A migrant cat at Koottunkal

Koottunkal K M Varghese a sketch by his grandson

This sketch was drawn by Boby Mathews in the year 1994

A boatyard at Pallippuram

Not far from NSS College Junction, there is a house boatyard on the bank of the eastern branch of Vembanadu lake. Here one can see house boats under repair and maintenance. This is a lucrative business in Kerala. The yard rent, repair costs, electricity etc are exorbitant in a common man's perspective. But of course, the business of tourism itself is very lucrative, isn't it?

It is a beautiful locality that gave me these snaps.

 A coir mill on the shore

Nalpathenneeswaram grandpa tree

On the way to Nalpathenneeswaram temple near Poochackal, this wonder-tree stands tall bearing a history of many centuries.  Taking refuge under the tree from the torturing summer heat, Velayudhan, a local from the neighborhood, said a few years ago forest department had conferred upon it the title of Grandpa Tree as it was the oldest tree in the district.

The grandpa tree

In those days when Velayudhan was a boy, there were only village pathways. No proper roads as we have today, he recollects. In their childhood, he and friends used to climb the tree for plucking punnappazham, its fruits. The tree had long hands-like branches that reached out to the ground. Anyone could easily climb up the tree through them. A few decades ago, these branches were cut off to pave way for the Panchayath road. The tree still has marks of the brutal attacks on it as one can still see stubs protruding like a war veteran's missing limbs.

Standing next to the tree is Velayudhan

Not surprisingly, the area has a sprawling population of punna trees, obviously the progeny of the grandpa tree. One of them has its branches spread over a field. It would be fun when the field is filled with rain water when one could dive from the tree and swim.

Silent spectators of time these trees are! A very long time and silence! What secrets would they reveal, if they could talk! What stories would they narrate!

The roads are still narrower here, and let us hope the development mantra will not be chanted here, lest these living monuments of an eventful past will be gone forever!

From Nalpathaneeswaram Temple compound

A beautifully nurtured Neem tree at Nalpathaneeswaram Temple compound.

This temple used to be one of the temples in Kerala in a scenic natural setting.

The temple pond (still very natural) 

What makes this place ugly today is the later additions to the original beautiful temple structures. Look at the concrete jungle! The use of plastic sheets (though temporary)! The original temple structure built based on Kerala temple architecture is still there behind this commotion.


It is that time of the year again

It is that time of the year again,
when we had pockets full of nuts,
played 'Andi'*,
longed for big 'pootty'*
and enriched our language with 'Munni', 'Nadu' and 'Otty'*
It is that time of the year again,
when we had crackling bonfire and roasted nuts
that made moms go nuts,
when we had juice that stained
our knickers that stank.
It is that time of the year again,
when we made wine and feigned drunk.

*Andi: A striker game with cashew nuts
*Pootty: cashew nuts shell filled with lead and tar, which is used as a striker in 'Andi' game.
*'Munni', 'Nadu' and 'Otty' : Terms used in 'Andi' game to indicate the positions of scattered cashew for the striker to strike.

At Koottunkal Vadakkethara - a heavenly place!

If there is a heaven on Earth, I guarantee that it would be a house on the remotest shore of Vembanadu lake in Kerala. Koottunkal Vadakkethara family lives in heaven! This calm serene place lies at the end of a long winding village road in Pallippuram. Currently, octogenarian Thommankunj Vadakkethara, his son Babu and family live there. In the midst of this dreamlike idyllic scenic heavenly place he runs a coconut processing and a coir-mat manufacturing units. The people here lead a simple life. Here they have everything a nature lover can dream of. Many different varieties of mango trees, farm trees, vegetable garden, a beautiful lake and a huge Peepal tree surrounded with thousands of coconuts. You will not forget their lovable dog who would not let you go once you befriend him! The breeze, aha! You will spend time there without a clue how it elapsed so fast. No resort can match this experience.

Koottunkal Vadakkethara Thomankunju, family head

Greeshma, Babu's daughter

Gribin and Gribson, Babu's sons

Coconuts Land!

Rosmi at the lakeside

This dog is so adorable!

Karondukadavil Siby and Tessy

Today I attended a wedding. My cousin Kelamparampil Newmann chettan's daughter Neenu married Joe Wilson of Chungath family. At the wedding, I met Siby Karondukadavil, after a very long period. We used to play cricket at NSS College ground three decades ago. He is from Karondukadavil family which has its roots in Koottunkal. His wife Tessy is my maternal cousin. On the way to church I grabbed them both and captured this moment.

Of Pets and Koottunkans

She heard the howling from a distance and with some difficulty located the puppy in a pit covered in soil. The puppy had not opened its eyes yet. Ants had gathered around the puffy eyes. The mother dog was not seen anywhere near. Picking it up, she turned the puppy to look at its rear. She felt gratified for it was a male. She also noticed it had a short tail which was uncommon of the dogs in the region. Its red coat with no spots whatsoever was again a satisfying aspect for there was a belief that a dog with spots on all its legs and forehead would be unreliable. Holding the puppy by its neck she brought it home. Her name was Aleykutty Varghese Koottunkal. The period was 70s.

She christened the puppy Kamaan, a name unheard of till then.  The popular names for dogs at the time were Tippu and Kaisar. The name Kamaan was suggested by her husband K M Varghese, who also was fond of pets.

Kamaan grew up to be the leader of a pack in the locality. Every member in the family reserved a small portion of the food in the plate for the dog, which would be served to him before dropping the plate in the wash bin. If the dog is not around, one would shout 'Umbo Umbo'. This was the signal to him that the meal was ready.

Kamaan had a good time being a pet. Everyone in the family loved him and in return he watched over the house dutifully. On Sundays he was adamant that he tailed the family to church despite the dissuasion and threats. His company triggered a series of dog fights on the way.

Life was smooth until the untimely demise of K M Varghese in 1977. Aleykutty Varghese was at a loss to deal with the void created by her husband's death. She had to act tough. She was a determined soul who would not compromise on her children's welfare. With the little resources she had she managed her children continuing their education.

While these transformations were taking place, Kamaan was the worst hit as food was a big problem in those turbulent times! He switched his base to Varghese's younger brother K M Mathew's house. But he always rushed to his first home on hearing an 'Umbo Umbo' call. K M Mathew and family were pet lovers too. They treated Kamaan well until the Panchayath appointed dog catcher caught and killed him along with the pack he had been leading. He was above ten when died.

Among Koottunkans, three families were great pet lovers. These families were of Varghese, Mathew and John. While Varghese loved both cats and dogs equally, Mathew loved cats more. John was and still is crazy about dogs. It is a ritual for him to feed, nurse and train the pet dog. None of them allowed a pet dog entering the house. They were kept outside with occasional warnings reminding them of their place. The dogs were of native origin, mostly Indian pariah but at times cross breeds were gifted by friends.

Since Kamaan's death, there were a series of dogs at my home. Blackey, Mridulan, Icy, Gillette - the list goes on. There was one thing common about these dogs. They all had unnatural deaths, mostly by consuming poison. A neighbor, who was a butcher by profession, poisoned these dogs to save his bone collection which was kept in a stinky stream. The dogs in the vicinity used to steal bones from the bone pit making the whole place stinking like hell. Periodically, the butcher with the help of his assistants would prepare a concoction of Othalanga (Cerbera odollam), pieces of broken glass and minced meat, which would be placed where the dogs visit. We would see the dogs dead on our door steps in the morning or never see them at all. They would be lying dead somewhere, leaving the locality stinky for may days to come with their bodies decomposed . I still remember burying them in our backyard, a painful ritual that leaves one heartbroken.

K M Mathew was an ardent cat lover. He named the cats with such names as Biju, Binu, Anu, Ponnu and Katherin. In fact there was a lineage of cats descending from Biju, a ferocious cat who did not allow anyone but Mathew to approach.

Tippu. When you visit Koottunkal K. M. John's house, it would be this guy welcoming you. He is ferocious to strangers, but friendly and excited with others. He is very camera shy and I had to persuade him a lot for a pose.

Gone are the days, when these families were buzzing with life. It was a balanced ecosystem where animals and humans coexisted and cooperated to make the concept of family complete. Today there are no pets in these families. The houses are empty barring a few elder people eagerly waiting for their children to visit, which would happen occasionally but mostly a short lightning one.

തവണക്കടവ് ജെട്ടി (Thavanakkadav Jetty)

Whenever I visit Thavanakkadavu Jetty (Pallippuram), it is an obsession for me to take lake photos if my camera is handy.

It is a relief that this Jetty is ever young withstanding the progressive urbanization in Pallippuram that was taking place in the last many decades.

The great Gulmohar, the local rickshaw stand, the line buses awaiting the boat loaded with people, and the ever deserted waiting shed still paint the same picture of the 80s.

Our Peedika Chittappan

A photo taken in his last days

May ?? 1924 - June 19, 2011