Excerpt from Ente Jeevitham, Arangilum Aniyarayilum
I was in the grip of an irresistible desire to learn Kathakali. I came to know that a training class was to start soon. I was very eager to know when and where. So the moment school hours were over, I used to run to Varanakkottu. When I asked the people around when the Kathakali classes would start, they wondered, ‘What does this boy have to do with Kathakali?’ They started making fun of me. As I was not getting any clear directions from them, I thought of asking the embrasanmar. They too made fun of me. Some people even got angry with me. It is important to clarify a point here. In our region (northern Kerala), Nampoothiris are often called ‘embrasanmar’. Ordinary Nampoothiris were often addressed like that. Rich landlords were called ‘ezhunalliyedathoonnu’. In our area, the elite Nampoothiri houses were, Varanakkottu, Kurumaathooru, Mootthedatthu. All others were embrasanmaar. All Nampoothiri houses north of Calicut and south of Kanjangad were embrasanmaar.
Varanakkottu temple had a priest from a Nampoothiri house called ‘Velliyode’. He was very old, short and lean. He always had marks of ash, sandal and lamp black on his forehead after the daily Ganesh pooja. He had to bathe twice a day for the rituals. When I mention the priest’s bath, I think of sharing some memories about the ponds around Varanakkottu. The bigger one was one square furlong in area. The pond was surrounded by flourishing coconut trees. The water-body was well protected by natural steps in laterite stone. It was there the local inhabitants used to bathe. I remember the scare in the village once when a crocodile appeared in this pond. It started devouring the cattle around. For some days, people stopped going to bathe. At last, Valiya Ezhunnalledathu (head of Varanakkottu family) gave orders to kill the crocodile. People tied a goat to a coconut tree near the pond and waited throughout the night. As expected, the crocodile came out to catch the goat, and it was shot dead. But near Varanakkottu there were two other, cleaner, ponds. One was for Nampoothiri women and the other for Nampoothiri men. There was an extension of this pond meant for the elders of Varanakkottu house. The water in it was crystal clear. (My future life was moulded by the Varanakkotttu family and the foundations of my life were laid there. Therefore, it is quite natural that I become eloquent when I recall the days that I spent there)
Let me go back to Velliyode Tirumeni. I had decided to open up my mind to him that I would like to learn Kathakali. He always loved me. He would affectionately call me, ‘Krishna’. I was waiting at the northern gate of the temple, and he was returning after the daily ritual. He smiled at me and asked:
‘Krishna, how are you?’
I went up to him and told that I wanted to learn Kathakali and a new training class was going to start in Varanakkottu. I requested him to put in a word with the head of the house (Valiya Ezhunalledatthu).
‘I also heard this. I am told they are bringing Chandu Panickar Asan. Please be around when they select the students. I will try my best. Anyone would feel that you would be good at Kathakali. Your face and eyes are just for that. I will do it for you.’
I could not contain my happiness. I ran to my mother. But she could not stop crying. She said:
‘My dear son, I had three sons. One died young. Another left home. Now you are the only one for me. These Kathakalikars will crush your bones with their ‘chavutti thirummal’ (preparatory massage). Who else do I have, son? We can find other means of livelihood.’
(Translated from Ente Jeevitham, Arangilum Aniyarayilum [Kottayam,1991] with the permission of DC Books)