Time and technology have rendered his once-prized service redundant. But Thattaankandi Ali, 60, from Thazhangadi still roams the lanes of Thazhangadi and Kothibazar in coastal Vadakara after midnight during the holy month of Ramzan, beating his antique drum called ‘Nakaram,’ to wake up people to prepare their last dinner of a night (athazham), and have it before the daybreak (subah).
This custom called ‘Athazham Mutt’ was started centuries ago at a time when there was no affordable common devise such as loudspeaker or electric alarm to wake up people for their ‘Athazham.’
One may wonder at the utility value of Ali’s midnight drum beats these days when almost every member of a house carry a mobile phone with multiple alarm bell features. But what if a society loves to retain certain customs despite the changing times? What if the people value the romance associated with them? “That is why this centuries-old custom is still alive in our place,” says M.C. Ibrahim, writer from Vadakara, who is an expert on the cultural history of the region.
Ali had volunteered to take up this task from his forefathers, and still goes about it religiously, though quite a lot, including the socio-cultural ambience of the region, have changed in the intervening decades.
Ali begins his ‘drum beating’ trip from the ‘Valiya Juma’eth Palli (Big Juma Masjid) around 1 a.m. during Ramzan. His trip ends at the same place around daybreak. In between, groups of cheerful children often accompany him. “However, the number of children has come down steadily,” says Ali.
Does he get any reward for the effort? Nothing much. He visits each house in the region on the day of Id, the day when the month of Ramzan ends to receive small gifts. “This visit is also a practice passed on by my forefathers,” says Ali, who fully realises that his act is cherished now only for its exotic value. However, he has no intention of discontinuing his journey.
Ali roams lanes, beating his drum, so that people will wake up and have their dinner before ‘Subah’ during Ramzan.