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My Ancestry

It was in this town that I was born into a small middle class family. Most of the earlier generations in my family owned agricultural lands in the interior parts of Kerala and were landowners and agriculturists by profession. Later they acquired properties in the town of Calicut being a big trading centre in those days. My grand father Krishnaswamy built a palatial house in the heart of the town and named it JANAKI VILAS after my grandmother, Janaki. He was one of the few members of the family to take up a ‘government’ job. He worked in the Railways and was constantly on the move. My mother who was named Sharadambal as the fifth of seven children, although born in Calicut in our ancestral home spent her early life growing up in several places in the Telugu speaking parts of Madras Presidency in what is now Andhra Pradesh. She was the third and youngest daughter and was one of the accomplished daughters of my grandparents. She excelled in music both vocal and instrumental. She played violin and bul bul thara (an instrument resembling today’s Key Board) very well. One of the things I remember about my mother was that when a classical programme was aired on the Radio she used to play violin along with the singing artist in the programme as if accompanying him on the violin and did an excellent job of it. She also composed songs (in Telugu) of her own in the classical ragas. She was equally good in several handicrafts, embroidery work and innovative rangoli creations. She was outstanding in whatever hobbies she took up. Moderately educated she imbibed a lot of Telugu culture and was one of the bright flowers in our family. In 1928 she married a young man of moderate education from a village in Palghat whose father was the village school Head Master. The wedding was a mega event in the town talked about my many for long. The wedding itself was a four-day affair with elephants, horses and other paraphernalia. To this happy couple Sharada and Raman was born a son who was christened Subramaniam in January, 1931, at Calicut on the auspicious Tiruvathira festival day. This day is also known as Ardra Darsanam dedicated to Lord Shiva.

This festival is celebrated all over Kerala by Malayalees with dances and songs (known as Kaikottu Kali). A unique feature of this day was the dance dramas performed by small troupes. These dramas are based on folklore or stories from Mahabharatha or Ramayana. These troupes consist of not more than five or six performers plus a costume-cum-make up man. They would visit big houses and put up a screen held each end by two members in the front yard of the houses. Performances normally run for about 30 to 40 minutes with music and songs at the end of which a collection is taken. Wearing new clothes, the children play on the swings in the wide open. A temporary swing would be made with rope which would swing at a great height and the momentum was gained by the person himself sitting on the rope by swaying with great force and with a little help from a person standing on the ground. In my younger days it was my job to make the swing for others, mostly the girls in the family, to play. In our vast compound there was a pair of areca nut trees which grew in a central area three or four feet parallel to each other. The unusual thing about the areca nut tree is that they grow to a height of sixty feet from the ground vertically straight with no branches. The circumference of the trunk at any given height is about six inches to one foot and the outer portion of the trunk is smooth. They are very sturdy. I climb up to a height of fifteen feet and tie a piece of wood across the two areca nut trees with the help of coir fibre ropes which are very strong. A long rope of about thirty or forty feet in length will be tied in the middle of this horizontal wooden piece in a U shape which will serve as the swing.

The job was done to such perfection that there was hardly any mishap. Then there was always the problem of the seniors in the family trying to stop us from any such misadventure. As a youngster I was adept in climbing trees to any great height be it the slim areca nut tree or the fatter coconut tree which grew abundantly in our compound. All the children (both girls and boys dressed in their fineries) take turns and this goes go on for hours until the grown ups beckon them to come back home to have lunch which sure is a special feast enjoyed by one and all. People in neighboring Tamil Nadu also celebrate the day with special puja and feast.

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