Thursday, May 26, 2016

A. V. Koshy writes

An Epic on Childhood - 7 - Ezhuthinniruthel

the indian full-bright "scholar" told him
"i'm a syrian christian by birth
i had an inter-religious marriage
(fortunately, she didn't say 'inter-caste' marriage)
you see syrian christians have no "culture"
worth speaking of
but my hubby's people!
what a rich culture!
what a tradition!
we, you and i, just have some appam
and curry
nothing else
so boring!
all the while, shrugging apologetically
waiting to see his reaction
when she saw there was none
she went back to her work
of arranging the next so-called indian-forigin exhibition
selling half-baked culture to some half-baked whites
for the sake of a little more full-brightness
under what he knew was an indifferent sun

a woman he knew had once crouched over a pokey little aduppu
sweating, sweating, pretty eyes reddened, by stinging smoke, weeping
whoosh whoosh whoosh whoosh
blowing into a kuzhel
the wood to set afire
keep it burning and hot
while over it vessels she kept one by one
her hands had earlier squeezed the maavu
with an idiappam maker
he loved the different dies by which
it could come out in different thicknesses and lengths
and later when cooked
her sweat still flowing from her forehead at the heat of the aduppu
& from the to her frail constitution strenuous exertion
she would add milk and sugar
or give him kadala curry or beef and thenga kothu curry to go with it
sweetened or hot, the food was exquisite

he looked at the scholar with unbelief in his eyes
she had never seen the string hoppers that woman made
to be honest he had not either, ever again
keralites made ones in idli size, thin and coiled in a never ending thread
beautiful ones, but of a common standard
but what she made was totally different
she had had the courage to use a different die
it was there he had learned of culture and innovation

sit down here, son
the pathram was set in front of him
chamana poottittirikku, monae (he obliged, unlearnedly)
he could never do it while she did it perfectly
the pathram was full of rice
devaithe dhyanichey
her hand grasped his forefinger and made him write in the rice
red rice, plenteous rice
it felt so rich and good
his finger sinking in its sumptuousness
shree yeshuve namaha
aa, aaa
a, A
her hand making him draw the cross in the rice
deivam ninne anugrahikkette, monae
the embers she blew on
on and on
to make them leap into coals of fire
for such a woman he could walk on coals of fire
not just anyone he happened to meet
certainly not for vultures talking of culture
or for those who threw out the baby with the bathwater

 Image result for vidyarambham images


  1. In Kerala, children start their formal education in a ceremony called Ezhuthiniruthal (or Vidyāraṃbhaṃ, “knowledge” + “beginning”); before then, they are not supposed to read or write. It is done on Vijayadasami, the “day of light,” the 10th and final day of the Navratri (festival of triumph), marking Mahadevi’s victory over the half-human/half-buffalo demon Mahishasura, who could only be killed by a woman; after he defeated Indra, the gods created Mahadevi (Durga), the goddess who was the sum of all other goddesses, soul of the universe and the universe itself, the supreme force that creates, drives, and destroys the universe, Nirguna Maheshwari Devi Mahamaya )the absolute truth), the epitome of the highest intelligence (Brahmavidya), the source of wealth, knowledge, forgiveness, peace, faith, fortitude, fame, modesty, and mercy, and the mother of all. On the 9th day of the festival (Mahanavami) all books and implements are placed in a temple or kept at home, since no tools are to be used on that day, but on the 10th they are recovered for the communal initiation into learning. It used to be performed by an aasaan (a colloquial term for the acharya or guru who educated non-Brahmin children at an ezhuthupallikkoodam” (“kalari” or “aasaan kalari”), but now it can be done by any learned person, grandparent, or parent. It is conducted with respect, in a spiritual state. The ceremony is usually done when the child is three or five, since the “Muhurtha Padavi,” a treatise on electional astrology (event astrology, a method of determining the most auspicious time to do something), discourages ages two and four. Among the articles associated with the ceremony is a lamp with seven wicks (“ezhuthiri vilakku”) decorated with auspicious flowers such as thumbappoo (Leucas zeylanica, “Ceylon slitwort”). The aasaan sits on a folded white dhoti on the ground, and the child sits in his or her lap The aasaan cites a Sanskrit mantra three times and guides the child’s index finger once in sand (symbolizing practice) and once in “onakkalari” (raw rice with bran, symbolizing the acquisition of knowledge leading to prosperity) which is spread on a large bronze plate that has been cleaned so that it sparkles like gold, and then uses a basil leaf or golden ring to write the mantra on the child’s tongue, where Saraswati dwells. According to Nitya Chaitanya Yathi, a poet, philosopher, psychologist, author of over 120 books in Malayalam and 80 in English, and head of the "Narayana Gurukulam," a worldwide contemplative community, this process brings together both jnanendriya (senses of knowledge -- eyes and ears) and both karmendriya (senses of activity -- finger and mouth), thus allowing the child to enter the infinite universe of knowledge. A Malayalam song, "Manassilunaroo Ushasandhyayay," says, “We pray to you Goddess Saraswati, come to us in the form of books and in the form of ayudha” (“ayudha”means weapons or arms, but here it means any tool). In addition to language, the ceremony also formally introduces the initiates to music, dance, and folk arts.

  2. Keralites are the people of Kerala. "Keralam" may stem from the Tamil “cherive-alam” (mountain slope) or “chera alam” ("Land of the Cheras," the oldest known Kerala dynasty, derived from the Proto-Tamil-Malayalam word for "lake"), or it may be an imperfect Malayalam portmanteau that fuses “kera” (coconut palm tree) and “alam” (land, location); in the 3rd-century BCE the Maurya emperor Ashoka’s Rock Edict 2 referred to Keralaputra as the ruler of Cheralam (Chera and Kera are variants of the same word). Paraśurāma, the 6th avatar of Vishnu, who was taught the original martial arts (kalaripayattu) by Shiva, threw his axe across the sea, and the water receded as far as it reached: this new area of land extended from Gokarna to Kanyakumari. The land which rose from the sea was filled with salt, however, making it unsuitable for habitation, so Paraśurāma invoked Vāsukī, the snake king, who spat holy poison and converted the soil into fertile land. The “Matsya Purana,” among the oldest of the 18 puranas, used the Malaya Mountains of Kerala and Tamil Nadu as the setting for the story of Matsya and Manu (the first incarnation of Vishnu and the first man). A 2nd Chera kingdom (ca. 800–1102), the Kulasekhara dynasty of Mahodayapuram, comprised all of modern Kerala and a part of modern Tamil Nadu; it was then that a Keralite identity, distinct from the Tamils, became linguistically and culturally separate. Eventually, perhaps in the 16th century, Tuñcattŭ Rāmānujan Ezuttacchan regularized the Malayalam language and took it to the level of the common people, and he established a 51-character alphabet to replace the 30-letter Vattezhuthu script that was taught to the common people, while Granthakshara alphabets were used by scholars. As the influence of Sanskrit increased in Malayalam, Vattezhuthu was used to write distorted versions of Sanskrit words, and Granthakshara letters were interposed to denote Sanskrit phonetics in essential works, but ordinary people only knew Vattezhuthu. To establish an alphabet system which was equivalent to Sanskrit, Ezuttacchan took the best from the existing sets of Granthakshara-based words, modified them, and formed common derivations. Not known for any original compositions, nevertheless his translations of the “Ramayana” and “Mahabharata” brought classical learning to the masses. He also employed different Dravidian meters in the separate cantos of his Adhyatma Ramayanam, which is still recited as a religious practice in homes throughout the Malayalam month of Karkkidakam. His birthplace was Trikkantiyur, now known as Thunchan Parambu. Every fall, hundreds of parents take their children there for the Vijayadasami ceremony conducted by artists, writers, and other cultural leaders, and other parents go there for sand to use for that purpose at home. Ezuttacchanhas been credited with originating the ceremony himself. Although little is known about his biography, some scholars place him in the Kaniyar caste; although only Brahmins were allowed to learn Sanskrit, the Kaniyar, as astrologers, were an exception to the rule and were generally assigned as preceptors of martial art and literacy. As aasaan (“father of letters”) they also served as village school teachers.

  3. Syrian Christians are primarily found in the Middle East, Asia Minor, and in Kerala. Their liturgy is in Syriac, a dialect of Middle Aramaic that emerged in Edessa in the early 1st century. They are divided into two major traditions: The East Syrian Rite was historically associated with the Assyrian-founded Church of the East, and is currently employed by the Assyrian Church of the East, the Ancient Church of the East, and the Chaldean Catholic Church as well as by the Syro-Malabar Catholic Church of India. The West Syrian Rite is used by the Syriac Orthodox Church, the Syriac Catholic Church, the Maronite Church, and, in Karala, the Malankara Churches of India which follow the Nasrani (St. Thomas Christian) tradition, originally part of the Church of the East but organized as the Ecclesiastical Province of India in the 8th century. In the 16th century the Portuguese effort to bring the Saint Thomas Christians into the Latin Rite (Catholicism) led to the split between Latin Catholic and Malankara Church factions; since then, they have divided into several Eastern Catholic, Oriental Orthodox, and independent churches, each with its own liturgies and traditions, but they continue to represent a single ethnic group, which Placid J. Podipara described as "Hindu in Culture, Christian in Religion, and Oriental in Worship." Thomas the Apostle (Toma in Aramaic, derived the Hebrew “Teom,” [twin]) was one of Jesus’ 12 apostles; he originally doubted Jesus' resurrection, saying "Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe" [John 20: 25] but then preached outside the Roman Empire, traveling as far as Muziris, Tamilakam (in modern Kerala) in 52. Appam, a kind of pancake made from fermented rice batter and coconut milk, is a cultural synonym of the Nasranis.

  4. The Fulbright Program is a system of competitive, merit-based grants for international educational exchanges of students, scholars, teachers, professionals, scientists, and artists, founded by US senator J. William Fulbright in 1946. It was originally funded from the proceeds of selling surplus war property and to forgo the debts foreign countries had amassed during World War II if the money was used for international educational programs. At about the same time, the phrase “culture vulture” -- a person considered to be excessively, and often pretentiously, interested in the arts – was coined, perhaps derived from the American writer of humorous verse, Ogden Nash: "There is a vulture / Who circles above / The carcass of culture." [“Free Wheeling,” 1931]; but the Welsh poet Dylan Thomas seems to have been the first to use the actual term, in a radio piece published just after his death: “See the garrulous others, also, grabbing and garlanded from one nest of culture-vultures to another” [“Quite Early One Morning,” 1954]. (When we think of the proclivity of culture vultures to be obsessed with whatever is “in” at the moment, we should keep in mind this observation from Matthew 24:28: “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.”)

    “Don't throw the baby out with the bathwater” comes from the German proverb, “das Kind mit dem Bade ausschütten,” which first appeared in 1512, in “Narrenbeschwörung” (Appeal to Fools) by the poet and satirist Thomas Murner.
    Forigin is a synonym for “foreign.” An aduppu is a Malayalam word for fireplace, hearth, stove, or oven. A kuzhal is a wooden wind instrument with a conical bore, at the end of which is affixed a brass bell. The player blows through a double reed and closes small holes with both hands. Idiappam (string poppers) are noodles made of rice flour (maavu). Kadala curry is made from chickpeas and often served with thenga kothu (coconut slices). Idli is a breakfast food made by steaming a batter of rice and fermented de-husked black lentils. A chamana is a herbal tea. A pathram is a newspaper (the word also means leaf, wing, feather, or a line made with sandalwood paste). “Monae” is a colloquial word for “son.” “Shree yeshuve namaha” – “Praise Lord Jesus” is the Christian substitute for the Hindu phrase, "Om Hari Shree Ganapathaye Nama: Avighnamasthu" (Salutations to Hari [Vishnu], Lakshmi [the goddess of prosperity], and Ganesha [the elephant-headed god of beginnings, the remover of obstacles, the patron of arts and sciences, letters and learning, and intellect and wisdom], we pray to you- let there be no interruption to our to our learning or actions.) The mantra has 51 letters, the same number as the alphabet, according to the system of counting with alphabets. Another interpretation of the prayer is “Let us bow our head to the master of Hariganam and Sriganam (vowels and consonants).”


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