Friday, December 11, 2015



Front view of the house ....

Many of our friends visit their native places and their ancestral homes there. I've always envied them for their opportunities to relive the wonderful days of yore and share memories with the next generation. Actually I do have a native place (Manjappara) but there is nothing native about it because I must have been to the place one odd time as a toddler. My grand parents had their houses not in our native place but in Ernakulam. My maternal grand father as the Chief Engineer of Cochin Port Trust, lived in the sprawling government quarters in Willingdon Island as long as he was in service. So childhood trips to native place meant visits to Ernakulam and Cochin as we shuttled between one set of grand parents to another. By the time I was twenty, 'our native place' had 'moved over' to Chennai! And with no home to boast of in Kerala, our visits to the place had come to a full stop.

Last year my uncle conveyed a great news to me. My maternal grand father's government quarters in Cochin Port Trust - the house where I was born (as also my siblings and cousins) - had been converted into a museum - Maritime Heritage Museum, the pride of Cochin District where a good collection of unique and rare navigational equipments and photographs connected with the saga of construction of Cochin Port are on display. (This is not to be confused with Maritime Museum). A proud moment which revived nostalgic memories .... and sowed the seeds of a secret desire to visit the place some time. I felt as if I had been elevated to a status comparable to Rajeev Gandhi's - yes, if he had a Teen Murthy Bhavan, Brinda has a Maritime Heritage Museum - ha ha! 

I grabbed at the opportunity when we made a nice, long, relaxed trip to Kerala this year. We made this trip to Cochin exclusively to pay a visit to the Museum and also visit the road named after my grand father Mr. C.V.Venkateswaran. 

We hired a prepaid auto to Cochin Port Trust from Ernakulam Junction. As we were riding along the backwaters, I remembered the numerous times I had taken the ferry as a little girl with my aunt or driving with grandpa while commuting between both the sets of grand parents.

I had been looking for signs for the museum and also dropping the name several times but our apparently all-knowing auto driver stopped in front of a building which by no stretch of imagination could be linked to the house etched in my mind. It turned out to be one of the Taj Hotels! We corrected the auto driver and now he went on asking for directions for Maritime Heritage Museum at every nook. We were guided and misguided by some of the Army fellows around. A couple of driving around in circles and diminishing hopes later we reached the place. And wasn't I pleasantly surprised to note that not much had changed in these 56 years - in the sense I could identify and remember the place which I had last visited in 1959!

Proudly posing at the gate of the house where I was born ....
I stood enthralled at the gate admiring the building's fresh coat of paint and the newly tiled pathway. Otherwise the house looked the same but our fabulous garden had vanished with the years. 

The old garage has been converted into the office at the entrance where you buy a modest ticket of Rs. 10/- per visitor to this Museum and also buy a souvenir if you choose to. There were very few visitors. We bought our tickets and then we told the person at the counter about my connection with the building, about my late grandfather .... about my uncle's visit last year. And the guy stood up and enthusiastically accompanied us to show us around the museum. I was like an excited little girl pointing to various spots and telling my husband about the house, the rooms, the changes ....


The very first feel was that of entering a temple - you see the sign board that tells us to leave our footwear outside. What is most attractive and unique about the building is the flight of stairs outside leading to a fascinating sit-out. We entered the long verandah running from one end of the house to the other - the most obvious change is that it has now been enclosed. Also there is an extra tiled roof at the entrance. 

The unique stairs, tiled roof and the present enclosed verandah
The space in the above picture used to be our hot photo-spot.

With my grand parents ...
With my mom at the entrance ....
My maternal aunts & uncle with the first grand kid of the family
All my baby pics were taken on the verandah or in the front yard / entrance. 
With my paternal cousins in front of the house  ....
Even my paternal folks found the spot ideal for pictures during their visits.
At times a bunch of golden yellow 'kolaambi' flowers would do the trick of keeping me in good cheer for the photo sessions. 

The entrance to the drawing room is almost at the center of the verandah - as it was earlier. Then we had a couple of bedrooms towards the right and left. 

The exhibits .....
Now all these rooms house interesting exhibits related to Cochin Port Trust. 

My grandpa is 4th from left in the back row .....
I was more interested in pointing to my grandpa in the photos adorning the hall. I couldn't help remembering the house during my childhood - its wooden floors, the inviting sofas, the antique curios that had added to the grandeur of the palatial house ..... There were bedrooms to the left of the drawing room too (which are now shut out). But somehow I don't remember much about them except that one of them had huge framed pictures of Gods and Goddesses - must be Raja Ravi Varma's. All I remember now is that I used to feel they were very pretty.

The room where I was born .....
The rooms on the right have exhibits currently. The bedroom at the right end was the room where I was born. I have heard stories from my mom and grandma about my birth in the corner bedroom. The lady doctor would be called home and deliveries those days would be at home. Interesting, heh? I have spent months in this house during weddings of aunts and whenever a sibling was born - well, I have just two. Incidentally, each of those times my aunt too had her kids. So it was a set of two boys in 1955 and then a set of two girls in 1959. 

The window to the rear of the house  which is  not accessible now ......
Next I entered the small room behind the drawing room. I pushed the half-closed window and looked to the right - and sure enough I got a view of the kitchen used to be located at the back of the house. 

The kitchen and dining room
Adjacent to it was the dining room minus the dining table as all of us would sit on the mats on the floor for family meals. 

The servant quarters right at the back ...
Beyond that I could get a glimpse of the servant quarters where our Man Friday Padmanabhan was put up. I remember a tree at the back which yielded the sweet-sour 'poochapazham'. There was no way of exploring those areas as they had been shut down. 

What I sorely missed was the 'hand-washing-station' ('kottathalam' as it would be called) as you come out of the dining room. I could not view the spot in spite of craning my neck in different angles. I'll tell you why that spot was close to me - it was there that I had had my first and only accident! I would be a kitten on the prowl during afternoons as the whole house would be napping. I wasn't naughty - just indulged in harmless little pleasures. One afternoon I was leaning over the parapet of the 'hand-wash area' and putting my hand under the tap to enjoy the flowing water. It seemed so soothing .... till 'dhum' - I fell inside the cement tub. My screams and yells brought the whole house scurrying. I had broken my chin and the place was flooding with my blood. Grandma had the common sense to call grandpa from office and he was home in his Hilman car within minutes. I was rushed to hospital, got three stitches and was a pampered three-and-a-half year old for a month.
I also associate the house with a 'poonal' ( thread ceremony) and two weddings. With such a palatial house, there was no need to hire a wedding hall. 
After my aunt's wedding ....
I was just two when my aunt got married and the above photo is the only memory I have. But I vividly remember my youngest aunt's wedding. The decorative 'pandal' was put up in the sprawling front portion of the house and could house the entire guest list and more and I remember having a gala time with my brother and cousins .... 

I have to tell you about another interesting spot unique to this house. It's the smaller corridor at the back. This spot was used whenever grandpa called the goldsmith home to make ornaments for weddings or otherwise. I'd interestingly watch the fellow using his bellows for the fire to melt the gold and hammer it to make ornaments.  

I also had a swing there. But as the area used to be dark, photos wouldn't come out bright.

The rear corridor ...
Now this place though neatly kept, has been shut off - I could get a glimpse of it from one of the windows.

Front view of the house ....
As I came out after a nostalgic round of the house, I couldn't help walking to the farthest end of the front yard to take a good look at the majestic house. I couldn't help remembering the mango, guava trees and pomegranate trees and vivid varieties of rose, canna and jasmine, kolaambi, chethi and arali flowers all along the fence around the front yard and the modest kitchen garden at the back nurtured by the ladies at home, specially my grandma. There was no leftovers of the garden of yore.

The garage used to be in the far left corner of the house  - now it is a part of the office (with red tiled roof)

Here I learned to identify flowers and fruits, colors and numbers, to share and care and adjust with others, enjoyed stories, cuddles and kisses and loving care of near and dear ones whose finger I'd clutch on to while taking a round in the garden. We'd also interact with the numerous servants who always kept a watchful eye as they were like family. I'd also gang up with my brother and cousin to play some innocent pranks in some corner of the sprawling house away from the prying eyes of the elders. We'd also climb up the trees, pluck guavas and mangoes and share the booty. I'm sure everyone who reminisces about childhood days has similar experiences in the kitty. What is unique for me is that the house associated with my childhood has been elevated to a museum. I also feel privileged because I am the only grand kid who remembers the association. All the others were too young to have such a treasure-house of memories. 
There was one more place to visit - the road named after my grand father which is pretty close to this museum. As I read the plaque, I could get a better idea about his laudable contribution as a Civil Engineer. 

In fact he is credited with the title of 'the first Indian engineer to design wharves and jetties' and the Aroor bridge.
I admire him for his achievements in his profession but I will always remember him as my tall, dark, handsome, prim-n-proper, principled and affectionate grand father.

Friday, October 2, 2015


We were getting ready to say goodbye to Salt Lake City the next day as we were flying out to visit our other son. It was just the two of us at home that afternoon - I mean my husband and me. It was close to lunch time when there was a knock at the front door. Usually I’d answer the door-bell / knock only after 2 minutes because we don’t normally have visitors dropping in unannounced in the US. If at all, it would be the Fed Ex guy who’d leave the parcel at the door-step and ring the bell for informing / signature. I did my usual routine - peeped out through the window and was surprised to see a gentleman waiting.

I opened the door and both of us exchanged ‘hi’s. The American was tall and well-built, with silky blond hair - probably in his 50s. He told me, “I’ve come to take your husband for a drive - he told me this morning that you are leaving tomorrow.” 

I got it - this was the friendly guy we had seen during our morning walks. I had seen him only on a couple of occasions as I’d choose to do yoga instead of the morning walk. My husband had told me about this new-found acquaintance - that he was talking about India and Indian food once. Also he had met him in front of our house one day and even he had given him the location of his.

Not hearing any reply from me, he asked, "Is he home, your husband?"

"Oh yes. Of course ....," .

Before I could say anything further, my husband appeared and shouted out a big 'hi'.

"Oh there you are! C'mon, grab your shoes! We are going for a drive. In my Shelby Cobra!"

"Awesome! Thank you!" said my husband and off he went to get ready.

I stood there transfixed .... Did I hear Shelby Cobra? Yeah, I knew exactly what he was talking about. Thanks to my young car-crazy grandson, I knew quite a bit about this sensational sports car. 


Involuntarily I quipped,"Oh it's my grandson's favorite car. He's gone to school. Could he .....?"

"Of course he can come home and check it out any time!"

My husband was ready and the gentleman excitedly said, "Okay, let's go!"

I watched the duo from the door. There it was - the white Shelby Cobra awaiting them. Lucky man - I mean my husband! I saw the guy giving hubby some instructions before he got onto his seat. I ran in to get my camera. But I wasn't sure if it was appropriate to take their picture. So I sneakily did so. I zoomed and clicked a couple of pics from our door.


Soon the car made a noisy start and moved on noisier than ever - that reminded me of young bikers zooming around without their silencer!

It seemed really surprising. An American taking the trouble of dropping in to offer a joy ride in his race car to a casual Indian acquaintance before he left the place! A really sweet and appreciable gesture. How lucky my man was .....!

Minutes ticked away by the time I realized that it was more than half an hour since they had left. I had expected a fifteen-minute drive. Or twenty perhaps - considering the fact that they would have left the neighborhood and taken the highway to enjoy the thrill of its speed. Another ten minutes ticked by .... my mind was visualizing all sorts of unsavory thoughts - the result of marathons of 'Criminal Minds' / 'Mentalist' / 'Law & Order' hubby would be glued to .... - glimpses of which I would indirectly be subjected to - from wherever I was - a sort of passive onlooker. I started worrying. I didn't have a clue about the gentleman's name or address. Except that he lived in the neighborhood. And of course owned a white Shelby Cobra! Wasn't I smart to take photos of the duo in the car? May be not that smart after all - as I hadn't captured the number plate. Nevertheless ....

I composed an email to my son and daughter-in-law: "Dad went for a drive in a Shelby Cobra with a neighborhood acquaintance. It's over 40 minutes! Hasn't returned yet." Sure enough I attached the picture too. Before hitting the 'Send' button I went to the window to check whether they were back. Still no sign ... So I clicked the send button. Two minutes later, they arrived.

I kept watching them from the window - the gentleman got down and helped my husband get out of the car. I could see them exchanging 'Thanks' and 'My pleasure'. I quickly dispatched a one-liner to my son and daughter-in-law : "Dad's back." By the time I came to the door, my husband was already there and waving to his friend who was all set to drive away.

My husband came in. Needless to say he was in great spirits. He started pouring out his experience -

"Ooh! What an experience! My friend gave me instructions before we started off. You know he showed me how the car works. Warned me I had to be cautious getting in and out of the car - lest I should accidentally touch the hot metal exhaust pipe just outside my door. The seat belt was like the ones in the planes. And he gave me these ear plugs - had to plug them in to drown the LOUD noise during our drive. So we could barely hear each other! As we entered the highway he was zooming off! On rare moments he touched 100 mph...."

"Hmmm.... that's not true!" I interrupted.

"Seriously! Just to show off - I mean - what the car was capable of. Of course he stuck to the speed limit most of the time."

"Wasn't the wind beating on your face?" I inquired.

"Not too bad."

"Surely your buddy would have lost some of his silky hair", I said as I gently patted my husband's scanty hair on the rim behind his bald head, "I'm glad these few hairs here have not been blown away. Anyway you have nothing to lose or worry about as it's 'top-gone' in your case!"

He didn't seem to mind my leg-pulling as he continued, "After we got out, my friend clicked a picture of me posing in front of the car."

"Really! Then I too should have come out and taken a picture of both of you and the car! " I regretted that I hadn't gone out in time; not he - he's not photo-crazy like me, you see!

"Whew! That was one unforgettable drive!" he continued.

"Do you know how long you had been gone?"

"20 - 25 minutes?"

"More than 45 minutes! Enough for me to press the panic button!" Now it was my turn to do the talking.


I showed him the email I had sent.

This time he went, "Whaaat! You went on to the extent of imagining kidnap case or accident? This is the limit!"

"It's not funny," I retorted and showed him the attachment to my mail.

That only made him guffaw more. Noticing my squirm, he patted me and said, "Good job clicking the picture. Thank you, ma'm!"

"You better be, you lucky guy!"

"Wait, wait. I see something green on your chin ...."

"You bet!" I laughed. 

Needless to add that the entire family was enviously excited to listen to dad's thrilling experience at tea time. The grand kids could not take their eyes off the photos. Grandson had countless curious questions about the car. And guess what - my children found my fears imaginative and highly far-fetched!


Saturday, March 14, 2015


'Pallaanguzhi', 'marapaachi', 'vettilai chellam', 'kolaambi', 'vaal uruli', 'kooja' ..... do these ring a bell? Or do they seem to be 'Malayalam and Sanskrit' to you? Have you seen a coffee grinder? No I don't mean the electric one - the mechanical one used to grind fresh coffee daily several decades ago? Well I got to see these and much more - all under one roof at my niece Shanthi's apartment in Thiruvanandhapuram. Join me in taking a nostalgic look at the typical items found in traditional South Indian homes more than 40 -50 years ago.

Our ancestral homes used to be sprawling and spacious and also housed a large number of inmates - more mouths to feed, more hands to help, extra-large utensils to serve all purposes. Come weddings / functions / festivals / vacations, the houses would be ringing with extra activities and religious/festive fervor. With all of us moving out to settle down in  the metros, gone are our houses and with them, all those brass / bronze / copper-ware and the miscellaneous stuff. They have become passing thoughts peeping in our minds once in a while. 

I have known Shanthi's penchant for old items used in old traditional households a couple of generations ago. Whenever she visited relatives or friends in their ancestral homes, she managed to entice them to sell her such 'antiques'. Some were more than happy to get rid of the unused, idle, space-consuming items which I'm sure were elated to get elevated in status as they occupied pride of place as part of her valued treasure! I also know she is a big fan of Ganesha and Hanuman and a collector always on the look out for special / novel looking idols.

I made no bones of the fact that I was curious to see her 'famed' collections in her 'home museum'! Shanthi's enthusiasm too soared - it is not always that you get a genuinely 'interested' visitor. She started bringing down the curios from places high and low or from giant boxes or cupboard shelves for me to take close-up shots. While my fingers went clickety click, I also mentally tried to register her running commentary about each. The collection was really impressive - to say the least. I can admire antiques but am not a collector myself. For one, they cost a fortune and again they need space and maintenance. I had believed they needed maintenance but what struck me as I admired the dull and jaded brass items there, was that they didn't need to be scrubbed and shiny - just leave them alone for that antique look! Cool!

Hm.... where do I begin? Okay, let's begin with 'Vignaharta' - Lord Ganesha seemed to be omnipresent in the apartment - sometimes as a Maharashtrian or a musician, sometimes with his famed pot-belly, sometimes with a structure as lean as a pole, and sometimes as a door handle! They are all yours for scrutiny!

Another favorite God of hers is Hanuman. I am presenting only samples of rare Hanuman pictures. Two of them (on the left) are puppets, the big Hanuman painting on cloth has sentimental value for her. The last one I found to be very unique - Hanuman carrying Rama and Lakshmana!

The array of 'vilakku' (lamps) is really tantalizing!

A peep in the puja room unfolds some really ancient stuff - the wooden 'aamai palakai' (for gents) to sit on, the wooden box which would contain 'vibhuthi' (sacred ash), the brass basket for flowers and of course the bell to be rung during the daily puja (above left in the pic above). Then you have the accessories chiefly used in temples - the small lamp with a handle (with a depression in the center for storing oil along with a small spoon) - used to light an array of lamps  and two different lamps with a number of wicks to be lit  and used for 'deepaaraadhana'  for each deity. And of course the 'karpoora aarti' holder(below left in the pic). 

An interesting piece is the 3 1/2 feet-long special brass 'udharini' (spoon) with intricate carvings (above right). The colorful wooden pieces form the collection of 'Ona(m) villu' released every Onam (below right). They are made by a particular family - from 'Kadamba' wood and using only five natural colors. Collectors can buy one at a time every year, each symbolizing a particular aspect of prosperity.

Another corner houses a collection of unique 'kunkuma choppu' in all sizes and shapes - wooden or brass, heavy or light!

I don't remember anybody at home addicted to betel leaves. But it was exciting to see the 'vettilai chellam' set - the rectangular brass boxes with a partition - to hold betel leaves and betel nut; note - these had keys - so precious were the betel leaves to the addicts! The other accompaniments in the picture are the tiny circular box to contain 'chunambu' and a plate to prepare the 'paan'. And of course the tall 'kolambi' (spittoon). To cater to larger gatherings, the 'chunambu' would be kept in the tall large container (extreme right above). One item that is missing in the set is the betel nut cracker.

'Marapaachi' dolls - typical wooden dolls from Andhra Pradesh, originally made from red sandalwood were made from single wooden pieces. A 'marapaachi' couple were traditionally a part of the 'cosmetics set' gifted to the bride for 'velayaadal' at Iyer weddings - now they have become a rarity. Babies could be given 'marapaachis' to play with - they could chew on the wood which had medicinal values. It is also great fun dressing up the male, female and the kid 'marapaachis' in finery as per our artistic talents; they are also a part of 'Navaratri Golu'! 

Shanthi has a good collection of the traditional game of 'pallaanguzhi'. She told me that the game is known as 'malanga' in Indonesia. She had exquisitely shaped ones - the elephant 'pallaanguzhi' (bottom left) was bought from the US (made in Indonesia)! But she didn't have a brass one (we had such a 'pallaanguzhi' at home in times of yore). Several games can be played using 'manjaadi kuru' (red seeds) or cowries / shells. I remember using tamarind seeds to play.

Old measures which existed before the Metric system was introduced - 'para', 'naazhi', 'aazhhakku', 'pakka' etc. are rare to find now (see pic above). I remember that my maternal grand parents used to have a sensitive balance along with small weights - 'panavada' / 'pavan' (predecessors of milligrams / grams) etc as they used to call the goldsmith home for making jewels for weddings or otherwise. Actually I forgot to tell Shanthi to look for this item!

Two / three generations ago, there used to be joint families. Or at least functions and festivals galore with feasts at home. Huge brass vessels for cooking as well as serving would be found at home. Typical vessels were used to serve specific items - the sambar-serving bucket in the center and (beginning from top left, clockwise) rice server, pappadam container, 4-in-1 curry-holder and 'rasam-server' (with in-built strainer to retain coriander leaves / curry leaves thus preventing inconvenience to guests).

Then you have the giant coffee filter, idli-maker, big and small oil-holders (bottom left) and the 'kooja' (top right). Let me tell you something about the kooja which was a part of any travel in olden days - the bronze pear-shaped container with a lid screwed on to it, has a removable cup inside it. It served the purpose of carrying / procuring coffee from the station for the family during journeys. Later on the thermos flask replaced it. I remember the kooja playing a prominent role in the hilarious temple scene (where the boy-meets-girl) in the hit movie 'Shankarabharanam'. My husband has shared a funny incident about the kooja - as a boy, he was travelling with his father by train. His father had got coffee from a station but forgot to bring back the lid. The train had left by the time the lapse was detected. Nothing could be done to retrieve it. The problem was how to carry the kooja on disembarking - the handle is fixed to the screw-able lid, so with the lid, the handle was gone too. Father used a towel to make a bag - knotted it up with the kooja in it and asked the son to carry it. The lad let his eyes wander around the station, twirling the bag in his hand and ..... 'thud' fell the bronze kooja and .. broke. Father laughed it off saying it was good the kooja was gone too as it was useless without the lid!

Now let's have a glimpse of some gadgets found in kitchens of yore - all of them are mechanical ones. There is the coal 'gummatti aduppu' ('angeetti') (center in the above pic). Then there is the coffee grinder fixed on a shelf - the kids used to take turns every day to grind fresh coffee powder for the day with the home-roasted coffee seeds. A handful of the seeds would be put in the cup on top and the handle would be rotated and the ground coffee powder collected in a bowl placed under it. Unfortunately Shanthi has not managed to get the mechanical cylindrical coffee-seed roaster of yesteryears. The pic on below right is of the metal 'kozhal' (cylinder) in which you insert the unpeeled Kerala plantain (nendrapazham), close it with the lid and shove it in the 'adupu' (stove which uses coal or wood) and take it out after a few minutes to find the plantain nicely cooked and ready to eat. Above right is the old coal-iron which some of you must have seen. Below left is the 'thenga cheravai' - coconut scraper. Most of us still have this gadget at home even today but this one is special - take a look - it has an extension at the bottom to serve as a plate! Cool, right?

Shanthi has an ancient 'sevai naazhi' - a brass one mounted on a tiny wooden table with a wooden press (in the center in the pic). This would require tremendous pressure to squeeze out the 'sevai'. My parents had given me a metallic screwable 'sevai naazhi' but it has vanished from my house as I switched over to instant 'sevai' - don't ask how / where! The gadgets on the left are 'thenguzhal naazhi and Srilankan 'idiappam-maker' - don't fail to notice that they do not have separate plate-moulds but built-in holed-plates! The gadget on the right is the brass 'puttu kutti' used to prepare 'puttu'.

Then I found these novelties - the 'chilambu' (anklet), the 'midhiyadi' (ancient wooden slip-ons), the chimney lamp, peacock door handles and a 'Buddha' lock. 

And these lamps above are called 'kappalandi' vilakku - probably used by vendors frying and selling groundnuts .....

There is the permanent 'nalungu' coconut ( a hollow brass spherical ball with a few pellets inside to go clickety click) - used for the several weddings in an ancestral house.


Many of you must have seen the 'kindi' - at least in Malayalam movies - normally when anyone returns home after an outing, they pick up the 'kindi' filled water and wash their feet.

I mistook this item to be a giant puja item for 'camphor arti'. But I was told that this is the item is the 'vaal uruli' to pick up 'payasam' for naivedyam at the temples.

The best creation out of waste (read 'unused stuff') was the artistic center table adapted from the 'thottil' (cradle) which had been bought more than 50 years ago for Shanthi herself.

She has also preserved and maintained the double desk and the two tiny chairs used by her husband and his elder brother. Of course Shanthi's daughters have long outgrown them, so perhaps these will have to wait for the next gen kids!


These are not all - there are plenty more miscellaneous items. She is into numismatics too - her collection of coins are irresistibly tempting. 

And paintings too - not Raja Ravi Varma's but good replicas. I felt the satisfaction of having visited a mini museum, thanks to Shanthi. 

During this little verbal-visual tour, I do hope you too will enjoy the sight of some stuff you have never seen / only heard about before or revive nostalgic memories of your childhood experiences!