What does it feel like to be an aristocrat, or from an old money family?

Answer by Raakhee Venugopal:

Pride. Pure…unadulterated pride.

Especially if you have grown up hearing stories of heroism and valor of your ancestors. The sheer abundance of wealth that has rested in the family’s hands since generations…the money, the gold, the landed property. And to know that in spite of being redistributed over many many generations due to partitions and all that, there’s still enough to last many generations ahead.

I do not claim to belong to a family of millionaires who whiz around in golden Mercs or wear diamond studded shoes. No. But my family is ancient and aristocratic for sure. There are records that trace the family history to more than eight to ten generations backwards. One of our family homes was given to a community society to run a school in its premises. It still stands proudly as one of the main trademarks of Tripunithura in the state of Kerala, India…the only place I call home. Here’s a picture of the main building…

It was called Elamana Palace back in the days. It is a stately naalukettu structure. Much of the wooded region around the house has been cut down now to build annex buildings. Thankfully they have maintained the main building as it looked back in the days, with even the cherub fountain intact. That’s the front gate…

It’s been refurbished several times but the basic structure is the same. My grandmother told me that the broad gates were to let in horse carriages carrying noblemen and other members of the family, palanquins of the womenfolk, and for the family elephants.

When my mother’s eldest brother was born, he was gifted a pouch of gold coins, weighing a sovereign (8 grams) each, by the then matriarch. Much of the family’s heirloom jewellery is still intact. Some have needed minor repairs owing to usage by several generations. The girls of the family still proudly wear the family jewellery as the main bridal jewellery at our weddings. The quality of the gems and gold used for the heirloom pieces is nothing like what you get in the market these days. Dating back to more than 4 or 5 generations backwards, they are exquisite and priceless. A family’s lineage was assessed by all these things back then. It still is…subtly though.

There are a lot of ancient pieces of furniture and traditional vessels in my own home that have been handed down. For example, there is this gigantic teak wood chest that weighs over a 100kg with polished brass fittings, that occupies a place of honor in our living room. It was made from a single trunk of a teak tree and was once used to keep the mundu or main garments of the matriarch.It looks a lot like this…larger though.

Then there are all those majestic bronze-ware like urulis, kuthu vilakku, para, kindi, etc. none of which were store bought. I don’t even know how old those are!

Tripunithura is a town with a very rich past. And most of the natives are either members of the royal family of the erstwhile kingdom of Cochin, Brahmins, and old Nair families. But lately, there have been a lot of immigrants who have chosen to settle down there and who currently call it their home. To distinguish between the natives and the immigrants, it’s not uncommon to be asked “Which family are you from?“. And this could be asked by anybody…local neighbors, shopkeepers, temple priests, anyone! When I get asked this question occasionally, I just mention my family name and immediately correlations are made. “Oh so you are so-and-so’s niece/daughter/granddaughter/etc.? What is your sister doing now? Where is your uncle’s son these days?” 🙂 It’s like they know everyone in my family! And weird as it may seem to some, the moment I tell them my family name, I am raised to an elevated position in their minds…and this is evident in the way they behave to me after the inquisition. The parting statement is almost always “It’s been a while since your uncle/father/someone has passed this way. Give them my regards.” 😀

My father’s family home in Shoranur (Kerala,India) is an enormous three-storied ancient Nair tharavaadu (mansion) in the midst of 5 acres of wooded land. We have a family temple, a serpent grove, mango and coconut tree orchards, huge expanses of paddy fields, etc. The yearly festival called pooram is conducted by my father’s family. Until recent times (the last one was in 2001), all the family weddings were held in the front yard of the house.

People grew up in the midst of riches. So much so that it meant no big deal to them. And much of that attitude is still seen among our new gen as well. The old photographs of my family members depict how simply they dressed. They did nothing extravagant or garishly inappropriate just to display their wealth. This recent culture of ‘showing off’ was started by people who acquired money by ‘their own hard work’.  Kerala has over time become notorious for the amount of gold worn by the brides on their wedding day. It’s like every inch of the poor girl was covered in the yellow metal…so much so that she looks more of a caparisoned elephant than a bride! 😦

Someone we know made their daughter wear 151 sovereigns (that equals more than 1kg) of gold jewellery on her wedding day! When somebody opined that the girl looked clearly uncomfortable in them, the father was like “I made this with my hard earned money. Why shouldn’t I show the world my worth today? I am no longer a poor man’s poor son.

Well. That’s not something I’d agree with. Nope. But sadly, nowadays it has come to look like a matter of family prestige to load the bride with whatever gold is available.

This is but one instance. There are so many many more.

In present day India, if you were to even as much as mention that you’re from an aristocratic family, you’d most likely be verbally abused, bullied and called names. I speak from experience. It’s a sad state of affairs. I still fail to understand the intolerance. I fail to understand why it is deemed to be wrong to say that you are from a family with a rich past. I fail to understand the anger that seeps into people when I say that belong to the aristocracy. We’re all unique…just like everyone else. Putting down somebody by using abusive words just because their family history isn’t like yours is so mean. 😦

I rarely tell anyone about all this these days. Thanks to Quora for giving me an opportunity to do so.

Images: The internet,

Just the the gate pic of NSS School, Tripunithura was clicked by me.



What does it feel like to be an aristocrat, or from an old money family?


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