ROBINSON CRUSOE (NAME OF A NOVEL)ISLAND NEAR OUR HOME

Some hundred years ago, many of my uncles have actually seen the construction of the Shoranur- Cochin railway line as a deposit work by the company owning the South Indian Railways.

The company never did anything in a Princely State like Cochin, unless the money for building it, is given to the company. Malabar was under British rule; so they built the line from Madras to Calicut, by 1862 and further extended it up to Mangalore.

The Raja of Cochin State must be a farsighted person, to realize the important link to the Queen of the Arabian sea, as Kochi was called. Rice for the state came from Burma by ship and it could be transported by rail to the northern districts. He had no hesitation in selling gold ornaments of Goddess Mahalaksmi (Ammathiruvadi) of Oorakam The line connecting Ernakulam to Quilon (Kollam), came up much later, in the fifties, first as MG and was  converted into Broad Guage afterwards.

At Eravakad, on the south bank of the R. Manalipuzha, is a small patch of fertile land owned by Akarakatil family. It was completely cut off from the land by the railway line, the embankment being very high and surrounded by rice fields on all sides and the river in the north. Up to Pudukad railway station, some two miles away, one has to walk. Now too it is in the same state. The railway bridge had only sleepers, and one has to stretch his legs , with only a trolley refuge to escape from running trains.

How a family called Akarakatil lived there, surrounded by water during the monsoon from June to August, and again during October-November (retreating monsoon), without electricity and any conveyance, with the sound of creatures like the frog and grasshopper, for company, is a frightening mystery.  In floods which were common before the construction of Peechi dam, water flowed across the family orchard!

When I was a young boy, a namboodiri of Kuroor mana was crossing the bridge. He saw Cochin Express, the fastest train at that time, and moved to the cage for trolleys. Seeing him move away from the track, the driver, who had seen him, went ahead in full speed. At that point, somehow, the namboodiri came out on to the track, to walk quickly over a few sleepers still left. He missed it by a second and was hit by the engine. He died on the spot.

At that time I was young and there were only a few trains. Now, the number of trains has gone up very high. Though the steel sheets over the sleepers have made it easy to cross the bridge, I feel nervous when I think of going over it.

Now there is a barrage at Muttikal which falls on the way from our village. So I crossed it and walked along a good pathway along the side of the river for some ten minutes. I could see the rail very near and took a narrow path which took me to the railway embankment. A flight of steps and then the house could be seen some hundred metres away.

The inmates must have been surprised to see a stranger in pants and shirt, approaching them. So I told them my name and address and the fact that I just wanted to meet them, without any purpose.

I was well received and we talked about Madhavan, a close friend of my uncle Vasudevapphan, both ardent communists and contemporary of E.M.S. Namboodiripad, the first communist in the world, to be elected democratically.

They eagerly bought my book and I was glad of the opportunity to wax eloquent about my pet topics!

We departed as close friends. Dr. A. Ramachandran who accompanied me up to the rail line , offered to take me across the bridge; but I preferred to walk back the way I came.

On my way back, I was surprised by a bright green, thin snake which crossed my path within a few inchess !

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MUTHUKURSSIMANA, MY WIFE HOUSE

Once upon a time, Muthukurssi mana was a very wealthy family, owning the whole land between the Bharathapuzha river and the railway yard. The home was at the site of the presnt loco shed.

 There was an elephant, a symbal of affluence then. And now also the new rich are crazy about the elephants

 When the South Indian Railwy, a private company owned by British people, bought it, the building was dismantled and reconstructed at the present site. The hill, earlier known as Muthukurssi hill, became railway property and they built quarters there. Now it is Ganeshgiri.
The bungalow at the top was prominent in the film Julie, which was shot there.
My wife’s grandfather’s younger brother was adopted by Mundanat  Mana family and he managed to transfer the wealth to his new home;  something like that happened.

 My father-inn-law had seen the worst days, doing pooja in different temples, including the famous Ambalapuzha Krishna temple.
His one sister, who was married very late, shared the brunt of poverty. She is still alive and very cheerful, now living with her son Kollumuttathu Narayanan, at Manisseri.
My wife was put in a convent school at Shoranur. She will return home, crossing the rail line, take bath in the pond and then only have something to eat. On Mondays, she will go to Mahadevamangalam, on the bank of the river, for prayer to get a good husband and return home, almost running, before taking food.
She had seen family bickerings, almost all the time between uncles and her father; so fed up was she, that it was her wish to be a nun !

Her step sister, by father’s second wife, only fifteen years her senior, was married off to Puliyannur mana, tantry at Shreekrishna temple at Tripunithura (Poornathrayeesan). Then her father began trying for a namboodiri for her also.

Santa, my cousin, was already there, having married Sankaranarayanan. She suggested my name.

She was hardly eighteen, too innocent to think of marriege, when a cruel fate and a society that allows no freedom to a girl child, threw her into my hands.

Her father was a workaholic. He spends his time plucking flowers for pooja, collecting areca nuts and coconuts in the big orchard or  cutting grass that grow too fast. One day he fell into a well and had to shout for help, as no one was around.

As soon as the rainy season arrives, he will go out with a spade in hand,digging here and there, and sowing or planting vegetables like colocasia, brinjal, ladies’ finger and, of course, tapyoka. Santa says, in those days they never bought anything from the market, a mile away at Shoranur. My wife inherited this quality from him. Even today, her dream is to have some land and grow vegetables.

Her father got infection from the slush. Worms began  coming out of the foot. He was admitted in Valluvanad Hospital, where they, thoughtlessly, injected large dozes of antibiotics. He was nearing ninety and I think medicines killed him. His system was quite sound and healthy. No one will die of foot sore.

When they were rich, father-in law married from Tekkedath Patteri mana, a wealthy family, whose ancestors belonged to Vadakkancherry area in Cochin State.
It is said that they helped the Raja of Travancore, in conqering the Kingdom of Alapuzha; in return, they were given property in Kodamalur.
Mother-in-law named Parvathy had gold ornaments. Among us namboodiries, women folk did not wear gold ornaments. They wore bronze necklaces and bangles.
This created tensions between our branch and the rest of the Muthurssi clan.
 Mother-in- law remained for long periods in her home and shorter periods at Guruvayoor, where Radha, my wife accopanied her, before her marriage.

 My first visit to that famous shrine was immediately after marriage.
It was very quiet then and we made several rounds (pradakshinam), every time standing before the deity and praying. I don’t remember what were my prayers. My world was my wife. She being so near, what else do I need?

Our annual pilgrimage to Guruvayoor continued till I retired. Radha’s sister Parvathy and step sister Nalini who were  in their teenns at the time of my marriage, always accompanied us.During our last visit in 2007 or so, I was so disgusted and tired, standing in the que and then pushed off as soon as I came in front of the sanctum, that I decided to  stop this meaningless suffering.