Memory Trigger 14. The Well.

There are two triggers for this story. One if the well and the other is Kerala.

I had the great fortune of being posted in Kerala for a thirty month stint between 1974 and 1977. For my late wife and me, this was the best posting ever as we were in a small community of friends and colleagues in a colony with some great amenities.

During the time that we were there, my mother came to visit us and she too had a grand time not only visiting many places within Kerala that she had dreamed of all her life, but she also accompanied me on a pilgrimage to Sabarimala, which she always maintained was a grand achievement with her arthritic knees.

A little background before I continue with my story. My mother’s parents and other uncles, aunts and cousins were all from a town in Kerala called Alappuzha. My mother however was born in the Northern part of India as her father had emigrated there in search of employment and my mother had never visited Kerala before I was posted there.

Among the towns that she wanted to visit was naturally Alappuzha and I obliged her on a special visit. She had no idea of where her home was or whether any of her relatives were there, but we went there trusting her higher power to lead us to what will happen. In Alappuzha, I had a very knowledgeable local businessman with the most unlikely name of Baby, quite a normal name for men in Kerala,  and he was delighted to arrange for an escort for my mother and me to explore various places in Alappuzha after she gave some background information about her family to him. We eventually zeroed in on one place which had a well like the one shown above under a jackfruit tree in the front courtyard, which was how my mother remembered her mother describing their home. A Christian family was living there but they were very hospitable and confirmed that they had bought the house with the compound from a family belonging to our community. My mother was more than satisfied and was elated that she could visit her ancestral place.

With that background let me now take you to what another Malayali friend, now resident in Mumbai,  sent me as being the kind of wells that are built in Kerala. A sure indication of new wealth made overseas, called typically and with some envy, by residents as Gulf Money. He had sent this to a group of friends and ex colleagues in WhatsApp and the combination of Kerala and wells triggered off my memory of the visit to Alappuzha to locate my mother’s ancestral place.  Please click on the images to get larger resolutions as then you will see how innovative the builders have been in locating the draw wheels for the rope.

The Lungi.

My regular readers will be familiar with my preferred dress at home, the lungi. In fact, off blog and on blog, enough comments and responses have been exchanged on the subject, including one regular reader/commentator speculating whether I wore something under the lungi or not, for me to elaborate. For those who have not read my posts, you can read about my lungi habit here and here.

The following, highly amusing piece of writing has been sent to me by a bemused sister who is likely to be quite surprised at my posting about it again. Just some explanations for the uninitiated; Mallu is for Malayali, a resident of the state of Kerala, in the South West of our country. Bandh days are those days when various political parties of Kerala call for total closure of all shops, establishments, institutions and life more or less comes to standstill on. Bandh is also called Hartal in some other parts of our glorious country, particularly Bengal, which shares the honour with Kerala of maximum number of Bandh and Hartal days per year. I have always wondered if these two states are prone to such action because both relish rice and fish dishes besides the ubiquitous coconuts.

Here is a pictorial depiction of two gentlemen of Kerala wearing the white equivalent of the lungi, called Mundu in Kerala.

Onam is a harvest festival of Kerala.

A toddy shop is a drinking establishment common in parts of India (particularly Kerala) where palm toddy, a mildly alcoholic beverage made from the sap of palm trees, is served along with food.

“The Legendary Lungi.

Just as the national bird of Kerala is Mosquito, her national dress is ‘Lungi’. Pronounced as ‘Lu’ as in loo and ‘ngi ‘ as in ‘mongey’, a lungi can be identified by its floral or window-curtain pattern. ‘Mundu’ is the white variation of lungi and is worn on special occasions like hartal or bandh days, weddings and Onam.

Lungi is simple and ‘down to earth’ like the mallu wearing it. Lungi
is the beginning and the end of evolution in its category. Wearing
something on the top half of your body is optional when you are
wearing a lungi. Lungi is a strategic dress. It’s like a one-size-fits-all bottoms for Keralites.

The technique of wearing a lungi/mundu is passed on from generation to generation through word of mouth like the British Constitution. If you think it is an easy task wearing it, just try it once! It requires
techniques like breath control and yoga that is a notch higher than
sudarshan kriya of AOL. A lungi/mundu when perfectly worn won’t come off even in a quake of 8 on the richter scale. A lungi is not attached to the waist using duct tape, staple, rope or velcro. It’s a bit of
mallu magic whose formula is a closely guarded secret like the Coca
Cola chemicals.

A lungi can be worn ‘Full Mast’ or ‘Half Mast’ like a national flag. A
‘Full Mast’ lungi is when you are showing respect to an elderly or the
dead. Wearing it at full mast has lots of disadvantages. A major
disadvantage is when a dog runs after you. When you are wearing a
lungi/mundu at full mast, the advantage is mainly for the female
onlookers who are spared the ordeal of swooning at the sight of hairy

Wearing a lungi ‘Half Mast’ is when you wear it exposing yourself like
those C grade movie starlets. A mallu can play cricket, football or
simply run when the lungi is worn at half mast. A mallu can even climb
a coconut tree wearing lungi in half mast. “It’s not good manners,
especially for ladies from decent families, to look up at a mallu
climbing a coconut tree”- Confucius (or is it Abdul Kalam?)

Most mallus do the traditional dance kudiyattam. Kudi means drinking
alcohol and yattam, spelled as aattam, means random movement of the
male body. Note that ‘y’ is silent. When you are drinking, you drink,
there is no ‘y’. Any alcohol related “festival” can be enjoyed to the
maximum when you are topless with lungi and a towel tied around the
head. “Half mast lungi makes it easy to dance and shake legs” says
Candelaria Amaranto, a Salsa teacher from Spain after watching
‘kudiyaattam’ .

The ‘Lungi Wearing Mallu Union’ [LUWMU, pronounced LOVE MU], an NGO (Non Government Organisation) which works towards the ‘upliftment’ of the lungi, strongly disapproves of the GenNext tendency of wearing Bermudas under the lungi. Bermudas under the lungi is a conspiracy by the CIA. It’s a disgrace to see a person wearing burmuda with corporate logos under his lungi. What they don’t know is how much these corporates are limiting their freedom of movement and expression.

A mallu wears lungi round the year, all weather, all season. A mallu
celebrates winter by wearing a colourful lungi with a floral pattern.
Lungi provides good ventilation and brings down the heat between legs. A mallu is scared of global warming more than anyone else in the

A lungi/mundu can be worn any time of the day/night. It doubles as
blanket at night. It also doubles up as a swing, swimwear, sleeping
bag, parachute, facemask while entering/exiting toddy shops, shopping basket and water filter while fishing in ponds and rivers. It also has recreational uses like in ‘Lungi/mundu pulling’, a pastime in households having more than one male member. Lungi pulling competitions are held outside toddyshops all over Kerala during Onam and Vishu. When these lungis are decommissioned from service, they become table cloths. Thus the humble lungi is a cradle to grave appendage.”

(An anonymous piece)

It is a pity that this wonderful piece has come to me as having been written by someone who wishes to be anonymous. I salute the person for a highly entertaining piece of writing.

Tea In Kerala.

One of India’s 28 states is Kerala. Kerala is the most literate state in India and is a classic example of a remittance/ money order economy. Local industry is almost nil as Kerala has a militant trade union movement strongly supported by the ruling left front. The left front consists of communists and socialists of various hues. Most Keralites, also known as Malayalis leave Kerala to work elsewhere in India, the Middle East and send back money for the family. You can read about Kerala here.

Kerala’s preferred beverage is Tea and its grown up in the mountains around the head waters of a river called Moonar meaning three rivers. The British Tea Planters called it Munnar and made the tea famous for its unique flavour.

People from Kerala speak a language called Malayalam. They are therefore affectionately called Malayalis or Mallus for short. They have a very high sense of humour and are delightful conversationalists. They are also known for thier sangfroid. I have intimate connections with this wonderful state due to my mother having come from there and our own posting there for a few years.

In the picture below, you can see the Malayali sense of humour, their sangfroid and the local favourite beverage being vended from a mobile tea shop atop a bicycle, with aplomb.

tea in Kerala