and live in towns to get their higher education. Most of the families could not afford the cost of boarding of the children in hostels.
By the time Dr. A.K.B. reached the final grade of high school his uncle had lost all the wealth because robbers ransacked his gold jewelry store.But he did not give up his studies. He tutored students, walking 5 to 10 miles, 3 to 5 days a week., After graduation from high school, he worked as a field clerk in a coir factory in Alleppey. There, he defended a worker against management and as a result of which , he was dismissed from the job. Luckily by that time he had written a Malayalam novel. With the money from selling the novel’s copyright to a publisher, he printed his own stories and started selling them. For seven years, he managed his life and studies, even taking care of his mother and getting a B.A. Honor’s degree, financed by the sale of his own books which he sold by traveling around Kerala.
During that period, he also carried out an intensive nine months of field study, making detailed study of Kashmir and East Pakistan. He was developing his strong conviction that a writer had to study raw life. By that time he also published his famous short story collection, ‘ManninteMakkal’ (‘Children of the Soil’).
His life took the three-dimensional direction of gathering wisdom, pursuing his passion for advanced studies, and committing himself to human service activities. He became a lecturer and later a professor at SreeSankara College, Kalady. While there, he led a movement that built 100 huts for poor people, and that too, for non-Hindus. Probably he learned this compassionate sociality from his mother, breaking through the barriers of religion and caste system.
His passion for knowledge and higher studies led him to the USA. In the USA he was faced with incredible difficulties, one after another. The department of immigration told him that he and his wife were to go back, as the college that sponsored him did not have the legal authority to do so. It’s interesting to note that, later, the U.S. Immigration Department asked him to apply for immigrant status and associated Green Card, before he even thought of applying. This was probably because the persons he encountered reported his excellent character.
He depended on his college salary for their living. While as an Extension Lecturer and public speaker of the college, he traveled in many parts of the United States and learned a great deal about life there. A great test had been his ability to resist the pressures on him by some powerful Christian fundamentalists who tried to convert him to Christianity, by promising him that they would make him financially and otherwise affluent, even offering him the presidency of an academic institution. For many weeks, he had been trying to get into a university which had the legality to sponsor him. When he went to give a lecture at Florida Atlantic University, he saw a public notice from East Carolina College, which later became East Carolina University, asking for teaching assistants and students for the graduate programs. Dr. Wiley, the head of the English Department, phoned him, inviting him for an interview and he got the post.
He took another Master’s in Indu-American literature and philosophy from East Carolina University. His wife also took the Master’s Degree in Education. After 3 years, he gave up the teaching job in North Carolina when he was admitted to an M.A./M.Phil./Ph.D. program in Anthropology,at Columbia University, New York. Despite many ordeals that he encountered there, he moved upwards through his intellectual strength, getting many scholarships from the university and a distinguished research scholarship from the National Institute of Mental Health (USA), enabling him to carry out extensive research studies in historical and contemporary social-cultural systems in Kerala, India. He thus gained the M.A., M.Phil., and Ph.D. from Columbia University, New York, in totalistic anthropology (prehistory, human biology, culture, etc.). His Ph.D. thesis was passed in the First Column, which is a rare honor. Scientific anthropology was his open door through which he could then understand scientifically the entire realms of the human and culture, globally, reinforced by multidisciplinary and trans-cultural expertise. His commitment to human development and human services became stronger than ever before.
He was quite saddened by his divorce from his first wife. However, over time he then developed an extraordinary relationship with his second wife, who is his current intimate partner in his life’s efforts. His two children, Gita and Prita, hold degrees from Johns Hopkins University and Columbia University. Both are public health specialists.
His lifelong interest in human development resulted in formulating a comprehensive system of integral human development. He became a holistic psychotherapist, especially complimented by his counseling experiences of college students in the USA and India, founding Integral Development Therapy, with which he trained many persons, including his wife, Professor Donna Pillai, who practices his system even now as a licensed psychotherapist. During his tenure as professor in the New Jersey University System (Ramapo College), Dr. A.K.B. did extensive field studies of culture and people in China, Singapore, Norway, Costa Rica, Thailand, etc. He has already written more than 500 articles which he posted on Face book and other Social Media sites, analyzing and answering every problem, as well as motivating people to positive living and life goals. He has been very fulfilled in interacting with about 10,000 associates in Social Media, communicating with almost 200 persons a week.
His greatest accomplishment is being able to evolve a humanistic personality, secularly and spiritually, being able to serve friend and foe alike. Dr. A.K.B. has become a leading person of human services in the USA, as well as an authority on the development of Kerala using its native resources. He had played an active role as the founding regional Vice President of New York of FOKANA, President of Kerala Samajam of Greater New York, founding Executive Vice President of the World Malayalee Council, and many other Kerala organizations in the USA. He had organized and/or had spoken at many seminars in FOKANA conventions, the Literary Association of North America, Sri Narayana Association, FOMAA. He has been trying many developmental projects.
In Kalady, Kerala, he had an important role in founding Kalady Area Development Authority (KADA), which has been carrying out many developmental projects with governmental assistance during the last several years.
In his quest for wisdom, he has been formulating many new theories in almost all realms of human experience and cultures. His theories include systems of Integral Development, empowerment of women, including the cultural factors of their enslavement, Materialistic Sensual Syndrome based on industrial society and culture, and visionary writings such as ‘Tranquility Medicine,’ etc. His concern for human wellbeing has resulted in his extensive research in health and illness, understanding comparative medical systems and evolving Integral Development Therapy.
In the spirit of Gandhiji, it is significant to note that he is presently involved in gathering a large number of persons with him, to fight Climate Change and social deprivation. Dr. A.K.B. has received probably the largest number of Awards and honors, especially among Asian-Indians, in the USA. It is heartening to see that EMalayalee.com has given him a Senior Achievement Award. I also understand that Dr. A.K.B. has recently received a USA national award from Marquis Who’s Who for a Lifetime Achievement. His life events are listed in detail in the latest edition of Marquis Who’s Who, USA.
I feel that had DrAKB continued writing in Malayalam , he would have been considered as equal to Pottakkad and Thakazhy. Perhaps, the Malayalam language is deprived of the valuable contribution of an eminent writer like him. I hope he will write about his rich experiences he gained due to his migration to another country and world wide travels he made. Ifso, either those writings should be in Malyalam or should be translated to his mother tongue .Dr. Pillai is a young man in his mind and energetic due to his exemplorary lifestyle. At the age of 92 years his determination and vision to reach new heights are praiseworthy. I hope people of the younger generations, who feel disheartened with the hardships of life will take Dr. Pillai as a mentor.
There is a prayer in Yajurveda (36.24):
“Om Thanshachur deva hitham purasthatchukramucharath Pasyema Saratha Satham,
Jeevema, sarathasatha: srunuyama sarathasatham
Adeena Syama Saratha satham Bhooyatscha Srathath”
An approximate translation of this prayer is:
May the God who is benevolent to knowledgeable persons be visible to me in the form of light,
Let me see that bright flame (Jyothi) living for one hundred years
Let me hear His greatness for 100 years
Let me sing about Him for 100 years,
Let me live without any dependence (on others) for 100 years.
Let me live on this Earth for more than 100 years.
Let this prayer of Yajurveda happen in reality in the life of Dr. A.K.B. Pillai, whom we all call Balan Chettan of Arrackal, a good friend of my maternal uncles, also!!
(This article is written by me in consultation with Dr. A.K.B. Pillai.)