Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Memories of Vadakenadayil - Babu George Mathew

Vadakenadayil is the name of my mother's family. The name is derived from the fact that the ancestral home was at the northern entrance of the Manganam temple. But for us children, it only meant the house where her parents stayed. We referred to it as Vadakkanda, a corrupted form. It was on the Kottayam-Kumili road, just outside Kottayam town limits.

Our childhood was spent in Munnar, a hill station about 90 miles (145 kms) away from Kottayam where my father taught in the Munnar High School. During summer holidays, a visit to Kottayam was a must for my parents - to spend time with their parents, meet relatives, attend family church and renew cultural contacts etc. For Ammachi, it was a chance to gather stock of certain "essentials" for the next one year - special brooms made out of coconut leaves, beautifully made reed baskets, bamboo trays, jaggery balls (sharkarra from sugarcane), rice flakes, tamarind, cambodge pieces, clay pots and other traditional kitchen implements. She believed that these were hygienically and well made in Kottayam.

My paternal grandparents' house was about 250 yards away and was accessed through a narrow dugout pathway which also served as a boundary marker. So a visit to Kottayam meant a visit to both these houses. My early memories are connected with these visits. Our family who lived in Vadakkanda consisted of my grandfather who had lost his memory, my grandmother who was a meek, sweet and graceful old lady, Ammachi's eldest brother (Vallichayan), his wife (Ammayi) and five daughters. I do not think I was ever comfortable in that house. The kitchen area was dominated by the female residents, strengthened by the presence of my mother and elder sisters. Boys were not very welcome in the kitchen area. The other side of the house was the domain of Vallichayan. He liked to stay in his domain and hardly ever went out. We had to be careful around him as he was a highly irritable person. So there was hardly any "space" for me to sit down and read or daydream.

One of my earliest memories of that house is of quarrelling with Ammachi one day over something at bedtime. Right at that time, Achayan came there to collect a coconut leaf bunch which would be lit and used as a torch to go to his parent’s house through the narrow pathway mentioned earlier. Ammachi asked him to take me along and I readily agreed. After that I never again spent a night at Vadakkanda.

On visits to Kottayam, we would get down from hand-pulled rickshaws at Vadakenadayil with trunks and lots of luggage. After spending a little time there, we would proceed to pay "respects" to my paternal grandparents. Ammachi, my elder sisters and the youngest children would go back and remain at Vadakenadayil for most of the vacation.

As I said, the house is on KK Road, an arterial road connecting the high ranges in the east with the market town of Kottayam. Lots of buses and trucks would ply on this road. On the main market days (Tuesday and Friday?) there would be lots of small time farmers and artisans carrying their goods as head loads to sell at the main market. From the previous night itself, there would be a continuous stream of bullock carts (single ones to 3-40 strong caravans) carrying hill produce and farm products from nearby areas. The iron clad wooden wheels and the bells on the retaining spoke would make a lot of noise rolling over macadamised roads. From these people, which included women, Ammachi would buy kitchen implements, brooms with the help of her mother.

In those days people were particular about the way food was prepared. I think all women including the hired help were very competent cooks. Ammayi was no exception. I don't think I have seen a match for her perfectly made aromatic "puttu". Unfortunately it was an evening snack there and not a breakfast item. The breakfast in their house was the traditional "conji", a rice gruel made with specially broken rice which I couldn't stand. Other tidbits and the very sweet jackfruit served were always welcome.

The house has remained pretty much the same, without any significant changes and it still reminds me of the good old times.


mathew jacob said...

Dear Mr. Babu,
My name is Mathew Jacob. I studied along with your brother John C Mathew. C.V.Mathew sir tought me English. Where is Johnny now? I would like to contact him. Will you please forward to me either his e-mail id or contact number. My e-mail id is
Hope you will see your narrative. Regards and Best wishes, Mathew Jacob

George Mani said...

Are you Babu George Mathew who was in UCCollege 1958 to 1962Just curious to know