An overcast sky…no power at home, hubby and kids not in station..palms hot with whatsapp and checking FB, phone went off. A memory wiggled into my head,…and I Thought ..why don’t I check the family out..so immediately rang up Aashik, who on a casual meeting had told me about this couple, and asked him whether I could pay them a visit. Yes came the answer, so and as luck would have it, had Abhi, this couple’s neighbor at hand to chauffeur me.
I opened the gate and the drive way was long..the house emerged as we drove further. On either sides coconut palms and fruit trees formed a dense overgrowth. Peppervines cosily clung onto the trees to reach lofty heights.. A tulsi thira in front, money plant pot on the veranda steps was twined to make a lovely green welcoming arch..suggestive of green fingers. Ninety eight yr old Sri Prabhakaran was waiting for me seated on his veranda. He called out to his wife, Prabhavathi and a smiling lady joined us. He was the brother of the famous Kaumudi teacher who had impulsively removed all her jewelry and donated it To Gandhiji when he visited Kannur for his Harijanodharnam, or upliftment of Harijans. Whos is Kaumudi Teacher?here she is for you...from my search..an interesting excerpt to remind our younger gen that there lived such a lady..
Sunday, October 1, 2006
The value of reading Harijan, a weekly journal started by Gandhiji in 1933 is that it carries his deepest thoughts and we get to know what he wrote in context. I came across this piece written by him during his visit to Malabar
One of my most treasured possessions is the nineteen volumes set, Harijan – A Journal of Applied Gandhism (Garland Publishing Inc. New York and London, 1973). The value of reading Harijan, a weekly journal started by Gandhiji in 1933 is that it carries his deepest thoughts and we get to know what he wrote in context. I came across this piece written by him during his visit to Malabar, the place I hail from:
It has been my privilege to witness many touching and soul-stirring scenes during a busy life packed with a variety of rich experiences. But at the moment of writing this, I cannot recall a scene more touching than that of the Harijan cause. I had just finished my speech at Badagara. In it I had made a reasoned appeal to the women present for jewellery. I had finished speaking and was selling the presents received when gently walked up to the platform Kaumudi, a girl 16 years old. She took out one bangle and asked me if I would give my autograph. I was preparing to give it, when off came the other bangle. She had only one on each hand. I said, 'You need not give me both. I shall give you the autograph for one bangle only.'
She replied by taking off her necklace. This was no easy performance. It had to be disengaged from her long plait of hair. But the Malabar girl that she is, she had not false modesty about performing the whole process before a wondering public counting several thousands of men and women. 'But have you the permission of your parents?' I asked.
There was no answer. She had not yet completed her renunciation. Her hands automatically went to her ears and out came her jewelled earrings amid the ringing cheers of the public, whose expression of joy was no longer to be suppressed. I asked her again whether she had her parents' consent to the sacrifice. Before I could extract any answer from the shy girl, someone told me that her father was present at the meeting, that he was himself helping me by bidding for the addresses I was auctioning and that he was as generous as his daughter in giving to worthy causes.
I reminded Kaumudi that she was not to have the ornaments replaced. She resolutely assented to the condition. As I handed her the autograph I could not help prefacing it with the remark, 'Your renunciation is a truer ornament than the jewellery you have discarded.' May her renunciation prove to have been an earnest of her being true Harijan Sevika.
M. K. Gandhi, (Harijan, Friday, January, 19, 1934)
These words of Gandhiji made me wonder: Did Kaumudi keep her promise never to wear jewellery and to serve the cause of Harijans and the underprivileged?
My search ended when I discovered how that one encounter with Gandhiji had transformed Kaumudi's life, who by a happy coincidence is an aunt of my daughter-inlaw. Coming from a noble lineage, she devoted her life to teaching and serving the underprivileged children and lives to this day a simple life devoid of all ostentation.
V. C. Viswanathan
He was amused that I had just gone there to listen to his memories..” Are you a thiyya” he asked I said Yes..”If it were my younger days, we wouldn’t be sitting side by side “ he said..” Why, for that matter, I was not allowed into my own kitchen, as I was born a Nambiar, I was not supposed to touch the well too, but as it was the norm, I took it in my stride” he said in good English. His father was Kadathanat thamburan, from the famous Kadathanad family in Badagara, where many lores and ballads lie unsung, and his mother was known as Devaki Kettilamma. Namboothiris , when they get married to Nair or Nambiar women, their off springs are not allowed to enter the kitchen. They have their separate quarters, like a mini apartment, in the illam( Namboothiri house) food will be provided and they eat there..Rididculous!. food for the helpers at home and the land are served in plantain leaves, spread out on holes dug in the ground. Well..we have come a long way… Things started changing when they joined the Congress Party, and by the time Gandhiji came to Kannur they had already shed their casteism and had organized Mishrabojanams, meaning feasts where they ate along with the lower castes. He delved into his memories and fished out bits and pieces..which made me feel that I should have made this trip a few years back.. but the feeling was inexplicable.. the drizzle lending it a fairytale touch..it was as though I was snuggled in my favorite space with a romantic novel sipping hot chai. Bits and pieces from here and there, picked from a canvas of ninety eight years..not an easy job..
He told me about the journey his father and his brother made all over India as State guests.as Rajas of Kadathanad . They had stayed in royal apartments in palaces, and also at The Taj, travelled in furnished coupes in trains, and formed part of a royal entourage The journey had lasted months and there were innumerable stories which had drowned in the sea of time..but one story surfaced..the story of how the Princess of Baroda fell sick and was treated by a vaid from Kerala. The vaid asked for twenty four Karat gold called Thanga bhasmam to add to the medicine. a soft ball of pure gold wrapped in silk arrived on a golden tray.
The house or illam where he was born was a massive structure, an architectural marvel, with mini apartments for individual families, and water could be drawn from the top floor too. These mini quarters also had mini kitchens if they needed to cook something special for their off springs. There was a large empty space in the middle where dance forms like kathakali and Koothu were performed. The ladies were supposed to watch from the top floor. They used to go the neighboring temples with an escort in front and back..the escorts holler all the way when they go for long walks..an indication for the lower castes to hide behind bushes.
He was magnanimous to send his wife to study after marriage and so she graduated from St Agnes ,Mangalore and did her Teacher’s training from..all after marriage and two kids later. She did not worry about the children as they grew up in a large joint family. She says that nowadays punishments are being termed as a crime, back then it was the done thing which was accepted by the parents. Teachers were disciplined and spoke good English..she owes her perfect English to her school teachers in Girls High school, Kannur. English language definitely is a morale booster, and nowadays it is sad that graduates from local schools and colleges do not attain the mannerisms of self confidence which good English gives them. Their children all have long back flown the nest.. the old loyal servants have aged with them. Age hinders activities..the turmeric has not been planted this year, she laments.. from men to holler and escort you on you daily visits to the temple…to the present times, when you have to rely on agencies to hire maids, and follow their instructions..Time for cricket on t.v, for Uncle,which he unfailingly watches…I bid good bye..a gloomy day blossomed into a beautiful memory ..