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A post office of my own

Anita Nair | Updated on January 23, 2018 Published on August 21, 2015
Alone together: That in this time and age, there still is a village like Mundakkottukurussi is almost a conundrum. Photo: Hareesh P Warrier

Alone together: That in this time and age, there still is a village like Mundakkottukurussi is almost a conundrum. Photo: Hareesh P Warrier

Anita Nair

Anita Nair

Mundakkottukurussi, a village in Kerala which is the birthplace of neither a mahatma nor a movement, is home to me

By now I have gotten used to the response the name of my village elicits: “Mundakkottukurussi???!!!” “Where is that?” “Is that a tongue twister?”

And then, as we take the turn from Kulappully Junction towards the road that leads to Mundakkottukurussi, be it cabbie or friend driving me there for the first time, a muffled laugh with a what-is-this-place? glance at me. A few minutes onto the narrow road, the cabbie — a town slicker from Kochi or Thrissur — would usually mumble, “Thank god, there is still daylight. I would never find my way back in the night.”

As for friends, I have heard everything from “Do you have wild animals here?” to “So what’s the movie running here in the village talkies? Chemmeen?” to “Are we going to have children running after the car?”

That in this time and age, there still is a village like Mundakkottukurussi is almost a conundrum. Pristine, untouched and truly god’s own village, it hasn’t been eaten up as yet by real estate sharks or turned into a setting for a resort by earnest tour operators.

Mundakkottukurussi is one among the villages along what is now an arterial road linking Kulappully or Vaniamkulam to Cherpulassery. On either side of the wooded road you will see a medley of dated tile- and concrete-roofed homes, and garish new bungalows built with money sent home from the Middle East. There are little temples that dot the landscape as there are minarets of mosques here and there. The cross and a church are conspicuous by their absence.

No building looks like another but all structures have in common sizeable acreages filled with many trees, giving the villages a certain density of shadow that one usually sees in the peripheries of forests.

The terrain is hilly and interspersed by vast tracts of paddy fields. In the distance is the Anangan range, grim, brooding, dark mountains but Mundakkottukurussi has its own Pulmooth Mala. A hill on the western side of the village where rain clouds break first, so it’s possible to see the rains come sliding down the hillside into the valley. To this day women rush to the clotheslines as soon as they hear the distant hiss of the rain on the hilltop.

The thing is, Mundakkottukurussi, my ancestral village (the family tree traces our lineage to the 16th century), has nothing that would make anyone come looking for it. So much so, when I set out to create Kaikurussi, a fictitious village in my first novel, The Better Man, I simply looked around Mundakkottukurussi and described it: It is the birthplace of neither a mahatma nor a movement. There are no craft forms originating from here to fill government cottage emporia shelves. No miracles have ever happened here. In fact, nothing of significance happens to anyone here.

Whatever the people of Mundakkottukurussi may lack in, it is compensated by a sense of wicked irony. We may not have a movie theatre or an ATM machine, but we have a cricket club called MCC (Mundakkottukurussi Cricket Club); and even though we are a village, we refer to ourselves as a city. In 1984 when a bus service started plying between Shoranur and Cherpulassery, bus stops were still being designated and so the hub of the village with a handful of shops came to be called Mundakkottukurussi City.

Traditionally an LDF stronghold, in the ’50s Mundakkottukurussi was known as Moscow. Nevertheless, the Congress and the BJP and the Muslim League all have their own followers, making politics a round of Russian roulette during the assembly elections.

Amidst all this, in a little dip is my little tile-roofed cottage Symantakham, 999 sqft, of which 333 sqft is a long veranda that runs the breadth of the house. On either end of my garden, edging the road are the two landmark buildings of Mundakkottukurussi — the village Post Office and the library. I take a special delight in telling my visitors: Do you know of any other writer who owns a post office?

I do own the building, for which I receive a princely sum of ₹50 as rent every month.

The roof leaks. A civet cat lands on my roof every night without fail. Rats, squirrels scurry this way and that and spiders are the size of kittens. Nevertheless, if there is a place in the world that seems striated by a sense of permanence as much as transience, it is this home of mine. My doll’s cottage, my family refers to it jokingly, but here I become who I am when I write.

Here I am a wide-eyed child trying to comprehend the world and life. And everything I hear, see, sense, taste and feel are a million-fold enhanced, so this place imbues my writing with a visceral power that I can rarely achieve elsewhere. Be it the bleakest or the most romantic of scenes, the most violent episode or a most tender gesture, in Symantakham, the words flow without restraint or censure, fear or consciousness.

In that little cottage are designated spaces; a bench, a swing seat, an old four-poster bed, an easy chair… in each one of them I spend a while thinking, watching the fireflies in the night and hearing the cicadas; sometimes I am forced to stay indoors when there is a storm blowing outside, but within, I can see and hear the rain as it drips into the various buckets placed hither and thither. Eventually when I sit down to write at my table, I know what will emerge will be true and right.

It is possible to recreate the magic of the cottage elsewhere but it wouldn’t work if it wasn’t in Mundakkottukurussi. For here I have a sense of being rooted to the land even if my cottage may fall in a decade’s time. It gives me a true understanding of what literature could be. The words matter. And not the writer. This is the blessing of my Mundakkottukurussi.

(In this monthly column, authors chronicle the cities they call home)

Anita Nair is the author of many novels including Lessons in Forgetting. Her new novel: Alphabet Soup for Lovers, will be published later this year

Published on August 21, 2015
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