Monday, July 19, 2010

In search of roots

Grandma died. After 16 days, the official mourning period, they brought in an astrologer. A learned man, he was said to be very correct in his readings of what the stars had to foretell. About the time of grandma’s death, he said it was auspicious. So everyone was relieved that she was directly passage to the heavens with no hanging around Earth’s atmosphere. Then he said ominously, “But I see displeased Gods.”

“But it can’t be”, said the aunt who spent hundreds on different offerings every month

“I see it clear. You have not prayed well to your family deity for long”

“But we offer prayers to the deity in our hometown.”

“That is not your family deity. It is a Goddess – a form of Kali”, went on the astrologer

Questioning glances went around. None knew of a Goddess. Finally a distant uncle said that he offered prayer to a local goddess near his house.

“Not that. This is somewhere south near the sea. A famous Shiv temple is close by”

This was not particularly helpful with Kerala’s long coastline and innumerable backwaters. And the fact that most temples dedicated to a Goddess had a Shiv temple close by, wasn’t making things simpler.

“What were your forefathers?”, was the next query from the astrologer.

“Farmers. One grand uncle was a doctor(GP). Few teachers….”

“Can’t be. This goddess has been revered by warriors. You must be from warrior clan”

Whispers went around. “Psst..Maybe true. Have you noticed that the east house has those huge aunts and uncles with bushy eyebrows. Pssst…..Iam afraid of them”. “Yesss…me too”, added another low tone.

The eldest aunt who had been keeping quiet all the while finally spoke, “I remember my granny telling me something about… the family had come from somewhere else…that her grandma had fled their place fearing wrath of king…they came by boats during night…they had their valuables in little bundles…then they were given asylum by local families in new place”

Another round of whispers. “Wrath of king…my, my. What would they have done?”

“Try to find the place and offer prayers to please the Goddess”, advised the astrologer before he wrapped up the session.

“Give us some more clues. How far south?”, pleaded everyone.
“Farther south than Cochin”
“That south?...Oh No! Now we can’t make fun of Southern dialect and accent”, moaned a cousin and immediately got all kinds of glances.

Then ensued a long round of discussions. The problem at hand threw up all kinds of conditions. There was set of eager people who were intrigued and wanted to delve further into the mystery. Another set were looking up train charts to book tickets back to workplace. They cared least about the mystery. Yet another set wanted to have a second opinion and not believe the astrologer. A couple who were yet childless wanted to find the place fast and offer prayers to the goddess and kids were planning how to have a picnic to the place once they found it out.

Finally the challenge was taken up by my uncle and elder cousin. Uncle was in Kerala Police and so he did the first round of investigations.

While on a duty to Cochin once, he spotted a bus by the family name. He made enquires at the RTO and found it to be registered to a Christian family in Ernakulam town. He went to their place and told them the story. They said that they too have heard that they came from south and were converted about 300 years ago. So that drew a blank.

Time passed. About a year after, uncle came to know of a place in Alappuzha district (Alleppey) which resembled the family name. But it was on an island and you had to get ferried across and the vehicles can get across only twice a day. So, uncle and cousin got on a boat to the island. They got talking to people and asked about their destination. Many knew the place.

“Yes. I live near it. I pray at the temple everyday. There is a school also by the same name.”

“Any branches of family by the name living there?”

“None I know of”.

“Why is the school, temple and place itself named so?”

“Don’t know. Maybe you can contact the most knowledgeable person in the area – a writer. But…”He hesitated

“What but…”

“He is a muslim”
“Oh. That’s all. No problem.”

And they got down on the island and took auto to the place. And indeed amidst milky white sands stood a little temple. They went inside and invited questioning glances. They told the story and the priest, a young chap listened but he was new to the area and didn’t much about local history. The temple seemed to be not very rich. Simple people around didn’t much to make as offerings. The school too bore the name. They asked few questions about other ancient families in the neighbourhood. None resembled our family name.

Then they went in search of the writer. They were welcomed and given food. The locality did not have any great hotels. The famished duo ate thankfully. When the writer listened to the story, he was ready to help in whatever way. They met a really old man who recollected hearing the name of the household but could not add much.

And the next vacation we came down to join a bus load of family members who were going to see the Goddess. We started early and reached the place by 10.30am. About 50 of us were treated to fresh juices by the writer’s family. The household had five members- the writer’s mom, wife and two sons. They were such nice people. They had prepared a vegetarian meal for all of us after we were back from the temple. And to ensure that we felt at home, they had not prepared any nonvegetarian dishes that day even for themselves. Their love was the best thing we discovered, even better than the small temple we could call our own. They still invite my uncle and cousin for their family celebrations – like weddings and they too invited them to weddings, naming ceremony of children etc.

The trip widened our views on people. We started to have more respect for other religions and understood that the thought that the best people lived only north of Ernakulam was meaningless. Now the family has many more relatives from south of Ernakulam.

And, for the first time in life, I saw the white sands of Alappuzha. It’s just unimaginably white. Walking on the sands to an ancient temple that has drawn us from afar was an experience that could not be put into words.

Couple of years later, my cousin’s husband was posted in Alleppey and they did further research and discovered the remains of foundations of a big house that was razed to the ground by the king for the fault that a member of the family who was a respected chieftain fell in love with the princess and married her against his wishes. But his razing down did not raze down the family. The name survived in temple, and temple of learning. The descendants survived and flourished in a different land and came back to find their roots.


  1. Magnificent piece."A travelogue in search of roots". That would be apt.
    As for the wider lens you got now ,to look around and see places and people in a different perspective- this is what would happen when we throw away our blinkers.

  2. Wow! I wonder how many would go in search of roots. Wonderful that got to know many other people and it was able to break stereotypes.

  3. What a wonderful story! I'd love to trace my roots too. Who knows which land my search would lead me to?

  4. Oh wowo... Now this is some story .. I cant beleive it that you went all that far to trace your roots.. Here these days we have a english serial coming on such terms where they are trcing the roots of the famous personalities... recently they did it on gurinder chadha (bend it like becham.. director), and also one one famous Chef. the funny thing was that this chef is BLack and it turned out his forefathers were WHITe and were slave traders ..

    SO sometimes going back to roots can turn sour too.. but this one wowo.. I too would like to trace back my rooots i am told that we are descendents of a great sikh general in army of maharaj ranjit singh...

    so one day when i ahve enough time on had i shall like to trace it back.. i can go back to my great grandfather from there i need to take it up....

    But it would really be mystical to find it out ... .

    I loved the part where the family are friends with these people writer and how close they have all got ...

  5. Wow, thats such an interesting post..I had my eyes wide open while reading it...its really really amazing!

  6. I remember us chatting about this a couple of weeks back. Interesting eh? And at the end of it all, whether we're christians, hindus, or muslims, we all seem to have some common connection, people and things we discover when we go tracing our roots.

  7. Anil Kurup
    Glad you liked it. Throwing off the blinkers is the difficult job.

    Search of roots is a bit crazy but fun:)

    Try to. It'll be interesting.

    Thank You.

    A New Beginning
    It was about 20years back and still amazes me.

    True. And we fight over the recent garb we wear.

  8. wow all paid off in the end right? we always have biased views against certain castes and communities..we have been brought up that way..but there are nice people everywhere..and their niceness does not see caste and only sees human and humanity :)

  9. I remember listening to this tale, wide-eyed and full of awe. You remember it too, don't you? It became almost an epic when you put it in writing. Loved it. May be you should put all these little tales into a book. :)

  10. Neha
    Incidents like these help us get away from biased outlook.

    Destiny's Child
    Just hoping to rope in a publisher:)

  11. I guess it’s the “route” that matters most; people we meet and experience we have.
    Wonderful post Lama, and thanks for taking us through this fascinating journey.

  12. Absolutely loved it. I think we all have a desire in our hearts to trace our roots, to know where we come from, and how far.

  13. Shruthi
    Rightly pointed out. It is the route that makes the difference.

    Was surprised to find you Neena when I clicked on comment:) And roots beckon one and all.Try to find about your family. It will be interesting.

  14. Beautiful post! I have seen that more we grown age, more we return to the roots.

  15. interesting..interesting..suspense, mystery, history, culture, heritage, religion, superstitions, love, everything is there

  16. Chanced upon your blog; loved it.
    We have a similar story in our community too.

  17. A thought to start my day with..:) not in close agreement with this...will have to think more, may be.

  18. Samvedna
    That question,"Who am I?" " Where from?" always haunts. stories like are like Chapter 1 of the quest.

    Masala mix:D

    Whom do I welcome to this space? Anyway, explore around:)

    Being Promoda
    Which thought?

  19. WOW!!
    So did anyone consult the astrologer again to confirm if the Goddess was now pleased, did the childless couple get a child:)

    I think the new ties are as interesting as the roots and history:)

  20. Wow..very well was really very interesting!!!

  21. Wise Donkey
    Welcome here. Confirmation still to be done. Couple have a kid (with Goddess's blessings, they believe. And new ties are interesting:)

    Nazish rahman
    Thank You and glad to hold your attention.

  22. Oh, man! This was amazing. Journey through the past.
    Have you read the novel "Roots" by Alex Haley? If you haven't, then give it a go. It might interest you.
    Tracing one's roots isn't easy, but must certainly be adventurous, right?

  23. Karthik
    'Roots' is one of my favourite books. and here the adventure part was handled by uncle and cousin. We just heard the story.