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Unsold to time

J. Deepa
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HISTORY Thalayolaparambu market, initiated during Velu Thampi Dalawa’s reign, still survives as a bustling hub for agricultural produce, seafood and more. J. Deepa digs up the details

MARKET VALUEA view of the Thalayolaparambu marketPHOTO: BY THE AUTHOR
MARKET VALUEA view of the Thalayolaparambu marketPHOTO: BY THE AUTHOR

Thalayolaparambu is home to a weekly market established during Velu Thampi Dalawa’s administration. Situated on the Kottayam—Vaikom route, the small town is most associated with the names of former Chief Minister of Travancore-Cochin A. J. John and writer Vaikom Muhammad Basheer. The market too is cause for fame, for it still thrives prosperously.

Locals agree that the years have brought only minimal changes to it. Just a few shops have been renovated, thus retaining its old-world charm. In its earlier years, trade was predominantly in agricultural produce and coir products. The goods were brought to the market in bullock carts and valloms (river boats). They were also brought to the market by people carrying them on their heads from nearby places.

Goods on sale

K.A. Surendran, a resident of Thalayolaparambu, has known the market since his childhood. He remembers: “Muvattupuzha river had a network of navigable canals, always busy with merchants transporting goods and materials for sale. Pepper, areca nut, tamarind, tapioca, banana, koovappodi (arrowroot), chukku (dry ginger), chena (yam), and chembu came from places such as Vaikom, Mulakkulam, Peruva and Veliyanadu. Valloms arrived from Cherthala, Vechur, Ullala, Muhamma, Aroor, Kuthiyathodu, and Perumbalam. One could see bundles of raw coir, strands and ropes, and paaya (mat), and baskets for sale in the market. Women used to weave and sell them in the market. One major product was the chikku paaya (reed mats), used widely those days to dry harvested paddy grains in the sun.”

Of the market’s functioning, Surendran says, “It started very early in the morning. Goods would arrive the previous night itself. It was a sight to see the merchants unloading bunches of bananas, which predominated the market. Dry fish was in great demand among people from eastern regions. Even today, the fish stalls are piled high with varieties of dry fish. People had to pay tax for the goods transported, be it by way of thalachumadu (head load), valloms or bullock carts. Voyage from the western regions through the Kurunthara Puzha declined eventually and that slowly reduced the number of valloms .”

Today, the market functions on all days, with Tuesday and Saturdays being especially busy. There is a road which cuts through the market, and runs parallel to the main road, stretching between St.George Catholic church and Alinchodu. Surendran adds, “Life in those days revolved around watering the fields, tending the goats and milking the cattle. Puthenthodu was clear then, and the valloms also paddled pullu (grass) to the market, which people bought for cattle. The elders here say bullock carts used to drive down to the market, with the drivers asleep—they were that familiar with the route. The carts were fitted with lanterns enabling night journeys.”

Another resident of the place is M. Mathew’. His father M. Mathankunju Thaliyakkal owned a textile shop inside the market in the 1930s.

Mathew says, “Our shop was the first among the textile ones in Thalayolaparambu. People who bought material could get their clothes stitched by tailors working in front of almost all the market shops. There were also men who engaged in beedi rolling at each shop-front, since its consumption was high those days. Areca nuts too were chewed wrapped in betel leaves. There were only a few houses inside the market area with their front doors jutting out into the market. We too had a similar house. On market days, it was usual to find merchants outside our door all day, waiting for my mother to serve them rice gruel and buttermilk . During church celebrations, the shops used to be adorned with kavanis (half saree worn over the traditional chatta mundu ) with zari borders.” During Onam, the market still stocks and displays all the items needed for a Onasadya , 10 days prior to the festival. Similar preparations are made for Easter too.

Mathew shows his father’s diary which contains hand-written notes of matters important to his place and family. It reads: “ Kollavarsham 980 Thulam 17 Velu Thampi Dalawa sthaapicha chanthakal—Changanachery, Thalayolaparambu, Alangad.

Most characters in Basheer’s literary works too trace their roots to this market—be it Mandan Muthappa, Ottakkannan Pokker, or Aanavaari Raman Nair. Understandably, the residents too enjoy a routine walk to the market every morning and evening, with a few minutes to watch the people and valloms pass by.

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