Monday, April 13, 2015

K- Karaikkal Port - 1914

Four generations: Three continents: Two world wars: One village   
 These are tales spanning four generations spread across three continents in between and after the two world wars of people who set forth under different circumstances from one small village called Agaramangudi.   
The story line traverses through different time lines, locations or incidents with no particular order. The only order being the alphabetical one – A to Z meant purposefully for the A to Z challenge. These posts can be read as standalone posts, but would be best comprehended if you read them along with their prelude provided as a link.

Click here for Prelude : J Jayamkondan -1942

Karaikkal Port -  1914

Manickam Padayachi was a boy with a scarred soul. He had seen his father die a painful death  in his arms and life for him had not been the same since then. Manickam was haunted by the recurring memories of his father writhing with excruciating pain after the fatal scorpion bite while taking the cattle from the cattle shed to plough the fields. He screamed in pain.  The screams were heard across at the mango orchard by his Mudalali’s who was estimating the harvest of mangoes for the season. Word soon reached his eldest son who was swimming in the Cauvery that his father was bitten by a scorpion and he was summoned.

His father died  for want of timely  and basic medical help that would be denied to him because he was a Padayachi, an untouchable from a lower caste. A caste that cleaned cattle sheds.
 When his father died   leaving his mother with huge debts and half a dozen children to fend for,  the benevolent Natesa Iyer, whose cattle shed he has been working on when the scorpion bit him,  was quick to offer shelter and employ his widow at the cattle shed where she moved in along with her children. 
 Scorpion bites were common especially when one climbed coconut trees or while working in the cattle sheds.  These were fertile grounds for scorpions to breed during summer.  The village vaidyar ( A local doctor specialized in herbal medicine) always had a remedy that would serve as an antidote for the scorpion bite.  Normally it would be an excruciating pain that the victim would suffer for many hours before things would return to normal.  Manickam had known a woman who was left paralysed because of a scorpion bite. But he had never  heard  of  anyone die of a scorpion bite until then.  Perhaps if he had heard of, things would have been different. Perhaps ...   

What would haunt him for years to come was what he saw when he came running to the cattle shed. Natesa Iyer was sucking at a mango in his orchard as Murugesan  Padayachi  was lying in the cattle shed screaming  with pain from the scorpion bite.  As he lay crying in pain, Manickam, his son was summoned to pick up his father by Natesa Iyer.

Murugesan Padayachi  was  an untouchable.  For his high caste employer, it would not be the right thing to do to pick the ailing man up and rush him to the village doctor in his cattle drawn carriage. He said he did what a humane Brahmin would do at best in his days and time.  He summoned for  anyone around who could touch him and lift him and rush him to the village vaidyar for an antidote.
When Manickam arrived  at the cattle shed, his father was weak with pain and had passed out.  He was paralysed from the left.

All of 12 years, the panic stricken boy picked up his 6 feet, and heavily built father and ran as best as he could to take him to the village vaidyar. All the while Natesa Iyer  was spewing  foul words  along with the mango seeds,  ordering  the useless untouchable son of a bitch to be quick in taking his now good for nothing father to the village vaidyar .

It was a memory that would scar the young boy for life.  The seething anger at the helplessness of his father and the arrogance of the high caste landowner left the adolescent boy impotent with rage.

An year later, as he turned thirteen, his widowed mother, fearing the rage that was seething in her grown up son, felt it best to send him and his brother  away with the bunch of relatives  to the far off land where able bodied men and women of her clan were going in large numbers in search of work in the sugar plantations.   

But for her  three daughters, Maragatham Padayachi  widow of Murugesan Padayachi  herself would have moved away from Agaramangudi, to become an indentured worker. But young growing up daughters were now her responsibility and she was worried about their safety if they were left behind in Agaramangudi. The two elder boys, she knew would somehow manage for themselves. 

She particularly worried for her elder son  Manickam.  She feared the young boy’s rage. As a mother she knew very well the scar that had cut across his soul, when his father lay dying helplessly in the 12 year old boy’s arms. It was a very deep one to heal.

At Kaaraikkal,  thousands of families had gathered by the seashore  to bid good bye to their loved ones  who would leave by the vessel and join the other workers at the Madras port.  Murugesan’s widow promised herself not to break down in front of her sons.  She packed for them some handmade murukku for the journey ahead.  It was a five year contract to work in the sugar plantations in a far off land called Mareechchu.  She was consoled by her distant relatives who were travelling as they got themselves registered at the port by the French officials.

At the registration counter the clerk took a good look at Manickam and his brother.  The indentured workers  regulations specified boys over 15 only could be registered.  Perhaps because Manickam and his brother had aged with wisdom in the last one year after their father’s passing or perhaps  because of weariness or oversight, Manickam and his brother were passed off as able bodied adults above 15 years of age.  

All other families who saw off their dear ones sail away,  left Karaikkal with the hope that in five years their sons, fathers or husbands would return home and then there would be riches and happiness in their lives that was now sorely lacking. Mother’s instinct  told Maragatham Padayachi, that she would never see her sons back ever again. Actually she did not want to see her sons back in Agaramangudi.  Peace and healing, she believed was only to be found in far off lands and that was  what she wanted the most for her sons. 

Maragatham Padayachi settled in with her daughters and her infant son in a small thatched hut at the edge of the cattle shed paying off her husband's debts by taking over the work that he was doing all those years.
It would not have been more that a couple of years later, that  rumours were abound at the village pond about her morning sickness. It was anybody’s guess, but nobody dared to speak about it.  Other Padayachi workers avoided working around the cattle shed.  When Maragatham became big, she was confined to the cattle shed to remain away from the prying eyes of other women from the Agraharam. Her  young daughters picked up her work and went about doing the chores in the cattle shed.
Around midnight on a full moon day, a bullock cart arrived at the midwife Maruthaayi's house in the outskirts of the village summoning her to Natesa  Iyer’s house in the Agraharam. Maruthaayi was puzzled.  She had not known anyone who was pregnant in Natesa Iyer's household. 

It was by the cattle shed amongst the cows that the widowed Maragatham gave birth to her seventh child, a baby boy who was born light skinned with a sharp nose, slightly bent at the tip which flared up the nostrils when it smiled.  It was the bend at the tip and the flared up nostrils that gave away the baby’s lineage  to anyone who came to see him. Not that it was any secret, but no one would dare call the emperor naked. 

Well, atleast not in those times and at that place.
But somewhere the seeds were sown.

No one would have predicted what would happen in that cattle shed 100  years from then on ...       

To be continued ... L - London -2007  

1 comment:

  1. To die in such a way is beyond horrible and that he was denied help is just disgusting. I have heard of the caste system in India and it is simply not right but it is very bound in culture I guess. So sad


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