Answer by Raakhee Venugopal:
My father’s ancestral home is in a village deep in Shoranur in Kerala, India, in a village called Kondayur. The nearest town is Desamangalam. The house is more than 200 years old and once home to an enormous joint family. The house has a large expanse of wooded area around it. I have some really beautiful memories there from my childhood. I grew up outside India and we used to go home for the summer holidays every year. Probably it is because of this that I used to see everything there as nothing less of fascinating. Here’s a picture of my dad’s tharavaadu…
This is just the front. I don’t have pictures of the side. The day starts at around 4 in the morning. All the women woke up at that hour and went for their morning baths. Some would go to the pond while the seniors would take a bath in the one of the two bathrooms inside the house. It wasn’t encouraged back in the days to have the bathroom inside the house. People had baths in the pond and the one bathroom inside the house was reserved for those who could not go to the pond due to health reasons or old age, etc. This is what a typical family bath pond looks like in Kerala…
Leaving the younger ones to play around for a while, the senior women returned home to continue their chores. The girls are not allowed to remain for long though. They are advised to return before the village wakes up and prying eyes appear.
The first thing done would be to light the lamp in the puja room and offer prayers before they do anything else. My mother and aunts then move to the kitchen. By this time, the servants would arrive and wait near the kitchen door for instructions. Some would be dispatched to the vegetable patches to collect the vegetables for cooking that day. Some others would be sent to sweep the courtyard and do other odd jobs. The water to be used for the day’s cooking was drawn from the well. There is a small window in the kitchen that opens into the well. It looks like a lot like this…
My aunt used to milk the cows herself. The cows wouldn’t allow anyone else to touch its udder 😀 Haha! By the time she’s done milking the cows, the rest of the house would have woken up slowly…by say 6:30 or 7am. Somebody would go around opening all the windows of the house to let the sunlight and the fresh air come in.
I used to sleep upstairs and I remember making it a point to stand near the window first thing after I woke up and inhale the fresh scent of pure air…no vehicle pollution, no sound pollution, nothing. I used to be woken up by the sound of peacocks crying 🙂 If I’m lucky enough, I’d be able to see peacocks looking for worms on our courtyard. I just had to be careful to be absolutely quiet so that I don’t frighten them away.
When I go downstairs, the fragrance of onions being sauteed in coconut oil would waft through from the kitchen…the clanging of pots and pans and lively banter of women filled the kitchen…my father and uncles would be sitting on the verandah of the house sipping on piping hot filter coffee and discussing the latest political news in the day’s newspaper. After coffee, they would go to the river or pond for their bath. By the time they got back after some rigorous swimming, breakfast would be ready…this is by 8:30 or 9am. The people who had to go out for work or school left soon after.
The house would always be bustling with activity all day long. The cows would need to be taken out for grazing. There would be something to be sun dried – mangoes, tamarind, tapioca, etc. The freshly plucked vegetables would be converted into lunch dishes. Some people from nearby houses would come asking for some milk or rice, etc. Sometimes the men went to the rice fields for inspection. Some of them went to the other orchards if it was time to fell coconuts or arecanuts to be there while the accountant took count of the felled fruits. These would later be transported to the town market where they were sold in lots.
We used have lunch on banana leaves. There would be at least 5 to 6 different dishes on any given day.
Since most of the dishes were made from homegrown vegetables, it always tasted amazing. Non-vegetarian food is not permitted. Lunchtime was always a grand affair. Everyone used to talk all at once and there was lots of discussions and playful banter.
After lunch, the next two hours was one where things took on a sluggish rate…people would either go for their afternoon siestas, some would get back to their other activities like reading or writing, sometimes visitors came unannounced and they would be seated at the verandah and they would be served tea, coffee or chilled spiced buttermilk called sambhaaram.
After 4pm, it was teatime again. There would be snacks brought in. The people who’d left in the morning would be back home, famished and waiting to dig into the evening delicacies. There would be vadas, pazhampori, pakodas, aval nanachathu, or any of the traditional Kerala snacks. You can read more about our traditional dishes in my answer to another question here –The cows are brought back to the cowshed after their grazing, the things laid out for sun-drying are taken back indoors and windows are shut to keep the wasps, etc. from coming in.
By 6pm, the women would have all taken their evening shower and they would light the lamp in the puja room. A lamp would be kept at the entrance too. All the children would also have their evening shower and would assemble around the lamp and pray. A lamp is also lit at the thulasi thara which is essentially a small structure placed in the front of the house with a holy basil plant in it. It looks a lot like this with mild variations…
Sometimes, we used to go to the family temple that is just a short walk away. It houses the family deity.
Meanwhile, dinner preparations would be underway. Dinner is usually a quieter affair as compared to lunchtime…and I really don’t know why. By 9pm, everyone would be done with dinner and some family elders would sit at the verandah talking for a while before retiring to their rooms. The whole hushes into silence by 10pm.
Life is really beautiful there…clean well-drawn water, clean air, simple people, minimum social media, maximum socializing 😀 It so wonderful to be so close to nature. There is so much greenery all around. Rice fields, coconut orchards, mango orchards, banana tree plantations…
I used to spend my days playing on the swing that was a permanent fixture on one of the mango trees. I used to play on haystacks and fall asleep on it only to wake up scratching myself sore 😀 We used to go to the Bharathapuzha river nearby to bathe and we’d walk back home through the rice fields.
Every year, the entire family gets together there for Onam. And it feels just like old times all over again 🙂