Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Onam in Attingal: An Onam of Our Times

Attingal woke up to a drizzling morning on Thiruvonam day. The town appeared deserted – save for an odd vehicle or two, a couple of morning walkers, and a few forlorn destitute men. 

While it was the morning of the grandest festival in Kerala, the town centre looked like a ground where a festival had just been over. It was in stark contrast to the chaotic previous week that had seen endless traffic jams, bullish wayside vendors, and wandering pedestrians who seemed to have been in a perpetual hurry. 

Pookkalams galore

There was at least one pookkalam in almost every bus stop in and around Attingal. None of these was hastily made. A casual enquiry revealed that young boys who used to gather on these junctions made the floral designs. They braved early morning chill and incessant rain to come up with craftily designed, impeccably arranged and gorgeously colorful pookkalams. A few of samples are here.

Soccer in paddy fields

By about 9’o clock in the morning, rain started to subdue. The wet pookkalams bristled in sunshine. People began to come out of their houses, some in their cars. Most people were caressing their tummies as if to hasten up metabolism. 

They had a number of festivities to choose from. One club was organizing an assortment of racing competitions, while another had quiz competition and other indoor events. Elsewhere, there were games of musical chair, water drinking competition and kudamadi (that is, smashing a pot blindfolded). I went to none of these events; instead, I chose to go and watch a five-a-side soccer tournament. If not Mahabali, at least Vamanan would have made it into the Arsenal team.   

When I reached the place where the tournament was supposed to be held, I found no signs of a soccer tournament there. I was thinking of returning when I saw that scooter. It was painted in red and green, just like the Portugal national football team’s jersey. As if to prevent any misunderstanding, “PORTUGAL” was written on its front. On the other side, it had the name of the most famous Portuguese in Kerala after Vasco de Gama: Cristiano Ronaldo aka CR7.

I ventured further into those once paddy fields – now brimming with tapioca plants, banana plants, and occasional coconut trees – and found the ground. It was as green as any of the European grounds; but beneath the lush green grass, there was Indian mud. It was difficult to sprint through the field without falling.

The rules were simple: five players per side, two halves of 10 minutes each. I asked one of the organizers whether offside is applicable. He looked at me as if I came from another planet. He – surely a cricket fan – replied in haste: “all sides are there”. Then I asked again, he folded his palms together: “I don’t know, sir. Please don’t bother me”. 

There were four teams. One of the teams was a well-drilled one. They first met a bunch of local boys who gave a spirited performance. But it was like Manchester City vs Swansea. They defeated the local boys 5-2. Next game was between a team of pot-bellied grown-ups and some kids. The pot-bellied team, defying the expectations, won 5-0.

The final was between them and the earlier winners. It ended up as a no-contest. The well-drilled team won the match 5-0. One of their players, Suhail, who looked like Neymar and sometimes played like him, was easily the best player in view.

Offside rule, as you may have figured out from the scores, was not applicable. Immediately after the final match, rain poured down again. All ran for cover. Somehow I reached back home, just in time for lunch.

Water games of Onam

After an hour or so, rain stopped. The biggest draw among the Onam events in our parts is what some people now call acqua-fantasia. It involves some games in a temple pond. The pond had been recently renovated. The water appeared less muddy than usual. 

The crowd was not as big as the previous year’s. Still, there were sufficient people to cheer up the competitors. Plus, there was an announcer who spoke almost like the Malayalam TV newsreaders.

The first item of the event was a swimming competition. One of the swimmers swam underwater while others were going over the water. There was no trace of him. Midway through the race, he emerges sensationally ahead of others. However, he appeared to have lost his sense of direction, as he swam towards a side than to the other end of the pool. He managed to finish second though.

The next item was what can be called water walk – simply, walk to the other end of the pond; no swimming. The local favorite was a boy affectionately called Kuttappan. He won with ease. He was celebrating even before he finished the walk.

Then came the turn of the most anticipated one: water pillow fight on the pond. As usual, the fight offered some hilarious moments. There was some spirited banter going on between some of the players. When the event reached the final stages, rain interrupted again. Spectators ran for cover. Players, already wet by frequent falls to the pond, went on with the fight. Kuttappan won this item as well.

“In our days, Onam was …”

I returned home drenched. Onam is almost over, even though there are two more days to go officially. I don’t know these are the best – or the right – ways to celebrate Onam, which is essentially a harvest festival when the ancient king Mahabali comes to visit his one-time subjects. We do not cultivate anything these days that can be harvested. And Mahabali may have come and gone.

Perhaps, Onam celebrations evolve with times too. Onam is what Keralites celebrate. After many years, I may also tell my young generation, as today’s old-timers say to us: “In our days, Onam was …”.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Dr. Mohandas of VV Clinic Passes Away

Dr. Mohandas, the founder of VV Clinic hospital in Attingal, and easily the most reputable physician in the town, died yesterday in his house. He was 81 years old. It is learnt that the death is from natural causes. He is survived by a son, Dr. Vinod, and  a daughter, Dr. Veena. His wife, Dr. Molly Mohandas, who herself was an eminent doctor in her time, had passed away some years ago. The cremation is scheduled at his house near the hospital at 10.30 am today.

Dr. Mohandas was both a pioneer and a traditionalist in the medical profession. It was thanks largely to his vision that Attingal got a top hospital when such hospitals had been a rarity even in the cities of Kerala. The buildings of VV Clinic, said to have been built in 1969 with the remnants of a fallen gothic church, stood out in those times for its architectural elegance.

The medical treatment in the hospital is quick and effective, however, less pleasing to the eye than its architecture. Dr. Mohandas was incredibly quick in diagnosis and decision making. It would not take more than a couple of minutes for him to listen to the patient’s woes, make diagnosis, and scribble down the prescription. He was a man of few words, but never minced the words that had to be said. RIP Dr. Mohandas.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

General Strike Fails to Rouse People, but Paralyzes Normal Life in Attingal

The general strike announced by all the trade unions in India against the pro-rich policies of the Indian government went like just another Harthal in Attingal, perhaps in most other parts of Kerala as well. This was the first time that the ruling-class trade unions (mainly INTUC of Congress(I) and BMS of BJP) joined hands with the left-leaning trade unions like CITU and AITUC. But people of the town converted it into just another holiday. 

Shops remained closed and public service vehicles remained in the garage. The town had a 1960s or 1970s look and feel to it, with occasional vehicles plying and some pedestrians passing by. Only a handful of people, around a hundred, gathered even for the protest march held in connection with the strike.

The march started from Attingal Kacheri Nada, in front of Mandoor Building, which once housed the now defunct SR Theater. Prominent local leaders of CITU, INTUC, BMS, and of any other trade union worth its salt were present. CPI(M) cadre and the Congress workers (who are now active again in Attingal after five long years of hibernation) were marked by their absence. Some banks and private financial institutions started the daily operations. But they were forced to close down soon. It all took only a couple of phone calls to force them though.

The march proceeded to KSRTC bus station in Attingal, which also had an empty look. The only person visible was Mr. Sundar Wilfred (a familiar figure for most people in Attingal – shown in the photo below). 


The strike had been billed by some people as India's answer to Tahrir Square. Judging by the mood in Attingal, it did not even reach the level of Anna Hazare's agitation.

Photo of the Day

Where else can you find Karl Marx and the Lord Parama Sivan, an unlikely pair of comrades, together? This snap was taken from Poovanpara near the bridge.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Attingal Remembers A. Ayyappan

A group of poets and poetry lovers in Attingal remembered A. Ayyappan, the most bohemian of all the wayward clouds that hovered in the horizon of Kerala poetry, a year after his anonymous, roadside demise. ABHIDA, an organization of poets in the town, conducted the function at Town UPS, Attingal, on the Deepavali day. It was an informal function - more like an amalgam of remembrance speeches and poetry recitals.

Noted playwright and dramatist, P.M. Antony, no less an iconoclast himself, was the chief speaker of the function. He lived up to his bill with a scathing criticism on the poetic ways of the man whom he remembered. He summed up that Ayyappan the poet took no social responsibilities and had no political direction. He compared Ayyappan unfavorably with the more politically conscious poets of his era and earlier eras, like Vayalar, Sachithanandan, Kadammanitta, and even Balachandran Chullikkad. In his brutally frank speech, he also found time to criticize the methods of the communist parties for the present state of Kerala society, which by his reckoning is almost deaf to the cultural movements and initiatives.

P.M. Antony's speech was in stark contrast to the earlier eulogizing of A Ayyappan by the young and less known poets. Most of the speakers had had some personal memoirs to share about Ayyappan. Some of them recited their own poems, while some others chose to recite some well-known poems of Ayyappan.

The function was reasonably well attended for a poetry function. The young poets enthralled the crowd their fresh, yet raw imagery.

“On the blood of George Bush's,
Obama's shaving blades,
Lies the hapless map of my nation”, lamented a young poet.

Another poet paid tributes to Ayyappan through sarcasm, “Why my son should not be like Ayyappan”. Judging by the present state of Kerala society, nobody's son is likely to become another Ayyappan. But it is certainly worthwhile to remember the poet whose poetry is yet to be properly appreciated in our literature.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Two Dead and Several Injured in Accident in Poovanpara, Attingal

Two people were killed instantly and 20 other people were seriously injured in an accident took place between a KSRTC local bus and a public carrier lorry, near Poovanpara bridge, Attingal. The incident occurred at the wee hours of today morning. The bus, carrying a decent number of passengers, was going to Attingal from Kilimanoor depot. It was the first service of the day from Kilimanoor to Attingal.

Suresh Babu (53), a native of Koduvazhanoor, Chambramkodu, and Sasi (65), a native of Pulimoodu, Chirayinkeezhu, died on the spot. The injured people were rushed to various hospitals in the region.

Eye witnesses said that some people were getting into the bus at Poovanpara bus stop when the lorry, coming from Kollam to Attingal, rammed into the backside of the bus. The rescue workers had to break open the bus body to remove injured people from the bus. Some people said that that lorry driver may have fallen asleep while driving.

Visit this page for a detailed report.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

DHRM vs Rest of the World in Attingal

Madavoor, a typical idyllic village about 20 kms away from Attingal, is the newest venue of the violent skirmishes between DHRM and its opponents, which can only be labeled as DHRM vs the rest of the world. The village has been tense for the past one week, as reported by the Hindu, despite the Onam festivities. DHRM has been organizing functions and study classes in the village for the past two years. Their latest rally triggered the present bout of violence. A heavy contingent of police has been camped in Madavoor to prevent further violence.

The problems started on the Uthradam day. The rally was organized near a house where a person had died just before. The family members demanded a shift of venue for the rally. The DHRM workers refused to do so. This resulted in arguments between both parties. On the night, the house was attacked and rubber trees and banana plants were destroyed. The family members and the president of the Madavoor Panchayath and a Congress(I) leader, Sri. Rajendran Unnithan, alleged that DHRM activists were behind the attack. Two people, owing allegiance to DHRM, were arrested. This led to further violence in the region with armed gangs attacking people and crops. Two Dalit houses, allegedly of DHRM sympathizers, were attacked too.

Yesterday, DHRM conducted a march to Pallickal police station to protest against the false cases filed against its activists and the atrocities against the Daliths by the upper cast people. The march was led by its state secretary, Sri. V. Selvaraj, and another prominent leader of the organization Sri. Varkala Das. The march started from Thumpode. Then a group of local people, representing 'the rest of the world', comprising people of all major political parties and religious organization, tried to block the march at Thumpode junction. They started throwing stones at DHRM rally. The DHRM workers too started throwing stones back. It was the agile action of the police, on red alert, prevented further problems. The police charged at the anti-DHRM group and provided escort to the DHRM rally. It was a curious scene: the police escorting agitators who are going to lay siege to the police station.Watch a video of the DHRM march here.

The rally reached Pallickal police station and blocked the station for some time. The traffic through Pallickal to Kilimanoor too was disrupted. Later, more police forces came in and arrested the people blocking the station. DHRM has urged for more protest marches today. About 20 people, including police personnel, DHRM workers, and the people belonging to the anti-DHRM group, were injured in the happenings. Read a detailed report of the incidents here. The anti-DHRM group has also declared a harthal in Pallickal and nearby areas today.

A press release from DHRM alleges that DYFI workers attacked the rally. The left leaders declined to comment. Sri. Rajendran Unnithan put the blame on the militant functioning style of DHRM. He claimed that people of only two Dalit families in Madavoor supported DHRM and even the other Dalit people were against DHRM. Many observers agree that there were only very few local people in the DHRM rally organized yesterday.

The DHRM issue has certainly created a division among the people in Attingal and neighboring villages. The membership of DHRM is certainly on the rise in various Dalit colonies in the region. The DHRM leaders claim that its swelling rank and file is what irritates the political parties such as CPI(M), Congress (I), and BJP. They say that the intolerance of the upper cast people is the root of all the issues.

But if the recent performance of the DHRM candidates is any indication, their increase in membership should not worry any political parties. Sri. Selvaraj himself contested in Attingal assembly constituency. But he got only 1713 votes from more than one lakh votes polled. Sajimon Chelayam, another DHRM leader, who contested in Chirayinkeezhu assembly constituency, got only 1277 votes from more than 1.1 lakhs votes polled. Same is the case for Saleena Prakkanam who got only only 1613 votes in Vamanapuram constituency, where nearly 1.2 lakhs votes were polled. These are hardly an evidence of a staggering popularity.

The present situation is like this: DHRM leaders say that they are organizing study classes and functions in various Dalit colonies in order to spread awareness against liquor and to improve the overall cultural and financial situation of the Dalits. But the rest of the world, for want of a better phrase as this group includes virtually everybody excluding DHRM workers, say that the DHRM cadre resort to violence to intimidate people. They site the example of fights involving DHRM in Varkala, Kaipatti Mukku near Attingal, and Kadakkal over the last two years.

There are many conspiracy theories going around, with each group blaming the other for the problems. But whatever be the truth, one thing is clear: the calm and peaceful fabric that surrounded the social life of Madavoor and neighboring villages like Ponganadu and Pallikkal has been destroyed.

Saturday, September 10, 2011

Onam in a Village near Attingal

Onam celebrations in Attingal, as in other parts of Kerala, are continuously evolving. While pookkalams and traditional feast still manage to retain their charm, some other modes of celebrations have faded into oblivion. But it's refreshing to find new games and avenues of mirth-making coming along. Innovation is the mother of all celebrations – that is what some teenagers in a local arts and sports club in a village near Attingal trying to say. This is an overview of onam celebrations held in Mevarkal, a village of paddy fields and temples, near Attingal.

The festivities started in the afternoon. Morning had gone well with Atha Pookkalams, an idli-sambar breakfast, and a sumptuous meal. The pookkalams were eye-catching. Here are some of the samples:

The first action-packed event was what is now come to known aquatic pillow fighting – or pillow fighting in a temple pond. It was held last year too. It was exciting stuff, laced with occasional hilarious moments. The young lads showed great spirit. Sadly, the final of the event witnessed some acrimony. But it ended well with both the contestants accepting the judges' verdict. Here are a few photos and videos of the event.



The temple pond was also the venue for the next item. The organizers clumsily titled it as 'water and rope'. A long rope was put across the pond – one end of the rope was tied on the window of a small room near the pond that once housed a now-defunct pump-set and the other side of the rope was tied in a tree on the opposite bank of the pond. The contestants had to cross the pond and come back holding on to the rope. It was a bit like mountain climbing. None of the contestants completed the two-way journey. The guy who covered the longest distance was declared the winner. Some pics and videos.



Next item was Vadam Vali or tug of war, between the eternal enemies of Onam celebrations: the married and the unmarried. The unmarried guys easily outnumbered the married men. At one stage, the married men even struggled to fill up all the team vacancies. But they somehow found enough people to constitute a team. And guess what, they won easily. In boxing parlance, it was a knock-out. It was clear that the married men know the nuances of tug of war – familial or otherwise.
The final item of the day was Uriyadi. It is usually held during Sreekrishna jayanthi. But here it was borrowed for Onam festivities. The sun had almost set when the event began. But spectators remained there till the end. We managed to get some photos and videos of the item in the fading daylight.

There was no Mulayil Kayattam (Climbing on Bamboo Pole) this time around. So we rushed to another place where we learned it was being held. But when we reached there the event had almost finished. It was impossible to take any worthwhile photos or videos in the darkness. Hopefully we can witness it tomorrow, the third day of Onam, or the next year in Attingal or somewhere nearby.