Thursday, October 16, 2003

End of an era  
Far away in a hill town, strong ties help a family continue a legacy
of several generations 
 By Sheila Kumar
He was a self-made man, a flinty kind of man, given more to fits of rage than much smiling. But he had foresight, lots of it. Chancing upon large tracts of untouched land in a southern corner of Kerala, he applied to the government and acquired the land. That was in the turn of the last century and there was much amused comment about him becoming the king of the jungle.

He remained unmoved. He had a vision and by God, he was going to see it come alive. So he planted rubber and pepper all over the inclines and slopes of the hills that were now, rightfully his. Then he built a sprawling house, all gleaming teak innards and stone stoop running at the front and rear; it had to be a large house, you see, he had six strapping sons. After that, he set up a primary school, a printing press, acquired two theatres. Having become de facto overlord of the place, he then sat back, content.

You don’t have six sons for nothing. As they grew up, they took over the reins in a most satisfactory fashion, leaving him to die in peace.

The school became a secondary school, and then eventually, a high school. One son took over as Headmaster, one joined politics and represented the area (who better than one of the family, indeed), yet another ran the press, while his brothers ran the theatres. One brother left the hill town and joined the army but that did not in any way loosen the ties.

And so life went on, in that picturesque little hamlet and the family grew as the sons married and had children. The house atop the hill was permanently a-bustle with noise, the coal fires in the cavernous kitchens forever lit, ceaselessly churning out mouth-watering food, from fish and meat to rose cookies and nei-appams.

Just as endless urns of hot water was boiled and sent down to the dank granite-walled bathrooms on the other side of the house, just as someone always saw to it that the snake shrine had a saucer of milk placed in front of it.

The rest of the country saw wars, famines, droughts, pestilences but the house on the hill remained in splendid isolation. Respect for the family grew, all of it earned and never once abused. The third generation grew up to become bank officers, engineers, doctors, beauticians. Finally, bowing to the inevitabilities of time and space, the sons all built their own houses and shifted out; soon after, their mother, the original Earth Mother who had a welcome word and hearth for all, died, too.

It was as if her death had opened a door. Within the decade, one by one the sons all went, too, succumbing to heart attacks. My father was the army brother, he died some years ago. And last week, my youngest uncle passed away, the last of the six brothers. He has left behind a host of throat-catching memories.

The end of an era. Perhaps, but a strong sense of family will ensure the next generation has picked up the ends of the remaining strands…and life will go on. The Forest Ranger’s legacy will continue.  


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