Tsunami - the boy who found his home

Keshavan Nair belonged to the Perumpana Tharavad. I used to wonder why and how that family got such a name, but then strange were the ways of our elders in the times when time was aplenty and when all people did was wait for gods good grace to be bestowed on them or for great monsoons to arrive. Probably Nair’s house had a huge palm tree, who knows?

For that matter, the palm trees in hilly parts of
Palakkad are quite massive, towering into the sky – and climbing them was no mean task even for the one who succeeded!! And of course, what the palm tree gave as fruits of labor, in return, be it toddy or the silky jelly-ish palm fruit (panam-nongu) tasted heavenly…

Musings later, but let us see what K Nair is upto today, well; I can see him walking up and down the stretch of cleared land in front of his house, situated in the Vadakke thara of Pallavur. He is waiting for the boy to get back from school, I guess, in order to start off for his evening walk towards Koorma malai.

Not many know of our village though, so let me add some words to the uninitiated, Pallavur did have its brief fling with fame when the great brothers ruled the Chenda and percussion music world – the marar brothers Manian, Appu and Kunjukuttan. It became famous when the Pallavur temple elephant (frankly, I forgot his name) ruled at the Guruvayur and Trichur pooram ulsavams. And it was in the limelight when the movie Pallavur Devanarayanan was released, a lousy movie loosely (purportedly) spun around Appu marar’s life..

But today, Pallavur is quite popular due to the Chinmaya School, teeming with young children wearing the distinctive brown and cream uniforms. A school which I understand, has created many a successful alumni. We are all proud of it; we donated the land for the school and helped supervise the building and setting up of the school in the mid 80’s.

Pallavur is still an undistinguished village situated on one side of the road that goes from Kunissery to Pallasena. The North side of the road is all paddy fields stretching to the hills, the most prominent hill being the Swami Mala that had a small temple atop it, a hill that people climbed when they wanted the god to bestow a special favor for them or when young lovers wanted peace and solitude. Sometimes the bolder teenagers who wanted to have a leisurely drink away from the eyes of prying elders took the walk up the black granite hill, with a surface smooth from eons of massage by heat, rain and wind…The families who lived here were mainly farming families, though only the older people remained in the village, the children and grandchildren making their wealth and fame in the great Indian cities far away. During the Navaratri festival, they all came down in droves, hiring taxis and vans for a fortnight from Olavakkot or the airports at Cochin or Calicut…

The biggest building in Pallavur is the Trippalavurappan temple, a Siva temple with its satellite temple the Krishnan Kovil just outside the 10ft high walls. Around the temple were the two agrahara - thekke gramam and the vadakke gramam. Years ago, here lived the Brahmin class that worked in the temple, as priests, cooks, assistants and so on…in those years & times when the temple and the village were affluent. Today those Iyers have moved on to Mumbai and Chennai, a few to Bangalore even… few sold off their houses though, preferring instead to rent them out to teachers or parents connected to the local Chinmaya school. Some that got sold were promptly demolished and gaudy modern houses took their place, now bright eye sores amidst old moss encrusted houses that blend with the scenery.

The temple is on the banks of a big pond - Ambalakulam, which always echoes with playful noises of kids swimming & fooling around. On one side of it was the enclosed bath house and on the other the kadavu were womenfolk bathed. As always there were the older teens peeping and prying near the kulam waiting to see a flash of the female body – a thigh or if very lucky a falling towel exposing a mammary, eager eyes, peering with their hormones on an overdrive, as with teens anywhere…

Keshavan Nair was 80 something, still lithe and trim, walking ramrod stiff, a handlebar moustache and hair slicked back. The ex army man had a lot of clout in the village and when he walked by, he demanded respect. He would even walk by and look frankly at the womenfolk bathing. Known for his candor, Nair would look down at a comely girl and say, ‘edi Nani, nee angu valarnallo, brassiere okke ittu thudangi alle’ raising good natured laughter from the others at the kadavu and a crimson colored blush from Nani. Some were terrified of Nair, it was said that he was still a virile chap, very active at nights. Rumor has it that he was caught red handed, sampling a new field worker, only the other day.

But Nair was after all, an important guy and his presence was needed to settle many a quarrel and fight in the village. Nair the army man was the one who would regale evenings at the local toddy shop or on month beginnings at his own house when his ration rum arrived. Nair led the festival singing and he did have a loud, overbearing and sometimes sonorous voice. His wife Dakshayani Amma had him and the home, mostly in control but then, his son Raman Kutty left the house at first given chance to escape his overbearing father – He was working in Bombay as a welder or something, from what I last heard, never coming home for vacations or holidays. Nair, naturally was devastated by this.

Once Dakshayani Amma had invited us home for a lime juice while we kids were passing by, I still recall running around the house trying to spot the rifle that Nair was supposed to have at home. I never saw one!!

Now, this story is set before the Balan death episode, so K Nair was the guy who was still in control, the well respected ex-serviceman, who had ‘apparently’ killed many a Pakistani and Chinese enemy, though not awarded any major medals or ‘Chakras’ (I was still of the opinion that he was a cook, though, and I say this since I have heard Nair barking expert commands to ‘Ambi’ cooks who came to cook for Sadya’s and other occasions at our house. Only a guy who really knew cooking could give such expert commands – but well who listened to this gangly kid - then or now?)

Winters in Pallavur were not very nice, though cool, the days were frequented by the Padinjare kattu, a biting cold breeze that chafed lips and dried up one’s skin. People remained indoors in the evenings, gone was the summer camaraderie when people sat on canal varambu’s or on the warm tar roads & conducting impromptu meetings - discussing the ailing world and the Indian community in perspective.

It was on one such evening that the boy appeared at the temple. He had a nice enough face, and was the quiet kind. How he strayed into this village, nobody knows, but he sat there mute at the door of the sanctum sanctorum, and looked on with a sad face. The poojari tried asking him questions, no answers. Others who passed by tried various languages (you really think they knew more than a few words of those languages? Most definitely not, but it was a chance for them to ‘shine’), but of no avail. As was his custom, K Nair finished his evening wash at the temple pond, passed snide comments at some of the girls bathing and walked into the temple, with his booming question to the Poojari if the Naivedya Payasam was ready. His eyes then chanced on the boy and sensing the disquiet around, took charge. You know how it is, Nair had to make his mark, he walked up to the cowering little ruffian and with his trademark scowl, bellowed, who are you? Whose son are you? and the such. The boy was petrified and close to tears. Nair just lifted him up by his ears and took him out of the temple to continue with his objectionable line of questioning. A group formed around them. Not getting any answers was not a situation Nair usually faced, but here it was the case. Eventually Nair gave the boy a few tight slaps hoping to get something out, and well, it did.. the boy howled his head off and cried out in some terribly accented Tamil (fisher folk Tamil I thought)that he was from Chennai, he had lost everybody of his family in the Tsunami and had found his way to our village after a couple of months of wandering about & ticket less travel on the southbound trains.

Nair’s features immediately softened, and he was quickly contrite. He asked him in Tamil (as an army man, Nair had full command over at least 5-6 languages including English) if he had eaten anything, yes, he had - the boy had got a plantain from the Kizhekettara tea shop some hours ago.

That was how Tsunami (as everybody called him since that fateful day) met Keshavan Nair. I think his real name was Velu or something like that, but he was always Tsunami. From that day he moved into Nair’s house, one must agree, whatever bad qualities this man had, he had a softer side too. He took good care of Tsunami. Tsunami became Nair’s chief assistant. He would be seen doing odd jobs around Nair’s house, milking the cow and taking the milk early mornings to the milk society, buying provisions for villagers when he was sent to the Kunissery market and all kinds of errands. He soon became a popular fixture of the village, mastering our own special Malayalam dialect. His voice perked up, his body filled up and soon, his confidence grew, Nair style, he started passing comments on events & occasions…The boy grew up and became a member of the Nair household, Dakshayani Amma was also very happy with the whole arrangement. I am sure that in time; this boy will follow Nair’s footsteps and become a splitting image of Nair.

Nair became quite attached to the boy, his own son had absconded from home, and now he finally found company. Soon Tsunami was admitted to the local school and Nair was heard saying that once he reached a higher class, Nair would ensure that he studied in Chinmaya. Many even found parallels with the movie that Mammooty had got an award for, the boy from Lattur – Kazcha. But Tsunami knew his family was all lost and dead, unlike the movie, he had no desire to get back to that cruel world near the ocean. He settled down in our village.

Tsunami had many chances to repay Nair for his kindness, he did repay Nair and each of them is well known to the people of the village. Once Nair had a fall on the road, I think he blacked out, and Tsunami was the one who ran all the way to the post office in record time, found somebody and taxied Nair to Palakkad General Hospital. Once at the Chittur Kongan pada, a ruffian pick pocketed Nair and Tsunami spotted it in time to raise alarm. You should have seen how Nair skinned that thief; he flayed the thief’s buttocks raw with his leather belt till it was all ripped and bloody.

And this is how Tsunami came to Pallavur.

You can still see them on some evenings, Nair and Tsunami, coming back after a long walk to the Kurmamala.. Nair with bag in hand, probably some provisions, Tsunami with his thin arms swinging, enjoying the placid & contended life after the disaster, both singing some folk song, tonelessly and with gay abandon… It makes you remember Mowgli and Baloo the Bear in ‘Jungle book’ singing ‘bear necessities…’

Strange, how people’s lives intertwine in the funniest of ways, creating the tightest of knots. Look at the relationship between Chevudan Balan and Nair; look at the one between Tsunami and Nair…both crafted by life’s cruelty.

PallavurThrippallavurappan temple – extract from Wikipedia. The giant walls of this temple are at least 1 1/2 times taller than an elephant, built of stones unbelievable in size…….. These stones are laid one on top of another without any sealing in between. They have been standing like that for centuries just on gravity.

Here is a
satellite image of the temple and the Ambala Kulam and the rest of Pallavur for those interested. I can even see the top of our house in this image!!


P.S - The place is real, the characters are not...

Comments

Pradeep said…
Very intersting..
Reshmi said…
Disasters sometimes bring out the best of human spirit, and at times the worst too (well I had a Tsunami experience on the worser side!)...

That one was penned well! I love your narrations of the Pallavur - nature and cultural. Speaking of Olavakott, itz a place familiar to me too. My husband is from Keralassery!

Regards,
Reshmi
hari said…
Pallavur elephant's name was Parameshwaran and Gangadaran kutty :)
saj said…
That was a nice read. Most of the place mentioned are heared of from my granny, though visited only a few.Your narration brought back my memories of pallavur..lusious, green...nature at its pristine best...
Prams said…
Is this a real story or fictional?Whatever may be the answer...a real interesting story.Makes me nostalgic!!!
Maddy said…
prams - thanks for passing by - it is fiction but for the places

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