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Musings on Motherland: THE RETURN OF THE NATIVE

After 37 years of service, in different parts of the country, exhausting my Karmic quota of encountering opportunists, fraudsters, hypocrites, tax-evaders, smugglers, cheats, crooks, arrogant egoistic bureaucrats and pompous politicians, it was time to withdraw, seek peaceful surroundings, to calm the mind and soothe the soul. After much deliberation it was decided to return to Kerala – God’s Own Country.

One day, at a family function, I happened to meet a cousin based in the Gulf, who during the course of the conversation asked me, “Chetta, have you been to our ancestral house at Irinjalakuda, anytime recently?” The ancestral house had been sold more than 45 years back, who knows whether it existed itself? But the query of my cousin ignited in my mind a deep curiosity. One day I decided to go and check about the fate of the ancestral house.

I proceeded to Irinjalakuda by my car, driving with amused curiosity. I was wondering, Irinjalakuda was just a two-hour drive from Ernakulam, and it has taken me over 40 years to revisit my birthplace!

As the car entered the outskirts of Irinjalakuda, the mind’s eye could vaguely identify many places. The railway station, the private bus-stand, all seemed untouched by modernity. Many new shops and eating places had sprung up at the busy shopping area called Tana. I knew that the straight road from Tana would lead to the portal of the famed Koodalmanikyam Shri. Sangameswara Temple. As I drove further, the Temple façade emerged clear and bright. I held my breath, nothing had changed, Time had not disturbed the Temple façade at all.  


Immensely pleased I stepped out, at the Temple entrance, with great trepidation; my feet were making contact with the sacred ground after so many decades. It was with deep satisfaction that I proceeded to the inner courtyard and to my immense delight everything was as it was more than 45 years back. Memories came surging of how as children, we all used to visit the Temple and pray with joy. The Lord himself was standing undisturbed, radiating a calming vibration. After a silent prayer and apologies for the long delay in coming, my feet excitedly led me to the ‘Meenootu’ counter. As children, the excitement of the Temple visit was more to feed the fishes of the Kulipini Theertham. It was sheer unadulterated joy to see the huge number of fishes thronging in the waters to have a few grains of rice. 


We mortals, living on the earth’s crust, feeding the creatures living in the waters, what a strange bonding and interdependence of all living beings. Obeisance to the Lord over, it was time to proceed to my ancestral house.

The winding road remained the same, in my mind some mysterious GPS had switched on, the way was being shown, every curve, every bend navigated with great ease and familiarity. The car entered Kanjirathode Lane. My heart skipped a beat, eyes desperately searched for my ancestral house named ‘Chandra Vihar’. Oh God! it was not there; a huge concrete mansion had sprung up in that compound. My heart sighed as a tinge of sadness enveloped me. As I sat dejected, I remembered the words of an astrologer friend, who said that, according to Vastushastra, even houses have life spans like human beings. As I gazed on the new mansion, the mind suddenly superimposed the image of my ancestral house on it, and dragged me inside for a virtual tour.

At the entrance of the gate, I remembered vividly, there used to be a small running rivulet, full of tiny fishes and tadpoles. As children we used to spend long hours playing with the fishes, that darted in the waters. The rivulet had completely dried up and was replaced by the road that had been widened.

At the footsteps of the gate my grandfather used to sit with his favourite pet dog named Jolly. Everyday evening at 4 PM, we used to sit on the footsteps and waive to the students of our age passing by after attending a nearby school. Jolly was the star attraction for the small children, everybody wanting to tease and irritate him. I crossed the gate and proceeded to the main entrance.

In the portico, I saw the easy-chair used exclusively by my grandfather. Nobody had the courage to sit on it. Only he used to sit on it in the evenings, uttering prayers and relaxing till dinner time.

As I stepped inside the house, on my right was the prayer room used by my grandmother, who worked as a teacher in National High School. The walls of the room used to be full of photographs of Gods and Goddesses, lamps of all sizes and pooja materials, apart from holy books.

Everyday, morning and evening she would dutifully light the Nilavilakku at the entrance of the main door, thereafter sit down cross-legged, and recite divine prayers. On one occasion she pointed to the Nilavilakku and asked me what it was? I could not answer her, so she explained to me - the base of the Nilavilakku represents Lord Brahma the Creator, stem represents Lord Vishnu the Preserver of the Universe, and the head of the Nilavilakku represents Lord Shiva, the destroyer of the Universe, the oil is Brahma’s wife Goddess Saraswathi, wicks represent Goddess Parvathy wife of Lord Shiva and the heat of the flames represents Goddess Mahalakshmi, consort of Lord Vishnu.


When we light a lamp, not only it illuminates, but the Holy Trinity of Brahma-Vishnu-Shiva along with their consorts, make their divine presence at the spot. She would dutifully recite the Holy Mantra:

“Shubham karoti kalyanam

Arogyam dhana sampada

Shatrubuddhi vinashaya

Deepa jyotir namostute”

My first lesson in Hinduism and Hindu culture at the pious feet of my grandmother. Lessons that can never be forgotten.

The next room I stepped into was the ‘Thalam’, a big hall, where all the aunts and children used to sleep at night on cotton mattresses spread out on the floor. One of my aunt’s used to sing quite well, and in the darkness, she would entertain all of us with the hit songs of those days. The all-time favourite used to be Yesudas’s immortal romantic song “Alliyambal kadavil….” This song was on the lips of every lover of those days. Of course, jilted lovers would have to contend themselves by singing Jayachandran’s pathos song “Manjalayil mungi thorthi…” She used to regale us with so many sweet film songs, when I hear them today, the mind immediately takes a U-turn to the distant past, to embrace many tender moments.

As I stepped into the dining hall and the kitchen, the aroma of wood-cooked food wafted into my senses. In the dining-room, Grandmother used to store banana chips, sharkara upperi, jackfruit chips, mixture, ladoo, and store it in glazed earthen jars, for us children to eat. The long dining table and the wooden bench, where I used to sit for long, long hours to eat lunch. Rice was never a favourite; hence lunch time would drag on from 12.30 PM to even beyond 3 PM! Plenty of scolding from all aunts, as I would gulp glass after glass of water, but refusing to touch the rice. Today it is all a sweet recollection.

As I stepped into the kitchen, I recall the place used to be a beehive of activity. All the aunts engaged in some chore or the other, my mother trying to coax the wooden sticks to catch fire, frequently blowing air through a hollow tube. Fresh, cooked food, was always served on time, three times a day.

The adjacent steep wooden staircase led to the attic upstairs. Afternoons, we children used to scramble up the stairs to explore the many trunks in the attic, containing all sorts of curios, artefacts, photographs and all sorts of metallic objects. My grandfather used to tell us that he had fought in World War 1, and had served in Mesopotamia. Maybe those curios belonged to some distant lands. It was contending to simply explore and marvel at those strange collections stored in those trunks.

As I sauntered down the stairs and stepped into the outer veranda, there stood our maid Rosy, smiling as always with a pitcher of milk in her hands. Early morning, she would come without fail, just on time for the morning coffee, relished by all, young and old. Rosy will always be remembered, for that happened to be also the name of the film, which contained the immortal “Alliyambal kadavil…”

Beyond the veranda, was the compound full of areca trees, coconut trees, and further ahead was a huge pond full of water, belonging to the neighbour. There used to be no dividing wall of any kind, no restrictions by anybody. Everybody made use of the pond happily.


Aunts used to carry huge loads of clothes, everyday for washing. Neighbouring ladies and children would also join. There used to be a boisterous bonhomie, ladies chattering and gossiping, children frolicking in the waters, splashing water at everyone. Now, the pond itself was not there! It appeared to have been levelled and a lifeless concrete house stood at that spot. A sigh for the pond, that is all I could express.

Yesterday’s happy moments had become today’s moments of anguish. All have left and gone. Aunts and uncles got married, went their separate ways, some to distant lands. Contacts are rare, except for bumping into each other at some relative’s wedding or death. Many have also vanished from the face of the earth. Sad to think that many generations have been obliterated forever.

As I sat in the car full of sadness, a thought crept into my mind to enter into that new building and introduce myself as one who lived in that place a long time ago. Somehow, the idea did not appeal, who knows there may be just an old couple living alone inside, battling old-age and disease, with strange capsules, pills and injections, assisted by a home-nurse. Perhaps, they may boast of their sons and daughters, having successfully cleared USMLE or PLAB, obtaining citizenship of other countries. Unfortunately, flaunting of foreign citizenship has become the epitome of success in Kerala. We have forgotten what Homer said thousands of years back:

“So, nothing is as sweet as a man's own country, his own parents, even though he's settled down in some luxurious house, off in a foreign land and far from those who bore him.” —  Homer, The Odyssey (Cowper).

(Source: www.quotepark.com)

I decided against going inside, started the car, for the return journey, with a heavy heart. The famous lines of the poet Robert Frost, came to my mind:

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep

But I have promises to keep

And miles to go before I sleep

And miles to go before I sleep.”

-Dr G Shreekumar Menon, IRS (Rtd) Ph. D (Narcotics),



Former Director General

National Academy of Customs Indirect Taxes and Narcotics,

& Multi-Disciplinary School of Economic Intelligence India,

Fellow, James Martin Centre for Non - Proliferation Studies, USA.

Fellow, Centre for International Trade & Security, University of Georgia, USA


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