Stop the bridal gold rush

The excessively gold-bedecked Kerala bride is a well-known cliché. Jewellery shops promote it, social media memes satirize it, reformers condemn it, and many families strain their finances to achieve it. It is absurd that in a progressive state like Kerala, most families feel compelled to perpetuate this gross gender discrimination. A middle class family aims at accumulating 100 sovereigns (800 grams) of gold for a daughter’s marriage. At current gold prices and making charges, that’s a whopping Rs 40 lakhs a family has to budget for just gold jewellery. Call it what you will — dowry, security, keeping up appearances, or whatever — this is the penalty parents take on themselves for having a girl child. And it is so unnecessary. Kerala is in many ways a gender equal opportunity society and women role models abound across the socio-economic spectrum. Why then does society condone this gold handicap for girls? Often it is because parents and family want to find “suitable” grooms. This con

Our sapramanja kattil story

  Documenting the learning from assembling the “sapramanja kattil”, a traditional Kerala cot.  One of the things my wife inherited from her family home in Kerala was a traditional four-poster cot. Built like a tank, the cot is an impressive creation weighing a massive 115 kilos and is 7.5 feet long, 3.5 feet wide, and a little over 1.5 feet high. There are intricately carved head and foot boards, four-foot long posts at the corners, and thick carved legs. The posts, head and foot boards, and legs are painted in traditional orange and black vegetable dye colours. The sleeping plank is an assembly of six separate sections joined by mortise and tenon joints and held together by wooden dowels. The cot is thought to be over 100 years old and is a fine example of traditional Kerala carpentry. As far as I can tell, it is called a  sapramanja kattil  in Malayalam.  Manja  means yellow and  kattil  means cot. I'm not sure what  sapramanja  means so if you know, do tell. The colourful sapram

Stories from the pandemic - John vakil

 My wife and I travelled to Kerala in Sept 2020 during the Covid pandemic. We’d taken a ‘short stay’ pass that the Kerala government allows if you have work that cannot be deferred. Most people we met in Kerala agreed the government was doing a good job managing the pandemic. From tackling the humanitarian crisis of migrant workers to identifying infected cases, isolating them and tracing their contacts to ensuring food and medicine supply for quarantined people, the state is thought to have done well. What helps is that the populace is diligent about wearing masks, maintaining social distance and washing hands – a result of high levels of education and the slight paranoia common in Kerala on health matters. Of course things are not perfect. There are complaints about lapses in the process, lack of supplies, and petty corruption but that is inevitable in any large endeavour. But this story is about our neighbour in Kerala. Let’s call him John. John vakil (so called because he is an adv

A medicine man in Malabar

  (Published in the Indian Express, 22 April 1993) It’s a beautiful June morning in Kerala and it’s pleasant to be out driving in the country. We’re going thirty kilometres from Palakkad to Kollengode to see a bone setter who, I’m told, might have a cure for my troubled knee. I'd damaged it in a cricketing accident and the doctors in the city have suggested surgery. We're going to try an alternative. My companion is a surgeon retired from government service, and as superintendent of hospitals in this district, has traveled these little known roads before. It was his driver who first told us about the bone setter. The driver said the bone setter came from a long line of medicine men -- healers who have tended the Kalari warriors of Malabar since the days of kings, kingdoms, and the detritus of war. This bone setter is said to come from Pollachi across the Tamil Nadu border and it is said that all his medicine comes from the extract of a single herb. There are the usual far fetch

Shadows in the lamplight

  (Published in The Hindu, 27 Sept 1992) My mother and I recently traveled to Adakkaputhur in Palakkad district, deep inside the Malabar region in Kerala, to visit my father’s relatives. It’s a place I'd remembered dimly from my childhood. In my memories, my father’s tharavad, or ancestral home, was a sprawling tiled house on acres of lonely farmland where old people in white moved slowly through the verandas. There was no electricity or running water. When darkness fell, the lamplight threw grotesque shadows on the walls. Beyond the courtyard, foxes howled at the moon. Much of that has changed today. In Malabar at least, the hinterlands are no longer really remote. They are mostly just a bus ride away. But the journey there is still beautiful. To reach Adakkaputhur, you take a bus to Palakkad on roads that are winding strips of tar on an undulating countryside, and get off at Perinthalmanna. From there you board a country bus that rattles you at breakneck speed to Cherpulassery fi