It was a pleasant surprise for me to meet Sri.Ayalur Venugopal, one of the senior members of our forum, during a music concert in Tampa, last Sunday. Within a matter of minutes, as it happens with we patters (and for which we get scolded by our children )  personal matters almost adequate for writing a biography of the other person was exchanged, unasked!.

. Sri Venugopal gave me a pleasant shock. Looking affectionately and proudly at his wife (sahadarmini, in our VVR’s language), he said that she belongs to Ashtasahasram sub -group- “your group” he said then pointing his finger towards me. Marriage between a vadamal boy and ashtasahsram girl would have been the talk of the town (or village) over sixty years ago. And one thing is certain: On their wedding,the blessings of the elders ” deeeeeerghayushman bhava and deeeeeeergha sumanghali bhava”  would have been pronounced with pretty long deergaswaram and sweet and sanctified tongue and heart.Yes, this couple have passed through the vicissitudes of life, holding hands together, for 60 years!  I wish this family as a whole, who have settled in a foreign land,more and more happiness, peace and prosperity and specially, deeerga deeerga  sumangalitham(still longer married life) for smt.Venugopal . Every one is not blessed the way this couple are; thank you, God!

Now let me come to the topic of to day’s discussion.Will our tribe continue to exist or extinguish? A question frequently raised and debated in our group.

As recently as ten years before, inter-group marriages were few and far, among us. Some thirty years ago, when I went to a Vadamal family asking horoscope for my sister, the house lady, with an uncomfortable look as if there was a fly on my nose or a white patch on my eyebrow, asked, “Ashtashasram allava?” Yes, Vadaml group had an illusion that they was an aura around their head. After two years, for my another sister’s marriage with an iyengar boy whom she loved, the entire wedding arrangements was managed by the bride groom’s family( let every wedding be like that ) and we were not allowed inside the kitchen ; it was manned by cooks bearing sanku and chakram tattooing on their shoulders .When my daughter was married to a Telugu Iyengar family, love marriage of course, some 7 years ago, there was absolutely no disparity, hidden or visible; ‘vratham’ was performed by the boy’s side guided by a  Telugu vaishnavite purohit and marriage was performed as per our customs and procedure. Some three years ago, one of my nephews married an Assamese girl and the wedding was at Gowhati..The vaadyars from Kolkata could not reach in time due to a strike in the airport and I had to act as a purohit though the only manthram I know is “mangalyam thanthuna.”!.It was a real fun. When I handed over the ‘akshathai’ to elders assembled in the pandal, for blessing the couple, they threw it on their own head! Subsequently the bride groom’s party performed the wedding in their own method and it was strictly as ordained in the scriptures.

‘Avaa Palakkattu karalakkum’, the womenfolk whispered in my marriage in Trivandram, though they knew that the  girl’s grand parents had migrated from Palakkad and they were related to us.”Pandiyile poi pon eduthirulkkale amma!” Trivandram people gasped when I attended the wedding of a girl from Nagercoil ! You know the distance between the two towns!.

In the olden days, no one used to wear sandals or shirts in our villages especially while leading in procession, the God’s ratham, singing bhajans or reciting vedam,donning ‘panchgatcahm’ and projecting kudumai. It pains me to observe now that youngsters in jeans and T-shirts whistle and dance mimicking our soap operas. I love whistling and all forms of dancing including the western and folk varieties but certainly not while leading the sacred vehicle of the God. Sanctity is sacrificed, for a momentary pleasure for which there are plenty of other avenues. But it is bound  to be like that when the type of village occupancy changes. It was the result of our disposing our houses to people of a different category who demolished the dilapidated houses and in its place built bungalows. We sold our ancestral  houses because we had no need for them,  we could not maintain them and we moved to a metropolitan city in India or abroad and built  posh apartments with modern facilities. And we expect the God’s vahanam to move through the streets bordered with tiled-roof houses and ‘thinnais’ and ‘muttams’ decorated with ‘kolams’! .

When I was a child, I used to see a number of  Namboodiri women holding ‘olakkuda’ or umbrella made of palm leaf, visiting the Guruvayoor temple. I don’t see a sing ‘olakkuda’ now. I am sure that those women would be still visiting the temple and they continue to be safe sans a protection tool. We are  happy that we can see the God unobstructed and the God too is happy because he can see the womens’ faces better.And Krishna is a God of love and beauty.

Changes are inevitable and you cannot stop them.The habits of Kerala iyers are different from their ancestors in Tanjore or wherever they lived in the Tamil-speaking part of the country and again those of their forebears who, probably came from the Narmada valley as some historians say. Go deeper and deeper, you will land in Africa, mother of human race, according to some scientists.

I have heard that my ancestors had vast landed property and everything was lost, by poor management, and no developmental activities and lack of fresh income.  Had my father not picked up the courage to leave the village and go to a small town, some twenty miles away, where he was the only brahmin , we would have died or starvation or disease or at the best, survived and studied up to matriculation in the village school .Had we not moved, after acquiring higher education in turn to big cities, found good jobs and lived in good surroundings, our children would not have acquired professional qualification and settled in countries beyond the seas. Their next generation or the next, might go to moon or mars and settle there. The nonavailability of the basic requirements prompted my father to migrate and all the migrations are like that.The movement of people has existed throughout human history at various levels. Necessities prompt migration of all species including birds.

If our children are marrying from other caste, again it is out of necessity. They are not able to find the partners of their choice in their own group and are not happy with the parameters set by us.”Your priorities are wrong” they say, “you start with horoscopes, then family and the girl is at the bottom of your list”. Be happy that they are better informed than us and they will not make any wrong choice; and if they make, they suffer. When we arrange a marriage strictly according to our customs and if it fails what could you do and marriages do fail because there are at least two people involved in that and more in combined families. Earlier also, marriages had failed but the women silently suffered the pain due to the restrictions imposed on them.For most of them there was no option. Had the women been educated in those days or economically independent as they were in some Kerala socities, things would have been better. We did not educate our women because we had no means for that or  we did not find the necessity to educate them as they were not to be sent for work for others or outside. And who will do the full time work in our kitchen and prepare different varieties of food for members of different taste and more than twenty dishes to please the departed souls of our ancestors who visit us annually in the form of vadyyars wearing panchagatcham?

So, let me come back to the University of South Florida auditorium, from where I started the story.The programme that evening was a ‘jugalbandhi’ or musical duet between two famous north and south Indian flutists, Pandit Ronu Majumdar and Shashank Subramaniam. The music created by these two masters was rich and mesmerizing. In case your son or daughter has recently married from a different caste or state or country,and a different gender, be happy. The product of different culture, gene and habits will be hopefully superior and the only prayer you have to do is that the child is not borne with any physical or mental deformity.

Venugopal anna and manni (vadamal and ashtasahasram jugalbandhi) and me and my daughter enjoyed the musical extravaganza of the last Sunday evening. I am sure that you too will enjoy the  ‘jugalbandhi’ (the fusion of diverse caste and cultural alliances) of your family. I join in your prayers for a rich and mesmerizing outcome..

One more thing; do not keep worrying whether our tribe will exist or extinguish after 25 or 250 years. Nothing extinguishes; only get transformed and the transformation will be always for good .

So, sleep well. If you do not get sleep even after reading this story read more of them in my website.

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