Although classified as memoirs, the book transcends the genre, as it is an amalgamation of autobiography, history and descriptions of artefacts and objects that have faded into oblivion with modernisation.
Time goes back to 50 years ago and recollections of childhood and adolescence are brilliantly etched in the book in a manner that readers of all age groups and faiths will cherish and recall as the typical profile of an old Central Travancore village.
The village did not have motorable roads, had no incongruous concrete structures, but only houses with thatched roofs and domesticated animals that were part of the family. There was no class difference and even those who came for alms were given shelter as the picture of Virayan Appooppan is depicted in the first piece.
Villagers, irrespective of caste, creed and religion, celebrated the thatching of the houses, and school attendance was exempted for children because they also had to contribute for the one-day event.
Harvesting tapioca was also an occasion for merriment for the entire village. The author laments that today labourers want more wages and lesser work. Readers will empathise with him when he writes that tapioca-cultivated land is converted into rubber estates and the farming of ginger, turmeric, yam, vegetables and the like has disappeared along with the simple lifestyle of yore.
During his childhood, money was scanty and storage of agricultural produce for the lean season was the main concern. Children were thus deprived of possessing money and during village festivals like the ones conducted by the church, all they had were a few annas collected from sale of cashew nuts and what they received as gifts from elders! As Fr. Perumthottam recalls, the joy of sharing in a poor family was beyond words.
He also shares with the reader the pleasure and privilege of using a bullock cart as a means of transportation and of goods. Similarly, arrival of country boats for selling paddy to rural families and the seller sharing concerns of the family are experiences that the author cherishes.
Early stages of village schooling, the first bus journey, first footwear… are eminently readable.
The most poignant piece in the collection is ‘Chhoottukatta’ (dried coconut fronds tied together to substitute the torch in the night). Houses used to store them to be given to the needy. Fr. Joseph Perumthottam notes that the same ‘choottukatta’ could be used to set a house on fire and also as a guiding light for travellers. In such a brief piece the author has summarised the philosophy and principle of a gift.
The author is all praise for his parents and siblings, especially his mother, and of the lessons he learnt as a child at home. There were no modern amenities then and everything was manual.
Reminiscences on celebrations in the village during Onam, Easter and Christmas evoke nostalgia and endorse the life of rural and agricultural society.
Fr. Joseph’s resolve to become a priest and the early experiences as a priest make for interesting reading. One is also impressed with the organisational work that he had done for Christian groups. He also writes about the luxurious lives of some priests.
While recalling his experiences in Germany, the author states the reasons of memoir notes. That is about a German Catholic family with whom he stayed. Their 18-year-old son was withdrawn and always glued to the television! Fr.Joseph Perumthottam strongly advocates that human beings should be owners of television, internet and mobile and not their slaves and communication media should be used for only the good of mankind. This is very relevant in this age of media fecundity.
Ormacheppu, Fr. Mar Joseph Perumthottam, DC Books, Rs. 125