“Choottu, chirattai, pakkuvetty, parupputhengai, pattakkudai, poottu, kadalai, karuveppilai thogayal–“
I see your raising eyebrows and bulging eyes flashing the question silently, ” Who threw a stone into the blissfully silent waters of Perinkulam, to disturb our peace?”
Who else could it be other than my Panthalam friend, who makes every objects under the sun, his subjects and parade them before us sometimes well-clothed and many time devoid of clothing? My shrunken memory and starving word power are ill- equipped to write about even the few items mentioned above and therefore, sigh in relief, I shall quit the scene after saying a few words only about the first in the list-the indigenous hand torch made out of dry wastes fallen from coconut trees.
The first time I saw the choottu velicham was, as an young boy, while returning along with my cousin, after watching a late show in the Alathur Swathy Cinema theater. A known elderly person from our village was passing through the outskirt, waving his choottu and attracted by the sparkles produced by it when he moved his hand holding it, I inquired my cousin, ” what is that magic wand, producing glamorous sparks from the burning end?” My cousin, elder to me by an year or two, was naturally wiser and as all elders do, instead of answering my query, replied with a half-concealed smile, “oh, mama is going for ‘sambandham” . I knew then neither the meaning of that word ‘sambandham’ nor the reason that prompted him to smile. Later,I was forced to make a detailed study on that word, its meaning and implications, when no girl of my caste came forward to marry me and my dear Appa, with all the concern for the comforts of his son thundered, “Poi sambandham vechukkoda” . That was not, however necessary,as, by that time, an innocent girl committed the most serious mistake in her life, by agreeing to become my wife. Appa, while giving me that permission, had perhaps in his mind, the history of our family too- two of my ancestors had sambandham, for valid reasons, of course.
I became familiar with choottu later and longed to hold it myself, though I was not permitted , while Appa used to take me to the Kallaikkulangara Bagavathy temple, for watching kathakali dance shows during the Sivarathy festival. It was a pleasure to follow him, crossing the hillock, near the Olavakkode railway track, just a few yards away from our house, guided by the choottu velicham , flowing from rhythmic waving of his hand. The dance shows were there consecutively for nine nights and I never used to miss a single show , not because that I enjoyed all the shows but there was a thrill in trekking the hard rock and treading across the mud -foot path bordering the paddy fields, on the way to the temple, enjoying the sparkles of the choottu and the sound emanating from the night birds and insects.
While returning early morning , after the night shows, dazed and dull, the pathetic cry for help, from a low caste, dark skinned, Nayadi woman, used to penetrate my heart. Her dry, dangling- breasts , dirty, black loin cloth which struggled to touch her knee, damaged nose and drooping frame were unbearable and standing down the hill, far away from our pathway, she used to shrill, ‘thamburakkale, visakkunnu-master, I am hungry”. Appa used to throw small coins towards her direction and sometime some old clothes too which she used to grab as if she were seeing such articles for the first time in her life.
“While Sri Krishna and Arjuna are well -fed and glamorously dressed why does this female be so ill-nourished and inadequately clothed ?” I used to ask myself.
That was long, long ago.
The dry, dark, broomstick -like, choottu is not to be seen now. Only its subtle smile lingers in the heart. But I continue to hear the pathetic shrill cry of that Nayadi woman, seeking for a morsel of food or a meter of cloth to cover the nakedness, from several other women ,men, and children from far and near.
And I pose now, almost the same question which I used to ask as a child, to myself, though for comparison, I do not need the glamorous kathakali characters..
October 31, 2010