Being a Palakkad Iyer is one thing and being a Palakkad Iyer and living in Palakkad is a different thing. The typical clichés associated with the Iyer community becomes a part of life; never questioned.
The day in any agraharam dawns before the sunrise. The distant sound of Suprabaatham in the sweet and soothing voice of MS Subbulakshmi played in the nearby temple would mix with the gentle breeze. The doors of the houses would be wide open with the ladies cleaning their respective courtyards. Then, they would embellish it by beautiful Kolam – the intricate patterns that can be drawn with free hand or by joining dots.
Image Courtesy: http://locomente.blogspot.com/
Making Kolam becomes a matter of pride during Magara maasam (January 15th to February 15th elaborate Kolam would be made on Tuesdays and Fridays) and on all other auspicious days which includes birthdays and anniversaries of families and extended family. “Unga aathu ponnu romba nanna kolam podaraal” evokes same pride as “engaathu kozhandhaikku IIT-la seat kedacheerkku or CA first attempt-la pass pannina”. Generally, colors would not be used. We believe that it’s a very North Indian concept. “Azhaga maa kolam potta porum. Adhodu azhagu vera onnukkum varaadhu”, amma or the thathi would often advice the new generation girls. “Engaathu ponnaakkum kovilla potterkka” is a news worth boasting like, “engaathu kozhandhaikku America poga VISA kedachaacchu”.
Did I tell you? The houses in any typical agraharam is unique; mostly two-storied with tiled roofs and shared walls. These houses usually have a similar architecture. Thinnai (the main entrance) leads to koodam (the living room), it passes through the adukkalai (kitchen) and finally to kollai (backyard). The backyard of these houses have trees (coconut, mango, jackfruit, pineapple, banana, neem, drumstick, etc. to name a few). Another alluring beauty is that both the front and back door would be in the same line; one can see the Tulasi maadam in the backyard through the front door.
Each agraharam would have at least one temple. And, our lives revolve around it. Every day, we wake up, bathe and pay visit to the temple before having breakfast. And, we go there in the evening too. At that time, mama and mami would be chanting Vishnu Sahasranamam accompanied by some small children who would also be chanting along. “Kozhandhagal sheriya peshave thodangittillai. Aana ethra azhaga javikkaaradhu”, the onlooker would comment and their parents/grandparents would swell with pride. Further, the temple priest would know us, our family, what we do and almost everything. He will always kushalam anveshippa. If you skip the temple visit one day, he would notice and later ask, “enna nethaikku kaanalai”.
For the temple theru and Kumbabhishekam our extended families would visit our house, which includes first cousins and nth cousins, cousin’s cousins, cousin’s friend’s cousin’s cousin and so on. They would mostly come from cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore. If you are lucky enough, there might be some from You-Ess-Yay! They bring lots of gifts like chocolates, make-up kit, little tops and dresses, hair clips and video games; half of which you would never get opportunity to use. “Unagaathukku town-lendhu <insert name> vandheerkka allava. Enna kondu vandha unakku”, the neighbors would ask. But we would not say anything because amma would have warned already, “andha maamikku bhayangara ooru vambaakkum. Ellaam ariyanam. Onnum chollaadhe tiya. Theriyaadhu cholliyoodu”.
Observing the Mumbai cousins becomes our full-time job. They wear foundation not Ponds Cream, compact and not Ponds Talcum powder, use Eyeliners, not homemade mai and paint their lips. “Thalamudiya kattikkodee…. Ippidi bhadra kaali maari virichu pottukkaadhe. Ponna lakshanama Pottu vechukkalaya? Enna mooli kazhutha nikkaraai? Valai enga? Unga ammai Kolusu vaangi tharamaattaalo?” thathi and amma would ask millions of question treating the Mumbai cousin like a foreigner. On the other hand, we would try to let our hair open, ask them to apply some makeup on us while happily sharing our valai, maalai and pottu with them! We also ask them several questions with starry eyes – “Multiplex-nna ennadhu? Naan paathutte illai. Inga ellaam pazhaya theater thaan. Pizza pidikkuma? Naan orukka thinneerkken. Nanna erundhudhu. Romba pidichudhu.”
People in agraharm share a strange bond with their neighbors. They are like families too. Every evening, women would sit on the thinnai and share gossip.
“SBI mamavodu ponn edho bus cleaner kooda odi poyittaalaam. Kozhandhagal enga poradhu, enna pannaradhunnu paakkandaamo?”
“Baby mamiyodu peran cigarette valikkaratha en aathukkaar paatheerkka. Chinna pullai. Eravadhu vayasu thaan aagaradhu”
“Nee kettayo? Anadhaamba maamiyodu pullaiyum, Rashaathi maamiyodu ponnum thammila ennalaamo kasha musha nadakkaradhaam.”
They would gossip about everyone but about their own families.
“Enga aathu Kunju pusthaka puzhuvaakkum.”
“En akka ponn ammu-va ormai erukko? Aval appidi oru chamathu. Bengalure-la erukkannu thaan peru. Kuninja thalai nimira maattal Veguli aakkum.”
“Enga aathu kuttan dhuvasam vedham padikka poraan.”
As a teenager, if you wear half-sari or sari they would say, “Maha Lakshmi maadhiri erukkaai. Un kalyana chaappaadu poda appa ammetta chollu tiya”. If you are in mid-twenties and still unmarried, “jaadhagathula ennavaadhum dhoshamo? Alla onakku edhaavaadhum vera pullaya pidikkumo? Nammava thaana? Chollu, naan ungaathula pesharen” they would say.
And these stories continue from dawn to dusk. Of course, only until the serial in Sun TV begins.