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Graduate in Maths, Postgraduate in English literature. Worked as a medical transcriptionist, also as a teacher.

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Wednesday, June 29, 2016

How we lived half a century ago

Hi folks,
                     I would like to present an article written by my dad, Shri S Muthukrishna Iyer, recollecting his childhood and formative years.


This article could help ‘seniors’ to recollect their childhood days. More importantly, it could give a glimpse to children on how their grand parents led their lives 
“Change is permanent” is an age old saying. Universe underwent significant changes over billions of years. Changes which took place on earth very long ago include continents formation, and formation of unbelievably vast deposits of coal and petroleum underneath earth’s crust as a result of millions of years of weathering on biological matter. The changes which took place on utilization of these fuels in a very large scale after 1900 A.D. are beyond description. The young are unfamiliar about the life of those who lived, say, until about half a century ago.

A glimpse on the younger days of seniors like me could provide some idea on how we lived then.

How we lived then

Pandalam is well known for Lord Ayyappa’s abode and the Pandalam Palace. The palace has two settlements, one is adjacent to the renowned Dharma Sastha koil on the banks of Achankoil River and other at Kaipuzha, on its opposite banks. Pandalam Valiakoikal Raja is considered to be father of the Lord.

Surrounded by jackfruit and mango trees, my maternal grandpa’s residence ‘Kochu Madom’, was adjacent to Kaipuzha palace. Post our mother’s demise in early 1950’s when I was just three,self and my two elder sisters were shifted from the Thiruvananthapuram to Pandalam. Being employed at All India Radio, father stayed back at Thiruvananthapuram. In Kochu madom, we lived in a joint family set up.  Members were self, sisters, grandpa, grandma, uncle, aunt and their children. Uncle served the State Excise Dept. Grandpa led a team that prepared feasts for large gatherings. He also served the local Tamil Brahmin community as priest. We had our schooling in govt./aided institutions in Malayalam medium. On completion of my schooling in 1964, I joined the College of Engineering, Trivandrum.

Life in those days could be understood from a glimpse at our daily chores. Our grandparents were very affectionate and this made our life enjoyable. I had my uncle’s son’s company as we both were of same age. Grandpa woke us up around 4.30 in the morning. After attending to nature’s call, we learnt lessons in the dim light of kerosene lamp. Thereafter, we bathed in cool waters of Achankoil River. During summer we could cross over and pray at Sastha temple.

The dim light of the kerosene lamp

Post bathing, we prayed and performed ‘namaskarams’ (prostrations) at Siva temple, following which we had darshan of diety at the adjacent Krishna temple. While waiting for ‘aarti’, we enjoyed ‘ashtapadis’ sung with the accompaniment of the melodious ‘idakka’, a percussion instrument similar to Damru. After returning home, we enjoyed a cup of hot coffee prepared using fresh milk.

Our occasional visits to Thazhathu Mahadevar temple were interesting too. During monsoons, we used to walk down a km by M.C. road and the balance portion of around 2.5 km by ‘kutcha road’. The journey was mostly in pitch darkness. We bathed, offered prayers and returned home. During other times, we crossed over the knee deep water of the river, walked through sugar cane fields and reached there. This regimentation helped us to grow disciplined.

Cooking was laborious in those days; both male and female members shared the burden. Fuel was firewood/coconut leaves. Splitting firewood and stacking was strenuous and male members did it. Drying paddy by spreading thinly on mats under sun and carrying to mill for de-husking was laborious too. At home, the pounding of paddy in ‘Ural’ (a tall stony structure with provision to hold paddy at its top side) using ‘Ulakka’ (a cylindrical wooden rod) enabled its de-husking. Dals were split using ‘Thiru kallu’ (a grinding stone which enabled their flouring/splitting) Grinding for the preparation of idli/dosa was carried out manually using ‘Aattu kallu’ (a traditional grinding stone used for making idli/dosa batter).

Firewood stacked at Aunt’s house at Pongavana madom, Kottayam
                            (Picture taken in April 2016)

  Payasam being prepared using firewood choola 

Breakfast was largely made of tubers, most used was fresh/dried tapioca. ‘Kanthari mulagu’(a variety of chillies) and salt ground using Ammi kallu, a traditional kitchen tool used to grind spices, augmented its taste. Horse gram and shredded coconut were common additives to mashed tapioca. We enjoyed various curries made out of jackfruit during its season. Occasionally, we had Dosa, Idli, Upma and steamed rice dumplings too. For meals we had rice, curries made out of leafy and other locally grown vegetables, butter milk and pickles.

The substantial differences in making dishes between then and now include the following.
  • In those days, womenfolk were mostly homemakers. Though on compulsions, most found enjoyment in meeting the dietary needs of their family members.
  • Being members of joint families, they had opportunities for preparing delicacies. This ensured the quality of food.
  • Dishes were made out of locally produced grains, vegetables and fruits cultivated using natural manure, also were made out of freshly ground corns. 
  • The use of ‘ammi kallu’ and ‘aattu kallu’, ensured squeezing out juice from ingredients like coconut scrapings, this helped to enhance the taste of curries.
  • The heat of fire of firewood choola matched with that of the present day LPG stove, this was a plus point.
  • It was a common practice to cook tubers, and ‘ethan pazham’ (a variety of banana which is amenable for making a variety of dishes by cooking) by inserting them in the fire of‘firewood choolas’. The taste of food cooked thus is beyond description, usually, the present day children do not get such items even to taste.

Walking to school by the black topped M. C. road was easy. Even in those days, KSRTC and private buses plied, though in much smaller numbers. However, during our stay for the twelve years at Pandalam, we did not make even one trip to school by bus as we used to walk distances barefoot. A few Ambassadors taxied the needy. Two wheelers other than pedaled cycles were rare. Naturally, ‘traffic jam’ was unknown. Goods were moved on bullock carts and cycles. Even during the years just after 1970 when I was in Thiruvananthapuram, provisions, vegetables, egg, meat and others were moved overnight from Nagarcoil to Thiruvananthapuram largely using bullock carts. 

Clocks and watches were rare. We judged the time for departing to school from position of shadow which fell on landmarks in the courtyard.

It is also appropriate to recall here the fact that our schooling during the period from 1952-63 was without issues like teacher shortage/flash strikes. The only procession I remember to have participated then was a protest against Chinese aggression; teachers too participated in the same.

Those were the times just after we became a republic on January 26, 1950. Our country was in her infant stage with respect to food production, electricity generation, industrialization, rail, road and air connectivity, health and the use of electric kitchen appliances. The then population of India was only around one third of the present. These aspects influenced our life too.

Up to 5th class we learned in mother tongue, and carried only slate, pencil and bare minimum texts to school. We learned English and Hindi only from middle school classes and wrote using ink pens with nibs. Ball point pens of inferior quality were available since early nineteen sixties; I used three of them for Pre University exam, still trouble free writing evaded me.

Post and telegraph department (P&T) was the most important one for us. Post cards and inlands, even though took days/weeks for reaching the addressee, were the only lifelines of communication. Telegrams conveyed emergent messages, telephones were rare. Money order from father ensured that school fees and other expenses are met.

In the absence of fans, living in a tiled house of yesteryear's in villages was less comfortable. Bed bugs and mosquitoes were aplenty; we lived in their midst. Looking back, I often wonder that we did not suffer from any mosquito bite related illness then. Snakes moving around were a common sight, many a times we spotted one inside rooms. However, unlike the present days, we were not worried about this seemingly dangerous environment in which we lived.

Festivities at temples were occasions of enjoyment, where in, Pancha vadyam, Kathakali, Ottan thullal, Vela kali, Chakyar koothu, Hari katha and music concerts were staged. It is worth mentioning here that the ten days of festival was the only occasion we enjoyed film songs which were broadcasted loud over the music systems of the times. Even radios were rare in villages.

Sickness was attended to by traditional Vaidyans. Those were the days when allopathic treatment involving the use of the present day diagnostic equipments and surgical procedures was unheard of; the same had its toll on most families then. My mother and her elder sister died young. High rate of infant mortality which prevailed then had its toll in many families including that of ours.

From the above description, it is presumed that the young of the present could have a glimpse on how we lived half a century ago, when we did not have smokeless kitchens, extensive transportation networks, electric home appliances, electronic gadgets, satellites, television, computer, information technology, data transfer using mobile phones and a large variety of sumptuousness in mass manufactured consumer goods. However, we enjoyed our life then, as much as we do now.

S. Muthukrishna Iyer.

-          The End   -