Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Tales from the past

I hope all of you must be aware of the gagging of blogs that takes place in India. Though this step was resorted to by the authorities with a good intention (of preventing dangerous rumours and malicious campaigns from spreading over the Internet in these sensitive times), the result was a bit too much, with all the blogs including those which stand for democracy, secularism and peace getting blocked from view in India.

Let's hope the situation will be normal soon. And, meanwhile, I am posting as the Blogger dashboard is available here. But to view the blog, I've to use some proxy servers and not even through the view the blog provision on the dashboard can I access my blog.

This time, I thought that I'd continue on the theme of Onam, with the help of a book excerpt, translated from Malayalam.

'Avasanathe Smartha Vicharam,' (The Last Caste (Morality) Inquisition), the autobiography of late A.M.N.Chakyar who was the former Registrar of Kerala University, gives an interesting documentation of the social and religious life of Kerala, especially that of the Namboothiris at the turn of 20th century. Chakyar, originally a member of Namboothiri community, had to sport the sirname of 'Chakyar,' as a fall-out of the practice of 'Smartha Vicharam,' under which his father was ostracised on the charge of having had illicit relationship with a married Namboothiri woman. The father committed suicide before the community could enact their ritual banning on him. So, the children were in turn formally expelled from the community and the new sirname was a result of that. That he managed to obtain higher education (read English education, in those days), and rose to a high official position, retiring as the Registrar of the University of Kerala, was the latter part of the story.

(More of the obnoxious practice of Smartha Vicharam, that had been observed by the Namboothiri community till the first decades of 20th century to ensure the purity of their women, later).

In those days, social status and wealth of individuals and families depended upon the area of land in possession. Land was wealth. Chakyar says, ‘Our Illam (a Namboothiri household), sat in the midst of a vast purayidam (purayidam, in Kerala, is the plot in which the house is located. The word derives from 'pura,’ meaning house and 'idam,’ meaning space. This may vary in size depending on the family’s financial status) of about five acres.

'We used to get an annual ‘paattam,’ of about 1500 para (a measurement) of paddy, from about 25 acres of karinilam-s located quite nearby. Besides that, the family owned other landed property also, which were leased out on paattam worth Rs. 1500 in cash per year.'

‘We also owned another illam named ‘Chelakkal,' at Udayamperoor village in Vaikkom Taluk of Kottayam district in the erstwhile Travancore. This illam was located in a large plot of about 30 acres. The paddy fields there fetched us an annual income of 300 para-s of paddy, while the ‘karabhoomi' (land other than paddy fields) generated an income of 1500 rupees in cash. Each of the illam-s had a nellara (granary) located in the middle of the nalukettu for storing the paddy we got as paattam. '

From the English text translated by Chakyar himself: “The Illom was situtated in in a 5-acre free-hold garden land in Thekkumbhag\om Village, Kanayannur Taluk, Ernakulam District of old Cochin State. When I was born (1907) and during my childhood, the Illom was at peak of its prosperity under the benign management of my grand father. We had in our neighbourhood some 25 acres of Kari Nilom (paddy lands), leased to tenants, fetching 1500 paras of paddy annually, and we had also some other garden lands yielding a rent of about Rs. 1500 /- in cash.

“In Udayamperoor, Vaikom Taluk, Kottayam District, of old Travancore State we had another Illom – Chelakkal – situated ina sprawling 30 acre plot and it also had some landed properties around, fetching Rs. 1500/- in cash and 300 paras of paddy per annum.

“The wooden barn which formed the central part of each Illom building was so designed as to accommodate the quantity of paddy it collected in a year…._]

He describes the daily routine during summer visits to the Chelakkal illam – ‘Meals were frugal, with a curry made of either mangoes or jack fruits, uppilittathu (pickles in brine) and moru (buttermilk). Any deficiency of vitamines must have been solved by our splendid diet of ripe jack fruits and mangoes which abounded around the house.'

Food was frugal and inexpensive and consisted mainly of rice savoured by one curry of mango or jack gruit alternating, buttermilk and pickles. Ripe mangoes made up for any vitamin deficiecy.” – from Chakyar’s translation. ]

Onam was the big event of the whole year. Chakyar gives a fairly detailed descriptions of the Onam celebrations at his illam – ‘The 'kudiyaan-s (people who had taken lands on lease from the mana) and other farmers in the village would bring ‘onakkazhcha’ to the local landlords. These included vegetables grown by them, like bananas, pumpkins, yams, cucumbers etc. People who made oil using chakku (oil presses) would bring coconut oil, those who would press sugar cane would bring jaggery, the konkani or pandaram community would bring pappadams, the weavers would bring thorthu with kara (a short cloth with border used as a bathing towel), the velan-s would bring olakkuda, muram, kutta etc. (woven out of bamboo). In return, the karanavar (eldest male member) of the household would distribute ‘onappudava' to all of them.’

‘Muslim vagabonds from Malabar would visit the ‘janmi' households during Onam season singing folk songs and playing thappu. They were given bananas (both raw and ripe), upperi (banana chips) etc. '

The Onasadya as Chakyar describes will give a shock to all those present-day feature writers. You will not find the elaborate fare that bandied about in tourism brochures. It appears quite simple, even frugal, given the present-day standards.

‘Sadya (the feast) was prepared at our illam both for the noon and evening meals on all the four days of Onam. But the sadya was not as elaborate as it is now. The traditional dishes were four varieties of curries, four types of 'uppilittathu,' (pickles) and prathaman. The four curries were kaalan, olan, erisseri and pulisseri. The four types of uppilittathu were lemon, mango, puliyinchi and inchithayiru. These four pickles and payasam continue without any change even today. Sambar, rasam, aviyal etc. were unheard of in those days. Pazham nurukku and varuthupperi were the integral parts of the Onam season.'

Note the absence of avial, now marketed as a classical Kerala dish !

He also gives a mouth-watering list of mangoes which were abundant in the purayidam-s of those days.

“The tasty Panchasara maanga (Sugar Mangoe) , almost as big as a coconut without husk, the tiny ‘Sarkkara Manga,’ (as sweet as jaggery), the fleshy Varikka manga, thukalan, vellari, chara, the sour thonnappuliyan…..

Thukalan was best for uppumaanga (mango pickled in brine), chaara for the hot uppilittathu (pickle) and ‘chethumaanga,’ (another hot pickle in which the mango is used in slices) and kadukkacchi was the chosen one for making kadumanga, (another popular mango pickle of Kerala). The tiny Sarkkara Manga was best fot the varutha acchar (fried pickle) and the varikka for ‘adamanga.’”

Now, how about this ? Any of the Malayali blogger friends know of the names of local varities of mangoes ? Share it with all.

Wednesday, July 05, 2006

Green banana leaf

Last year I had started a blog under a different sign-in name. In fact, I had opened adukkala before that, but did not feel like posting in it. So, this one, Green Banana Leaf was supposed to carry all that I'm now telling through adukkala. And, I had not made adukkala public at that time.

Now, I'm a bit confused. For one thing, I love that title - Green Banana Leaf. And, I like the couple of posts I made in it. I think Antony of Bachelor Cooking visited it once. But, not many people had found it. Here's the link -
Green Banana Leaf - do check it out. I thought of copying the posts onto adukkala. But then though I'd guide you over there.

Well, may be I could maintain both. In some different ways. May be.