1935, Meenachil taluk, Kottayam division, The Kingdom of Travancore
The Baker Rubber Estates sprawled across hundreds of acres, unfurling in an unending green carpet over the rolling foothills of the Western Ghats of Central Travancore. Planted by the company of Rev. Henry Baker a couple of decades ago, the Estates lay at what would later become the north-eastern edges of the Meenachil taluk in the Kottayam district of the state of Kerala in independent India. Earlier, at the turn of the century, the King of Travancore had granted tens of thousands of acres of uninhabited jungle on the High Ranges of the eastern frontiers of the Kingdom to various British companies for clearing and cultivation of cash crops. The region thus came to be dominated by British planters who possessed a license to do pretty much anything. The Nasranis of Central Travancore who have now become synonymous with the region lived on the plains of central Kerala and were only starting to migrate to the region.
On a wet winter evening, Thomman, 22, and his wife Mariyam, 19, with their son Ouseph, 2, arrived at the gates of the Estate. They had set out from their native place of Elackad near Kuravilangad, the traditional base of the Nasranis around 30 kilometers due east, at dawn the previous day. After informing the guards that they were looking for work, they were made to crouch in the dirt for a couple of hours before Mr. Mathew George Thattuveettil, a manager of the estate, appeared and asked: “What work can you do?”
“Anything, thampra. I am ready to do anything and for as long as you want me to.”
“Right. We will teach you how to tap rubber trees and your wife will help in the lodgings of the sayips. We will provide you food and shelter and a small salary. In return you will do exactly what we tell you to do. You will not complain and will work every day for the rest of your life.”
The story of four generations of the Vattaparaparambil family
Note: Of course, this family and all the people mentioned here are all fictional. They are to be considered only representative of the average Nasrani family of Kerala today.
Thomman was one of 8 siblings of a branch of the Arunamattam family of the ancient Syrian Christian “Nasrani” Community of the Malabar coast. He was met with stagnating prospects at home, where the meagre amount of land his father had betrothed to him didn’t produce him enough to survive. They had to also pay tributes to community elders, the church and regional rulers, and they had lost their first child at childbirth. That was when he was told that there was plenty of work and opportunities to be had in the thottams run by British people in the high ranges. They sold all that they had and left all that they knew and the land their ancestors had settled for centuries. “What will we do staying here?” (“Ivide ninnittu enthu cheyyana?“) they asked.
The estate was surrounded by thick tropical jungle, full of snakes, wild elephants, buffalo, boar and even some big cats. The place was perpetually damp, cold, wet and humid, and the small population of workers were constantly ravaged by snakes, storms and Malaria. Thomman and Mariyam toiled for a decade in near-slavery conditions in the estate. They silently endured all hardship including when they had to look the other way to serve the wishes of the managers and sayips. He and Mariyam were blessed with three more children but only two survived, a boy Maani and and a girl, Rahel. The settlement has a small school, a church and a clinic. Little Ouseph and his brother and sister were taught to read and write Malayalam and some English words. Thomman and his wife didn’t see the necessity and remained illiterate.
India wins independence. The British Estates have their days numbered.
The Baker Estates become a part of the new Travancore-Cochin state. The British owners of the company find few buyers for the Estate because the yields are low and the number of settlements in the area are high. They hence they sell it piecemeal to whoever would buy. Though illiterate, Thomman was shrewd and a visionary. After scrounging up his savings of 14 years and securing a loan from Mr. Mathew George Thattuveettil himself, he manages to buy a 10-acre portion of the estate at a bargain price from the company. It was part rubber plantation and part forest. The British owners leave.
Thomman and his sons clear the jungles on the land they bought and plant cardamom, bananas, ginger and of course, rubber, and build a modest, three-room thatched house. The family is called Vattaparaparambil after a round rock formation near the house. Thomman and Mariyam’s eldest, Ouseph, now 17, gets married to Aleykutty, 14, the daughter of Maniyan, another erstwhile labourer and now plantation owner as well.
Thomman and his sons toil endlessly in their plantation, from dawn to dusk, until they sweat blood and their fingers show bone.
A winding dirt road connects the towns of Erattupetta and Thodupuzha. The British built it by widening the trail beaten by people who walk it between the two towns. The road to the Baker Estates branches off at around the halfway mark of this road, at a massive triple Jackfruit tree that stands like a marker by the roadside. The tree was mentioned in directions in the manner of “turn east at the Moonu plaavu“. Thomman’s Estate lies around 20 furloughs east of this junction.
Ouseph and Aleykutty are blessed with their first child, a boy, whom they name Thoma in honour of his grandfather. “I have only one advice for you“, Thomman tells Ouseph. “Whatever you do, educate all your children as much as you can. That is the only key for a good life. Don’t let your kids destroy themselves doing physical labour like us.“
Thomman’s younger son Maani gets married to Thresia, the daughter of a settler in Neeloor.
Thomman, only 43, suddenly dies of an undiagnosed illness. Ouseph never forgets his father’s advice.
The state of Kerala is formed. The government starts a massive land survey exercise to regularise land holdings.
Three more children, Mary (1956), Jose (1958), and Johny (1959) join Ouseph and Aleykutty. The Erattupetta-Thodupuzha dirt road is now metalled. The junction where the road branches off to the erstwhile Baker Estates and the further settlements of Keezhukavu and Keezhchal, is now popularly called Moonnuplavu kavala. The junction now features a tea shop, a general store, a betel-nut seller, and a church a bit further ahead. The name sticks, and the Kerala government surveys designate Thomman’s land to be part of the “Moonnuplavu” panchayat while the rest of the erstwhile Baker Estate, now split amongst numerous owners, is to be in the Keezhukavu panchayat. Bullock carts now regularly ply along the main road, and Ouseph travels to Erattupetta 20 km away once a week to sell their produce. He walks back to save cart fare. The plantation culture takes root in the High Ranges of Kerala.
Ouseph, now called Ouseppachan, and Aleykutty, now Aleyamma, have their fourth child, Anna. All the children attend the government-aided school that was established by the Moonnuplavu St. George’s parish church. The road is now tarred, and the first bus service starts running through Moonnuplavu, a Thodupuzha – Erattupetta service that runs thrice a day either side. Moonnuplavu junction gets its first building with brick walls, though still thatched, a post office.
Maani sells his share of the land back to his brother Ouesppachan and moves to Pala to start his own business. A row of shops called a “peedika” opens at the junction. Moonnuplavu has arrived.
Ouseppachan and Aleyamma are blessed with two more children, whom they name Roy (1964) and Reni (1966). There are now bus services to Pala every couple of hours.
As more buses start running through Moonnuplavu, the area grows and prospers. It now boasts of a daily service to district HQ Kottayam and a bus every hour to Erattupetta/Thodupuzha and one every two hours to Pala. More residents arrive, purchasing land and settling around the area. The junction grows and now boasts of as many as 10 shops.
During the decades around independence, various churches, organisations like the NSS, and the governments of the Kingdom and the state started establishing schools and colleges across Kerala, especially in Travancore. All of the first generation of post-independence youth of Kerala had an opportunity of near-complete education, which can be considered to be among the greatest social revolutions the country has seen. This generation, so very different from their parents, took to campus politics with an intensity rarely seen anywhere in the world. They had an idealistic political outlook, firmly convinced that revolutionary change and a nation providing equitable development for all could be built through revisionism backed by impassioned agitation.
Ouseph’s eldest son Thoma, now officially V.J.Thomas, joins the newly established St. George college in Aruvithura for his pre-degree course. Part of this generation and sharing its ideals, he becomes very active in campus politics as part of the Kerala Congress‘ student wing.
Thomas completes his pre-degree course and joins the illustrious St.Thomas college in Pala for B.A., Rubber prices start going up and the good times of the Syrian Christians begin. Ouseppachan rebuilds his house with a tiled roof, a new kitchen, a couple more rooms, and a closed and covered toilet stall.
Thomas graduates with a B.A. degree in Economics (1973). He was very deeply involved in campus politics at St. Thomas and was the Arts Secretary of the students union council representing Kerala Congress during his final year. He thinks of making politics his career, and decides to join for M.A. for Economics at the same college.
Thomas completes post graduation in Economics, but barely in third class as he spent most of his time for political activity. He was General Secretary of the students union during his final year and is now a full-time politician much to the chagrin of his father.
Mary (2) graduates from Alphonsa college, also in Pala in B.Sc. Maths. The first girl with a degree. Ouseppachan and Aleyamma are very proud.
Thomas stands conflicted as the Kerala Congress goes through its first major split. A political colleague takes advantage of his indecision to pull a fast one on him to oust him from contention for the part’s youth wing general secretary post. He also loses a substantial amount of (his father’s) money. Thomas decides that he is too soft for this and quits active politics, but continues to be deeply involved in the (Syrian Christian) affairs of the region.
Mary (2) secures a job with the government of Kerala in the revenue department. She is the first ever from the family with a “proper” job, that too a girl! Ouseppachan and Aleyamma are even more prouder!
Thomas gets married to Sara, a school teacher who hails from the nearby town of Muttom. The alliance was proposed by a family friend.
Jose (3) graduates B.Sc Physics, also from St.Thomas, Pala. Studious and inquisitive, he is very different from his brothers. Not interested in planting, business or politics but wanting to be an official, he starts looking for a job.
When Thomas gets wind that the government is planning to deregulate large tracts of forest land in Meenachil taluk, he persuades Ouseppachan to make most of it. Using political patronage, family money and a bank loan (again obtained based on political patronage), Ouseppachan lands 10 more acres of prime forest land around Poonjar and plants rubber throughout.
Mary gets married to Kurian from Manimala, also a government employee working in the Kottayam collectorate via marriage broker.
Thomas (1) and Sara welcome their first child, a boy who they name Sherin. Mary (2) and Kurian also welcome their first boy, Arun. After many tries and some central-govt level recommendations, Jose (3) gets selected to BEML in Bangalore. Johny (4) completes B.A. from St. George College Aruvithura. He was a part of the very first batch.
Jose (3) marries Mini from Pathampuzha. Johny completes M.A. from St. Thomas college, Pala. He is also a political stalwart like his brother.
Thomas and Sara have their second boy, Shine.
Johny (4) graduates B.Ed. from K.E.College, Mannanam with honours. Partly by his qualifications, and partly thanks to his brother’s political connections, he secures a lecturer’s job in Newman College, Thodupuzha. Roy (6) graduates B.Com from St. George and decides to join his father in his business.
Anna (5) barely graduates from Alphonsa College for B.A. with Third Class. She tells her parents that she is not interested in studies or a career and asks them to “marry her off”, preferably to somebody working abroad.
Jose/Mini (3) have their first child at Bangalore, a girl they name Silpa. Reni (7) turns 18. The Vattaparaparambil family is now the most dominant and influential in all of Moonnuplavu panchayat. Johny and Roy involve themselves actively in politics as major benefactors and kingmakers of the Kerala Congress ‘M’ group. As very political family, they regularly hosts party bigwigs, including the chairman.
Anna (5) gets married to Tharakan from Mundakayam working in Dubai via marriage broker.
Reni (7) graduates from Trivandrum CET and secures a job with a private company in Bangalore doing things with machines they call computers. Ouseppachan is hesitant to let the pampered youngest go away beyond his reach, but Jose assures he will take good care of him. Reni joins Infosys.
Johny (4) gets married to Susanna from Marangattupilly via a newspaper advertisement.
One cold, misty morning in December, Ouseppachan and Thomas with little Shine, his second in tow, boarded the 0655 Robin to Kottayam. They alighted at Thellakom and walked a kilometer west to Amalagiri, where Rahel, Ouseph’s sister (Thomas’ paternal aunt) and her husband had constructed a new house. Back in the school at the erstwhile Baker Estates, Rahel was spotted by Carmelite nuns as exceptionally bright and studious. They took her under their wing and sent her to study nursing in Andhra and then on to Germany in the 1970s to address the post-war generational shortage. In 1978 she married Varghese from Kudamaloor. By the late 80s, like most NRIs back then, they thought they had made enough money and decided to build a house and settle back in Kerala.
Little Shine was mesmerised by the size, spaciousness, fittings, facilities and overall “shininess” of the largest house he had ever seen. (though at 2000 sq.ft. it was modest by today’s standards). On a KSRTC bus back to Thodupuzha, he asked his father why they couldn’t build a house like that, to which he replied, “you know son, that requires a lot of money and to get it you have to go ‘to foreign’. There is a lot of riches there“. That kind of stuck in his mind.
Reni (7) reveals the earth-shattering news that he is in love with a Nair girl, Vidya from Venmony, who he met in engineering college. They also work in the same office. A massive earthquate rocks the Vattaparaparambil household for days, but ultimately Aleyamma prevailed and the marriage is solemnized. The couple move to Bangalore. Johny and Susanna welcome their first child, Jomy.
Rubber prices start their legendary, meteoric rise. Roy gets married to Shiny (via marriage broker) from a prominent trading family of Vazhappally, Changanasserry.
A decade passes. Thomas/Saramma (1) have three children, Sherin, Shine and Shiji, and live in the Vattaparaparambil ancestral home at Moonnuplavu. Mary/Kurian (2) live in Deepthi Nagar, Kanjikuzhy, Kottayam with their two boys, Arun and Aaron. Jose/Mini (3) live in JB Nagar, Bangalore with their two girls, Silpa and Saritha. Johny/Susanna (4) live with their children Jomy, Jincy and Jobin at Moonnuplavu itself. Anna/Tharakan (5) live in Dubai with their boys Aju and Saju. Roy/Shiny (6) also stay in Moonnuplavu with their two girls Neethu and Nivia and a boy Nevin. Reni/Vidya (7) have since moved to San Francisco, California, USA, where they had twin baby girls, Ala and Aiswarya.
“Don’t ever pay attention to politics. Concentrate on only your studies and get good jobs. Politics ruined the lives of your parent’s generation. We won’t allow you too to make that mistake.” They all tell their children, who all study in private English medium schools in Thodupuzha or Erattupetta with no political exposure whatsoever.
Moonnuplavu has grown into a big town. It has now four banks, four restaurants, three bakeries, two medical shops, two hardware stores, two hospitals, two high schools, a petrol pump, a bar, a beverage shop and numerous other shops and stores. Thomachan runs a few businesses including a grocery store and a gold loaning agency, and owns a fleet of five private buses (VPMS), two running Thodupuzha – Kanjirappally, one Thodupuzha-Pala via Erattupetta, one Thodupuzha-Erumeli via Kanirappalli and one Limited Stop service running Kottayam – Pala – Muttom – Idukki – Kattappana. Roy has purchased half the share of the petrol pump in town and operates it.
Sherin, the eldest of the cousins, turns 18.
The grand matriarch Mariyam passes on at 82.
Sherin graduates engineering from CUSAT and joins TCS in Bangalore. Shine, not very studious, is “doing” engineering at a run-off-the-mill college in Valliyoor, Tirunelveli, Tamil Nadu. He is miserable there, and is fixated on “somehow” making it abroad, possibly Europe.
Sherin meets Smitha from Thopramkudy at work. They fall in love and the families get them married after another massive ruckus when they discover they had been living together for a year now. They look around for buying an apartment somewhere on the new-and-upcoming posh localities along the Outer Ring Road, but then put their plans on hold as the Great Recession hits.
Not that they vote or anything, but votes from the Vattaparaparambil family in Moonnuplavu panchayat hit an all-time high of 12. This number can possibly make or break a panchayat election. The family has now been among the most dominant in the area for a decade or more.
Shine wanders around Bangalore “doing” odd “software” jobs, fixated on going abroad. Then, one of Thomachen’s drinking buddies suggests him a marriage with his brother’s daughter Anju, a nurse from Kanchiyar working in Ireland. Shine finds that dreams indeed come true. He does not care that he might never get a proper job there. They move to Dublin. He is the first among the kids to settle abroad and his heartily congratulated for “making” it. The rest of the kids take notice that just managing to get abroad despite having nothing to their name was considered more meritorious than any achievement at home.
Shiji joins a nursing school in Mangalore.
The years from 2009 to 2013 are generally regarded as the high point of the Syrian Christian community in Kerala. Commodity prices of rubber were at a historically all-time high (up to Rs.300 per kg). There was great prosperity everywhere and the old trading towns of Central Travancore really took off in a big way. Everyone started building newer and bigger houses and buying cars. The more affluent families started sending their youngsters abroad (to CANZUK and Europe) for studies and migration, which ironically, was mostly fuelled by this rubber price boom. All the old dads and moms were flying across the globe visiting the children in various countries. Thomachan and Saramma also go abroad for the first time, and are wonderstruck by the dazzling Irish infrastructure (mainly the roads).
Politically, things couldn’t have been better for the community. The second Oommen Chandy government was sworn in and the Congress was in power in both the centre and in Kerala. Kottayam district got five ministers including the CM (not that it did the place any good, though). Little did anyone know that this was the beginning of the great Mallu migration that in just a decade’s time would empty the land of its youth.
Sherin/Smitha welcome their first child in Bangalore. Jomy completes Btech from Amal Jyothi Engineering College, Kanjirappally. He moves to Dubai on a visiting visa sponsored by his aunt Anna’s husband Tharakan. He also pulls wasta to land Jomy a decent job in the sales department of a large automobile dealer network.
Grand patriarch Ouseppachan passes away at the ripe old age of 82, happy and content.
Aleyamma follows her husband at the age of 80. Jomy gets married to Litty from Kappumthala, a nurse also working in Dubai who they met through Surmi, Jomy’s classmate at Amal Jyothi and Litty’s roommate in Dubai. Meanwhile, tired of Bangalore traffic and pollution (especially in Marathahalli where they were living), insane living costs and also after realising that their quality of life was far better while growing up in Kerala, Sherin and Smitha were starting to question their future. They noticed the seemingly new trend of many of their peers permanently migrating to Canada. They decide to give that a shot and start the paperwork.
Shiji graduates B.Sc. Nursing from Mangalore. Thanks to her father’s connections in the church, she secures a job in SH Medical Centre, Kottayam.
Sherin and Smitha resign their software engineering jobs at Mindtree and IBM respectively and move to Calgary, Alberta, Canada along with their toddler Ezekiel through the express entry program. They thank their stars that they didn’t buy an apartement in Bangalore. They struggled to find jobs and meet their expenses initially, and Thomachan had to sell quite a bit of his property to support them through their first few years. Things get better eventually and they land jobs at a manufacturing plant and post office respectively.
Jincy completes Engineering in Electronics and Communication from RIT Surathkal. Nokia gives her an offer to join them in Chennai.
Meanwhile, Neethu graduates MBBS from Kottayam Medical College. Roy sells half of the estate in Poonjar to finance her PG in Gynecology at Kasturba Medical College, Mangalore. Jincy leaves Nokia to join Siemens, who soon transfer her to Germany.
Jobin completes MBA from Cornwall University, England. After working a short stint in Bristol, he decides to move back and try some entrepreneurship his home town. He converts the grocery store into a supermarket, winds up the private bus business and to avoid hassles, sells the gold loaning agency. Jobin also helps his uncle streamline his petrol pump business. They open up an online “digital services” business, dealing mainly in providing online services to the general public.
Neethu completes her MS in Gynecology and joins for house surgency at Mar Sleeva Medicity, Pala. Determined to get her abroad, Thomachen starts looking for doctor grooms settled in the West.
After trying for two years and studying in her free time, Shiji finally manages to clear IELTS. She soon movies to Birmingham, England, permanent migration in mind.
Neethu gets married to Jacob, a Malayalee American surgeon originally from Kothamangalam. He was born in the USA but did his schooling in Kerala and later moved to Pennsylvania for his medical degree. Nevin completes engineering from FISAT, Angamaly, and joins a startup in Infopark, Kochi at an unheard-of salary. He lives the good life in Kakkanad and drives down every weekend in his new Volkswagen Polo GTi to visit his parents. Shiji marries Jestin from Poovarani (through Chavara Matrimony), a designer working with a digital marketing establishment in Ernakulam.
On a steady decline in prices for the past four years and with insanely high labour charges, the rubber plantation business in Kerala is now no longer viable or profitable. Erstwhile rubber planters have been cutting down their plantations and selling the land piecemeal for some time now. The large, unending rubber plantations have started dwindling as they are cut up for sale into smaller half-acre plots and “gated villa communities”.
Despite living a comfortable life and with more than enough money, Jobin increasingly feels trapped and frustrated in Moonnuplavu. The place is heavily conservative and regressive, and the people are close-minded, risk averse and resistant to change and innovation. Militant trade unionism and high wages makes it impossible to make any large scale business investment. More importantly, there is no one of his age around anymore to hang out with, including his cousins. For a while he works in a business services position in an MNC in Technopark, Trivandrum, but that made no sense as he could’ve made three times just sitting around in his family’s petrol pump. Hell, there’s not even a place to relax with a drink after work! So, when he receives a marriage proposal from Reena from Vannapuram, a nurse in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, he jumps at the offer. Litty (Jomy) applies as a nurse to the UK and is accepted after clearing IELTS. In a year, they move from sunny Dubai to not-so-sunny Yorkshire with their little Nathan and Zoe.
The More chain buys out the Vattaparaparambil supermarket in Moonnuplavu. Roy’s petrol pump is the only remaining family business.
Sherin and Smitha buy a small house in Calgary. There was much rejoicing.
COVID hits. Jincy moves in with Jonas, a colleague she met in Germany and a half-malayali whose mother hailed from Ramapuram. They plan to get married later in Kerala after the COVID scare is over. Nivia, the youngest of the cousins, gains admission to the University of Worcester for an undergraduate course in Mental Health and Wellbeing of Children and Young People, and leaves for England.
Johny retires as professor from Newman. With all their children abroad, he and Susanna see no point in spending retired life in Moonnuplavu. Nevin marries Liza, the grand-daughter of a Kottayam business scion (through a family friend). They buy a villa (and a Skoda Octavia) in Maradu, Ernakulam and continue to live the good life. She is also the only one still left in Kerala from among 7 cousins.
Roy develops respiratory problems. He sells the petrol pump and moves to their estate in Poonjar since the recently widened Erattupetta-Thodupuzha highway that passes too close to their house exacerbates his breathing troubles.
Thomas suddenly passes away from a cardiac arrest.
- Sherin/Smitha are in Calgary, Alberta, Canada, citizens, children – 3
- Shine/Anju are in Dublin, Ireland, citizens, children – 2, one on the way
- Shiji/Jestin in Birmingham, UK, citizens, children – 1, one on the way
- Jincy/Jonas in Munich, Germany, citizens, children – none
- Jomy/Litty are in Yorkshire, UK, PR, children – 2
- Jobin/Reena are in Eindhoven, The Netherlands, citizens, children – one on the way
- Neethu/Jacob are in Springfield, MA, USA, citizens, children – two on the way
- Nevin/Liza live in Maradu, Ernakulam, Kerala. No children yet.
- Nivia lives in Worcester, England and is about to complete her degree course. She already has an offer in hand from a leading educational trust in South England, who will also sponsor her permanent residence.
Of Mary/Kurian’s children, Arun is a very successful tech entrepreneur in Bangalore; Aaron married his childhood sweetheart and lives in Melbourne, Australia, where they both are nurses. Silpa and Saritha (Jose/Mini) both joined IT firms in Bangalore, got (onsite) transferred to the USA and are married and settled in Dallas and Houston respectively. Aju and Saju of Anna/Tharakan also migrated to Canada (Brampton and Regina) in 2017 and 2019 respectively, both after marrying nurses. They have built a massive, 5500 sq ft bungalow with an automated swimming pool and a movie theater and parking for 6 cars at Enthayar near Mundakayam that lies empty, of course.
Johny and Susanna are flying around, dividing time between Jomy in York, England, Jincy in Munich, Germany, and Jobin in Eindhoven, The Netherlands. They plan to spend most of their time in Europe as long as their health and visas allow. Saramma lives alone in the ancestral home at Moonnuplavu and is planning to join her son Sherin in Canada soon. The cousins are all happy, being able to live and enjoy their lives in the manner they want to, without the overbearing scrutiny of society or having to worry about every little eventuality in life which all would be taken care by the state in the countries they live in. The parents are equally happy as their children have all “escaped” from “here” as the popular saying goes.
Moonnuplavu has changed. It is no longer the quiet farming/plantation community it was just two decades ago, but a bustling commercial centre with traffic jams day-round. The town is rich and prosperous like any of the kind in Kerala thanks to the massive liquidity pouring in from abroad. The vast plantations are long gone, all cut down and replaced by 50-cent housing plots. As nearly all of the folk in the Moonnuplavu panchayat have their children abroad, nobody invests in farming or plantations anymore but live the good life, which means mostly driving around every day visiting places and relatives or eating out. The old road is a two-lane highway, now chock-a-block with masses of private cars. The few remaining private buses now mostly run empty.
After dominating the region for a century, the Syrian Christian community all over Kerala is dwindling. With the near-complete migration of the younger generation, there are hardly any young families or children of the community around anymore. An entire generation is leaving its land. Massive mansions stand empty or forlorn with the odd grandmother or grandfather residing alone, sons and daughters keeping a watchful eye over them from Europe through CCTV cameras installed in their bedrooms.
And not the least, this is seriously impacting the erstwhile vote banks of the Congress and Kerala Congress parties.
Thomman and Mariyam founded the Vattaparaparambil family of Moonnuplavu a hundred years ago. Since then, the family has grown and flourished for over 3 generations. But today, Roy and Shiny and their son Nevin and his wife Liza are the only members of the family remaining in Kerala anymore, and no one among them live in Moonnuplavu anymore. The large ancestral family house and the mansions Roy, Jose and Johny had built all stand empty. There will be only two members left in a decade’s time. In the space of less than a century, life has come full circle.
And this is what is happening to nearly all Nasrani families today. All the young ones who are able to are flying abroad either migratory or for studies with the ultimate aim of settling as citizens of those coutries. That’s an entire generation. And they take their aging parents with them too, leaving behind large and empty houses and tracts of land. In a decade a large majority of Nasrani families will see their lineages in Kerala ending forever. It won’t be very long before the Nasranis of Kerala, the tales of the “rubber achayans” and their exploits will be enshrined as folklore on the lines the ballads of the great warriors who Kerala was once famous for.
December 2021, Moonnuplavu, Meenachil taluk, Kottayam district, Kerala
Sherin and Smitha, along with their 10, 5 and 3 year-olds (Ezekiel, Ruth and Naomi) land in Kochi after a gruelling 28-hour journey from Calgary via Chicago and Doha on Qatar Airways. It is their first visit in six years. They spent a month doing visiting-NRI things, which more or less involved a lot of driving around visiting places, relatives, religious centres and shopping.
On the day before their return, the extended family gathered in Roy’s and Shiny’s house. Sherin and Smitha put up brave smiles even while dreading the 32-hour return journey (via Doha and Seattle) and trying not to think about the 15000 CAD they spent for the tickets, half of Sherin’s annual salary.
Then came the customary question of “So, when will be your next visit?“
“I don’t know, the journey too way expensive and too tiring to make for all us”, said Smitha. “I don’t think Ezekiel is too keen on coming again, he doesn’t like it here. The weather, humidity, insects. He is bored out of his mind, and misses his friends and his Playstation.”
“So you are not planning to buy some land and start building a house and all?”
“Those days are gone, uncle.” Sherin chipped in. “Ivide ninnittu enthu cheyyana? (“What will we do staying back here?”) To be honest, we hardly make enough to pay for our house in Calgary, and now we have to buy a bigger one, and the only way to get money for that is to sell our property here. Well, like some of you know, one of the reasons why we came now is to sell this property. We have finalised a buyer and Amma will join us in Canada after the transaction is complete. Anyway in the future this big house and the land will be a liability for us.”
“Yes, I don’t think we will ever return. There is nothing for us left here.” He said, with a kind of a mix of sadness and relief on his face, “Njangal ini ingottilla“.