Random musings of a wandering soul

Lessons from the Yard

Last project for son was Natural Disasters. Thinking and writing about nature, as always, takes me back home and the wonderful childhood that we had. Those days, we never had environment as part of a project or even as a subject.  Now I wonder whether that was because, environment was actually a part of lives. Our lives were so entwined with the nature around us that we never had to learn about it in class rooms.

The fondest memories of childhood and summer holidays are the baskets that would be ready in a line for us on the veranda when we get up in the morning. There would always be a small army of kids and morning ablutions were always in a hurry. Competition started early those days. The baskets were for collecting the mangoes that had fallen from the trees in the night. The one who collected the most would get a twenty five paisa coin from our grandmother. Those days, it was a treasure. There were almost twenty mango trees, each a different variety, all planted and nurtured lovingly by my grandmother. It was not just the thumb, her whole body was green. She did not have a life that was separate from her land.

Once the mangoes were accounted for, the next process was extracting the juice. We hadn’t heard of juicers then. Each of us would be given a “muram” – sort of a large sieve. The mangoes were grated in the sieve and the juice taken and handed over to ammachi (that’s what we called our grandmother). She would mix some rice flour and then some ingredients and spread it out on a mat to dry in the sun. This process went on for days, a new layer added each day, till the mango paste was thick enough. Once dried well enough, the mats with the pastewould be rolled and safely kept in huge earthen pots. Ammachi would give us tiny pieces to taste saying when mangoes are available now, have that, and when the season is over, she will give us the preserve. That was first lesson in saving when there is plenty and using the savings when there was none.

We had lots of chores in the mornings. Next would be the cinnamon tree. We had to scrape out the bark and this had to be done in a precise and delicate manner so that the trunk could heal properly and give us more bark next year. Another lesson – every hurt will heal, it is just a matter of time.

The ‘parambu’ (yard) was a mini forest. There were so many fruits which I doubt my kids will ever see or even if they do, would enjoy gorging on as we did. There were jack fruits, guavas, lololikkas (not sure what this is called in English), chambakka (water apple), ampazhanga, wood apples, pomegranates, there was even an orange tree which bore pea sized oranges. The huge kambili/bumbloose naarakam(pomelo fruit – just googled it, never knew its English name 🙂 )tree bordered the pond, the fruits of which were the last resort for us if nothing else was available. The vegetable patch yielded everything that was needed – ginger, chillies, yam, bitter gourd, bottle gourd, string beans, there were even coffee plants.  Plantain trees across the yard waved its leaves in the afternoon breeze. The plantain jam that ammachi used to make was just out of the world. I still think of her words when I now buy it at 40-50 rupees per kilo – “you will not realize its value when you have it in plenty”. Doesn’t it apply to everything in life?

Another high point was the chicks and ducklings. There would be at least 3-4 hens hatching eggs. Did you know hens were used to hatch duck’s eggs as well? We would eagerly wait for the hen to shift her position to see whether the eggs were breaking. The sight of a tiny beak slowly pecking its way out of the shell and the wonder in its eyes while they turned their head around and slowly stepped out into the world is something else. The hen that hatched the ducklings would be the most hilarious one. The consternation on her face and the desperate cackling when her ‘kids’ jump into the water left us in splits many a time. We have watched these hens and ducks being killed too. All of us would run after the one that was identified for the guest of the day and sometimes the poor thing would just give up out of sheer exhaustion. Life and death were so much a part of our lives we never felt anything wrong then. Isn’t life also sometimes about who outruns who?

Lunch would be what and how much was served in our plates. I have no memory of any one of us having a say on the menu or even stating our preferences. No one was allowed to get up without finishing everything that was served. When we were slightly older, we had to wash the rice for cooking, help in chopping the vegetables and whatever little we could. Even a single grain of rice or the tiniest piece of vegetable was not allowed to escape in the process. All these were lessons in utilizing the available resources to the maximum and with absolutely no wastage. My grandmother would have cursed me to hell if she spent even a day in my kitchen today.

I have mentioned in a few of my earlier posts about my home – it is one of the 50 places that you must visit before you die according to National Geographic. Nestled between Kottayam and Alleppey districts in Kerala, Kuttanad is an area that lies below sea level. Blessed with waterways of all shapes, sizes and names, how can a holiday be complete without the frolic in the river? We learnt swimming holding on to the trunk of plantain trees that would float. We have even made rafts out of it and rowed to the other side of the river. There would be a forced rest of an hour after lunch and then all pairs of ears would be on the old clock to strike three. And off we would jump one after the other into the water. We were so wild that after two hours we would have kicked up all the mud which in turn would deposit on our bodies. Dirtier bodies would come out of the river and run to the bath room to have a proper bath.

We learnt to share, work and play together, be independent (most of the activities would not be monitored by anyone, but we were expected to be perfect), fight and make up, hurt and heal, in short a miniature version of most everything that we would have to go through later in life. What I have put in words here is a very small part of these experiences and the emotions that I go through whenever I think of those days. There were visits to our relative’s houses, they would come visiting, there were family gatherings, functions, festivals in the church, the days were packed and there were never a dull moment.

I remember reading somewhere that plants too have emotions and feelings. No one in my family would need proof for this. Remember the mango trees that were brought up with utmost care and love by my ammachi? None of them flowered the year she passed away!

(all pictures  courtesy – google images)

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Comments on: "Lessons from the Yard" (22)

  1. Beautiful WL, Lessons from your yard and so accurate. We have a lesson called environmental science these days because after a few decades human beings might not even have an environment to boast of.
    I wish I had the luxury of being so close to nature in my childhood days.It seems you have been brought up in paradise. 🙂 🙂

    • Paradise? I might have begged to differ then 😉
      Actually, as my grandmother said, we realize its value when we don’t have it anymore. House is still there, no one inside, and the yard – she would be turning in her grave everyday 😦

  2. Prasanth said:

    Nice Blog mam ….! Felt good reading this 🙂

  3. Your post made me re-collect my child hood days. There was a guava tree in my grand ma’s place which was our very good friend. We were only found on top of it. We used to talk to the trees and play with them. Your place seems to be a heaven.

    • Guavas – those were and still is my favorite.
      On top of trees – I know the feeling. We used to make believe we were on ‘The Magic Faraway Tree’ meeting up with fairies, pixies and the occasional goblins too 🙂

  4. Brilliant narration, Bindu!

    Could imagine being at your place in Kavalam … and the values instilled by your grandma and parents .. Priceless!

    It would great to live in a place like that and watch life go by – so much peace and purity!

    I love the way you presented the incidents and the messages … matter if fact; not patronising or sanctimonious!

    But I think in the last paragraph but one you have stuff to write a few more articles – you could edit most of it out and still have a fabulous story. Think about it.

    Waiting for the next one!

    J

    • Thanks a lot for the lovely words 🙂

      More articles – you are right, each time I write about home, it feels incomplete, there is so much to remember and feel nostalgic about.

      These days I long much more for the place, maybe because it is as good as closed, my father is moving in with my brother in ernakulam – his health is giving him and us a lot of problems 😦

  5. YEss I know about hens used to harch duck eggs , We had about a dozen of each back home in our vilalge and it was fun feeding them and playing with them , though the ducks would spend most of the time in the small canal right next to our house ..

    and mangoes yummmyyyyyyyyy 🙂

  6. 🙂
    Isn’t it sad our kids wouldn’t know half the fun we had?

  7. Kuttanad is a lovely lovely place to be… 🙂 🙂
    A trip back to childhood for me too… collecting mangoes, going to the rice fields, helping in boiling the grains, watching out for crows while drying the copra.. and planting new seeds… lovely time and chambakka 🙂 baballooz naranga… still love the pearly pink look of the insides (just the look) and the cashew fruit and the stains from it on most of the frocks 🙂 🙂

  8. Bindu, you have just narrated my childhood too. All the things that you mentioned (the only exception being duck!) were there in my childhood also. Add that to other activities like paddy cultivation, harvest and coconut climbers, coconut harvesting, tender coconut water and the soft coconut flesh mixed with sharkara (jaggery), catchin the fish during the first monsoon rains and so on. What a childhood that was. Today, the kids had not even seen the different trees, paddy cultivation, and the good things… all have vanished from most parts. They now only see JCBs, tipper lorries and flats, more and more of them. What a pity and they don’t know what they are missing..

    • As we look back now, we really did have a magical childhood, didn’t we?
      All the activities – it will take a lot of posts to cover everything – the floods, how we used to catch fish from the veranda, use the huge ‘chembu’ as a boat and row in the front yards, so many memories…
      Today’s kids really do not know what they are missing. But I guess it happens to each generation. Our parents used to say their childhood was even more magical 🙂

  9. Nice narration, Bindu. Thanks for taking me also to my childhood days…..

  10. Beautiful, beautiful Post Bindu!!!!! Savoured every word and it was very easy to imagine everything.
    I lived in Bangalore but summer hols meant Kerala. Did everything u mentioned except for the cinnamon bark scraping[tht sounds intersting btw] and the playing in the water was on a smaller scale :-). The mangoes trees & varieties soooo many, no wonder the house name itself was manthottathil veedu :-).
    We also had bees in pots at the corners of our house & used to watch my grandfather get the honey out. There were cows, goats, dogs, cats, hens, rabbits wandering all over the land. I too remember catching the feast of the day event :-).
    And along with champakkya & lollolikyas we had fun plucking mulberries & smashing open badamkas[almonds] and drinking tender coconut water & feasting on the creamy flesh with karupotti :-D.

    I feel terrible for my kids but then they dont seem to be all tht interested anyways…I guess they dont miss what they’ve not had.

    • Looks like I have taken most of my friends on a nostalgic trip, I am so happy 🙂
      Bees were something we never had, though.
      Today’s kids – all they seem to want is cartoons and games

  11. the header is beautiful!!!!

  12. Ah! This one really got me. It has made me nostalgic once again after so many months. Grandmothers of those days had great messages for the little ones. Have written something along these lines.
    http://bindujohnroy.wordpress.com/2010/12/02/my-grandmothers-house/

  13. One more beautiful post, Bindu. Loved reading this. Greatly touched.

    I have missed many of these valuable lessons, having grown up in a high-rise and never really having lived in the midst of nature like that. I also think children those days were taught from an early age to face the many challenges that their life might throw at them later.

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