Art Forms of Kerala


     The striking, sliver of terrain nestled between the Arabian Sea and the Western Ghats in the southern peninsula of India is often claimed as ‘the God’s Own Country’, and acclaimed by National Geographic as one of the top places to visit. Officially it is the state of Kerala, the land of the coconut palms, pristine beaches, picturesque peaks, green expanses, meandering rivers, waterfalls and backwater bodies. The place asserts the distinction of having the maximum literacy, lowest infant mortality, highest life expectancy and greatest Human Development Index, the first democratic Communist government, matriarchal families as well as the notoriety with the most suicides, alcoholism, mental illness, divorces, and crimes.
     ‘Art’ has eminence in Kerala; it commands respect, it attracts the audience, it is appreciated, it is taught, it is performed, it occupies an integral part of the culture. Classical Arts in Kerala owns an ancient tradition, spanning through centuries of exposure and expressed in a variety of styles. As every art form in India, the several styles had originated in the temples and were associated with religious practices, which gradually became integrated into the main cultural fabric. Kings and ruling heads of the various dynasties supported, promoted and nurtured the various art forms. The renowned among them in Kerala were Sri Swathi Thirunal Rama Varma in Classical Music and Raja Ravi Varma in painting, legendary authorities that provided leadership in their respective roles.

Kathakali:      Kathakali is the most known performing art form, a total style purely from Kerala, acclaimed by the entire world for its distinctive elegance. It combines multiple features of ballet, opera, mime, and its own unique style, which require the student over ten years to qualify before they can perform. It is a distinct ensemble of movements, and expression performed with complexity and refinement to the accompaniment of vocal music, Chenda, Maddalam (native drums), Chenkila and Edathalam. Kathakali used to be performed on the temple stages, a play lasting the entire night and portraying stories picked from the famous epics.
     The performance is in the light from a huge oil lamp, the ‘Nilavilakku’, the glow of the light augmenting the expressions of the artists. The performers play out the meaning of the music using mime, facial expressions, hand gestures, mudras, and body movements. The more eminent artists will perform beyond the music, adding their own elaborate imagination (manodharmam) that elevates the level of the performance and makes it exceptional and appealing to the erudite in the audience.
     Kathakali costumes are complex, colorful, and highly structured, along with the artist’s face painted and made up with distinctive and intricate details, matching the personality they represent. They are grouped as ‘Pacha’ or green for dignified and virtuous characters, ‘Kathi’, the knife for the villains, ‘Thadi’, the bearded with the color of the beard referring to a spectrum of qualities from aggressive to saintly, ‘Kari’, the black for mean and ‘Minukku’, the refined for females.
     Kathakali themes are almost always based on Hindu mythologies Mahabharata, Ramayana, and other related epics. The plays traditionally lasted six to eight hours through the nights during temple festivals, but lately, they have been modified, abbreviated, and performed as cultural pieces to a variety of audience.

Ramanattam: Some believe that Ramanattam could be the precursor to Kathakali for similarities in the presentation, costumes, music, and movements. King Kerala 70 Varma of Kottarakkara, created and modified this style, depicting the story of Ramayana as a counter to ‘Krishnattam’, created by Zamorin of Calicut and played in Krishna temples, mainly Guruvayur. The composition of Ramanattam is in Manipravalam style, blending Sanskrit and Malayalam as in a golden necklace studded with pearls and other gems


Krishnattam: As the name indicates, this style depicts the story of Lord Krishna and usually played in the famous Guruvayur temple. The legend goes that Krishnattam was created by the Zamorin (Samoothiri) of Kozhikode, an ardent disciple of Krishna, with the blessings of saint Vilwamangalam, and played for eight nights covering the story of Sri Krishna from incarnation to ascension. The costumes and makeup are like Kathakali, but the lyrics are in pure Sanskrit.

Chakyar Koothu

Chakyar Koothu: One of the oldest theatrical art forms played in the temples by ‘Chakyars’, belonging to the upper-class Hindus, who are connected to the temples serving the different needs and receiving alms for their livelihood. The stories are told in a humorous way, often cracking jokes and making fun of individuals in the audience, along with some gestures and expressions, to the accompaniment of music in Sanskrit. The costumes are simple, with bare bodies, few ornaments, and a red cap. Usually the Chakiar’s wife, the ‘Nangiar’ is on the stage, singing along, and a Nambiar will oversee the special drum, ‘Mizhavu’. The style of the Koothu is informal, with colloquial expressions and music blending Sanskrit and Malayalam.


Ottamthullal: (My Ottamthullal performance) Created by the illustrious Kunchan Nambiar, as a response and challenge to the humiliation he suffered from a Chakiar during a Koothu. Kunchan Nambiar who was playing the ‘Mizhavu’ for the Koothu dozed off and was ridiculed by the Chakiar with sarcastic remarks in front of the audience. As retribution, Nambiar wrote a poem the very same night, depicting a story from the epic Mahabharata, devising a new approach in his inimitable style. It is said that the show was played on an adjacent platform drawing the entire audience from the Chakyar Koothu. There are facial makeup, head-gear, and flowery costume, along with more dancing than of the Chakyar Koothu.


Koodiyattam: Meaning ‘performing together’, this style is the beginning of dramatic art forms in Kerala. Performed by Chakiars and Nangiars, from Sanskrit dramatic compositions, Koodiyattam is in the form of dance-dramas. The presentation is in ‘Koothambalam’, theaters within the temple complexes. The themes are from the Hindu epics but bringing in social, moralistic, and other relevant present-day life issues with an educational message. One story may take many days to complete, with the ‘vidooshakan’, a central character explaining the Sanskrit story in Malayalam to the audience using his skill in mime and dramatic expressions.


Theyyam:     The chapter, ‘The Dancer from Kannur’ in the book “Nine Lives: In Search of the Sacred in Modern India” by William Dalrymple gives a beautiful description about Theyyam, the Hindu worship ritual piece from northern Kerala. The performer of the dance play is called ‘Kolam’, personifying the deity. He is from a ‘lower’ class who is traditionally chosen with the privilege, observes severe penance for three months and assumes the ‘power’ of the God he is representing during the performance.
     To the accompaniment of music and drums, the Theyyam artist enacts the ritual in the open without any stage. There are several types of Theyyam based on the story and the deity they represent. Many families subscribe for and support Theyyams as offering and penance to the deities, to receive blessings for the families.


Thirayattam: This is a ritual dance drama played during festivals in temples of the Goddess, often considered as a subdivision of Theyyam but with differences in costumes, rituals, music, make-up, and performances. Traditionally it is the right of one community, the Vannaans. Like the Theyyam, the characters assume the roles of divine personalities. The dance takes place at night under the light of torches and has indigenous instruments as accompaniments. Unlike Theyyam the Kolam or the attire of the Thira dancer can take up various manifestations. Like in Kathakali the make-up is elaborate and time-consuming. The eyes are blackened with ‘mashi’ with details and reverence than in any other theater art. There are traditional rituals and meticulous details that are observed before the actual performance of Thirayattam. During the play, there are many stages, and the artist changes the costume to enact the various roles. The climax involves the ritual called ‘urayal’ where the performer goes into a trance, shaking, shivering, and dancing vigorously.


Velakali: This is a ritual art form performed in the temple premises and is an extremely vigorous and spectacular dance form. It used to be performed by groups of about fifty from the warrior class of Nairs, who dress up like soldiers and perform with swords or canes. They display the martial art skills and with music and instruments including trumpets and drums, perform with energy and vitality. The deity is taken on a procession on an elephant and people join the procession with chanting and encouragement.


Kalaripayattu: Kalaripayattu is the 2000-yearold, martial art style of Kerala, still existing, and representing the traditional valiant, physical and cultural character of the state. In recent years it may have even gained more popularity outside the state and the younger generation showing interest to learn the technique. Perhaps styles like Karate and Kung fu may trace their origin to Kalarippayattu as the Buddhist monk Bodhidharma took the tradition to the Far East. The art is described in Vishnu Puranam of Dhanur Veda and thus is very much a part of Hindu religious traditions. The legend goes that the warrior saint Parasurama, an incarnation of Vishnu created the art form after he reclaimed the land of Kerala from the seas by throwing his ax. He also established forty-two ‘kalaris’ and trained twenty-one gurus to teach. Kalari means a court related to war and payattu is the skill of fighting
     The training involves rigorous physical and mental exercise with the learning of physiology and the preparation taking many years of submission in the traditional Gurukula style. There are the Northern and Southern styles of training with an emphasis on physical and meditational methods that are followed. The training involves agile body movements, foot, and handwork, aiming to strike the opponent at his ‘marma’, the vital points of the body. The only 74 attire of the artist is a ‘katcha’, a long piece of cloth bound tightly around the waist and legs, which protects the hip and waist and allows free movement. They use a sword (vaalu) and a shield (paricha) in the combat or may fight bare, without any armaments.


Mohiniyattam: The typical classical art form of Kerala, Mohiniyattam blends the poise of Bharatanatyam and the dynamism of Kathakali, delivered with the most charming feminine elegance of movements and expressions that are unique to the style. The costumes are exclusive in simplicity and stunning with glamour, the white and gold ensemble imparting a distinctive presence of auspicious femininity. The hairdo with the rolled-up bun, wrapped around with jasmine garlands, is reminiscent of the ancient royalty.
     The music of Mohiniattam is of the ‘sopanam’ style, like that of Kathakali. The instruments include Maddalam (drum), Kuzhithalam (a variety of cymbal), Edakka (an hourglass drum used in temples of Kerala), Veena, Violin or flute. The array of styles follows that of Bharatanatyam, with more graceful and gliding movements of the body, that incorporates circular and revolving rhythms. The basic sentiment of Mohiniattam is ‘sringara’ or love, divine and elemental, of union or separation, articulated through facial expressions and body movements.

Kaikottikali: Kaikottikali, literally the word meaning ‘clapping the hands and playing’, is also called Thiruvathirakali since it played during the seasons of Thiruvathira and Onam. It is a group dance wherein the participants dance clapping their hands in unison and playing to the tunes of songs, mostly from mythological stories, related to romantic or devotional themes, often from Kathakali style. This essentially used to be entertainment by and for women of all ages where men are not present even as spectators. This is a very popular folk dance performed during festival times, but with modern interest in the traditional art forms, it has found its way into the mainstream, and into the college and school art festivals. This is an exceedingly graceful dance form with feminine elegance and allure, ‘lasya’, being the predominant theme. The costume is very simple, two cotton pieces of white or off 75 white mundu and neriyathu, with colored or gold borders, ‘kara’. Their hair is bundled into a tight mass or bun-shape bordered with jasmine flowers. The participants wear simple traditional ornaments and there is practically no make-up except the sandalwood paste and kumkumam on their foreheads.
     The group usually is in even numbers of 6 to 8 to as many as can be accommodated on the stage or in the open yard. Played in circles, moving rhythmically clockwise or counterclockwise, hands clapping, and bodies bent and curved following the traditional choreographic pattern. Many of the movements involve two women clapping hands together and changing partners as they move on in circles. There is usually a nilavilakku, the traditional oil lamp or ‘pookkalam’, flowers arranged in a colorful pattern in the center of the circle.

Kummattikali: This is a variety of Mask dances popular in Palakkad and Trichur districts with many variations and connotations with legendary stories. In Palghat district it is more religious, associated with Devi temples around harvest times, while in Trichur district, people perform it as a secular item during Onam. The dancers wear different kinds of masks, often representing mythological characters and perform to the tune of music and string instrument or drums. The varieties of Kummatti may have relevance to certain local historical episodes and thus may widely vary in styles and patterns.

Dance Dramas and Tribal entertainment: There are several kinds of regional art forms practiced by certain sections and only by some tribes or castes, limited to areas of the state and almost becoming extinct in modern times. Aviar Natakam, Kakkarissi Natakam, Kothaamooriyaattam, and Mudiyettam are just a few among the folk-art forms.

Aviar Naatakam: is a ritualistic art form of rural drama, performed by 76 Viswakarmas, the five kinds of artisans, the carpenter, blacksmith, goldsmith, brassmith and mason, enacting stories from Mahabharata. Played in temples at night on a platform in front of oil lamps, with minimal makeup, singing devotional songs and dancing around the lamps.

Kakkarissi Naatakam, a popular entertainment among the backward communities, Kaakkaalas of mostly Southern Kerala, with the theme of making the community aware of poverty among poor people. The presentation starts with Narada telling Siva and Parvathi about the suffering of people. The theme is that of Kakkaan and Kakkathi presenting their family squabbles and other situations with many characters involved. A similar form that is played in northern Kerala is called Paanarkali. The performers use rustic costumes and play to the accompaniment of instruments. There seems to be a recent revival of the art form after years of lost popularity.

Koothaamooriyattam is another kind of village drama, played in northern Kerala, with the theme of fertility, agriculture, and cattle rearing but relating them to mythological contexts. The player group goes from house to house and performs after getting permission from the house owner.


Mudiyettu: Performed by the community of Marans in Bhadrakali temples, the fierce form of the Goddess, it is a dance drama based on the Devi killing the demon Daarika. The story of the duel is enacted in ritualistically prepared kalams, with a colorful drawing of Bhagavathy’s figure on the ground. There are special pujas performed on the day of the performance. The show is announced by special drumming, hymns are sung in praise of the Goddess, oil lamps are placed at the stage and women with ‘thalappoli’ walk in procession welcoming her. Songs are like in Kathakali accompanied by elathalam (cymbals), shankhu (conch) and two kinds of chenda (drums). Narada informs Lord Siva about Daarika’s misdeeds, when the demon enters the stage and ferociously shrieking, runs around the grounds. Kaali, the Goddess later enters the scene, after receiving blessings from the priest and fiercely challenges the demon. Kaali chases 77 Daarika around the lamp and around the temple finally catching up with him, entering into an intense encounter and finally killing the demon.

Bhagavathi Pattu

Bhagavathi Pattu Is the song of Bhagavathi of the Goddess, performed by the Brahmin castes of Kerala, praying for the girls to be married off without delays and obstruction. In the past, Namboodiri girls were excommunicated if they eloped with or had an affair with non-Brahmins. The performance is under a canopied roof of cloths and leaves. The ground is decorated in the shape of the temple and the priest chants with the Brahmins singing to the accompaniment of instruments. One woman from the ex-communicated group called ‘Pushpakas’ will be seated under the canopy who will get into a frenzied trance as the singing and praying continued.

Pampinthullal or Sarpam Thullal

Pampinthullal or Sarpam Thullal Literally translated as a serpent dance, this is an elaborate ritual to appease the serpent gods. Traditionally serpents were protected in a highly wooded area set aside in the vast family compound, which was called ‘Sarpa Kavu’ or ‘Pampin Kavu’. Every evening a lamp was kept at the kavu and poojas were performed periodically to keep the serpents respected and pleased.
     It was believed that ecologically the serpents will absorb all the ‘poisons’ from nature and thus protect humans from harm, and hence they are worshipped. During the ritual of ‘Sarpam thullal’, a Kalam is prepared with a thatched roof, floral decoration, and the floor is elaborately decorated in snake forms with multi-colored powders. A community of ‘Pulluvas’ has the privilege to decorate and perform at the ceremony with singing along with instruments, mainly an earthen urn, the ‘Pulluvakudam’ and a string instrument. Snakes are worshipped during the ceremony and the ritual is done for blessings of the family. Young girls, ‘kanyakas’ of the family will be seated near the Kalam and they go into a trance as the tempo of singing and rituals increase; often the girls swing their heads in a circular motion as their long hair brushing and wiping out the decorated Kalams.

     Two distinct items which merit mention among Kerala Art forms and with their origin belonging to non-Hindu traditions are the ‘Maargam Kali’ and ‘Oppana’

Maargam Kali

Maargam Kali: This is an ancient art form performed by the Syrian Catholics of the Knanaya sect of the Christian community. ‘Margam’ literally means the path; the path that leads to attaining God, towards salvation. There may be some connection of its Jewish or Syrian origin, with the arrival of St. Thomas when his influence might have introduced it to Kerala. The dancers performing the Kali used to be men in the past, but lately more women have become the participants. The costumes are plain cloth (mundu) worn in a particular style and a blouse (chatta), with a lamp representing Christ. The singing is slow first in praise of St. Thomas with the dancers moving gracefully, but then the movements gather speed and intensity as if in martial arts, but without the use of any instruments. Maargam Kali has gained prominence in the state and has become an item of competition at the school and state levels.


Oppana: This is a popular style of dance of the Muslims, the Maappila community, throughout the state of Kerala, mostly performed by women during wedding celebrations. The bride dressed up in bright glittering costumes, with her feet colored with henna and with gold ornaments sits on a pedestal and the dancers sing and perform around her. There is singing and clapping as the dancers entertain and tease the bride, to the accompaniment of harmonium, Tabla, and Elathalam. It is the usual custom to sing only Muslim songs, ‘Mappila pattu’. Rarely men perform Oppana around the bridegroom. The word ‘Oppana’ may have derived from Arabic origin, but it is a very popular style, seen in movies and as a competitive item in Youth Festivals.

         There are several varieties of art forms in Kerala, almost all originating from religious themes and rituals and developing into a combination of styles with music, dance, instruments, drama, offerings, and entertainment. As many of the styles have become extinct, quite a few have gained popularity and are being performed to a wide range of audience. Today, many such forms have survived as ritual arts performed in connection with events of sentimental significance, with exposure to a limited audience. But with the advent of technology with accessibility to and availability of the various forms of entertainment to mass media, there is certainly a welcoming revival of some of the ancient styles. The explosion of competitive events organized by the media discovering the abundance of young talents presents an extremely welcoming breath of fresh air and an immensely positive promise of the future. (February 2013)

Courtesy Credit to sources:
• All that’s Kerala,
• The Art Forms of Kerala
• Kerala Art Forms
• Thirayattam costume
• Kerala Greenery –
• Mudiyettam picture
• Performing Arts of Kerala
• Sarpam Thullal picture
• Margam Kali picture
• Oppana picture

Why I love Houston!

     I could declare, ‘if I owned Heaven and Houston, I would rent out Heaven and live in Houston’, contradicting Philip Henry Sheridan, the U.S. General who made the often-quoted statement in 1866. Having made this beautiful metropolis my home for over forty years, I have justifiably earned the claim by living it. Legitimately and realistically, I have the relevant distinction of owning a home in Houston and in Kerala, God’s own country – the ‘Heaven’. For sentimental reasons, I have chosen not to rent my house in ‘Heaven’, built on the property that our ancestors owned for generations, but nevertheless preferred Houston as our home.
     I have my reasons.
    It was a bitterly cold October morning in Hartford, Connecticut buried under snow when I drove to the airport to catch a flight to Houston, Texas. The year was 1972 and I was finishing the Chief Residency in Pediatrics at the University and flying to Houston for an interview for Fellowship In Allergy and Immunology at the Baylor College while working at the McGovern Allergy Clinic. After four hours of flight the plane glided over a vast expanse of greenery and landed in the bright, warm and inviting city of Houston. I may already have chosen my new home, right then, excitingly, and enthusiastically. After the interview when I was offered the Fellowship, the acceptance was easy decision. Looking back, it has been an exceptionally rewarding professional experience, working at the distinguished McGovern Allergy Clinic and serving as its President for eight years before I retired.
     The hot tropical climate with downpours reminiscent of the monsoons in Kerala, keep my nostalgic instincts intact, while I remind myself of the relief, not having to shovel heat or bundle up to pick up the newspaper. The enormous stretches of land and abundance of space are more appreciated each time we visit New York or San Francisco and compare notes about the real estate values, parking spaces and spacious shopping malls. One may whine about the monotonous, flat landscape of Texas or instead grab any opportunity to visit places offering sceneries.
     Our world-famous Texas Medical Center attracts millions of patients from all over as well as employs about a hundred thousand. NASA is famous for the several space missions as well as innovative inventions that help improve our lives and comforts. Texas is recognized for its oil related and cattle industries as well as a spectrum of productive businesses. When the rest of the country struggled and strained with collapsing markets and suffocating economy, Houston compromised to remain robust on its own merits. With our multifaceted theater district and our exciting professional sports teams we are recognized as among the best in the nation. The international Olympics Committee may have excluded our city for economic, political or ‘sporty’ reasons, but most Houstonians are content to enjoy its many amenities and opportunities.
     For Indians away from ‘home’, one cannot conceptualize a better setting than Houston. The climate, the spectrum of native population representing every region, religion, language, cultural and shopping options, we can claim to be enjoying the best of India in a clean and comprehensive setting. We have created temples and churches and cultural centers and we celebrate every auspicious event with extensive pageantry and enjoyable harmony. Our children excel in education and we have strived to instill the best of our traditional values into our next generation. As we fade, we can rest on our laurels and proudly pronounce that we have done our best.
     We often subscribe to sentiments that our life is intimately integrated with the cosmic existence, that we may all be tiny pieces in the colossal conglomeration, controlled by the celestial influence of galaxies and beyond. We tend to believe that astronomical and astrological entities exert their authority in ‘playing chess’ with and manipulating our lives. Irrespective of whether such thoughts have scientific validity or superstitious endorsement, they may extend to own a spot for each of us on the globe that we inhabit. And even if destiny played a role, I am at peace, being in my beautiful Houston. Yes, I love Houston; and these are few of my reasons. (Dec 2012)

The Home I Left Behind

Kadekkal family ancestors

     Even though I admire writers for their flair and endowment, writing as a craft has never been my forte. But at times, certain emotional needs demand to be expressed; such an urge is what compelled me to write this. Something very close to my heart is our annual ‘pilgrimage’ to Kerala, India, where I was born and was raised, which I do with a religious fervor every year in the fall. The journey is exhausting, and the event is expensive and often harrowing. Yet I always look forward to my next expedition from the very day I return.
     As strange as it may sound, thirty years of life away from my fabled land has only drawn me closer to it; enriched my appreciation of the wealth of its traditions. The reality that those who still live there hardly cultivate those traditions – that they find those values less than fashionable – make it all the more alluring. Often it takes an occasional, exceptional visitor from afar to rediscover, expose and sing the praise of the richness of our land to keep us reminded of its preciousness. National Geographic Traveler magazine recently placed Kerala among the fifty places of a lifetime to be visited, one of the world’s greatest destinations, where beauty, serenity and heavenly pleasures await the visitor. In the wake of our president’s visit to India, the subject may have an added appeal, even though he failed to visit that part of the country.
     If the heat and humidity of the place don’t make you uncomfortable, the incessant downpour of the monsoon can paralyze your plans. The swarming mosquitoes and stampede of ants can give you more company than all your relatives and friends combined. Even if the din and clamor of the downtown traffic sound like music to your ears, the exhaust fumes will choke you as you gasp for a breath of fresh air. It is a challenge for the meek and courageous alike to cruise the roads, meandering through the potholes and puddles, negotiating the kamikaze drivers, imprudent pedestrians, autorickshaws and speeding buses. If one hasn’t had the thrill of Russian roulette, crossing M. G. road in Ernakulam by foot can offer you an experience, equally challenging. Piles of litter, loads of garbage, stinking drainage and a barrage of plastic have ruined the once-upon-a-time clean image of Kerala. Corruption is commonplace, accountability non-existent and pride of one’s profession remains a dream bygone. Again, what is the passion that draws me to the misery of an experience, year after year? Well, I have my reasons. I go there for the people. My people: my mother, my family, my relatives, my friends and well, maybe even few of my countrymen.
     I go there to see Nature, the lure of the scenery, the serenity only Kerala can offer; its food, its culture, its poetry, its literature, its passion, its personality and the nostalgia which is the reward of it all. I go there to devour that distinct Kerala charisma, perhaps appealing just to my senses. I go there in quest of a beauty ideal as enticing as it is elusive.
     Each year, when I leave, I hug my mother, touch her feet and get her blessings; then I take a long, lingering look at her, engraving her image in my mind, to last for a year or a lifetime, until I see her the next year or perhaps never again. As I part with moist eyes and a lump in my throat, she remains my most compelling reason to go back the next year.
     My mother is eighty-four, her frail body frisky despite her age; her alert mind anxious about all the happenings around her; her wrinkled skin having never had a make-over or her stained nails ever a manicure; her white, oily hair, fresh from the daily bath and exuding the scent of thulasi leaves; her forehead smeared with sandalwood paste, bhasmam or kumkumam. I watch her with affection and admiration as she paces the distance of our yard, swaying a little, chanting her daily prayers, perusing the needs and flaws of all the houses of her children, suggesting, commenting, and accusing them as she pleases, while getting the essential daily exercise for her body, mind and soul. I chat with her about our ancestors, their valor and their escapades, about neighbourhood gossip, catching up with my year of absence, about her approval and displeasure of the deeds of her sons and daughters, their spouses and children, her stand on the political matters in Kerala, India and abroad. Every year when I leave, I feel that I haven’t done enough listening, giving me a reason to go back and make up for the lapse.
     I enjoy the company of my family members, with whom I have maintained a loving relationship through the years. Their excitement over my presence and their expression of affection make me feel wanted. Perhaps the most desirable feeling in life is that of being loved. I have always kept harmony with my in-laws; when they receive you with a warm smile of love and gratitude and then serve your favorite dishes, the feeling of contentment is worth the visit every year. I feel relieved to find that informality is alive and well, when friends and relatives walk in as they please, to chat over a cup of tea or a meal of that time. Even though we vehemently argue about the anarchic democracy of India or the self-serving politics of America, we always part as friends. We analyze the corruption pervading every fiber of India and criticize the political morality of America and the amorous adventures of its leaders. Whether it is a family reunion or a wedding reception, visiting a sick one in the hospital or just a trip to town, vacation in India is an eventful, exciting experience on a daily basis.
     I love rising early, going up to the terrace and gazing at the green expanse of the still waters and the blue blossoms of the hyacinths. I get enchanted watching the majestic coconut palms waking up in the morning stillness and the blanket of the distant dew lifting over the stretch of brackish encroachment which have ruined the paddy crops a long time ago. Sipping coffee, I often wait for the sun to peer over the distant horizon before he climbs over the clouds and claims the world with his scorching heat. Often, I am jolted out of my reverie by the scream of the train, speeding over the nearby rails, carrying its contents to its destination. The day starts slowly but picks up pace in a hurry – there is rarely freedom to relax or ruminate; you are always in the midst of people, events, experience and noise…but I love the charm which is concealed within the cacophony.
     The food? The tastes I grew up with, the delicious dishes most typical of Kerala as Bill McKibben puts it, “the spicy food may be the best vegetarian cuisine on the planet!” Equally fascinating is the attitude of the people; the audacity, the effrontery, the insolence… their distinct disposition may be their biggest strength and their most disgusting weakness. Then again, outsiders see Keralites as the ones who “meet you on equal terms, with neither the subservience nor the rage you’ll find in much of the third world.
     Then there are the sounds, rather the noises and scenes that evoke old memories in me. The rumble of the broom scraping the sandy surroundings of the house; the chatter of the raindrops falling from the ledges of buildings; the symphony of the cawing roosters, the croaking frogs and the cackling crows; the bells and the blaring music from the temples, the devout, distinct resonance from the mosques, the parade of people in white flowing to the churches on Sunday mornings; the animated political debates at the village tea shops, the processions, the protests, the slogans and the strikes…the list is endless but nevertheless is the embodiment of the vim and vitality that is Kerala.
     Only a Malayalee at heart can savor the subtleties of our mother tongue. Far from being a connoisseur of the language I derive immense pleasure from its poetry, its lyrics and its literature which imbue the ethos and the imaginative mesmerism of our land. My heart aches for those, especially our children who cannot understand or appreciate the nuances of such an ancient and opulent language.
     As I pause with reverence at the site where my father was cremated and ponder over what he has been to me, I get immersed in a melee of emotions: gratitude, pride, guilt, loss and above all, love, all of which bring me a sense of belonging. What I am today is due to what he has done yesterday. My accomplishments are from his benevolence; my pleasures owe debt to his endurance. The fact that I chose to venture out and settle in the lap of luxury in a faraway land cannot change the reality of where it all started. That feeling of commitment emerging from a sense of belonging is perhaps the very essence of my desire to visit every year, to return to the place I once called home. The contentment I derive from these trips is serene, beyond words. These trips are my ‘trysts with destiny’. I feel blessed to have belonged.           (May 1999)

“My Mother Called Me UNNI – A Doctor’s Tale of Migration”

About my memoirs

     I have created my memoirs narrating my sentimental journey of life spanning almost eight decades rowing up in India, leaving my beloved homeland to pursue my dreams of a better future in the West, and living an affluent life bridging two cultures.
     I have made an attempt to personalize the intricate customs, culture and values of the bygone era of my ancestors along with its rich traditions, the struggles that my parents had endured to raise us, my educational pursuits in becoming a doctor, the moral dilemma of my migration, and the adjustments required for life in my adopted home.
     It goes on to elaborate how I succeeded in adapting to the new life in the US, in getting qualified as a Fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, Academy of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology and rising to become the president of a nationally reputed clinic, of being invited and inducted to the prestigious Royal Society of Medicine, London as a Fellow.
     The book narrates my attempt to discard all my success in the US and returning to India to offer my help to the needy but having to come back due to circumstances beyond my control. I have recounted my efforts of how I maintained strong ties to my motherland, serving my obligations to my extensive family in India, even after choosing America as my final domicile. The manuscript includes my passionate involvement in several social and philanthropic causes in America, my chosen land and how it had set the trend for my three children, who are following my example.

     There were a few genuine reasons that prompted me to start this project and enabled me to complete the attempt……But the most interesting reason that I discovered, which motivated me to continue the attempt was that I began to actually enjoy revisiting the life that I had left behind. This was a revelation. I began to feel that I was drawn back to the precious years of my childhood, to the people whom I loved and adored, and had since lost, along with all the memories that had been stored and rusted with only an occasional glancing back. As I slowly recalled those remnants of my past, I became overwhelmed. I felt elated and excited at times — sad, depressed, gratified, fortunate and triumphant at others. Some of those experiences embraced me as if they were reoccurring at the moment. I smiled and laughed and more often sobbed and cried out of control as they came flooding back to me and choked me. All such beloved sensations gave me a certain inexpressible contentment; something I never imagined possible when I started writing. For that one reason and perhaps for none other, I realized it was worth my time and dedication to create such a narrative.
     “My Mother Called me UNNI, a Doctor’s Tale of Migration” is my story, like that of many immigrants like me that I would proudly want to share with others. Migration/dp/1478761717