Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Of rosaries, fireflies and kittens

One of my most vivid memories of childhood is the family rosary that is said at the end of the day in my ancestral house in Kerala. In my Dad’s house, rosary was an informal affair. This is a house of six sons, so it was a miracle that my grandparents got them to say rosary and that too without missing it a single day till today.

On the other hand, in my mom’s house the balance was in favor of girls, as my mom has so many sisters and few brothers. Therefore rosary was a serious affair and my otherwise sweetheart of a grandfather would become a disciplinarian during rosary time. Since we split our stay in these two homes, the contrast in the families was quite evident in many areas…one of them being the family rosary.

Family rosary in Kerala in both homes still reminds me of a house with dimmed lights, the altar ablaze with candles and the entire family sitting in various parts of the house. Some people would sit on the ground in front of the altar, some on the chairs in the living room, some outside and my mom with me on the verandah, as there was no way I would sit still for the 45 minutes of the rosary. Wherever people sat, they joined in, as one harmonious group. However this is where the similarities in both households ended.

My moms mother, was very fond of cats. And every time we went home there would always be a poochakutty (kitten) for me to play with. And during rosary, as though by some devilish design, the kittens would be at their naughtiest best. They would catch imaginary insects with their front paws and do somersaults in the air and other such naughty antics that would make it impossible not to giggle. My grandfather would raise his voice often during the rosary and call out my name in a warning tone and I would recede into my mother's lap for a few seconds. But the devil had other designs, because the kittens would come up with some more hysterically funny tricks and I would be giggling again. And they made sure that they used the altar room floor for their antics!! My cousins in the house, who were trained by my grandfather to sit down quietly during the rosary, would look at me with gleeful delight, because I dared to break the family rule of maintaining pin drop silence during the rosary.

My grandfather would sigh as the rosary proceeded with my giggles in the background. After the rosary he would give his favorite daughter, my mom, the 789th talk on bringing up kids the proper way, and how he had bought up his kids so well and even though she is now married to a guy from Pala (who are no good compared to the genteel people of Changanassery) she should still uphold the family values etc.etc. My eldest brother would sit through the rosary quietly and even lead at times. So the general consensus was that he had taken after my mom’s family. The family would then look at my second brother M and me and say with a twinkle in the eyes that these two had a surfeit of the father's genes in them.

The Pala barbarian, the daughter of the family was married to, would of course be safely ensconced in his home, going through the family rosary at breakneck speed as his Dad was hard of hearing, so that the brothers could open the bottle while the evening was still young. He would have warned his wife in mock seriousness before she set off to her home with his kids, that he wanted us back the same way he had raised us and not changed to wussies, which is what he thought people from my her side of town were. :p My mom countered gamely by saying that a few days of good upbringing at her house, would do a world of good for her kids. :)

During the rosary, there were other distractions too. Thousands of minnaminungu (fireflies) would adorn the darkness around the house like serial lights. Before the rosary we i.e me and my second brother M, would have already kept our Horlicks jars ready for the catch. And we would fill these jars with these tiny glowing worms that we caught. They made such a pretty sight with their flourescent light glowing in the jar. My mom would make us release these before we went in to sleep.

After the rosary, my mom’s brothers would take out the jeep and drive over to my Dad's house, where their drinks awaited. The brothers in laws got along really well. After dinner my maternal grandfather would make a small drink and tell us stories about saints and martyrs. This would be followed by lights out as the family retired for the day.

Rosary, in my Dad’s house on the other hand was preceded by my Dad and his brothers making elaborate arrangements for the drinking and card session that invariably followed it. This would be preceded by my Grandma and aunts preparing the snacks to go with the drinks. With six sons, my grandma was a whiz in making non veg snacks that served as accompaniments with drinks. When everything was set, the family sat down for rosary. Rosary, unlike in my moms house would be uncomplicated and without the long boring prayers and it would be over in half an hour. After which we could go out and play and make noise and run after the fireflies. There was no bedtime curfew and soon people from neighboring estates would join in. The partying will go on late into the night, as most of these men went to school and college together. It is a time of camaraderie, jokes and political discussions. The tradition lives on to this day. Surprisingly there are more priests and nuns in my Dads family than my moms!

In spite of these contrasts I liked living in both houses.

(This post was inspired by this post
by Alexis, which reminded me so much of my home in Kerala


quills said...

Silverine...I have a sneaking suspicion we may be related in some way. ;)Changanacherry and Pala..

Such a lovely post..brought back a whole lot of lovely memories. The rosary..it was pretty long too. And man..my cousins and I used to get into trouble too..for going off into giggling fits, esp listening to couple of my mom's younger brothers saying their Our Fathers and Hail Marys. :) It was super fast and you could hardly make a head or tail out of it. And my maternal grandmother's house had a lot of cats and kittens..infact a whole menagerie. And u know it is so uncanny, even at our place too cards(rummy or 28)/drinking party would be the next order of business. :) Aww this awesome post brot back a whole lot of sweet memories. Nowadays tho, my maternal grandmother times her rosaries to fit the serial schedule. :)

b v n said...

Needless to say..Beautiful post ! It was like being in one of those rubber jungles with all those witty achayans who love their beer :) sometimes this post felt like a script. i havent spent time in kottayam but most of my friends are from the much touted pala-changanassery-kanjirapalli "axis"..so i could relate it a lot.
again, Nicely done,nice imagery :)

p.s : pray for 45 mins daily,that is my lifetime total

Anonymous said...


Having come from a very mixed background (all four grandparents were from different parts of the country), religion and prayer was never really looked at seriously whilst we grew up. In fact, the only times I recall anyone taking the Lord's name in vain, the line would be 'OH GOD WHAT HAVE YOU BOYS DONE NOW?'

Heh. Pretty cool memories though.

mathew said...

Coincedence cant get any better..another combo from chy and pala..!!!

Am still amused at the stark similarity in way things happened at my place..My Dad's folks from Chy were 24 carat achayans..No one dared to take his/her eye away from the altar..I used to shift my weight on both legs while kneeling on the paaya, hopin that someone say.."kaalu vazhangil irrunoollu.." ..I still remember my half asleep bro repeating the multiplication table during a prayer session!!!...that might be one of the rare times folks laughed during a prayer session..

Shifting to folks in moms place..I ll say prayers stop as soon as it starts..Uncles will take the strategic position near the fridge which has the their beloved "bottle of life"....

Sorry for the long comments..really enjoyed this one..
and reminds me of one thing..folks loved to have prayer session during power cut..no one knows if they doze off!! :)

Thanu said...

we didn't have rosady sessions but we had evening and mornign prayers. During the morning prayers whihc happened at between 4-5 inthemorning all family is supposed to wake up an join appacha when he starts the hymn..

beautiful post

Ardra said...

I came here from …was it from thanu’s abode or was it from Kusum’s page? I forget, becos I keep hopping into new places from different blogs- anyways, Liked it out here and shall keep coming back for more…


silverine said...

Quills: Thank you! Those were the days huh?! I miss being a kid :)

alexis: We still say the rosary and it takes half an hour as we say the full rosary. My maternal grandpa too sat in the front so I could run around in the courtyard at the back and catch fireflies :) And it is indeed a small world :p

bvn: Thank you so much :) 45 minutes of prayer is sufficient to save your soul...there is hope for you yet! :p

G: Thank you. The traditions still survive, but it was something else when we were small :)

mathew: Thank you and i wish you had made the comment longer...or why not write a post? I would love to hear your account :) I wouldn't call it co incidence as the "chy&pala" combo (as you termed it) have similar backgrounds and traditions :) And we had those huge lamps if power went off...so no dozing off lol :)) But nowadays I enjoy the rosary sessions...it is a time of introspection and unwinding.

thanu: Thank you :)

ardra: Welcome to my blog and thanks for dropping in :)

Anonymous said...

Too good a post...

Emmanuel said...

really nice one.......interesting read........ :)

Jiby said...

haha...reading this i was reminded of ammachi calling me up one day out of the blue, two months back and reminding me we were the only family she knew of, slipping on sandhyapraarthanas and living in the city was no excuse to skip it! i think she got flak from an achan in the family who had come to live with us for 2 days and had observed all our errant ways!

laughing during the prayers didnt need any effort...somebody wud lose the tune while singing, usually my mom, somebody wud fart, or the fone wud ring, or somebody wud mis-pronounce some malayalam word in the bible and give everything a totally new twist!

and we had serious chengannur-pala issues in the sandhyaprarthana...mom's side likes it the syro-malankara way while pop's side wants it the syro-malabar way, while we kids wanted it the latin way...which was the shortest!

oh good times...u got me real nostalgic...and the drinking that followed...how i wanted to be part of that when i was smaller...talk of elders showing kids the right path!

superrrb post...i love it when you write about all these things.

£ijo Isac said...

Lovely Post . Really Nostalgic :) . In my case it was exactly the same Mom's family was very strict about rosary and Dad's family went at break neck speed to finish it :)

geeth said...

Wow! Such a wonderful story behind a rosary!

Enjoy your flashback.. :)

Unknown said...

Any new guy reading this post and comments will start to think that Kerala has only Changanacherry, Pala and Kanjirapally... Paavam Naayanmaar porrathu aayi....

Anyway in our household there was never a strict prayer schedule.. And now that I am staying alone, my only prayers are to any restaurant owner or as I call them, Annadhanaprabhu, who give me food when I am hungry!!

Unnikrishnan G Nair.

silverine said...

Mathew: That episode of you bro saying the multiplication tables was sooo funny!!! :))

vaish and emmanual: Thank you :)

Jiby: lol I purposely left out those incidents you narrated as I have kept the narrative to my early childhood :)) But I have been witness to such bloopers myself...especially the mispronunciation of words in the Bible :))

Lijo: Thank you, thank God that one set of grandparents were more liberal than the other!!! :)

geetha: Thank you :)

Unni: Most of the Xian mallu bloggers are originally from the Pala/Cheng/Kanjirapally area..so you will find several mentions of the same :)

Synapse said...

hey, nice post
came to ur blog from mathew's.i think almost all the xians can relate to this. my parents r from right next door, ranni n pathanamthitta.tho we r orthodox n not catholic.our patriarch ruled with an iron fist n woe betide d person who even mentioned alcohol in his presence! :)tho he's long gone now.

Mind Curry said...

and these are a few of my favorite things?

i remember being given training in rummy, poker, 28 and bluff very early in life by the seniors of the family..perhaps they thought i was the chosen one or something..and they kept telling me, mone..we have a lot of hope in you.

silverine said...

dr asish: Thanks for dropping by. Well..we achayans have no embargo against alcohol...like my Dad once told his nephew, a Priest "you guys start drinking early in the morning" he meant the wine drunk during Mass :p

mind curry: ...a few of my favorite things among gazillion others :))

Anoop G said...

"who are no good compared to the genteel people of Changanassery"

so u have changanacherry roots ! great !

I am still studying the terminologies used in the post.. referring wikipedia - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosary

After studying Rosary concepts will come back and read again

pophabhi said...

Nice post. Got to know about some customs that you have.
The minnaminungu catching part was practised by our gang too. Only to be sentenced to death by Maneka. Beware of her!

silverine said...

Poonaji: Hope you find the quest interesting :)

Pophabhi: Thank you :) And Menaka may not find the fireflies too mileageworthy to bother about them. I think she must be getting ready to fight on behalf of the Dengue mosquitoes :))

Anoop G said...

=> yes after reading the many posts in ur blog, i have a feeling that i should have been born as an achayan.. my life was wasted as a nair :)

""that Kerala has only Changanacherry, Pala and Kanjirapally... Paavam Naayanmaar porrathu aayi...."
=> Nairs are also lot.., in changanacheyy area.. dont worry

Unknown said...

I was just joking when I had made that comment... I was never serious and if that had any communal or sensitive overtone, it was not intentional... I am extremely sorry if that comment of mine had hurt anyone's feelings...

Unnikrishnan G Nair.

silverine said...

Poonaji: Thanks for that compliment :)

Unni: There is no issue at all :)