One of the greatest injustices we have to deal with is the way our childhood simply zooms past us. True, we are lucky compared to other animals that hardly have the time to indulge in a prank and get away with a toothy smile, before they actually start producing their own offspring. Still, why do we deem it unimaginable throwing away that tattered doll or applying a new coat of paint over those doodles on the wall? Why do we cringe at the sight of ‘development’ gobbling up a quaint by-lane bordered with blood-red hibiscus bushes? Because, at times, these are all that remain of a magic land, a time when we thought the entire world laughed when we felt happy and cried when we were sad.
‘Othupallikkaalam’ works that magic on you. M.M. Kabeer, the author, enviably sketches a host of memories, each hardly running a page or two. Look at how he describes cashew apples, a familiar motif in a rustic childhood in Kerala: “Cashew apples are the fruit that hides in the sun. With its red and yellow, we painted the sunlight in our notebooks...”
‘Othupalleelannu nammalu,’ the famous film song (written by P.T. Abdurahiman, composed by K. Raghavan, and sung by V.T. Murali for Thenthulli) throws open a window to the Mappila childhood of yesteryear. Othupalli, or madrassa, is the central stage of Kabeer’s book too. But it documents many more sights, smells, and fears of his village, the name or geographical location of which is immaterial. Those still treasuring a melancholic ache for the times past can drink in its resplendence all the same. While describing ‘Ustad,’ the madrassa teacher, a figure that usually evokes fear in many memoirs, Kabeer brings out the poverty and inequality marking those days. It also takes us back to the time of the Emergency, the all-powerful Doordarshan, sevens football, rented bicycles, and street magicians.
Nostalgic value apart, Othupallikkaalam has an underlying thread. It is a story of oneness. It etches out an era when religion and caste never crossed paths with humaneness. Writer V. Musafir Ahmed highlights this very aspect in a commendable foreword to Kabeer’s work, which we cannot but close with a wistful sigh for the times gone by.
Othupallikkaalam, M.M. Kabeer, DC Books, Rs.80