Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Vivid flashbacks of Kottayam - Elisabeth Jacob

Whenever I think of Appachan and Ammachi, I remember many people, homes, places, incidences and smells of Kottayam rather than two persons. These things to a large extent made my childhood happy and secure and helped to develop a sense of belonging and also gave meaning to relationships.

A trip to Kottayam was something I always looked forward to. When it was a ride in our Herald car, the three things I remember most are the coffee we drank from the flask during the ride, the place in Vaikom where they sell Karimeen and the tense moment when we were about to climb a steep road somewhere after Vaikom. But I think 99% of the time the Herald car climbed the steep without any hitch.

Usually we took a train journey on the Ernakulam-Kottayam passenger train which started from Ernakulam South Station. At the railway station, we would weigh ourselves on the weighing machine and compare our futures which were printed on the other side of the card which gave us our weight. If it was only Amma, Akka (Big sis) and I, we always sat in the compartment reserved for Ladies. Since the train started from Ernakulam, it was almost empty and Akka and I would take the window seat. The hard wooden seats inside the compartment and the coffee in the paper cup are unforgettable. Whenever a curve came, we would press our faces close to the window to look out and be able to see both ends of the train. When it was a coal engine, we could see the thick black smoke coming out of the chimney and by the end of the journey, a thin black film of soot had settled on our faces.

In Ernakulam it was always red Private buses on the roads, but in Kottayam they were multi-coloured and the bus which stopped in Kalathippady (I think it was called Monichen, wasn’t it?) was orange in colour. When Appachan and Ammachi were staying in the old house, after getting down at the bus stop, we would start walking and would invariably meet one or two relatives so Amma would stop to have a small chat. Amma has this special ability to remember the complicated way a person is related to the family!

The black gate, the mittam (front yard) with charal (stones), the tapioca plants on both sides, the lone Chetthi plant in front of the house, the front door with the little bars, all used to give me a homecoming feeling. Most of the time, nobody would be there in the front part of the house. We would just walk in, put away our bags in one of the rooms and then go to the kitchen where sure enough we found Ammachi near the aduppu (wood stove) or sitting in a chair doing some cutting.
I don't think I had any long conversations or for that matter any small conversation with Appachan or Ammachi. Most of the time it is Amma's or my uncles' and aunts' reminiscences about them which formed a picture in my mind. I always considered Ammachi as a woman with strong will. All her children used to say how Ammachi used to keep prodding them to study, how she considered all her children as the best. Having seven kids and living far away from her relatives with little support from Appachan must have been very tough!

The kitchen in the old house brings to mind Eli and Maria, the two ladies who helped Ammachi. Eli's head always used to move from side to side and Maria had a wide smile which used to show her teeth, which at that time I thought was perfectly set ;-) Ammachi used to move around the kitchen in unhurried steps. The rubber slippers she wore used to make a typical sound. Amma and Akka inherited her ability to cut vegetables finely. I only got the ability to appreciate fine cut vegetables! Though Ammachi didn't approve of it, I enjoyed putting Ola (coconut leaf used for kindling) into the aduppu to watch it catch flame. I remember the kuzhal (blower) to blow in the air and make the firewood catch fire, the pazhakula (bunches of bananas) in the storeroom, the nellu (grain) in the chembu (iron pot) outside the kitchen to be boiled and the brass pot used to boil the water for bathing.

I used to enjoy sipping morning coffee in a glass. It was always puttu (rice flour breakfast meal) and banana for breakfast. By noon, curry and rice was on the table. After lunch, Ammachi kept the leftovers in small plates in the meat safe. I was always tempted to open that small almirah with wire mesh doors but had the courage to do it only after Ammachi went for her afternoon nap. I remember that special smell it had when opened. One by one ;-) I used to pick up and eat the sautéed beans, bitter gourd mezhukkupuratti and the fried (almost black) small pieces of beef.

After the evening tea, we went to visit relatives’ houses. The walk through that narrow thondu (trail) was very exciting. It looked like a maze with big Aanjali trees beside it. The ferns that grew in the space between the stones that made up the walls used to give a damp feeling. We usually came back after 2-3 hours. Ammachi was not very happy about this latecoming and I think since it was Amma she had to deal with, she never ventured into an argument but her silence said it all. At night, the lights were so dim that I was afraid to go to the bedroom without Amma. And Amma (I felt) took her own sweet time to help Ammachi to clean the kitchen. I don't know whether Ammachi appreciated Amma entering into her domain, Akka says they used to argue.

Some of the images that come to my mind when I think of Appachan are; sitting in the grand old chair in front of the table writing in a dairy, reading the newspaper in the cane chair on the verandah or lying down on the bed in the middle room. People used to come home and talk to him and by evening he was out for a walk or to visit somebody. Often Pappachan and Paravan would come to enquire about the work they had to do. I liked to listen to the conversation they had with Appachan. I think both of them had the typical Kottayam accent.

Sometimes when he lay down after lunch, we would ask him to sing and 8 out of 10 times he starts with "Moonu kurutu elikal…" in his vibrating sound. Amma says he was a good teacher and especially the best Geography teacher she knew as he always taught with the help of a map. I think she got her habit of collecting maps of different countries and showing the places in the map to anybody who shows the slight interest from him. Woe betide the the person who is closely related because then even if they are not interested, she will insist on reviewing the map with them!

The hymn “Yesu enn adisthanam…” always reminds me of that dining room and my uncles, aunts, and cousins sitting around the table for prayer. After the prayer, I believe he used to wait for those present in the table to ask a question and initiate a conversation.

I loved both my grandparents and they bound together a big family which gave me this special opportunity to boast of them to anybody who cares to listen and especially to Shaji ;-)


Lisa said...

Hey Eluchechi,

The description is brilliant, I feel like I've just been back for a short trip!

Lisa x

Kavita said...

Eluchech!!!! WOW!!!!!