A bright young man from Kerala’s Mothakkara village explains how his childhood experiences influenced his decision to stay on in his village and work locally instead of chasing opportunities elsewhere
Story by: Arjun MC
Read the original story in Malayalam
I was born in the Wayanad district in Kerala. When I was about 7 years old, my family moved to Mothakkara – a hillside village in the Vellamunda region in the same district. My parents were farmers. From childhood, I developed a close bond with the soil and trees.
In our neighborhood was the center of Kurichiya indigenous tribal community, known for their strong faith in the joint family system and for living in harmony with nature. A single family of Kurichiyas can have up to as many as 60 people living together!
Growing up around the Kurichiyas, I learnt a great deal about their unique lifestyle, customs and rituals. I was amazed by the immense traditional knowledge of the Kurichiyas about the use of medicinal plants to cure diseases and infections.
Shortly after we moved to Mothakkara, I suffered from a debilitating toothache. I couldn’t consume food or water without pain. We visited many allopathic doctors. Even after their prescribed medication for three months, things didn’t get any better. A young woman from the Kurichiya community in our neighborhood told us about traditional medicine treatments in their community and suggested we visit the tribal healer early in the morning before sunrise. My mother and I went to the healer on the decided day at dawn. The healer first applied a paste of green herbal medicines on my face and massaged my cheeks. After 10 minutes, she washed away the green medicine and rubbed a sharpened knife on my face and extracted something from my cheek. My toothache was cured. My mother has distinct memories of it all and she still talks about it in absolute awe. The incident is indelible in my own mind too. It wasn’t any formal education or knowledge about the progress in modern treatment modalities, but just traditional wisdom that the healer used to help people in pain.
Life as a kid in Mothakkara was quite simple. Along with the kids in the neighborhood, we would catch fish from the Karamanathodu river – a tributary of the Kabani river – and roast and eat them. That was the main past time. I went to the government primary school nearby my home. “Why not educate your children in aided school, like some other children?” some people asked my mother. But my mother continued to send us to the government school where children from various religions, castes and communities went together to a common building wearing the same uniform. We all ate the same food for lunch, which was provided by the school. During primary school, Rafi and Mohammed were my best friends. During festivals and celebrations, we alternated between playing hosts and guests. Everyone lived together with love.
It was in the tenth grade that I first saw discrimination and that became a turning point for me and impacted some of my personal decisions to a certain extent. It was the year when my school hosted the district’s cultural festival. Children from various schools competed in many activities. The cultural celebration that extended over 3-4 days was conducted during the days and nights alike. All the boys in my class stayed in the school late until midnight, enjoying the various cultural activities. However, apart from the daughters of some teachers and other prominent members, I didn’t see any of my female classmates there past 5 p.m.
A comment uttered by one of my friends paved the way for much thinking later. “They are girls, right? They cannot go out in the night like us,” he said. It seemed quite simple and obvious to him. But what he said kept nagging me. Our society does not allow girls the simple right to come to school and enjoy school events until extended hours. Some of you might think that what I’m sharing is trivial. But it bothered me how, even in an education-blessed state like Kerala, it is unimaginable to have a society where there is no difference between men and women, where everyone enjoys the same rights. From that point on, I have tried to consciously ensure that my sister gets the same opportunities as I do. I also try to help women in my village understand technology to the extent that I can, because I believe that every small step in the direction of a positive change counts.
After completing schooling, I studied History in the University of Calicut. To my surprise and delight, I secured the top rank in my college! I decided to study social issues instead of taking up science or commerce. Issues about our land, nature and people felt close to me. I had no desire to study in an English medium school or to go abroad for higher studies. I completed my studies right in my native place in a government school and college. I never let go off an opportunity to connect with people here. Each person I connected with taught me some lesson in life and I regarded each individual as being equal to a library.
I joined Kabani Community Tourism, a community-based tour provider based in Kozhikode, after completing my studies. Kabani selected Mothakkara as their community village and international get-togethers started taking place in the village. Mothakkara became a center of foreign visitors and my desire to connect with world travellers was fulfilled. I now have many friends across the globe. A couple of days of interactions with the travellers have turned into bonds of a lifetime. These travellers who find pleasure in travelling and learning about the local culture, who don’t exploit nature and the resources of the places they visit have influenced me a lot. I’d like to travel like them and explore the world too!
Many solo travellers come to visit Mothakkara. Among those, many are female solo travellers too. For the inexperienced locals who have never seen the world beyond their own region, the idea of women travelling the whole world alone was unthinkable and quite scandalizing too. When a young woman from Switzerland spent two days in Mothakkara, I went along with her in the evenings to show her the local sights. Back then, the only question that she had to answer was, “Are you alone?” The village slowly started getting used to idea of female travellers travelling solo all around the world. The establishment of tourism in the village of Mothakkara changed people’s opinions considerably and made them open their minds about what women could and couldn’t or shouldn’t do.
I love my native region – Wayanad. This place is very dear to me. It has given me lessons that have shaped up my life. From my childhood experiences of staying close to the Kurichiya community, I learnt to value traditional wisdom and the importance of staying in harmony with nature. My school and college life taught me the important lessons of equality. Festivals, such as Thira Mahotsavam organized by the Kurichiya community and attended by people regardless of their religion and caste, are unique to Mothakkara and they instill a strong sense of community among the people of the village. My experience with Kabani Community Tourism helped me realize my dreams of interacting with people across the globe and learning from their experiences.
Even though many of my classmates and friends have chosen to live and study outside Kerala and abroad, I have never been attracted to other places. My love for my birthplace has made me choose it and its people over a rewarding career anywhere outside and I’ve never regretted my choice. The best part is that my family is completely supportive of my decision. I strongly believe that there are opportunities and resources galore, right here within this country, waiting to be explored. Working abroad might get me good money, but I doubt it would give me the same sense of satisfaction, contentment and peace that I get in this village. And therefore, I’d rather be content living in my village and striving to make it better than chasing success and happiness elsewhere.
Read the original story in Malayalam
* Cover photo: Brian Rapsey, Positive Footprints – World Nomads