© 2011 abhishek. All rights reserved. Kollangod (11 of 13)

Roots… In search of an Identity

I’ve been asked multiple times where I’m from and I would normally go “Bangalore” to which people would ask “but, what about before that?”, “where are your parents from?”… And I would wonder if that was really important. I’m here in Bangalore right now and have been for most of my life or at least as far as you know me… my passport says I’m from Bangalore, so what more do you want to know? My mom’s mom was from Kannur, Mom’s dad was from Palakkad and Dad’s family were from Chennai… or Neyveli…. or somewhere in Tamil Nadu. I also heard various allusions to a place called Aruppukottai in Tamil Nadu but wasn’t sure if anyone had roots there or was it simply a waypoint that one of my aged ancestors used in their great migration to Bangalore.

I’m technically a Tam Brahm and an Iyer to boot. I’ve met my mother’s relatives most of whom live or lived in Palakkad or Palghat. My dad’s relatives were spread out either in Chennai or in Bangalore and a few in between. Palakkad seemed the more “cool” place to be from. (I mean, which True Blooded Bangalorean will want to say his roots are in Chennai…). So now I was a certified Palakkad Tamil Brahmin Iyer and I couldn’t have behaved farther from the quintessential stereotype of the place if I tried. I was a beef eating, alcohol drinking, Bangalorean  (Bengaluru“ean”?).

It was also fun for me to say that I was born in Bangalore, part Malayali, part Tamil and mostly confused. Added to that fact that I studied in Baroda and married a Punjabi and that makes for some really interesting conversation… After a while though, through the humour I realised that I really wanted to know where I was from. I also wanted to have my own “Ooru” or “Natti” (Hometown). I did at that time do what i could have done years ago… asked my parents where we were from originally. I had half the story right. My mom’s family was from an Agraharam called New Kalpathy in Pallakad but, my Dad’s family was from a small agraharam (Brahmin’s quarters) called Pudugramam (New Village) in Kollangod. Interestingly, Kollangod was a stone’s throw from Palakkad and in the same district.  The Agraharam’s were colonies of Tamil Brahmins who evidently migrated from Thanjavur district centuries back and set up replicas of their original village in other heterogeneous areas usually with a Shiva Temple at one end of a row of houses on either side of the street which was pretty much all that there was to the agraharam. Our Family Deity was “Kollangod Bhagavathi” in a temple at the end of the street. So now I knew…I had my roots.

A couple of months back I was travelling back to Bangalore from Idukki district and noticed that my route took me past or reasonably close to Palakkad so I decided that it was now or never. I was going to track down the agraharam and the family temple. This seemed easier said than done. My dad had lived there for a month as a child with his Grandfather and that was it. So after asking almost the entire populace of Kollengode Town (now a sprawling urban centre) I tracked down Pudugramam. It was just as my father had said. One street with old houses on both sides, A massive tree at the entrance to the street with a small Ganesha temple below it. An old well as soon as you entered the street. It was literally a trip into the past. Where moments ago there was the noise of cars, auto rickshaws, horns, the bustle of a small town, shops and raunchy advertisements for Tantex underwear, Srilakshmi Silks and Gajalakshmi jewellers, there was now… well… nothing.

The only concession to the modern age was an electricity line and one or two scooters to be seen. This could otherwise easily have been many years in the past. So I bravely set of to the end of the street where purportedly the family temple was situated. The temple existed but, it was a Shiva Temple, famous in its own right but, not the family temple… hmm what about the family house. After asking a few friendly people at the temple and back and forth calls to my Dad to get references to my Great Grandfather’s name and antecedents, I finally tracked down the house where a friendly pati (Grandmother) (Mrs. Murthy) who remembered my family still lived. She was the widow of “Coffee Murthy” who bought the house from my Grandfather when my family continued the migration closer to the large cities. Murthy Pati invited us in and showed me around the house and swore that she had not changed a thing since she moved into the house and was exactly the way it was when My Great Grandfather lived there. (Except perhaps for the reasonably new “Butterfly” stove top). The family temple was deciphered to be the “Meenkulathi Kaavu” in Pallasena about 5-6 km from there. Directions to the temple were simple now that i knew what I was looking for and I reached there in less than half an hour. I was evidently the first in our family (in the living generations) who had seen the temple. Wow!

I came home and showed my parents the photographs and my Dad recalled and recognized a lot of the place including his Great Grandfathers house where he had spent a month of his Summer Vacation once almost half a century ago.

A few months later someone asked me where I was from. I now had my answers. I answered  “I was born in Bangalore, part Malayali, part Tamil. Added to that fact, I studied in Baroda and married a Punjabi girl and continue to live in Bangalore.”.

It was important for me to know where my Parents were from. What went into their lives to make them what they are today and hence what I am today. However, my identity is grounded in the house I was born in or at least the house that i moved into when I was 2. The house whose construction I had witnessed when I was 1 even if I have little or no recollection of it at all. The house in which I had incessant fights, squabbles and fun times with my brothers, where I brought home a succession of girlfriends to meet my parents, where I came home in the vacations from Baroda when i was studying Architecture, threw crazy drunk parties when my parents were out of town and finally brought home my wife.

The house where I live today and plan to bring up my children. Where my memories are intertwined with the ghosts of the past and the promise of the future. What I can call home.

I had my roots.





  1. Pa
    Posted 26 Dec ’11 at 8:25 pm | Permalink

    Interesting and well written. Will sit with you and will make factual corrections.

    Will also send some pictures which I took in December 2011

  2. DJ
    Posted 27 Dec ’11 at 10:07 am | Permalink

    Very well written Becky…Almost felt like u are writing for Vivek and me too..>Cos most of the things are the same for us too, Confused Tam brahms settled in Blore for ages..Except for the’marrying a punjabi’…and for me, the ‘beef eating part”..But is really inspiring me to go look up my roots too…

  3. Usha Sundaram
    Posted 30 Dec ’11 at 6:20 pm | Permalink

    I thought that was absolutely beautiful.
    You have a flair for writing. Why dont you follow it up with a book with photos.
    May I borrow some of this for a little book I want to leave for my grandchildren [ present and future] in addition to other pictures that appa took when we went around.
    A tree can be planted anywhere. It can be modified and blossom in any place. but it survives because of its roots.

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