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Friday, August 22, 2014

The royal Grandfather

The Zamorins ruled over North kerala for many years with pomp and power .
Vasco Da Gama the Portugese Adventurer and sailor had stepped into the shores of calicut and was amazed at the kingdom and its people and their prosperity
 Though he was treated with hospitality he showed his true color by slowly usurping the land by way of setting a trade post a routine ploy but the samorin drove him away and rest is history
 The British later slowly and steadily stemmed and curbed the powers of the samorins and with free India former Prime minister Indira Gandhi reduced the family to penury by denying even the privy purse given to other royals
the samorins too were never wise enough to excel themselves in education and adapt to modernity like the Travancore and Cochin Rajas who still held on to a great part of their wealth .

My own Mothers father Padinjare kollothe Manavedan Raja was part of Mangavu kovilakkam  ( Western palace )
His name was PCM Raja and he was known to all as Thampuran a name given to the royal family members .

Now my grandfather never had the airs of anything of the sort nor did he look like a king he was just another bald grandfather who snuffed and sneezed his retired existence .
with a bushy grey whisker he was stout and short a bit on the rotund side too ,he used to wear baggy bush shirts and white dhoti ,was quite healthy pottering all the time in the garden and planting things
he was more a silent type
Definitely i did not get that trait from him
he and my grandmother Valliyil karthiyayani amma were a great combo
she was fair short with curly hair and had a dignified air on her .

she was very pious and would visit the nearby Shariyyikal Bagavathy temple our family diety in the morning and evening
 it was our habit ( me and cousins ) to way lay her on way back from the temple  to taste the delicious thrimadhiram or sweet prasad she brought back
 she would ask us to put some sandal paste on our forehead too but we were never keen on that part of the deal .
she was also very particular that we sit at dusk together in front of the lamp and chant prayers for at least half an hour ,me and cousins would have all thoughts in our minds other than prayers at these times and would be giggling away admidst our pious garblings
 Hard of hearing and sitting  with closed eyes our  grandma would never know all this but our grandpa though sitting in the portico reading something in the dimming light was well aware of the goings on he would grunt once in a while to show he knew all but would never interfere .
those days there was no electricity in the big house so after an early dinner and gulping grandmothers fresh glass of frothing milk from our resident cows we would go up to the bedrooms to giggle a lot and try to sleep
It was talk time for grandpa and grandma then .
Grandma being deaf felt she had to shout for anyone to hear her so she would bellow at my grandfather thampurannu kelkunnundo  ? can you hear me ?
then a small voice would pipe in .......hmmmm tell
what I am saying you can you hear and you just said ...... market !
hey paranjollu ..... please tell
and this would go on till they felt tired enough to retire to their bedroom .

once when I was around 12 years and had gone there for a holiday there was none other than me and both of them as by then my cousins had moved to another place .
 I was sadly told to sleep in another room as I was now a big boy
 The Kovilakkam house was huge and was built for around 50 to 60 people of an extended family and with only three people which included poor me it was massive and dark and to my mind full of strange beings walking around .
The small lamp would go off in the wind  and in the pitch darkness the only solace was my grandparents talking with each other .
after some time this too would stop as they may  have felt sleepy
The huge grounds on the side of my room was particularly frightening as in those days in old Nair houses most family members who passed away were creamated in a far flung corner within the house itself  .
To my mind all my ancestors would find it convenient to go for a walk precisely then
 With the rain pattering and occasional thunders rumbling illumination by lightening would reflect strange figurines in the life size mirror opposite my bed
enough was enough I  felt then .
I was in that age when in the daytime I felt I was an adult but by night a small frightened child .
Again living in a big city like Madras with bright lights I wasn't used to pitch darkness with background noises

slowly I would take courage and howl ....Grandpa
yes....... you still not slept
oh no .about to sleep , just wondering if I need to come to your room

why are you wondering so  ?..... this from my grandpa who knew is was a clever ploy from a frightened me

well you both old people all alone maybe you are afraid so I can look after you that's why .....
oh good ...please do come my son ..he would save me
I would immediately go there and as I went I would hear him say ....Avannu pedia .....thats he is afraid and both of them would chuckle
Grandpas morning visit to the Parappanangadi market was an event by itself .
 occasionally he would ask me to come which was a treat
He would go around 10 am in the blistering sun shaded by his huge umbrella walking all five kilometers one way
 he would meet countless people on the way who would reverently en quire Thampurans well being
fter chatting with all of them we would reach the Railway station and the market nearby by afternoon
he would buy me a Nannari sarpath which was the spirte of those days
 the cool liquid was a real relief for my parched throat after his shopping list was exhausted he would get one of the patient teenage boys in the market to carry his purchases as we returned back to a late lunch
I would lie down exhausted while he would change and go into the garden to potter around .

It was during my second year in medicine he passed away
 I really wish I had talked to him more to know about his childhood days when they still had some pomp and power in Calicut but it wasn't to be
but still there is a part to his story  which is very interesting which I hope to  write more elaborately maybe one day .

Sunday, August 03, 2014

Varanasi the ageless city

 What does one do one when one visits one of the oldest cities in the world ?
One looks around and sees history
Be it Damascus or Istanbul two other old cities I had been to and our own Varanasi one can take good photographs and hope that the history would stick to its digital frames
I know it would never but that’s the best way to bring a feel of such a place
Varanasi or Kashi or Benares that’s three names for you has the Ganges India’s holiest river flowing through it and is the centre around which the city and its history grew .
The Kashi  Vishwanath temple stands by the side of the river in a narrow alley reached after walking with cloistering crowds ,claustrophobic shops selling flowers, incense ,sweets ,to be given as an offering to the lord .
The presence of huge bulls hardly deters ones progress as one learns to walk around living and non living things in Varanasi as true to its soul it’s a place where the fine distinction of life and after life melds and disappears into nothing ness
This is all the more truer in the burning Ghats of Harish Chandra where legend says the most honest emperor Harish Chandra who would never tell a  lie whatever be the need for it is tried by the Gods with all sorts of humiliations and finally his son dies and he dorns the garb of a Dom or funeral pyre helper as he has no money to cremate his child’s body and it is said the Harish Chandra worked in these very ghats
As the dusk settles down the river flowing melancholy none of the filth that bordered its banks could be seen but only the reflection of the burning pyres which danced in the ripples to show man that life and death is as transitory as the ripples which would never last but for the moment
This silent espousing of the philosophy of life for the attuned is Varanasi’s  uniqueness
 It silently whispers to your soul and if one were to catch that silent murmuring one would see beyond its dirt and squalor 

 But that’s no excuse for not  making the place more neater .
cleanliness is definitely next to Godliness in fact to me cleanliness comes first and so thinks our new PM Shri Narendra Modiji who is representing this holy city in the Parliament and who is lit with a passion to clean the Ganga river .
The Daswamedh  Ghat is a bigger burning Ghat .
There are many Ghats or bathing places with steps dropping down to the river .
Some were owned by erstwhile royal kingdoms some by ashrams .
On the banks sat the priests with huge matted umbrellas to protect the faithful from the blistering sun or at times the rain or the frost in the winter
The relatives of the departed  come here in hordes to perform rites for the loved ones .

 Hinduism believes that matter returns to matter and so once the bodies are burned after death their ashes are flown into holy rivers merging in them to be part of the food chain and then come back in rebirth as part of an endless   circle with the only refuge being enlightenment and relase to the supreme when one is right for it
Ecologicaly and mathematically sound principles  .
We took a boat that was rowed into the river by  a talkative boatman who told us all about the rituals and festivals of Ganga ma
Far on the distant opposite bank one could see the silhouette of Ramnagar which was the Varanasi royal families palace
HRH Vibhuti singh was the present incumbent who’s day of honour was during the boisterous Ramlila celbrations when the epic of lord Ram and his quest for his Sita across the seas enacted with so much accuracy and finesse lasting for more than a month
The whole place was a stage with areas marked as Ayodhya the forests where Ram Lakshman and Sita would retire to ,with Sita kidnapped by Ravana from Lanka across the ocean down south Rama Lakshmana with their army of monkeys retrieve her back after a righteous war and kill Ravana and his ilk .
Across the river opposite Ramnagar the area is actually called Lanka and today it s a busy market near the sprawling hundred year old centre of learning the Benares Hindu university and it is here that Ravanas effigy is burnt on the penultimate day of  Ramlila
Muslim citizens of the city consider it as a honour and their right to build this effigy as it has been over the years 
They  are as much part of their Hindu brethren in the celebrations as Hindus are for Eid celebrations when they hold Iftar  parties .
The glowing arathis and lighted lamps that float in the river as night falls is a scintillating spectacle to be watched for aeons .
And then all becomes quiet with the distant embers blowing sparks  in the burning Ghats
  The cool winds blows over the unhurried pace of the river to wait for another day in its long past .

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