Mammad Kaka's coat

Driving down the I 15, I was starting to nod off a bit when I was surprised by MS Baburaj’s Kandam bechoru Kottane, mammadu kakkade kottane from the old hits CD playing in the car.After so many years, I was hearing that song all over again. On a dull winter day with teeming traffic crisscrossing the lanes and driving you mad, this one song has that ability to get you smiling. I listened to the words…What simple and nice lyrics, sung in the inimitable Calicut Koya dialect & tuned by the great Baburaj (the Cd cover states Baburaj- Mehaboob – Did Mehboob sing this or Baburaj? BTW this was the first Malayalam color film).

A song about an old and worn out coat, fit to be condemned, one that belonged to Fakir Mohammed Koya, and not a coat worn by blood sucking rich businessman or lawyers. The coat was always popular whilst on Koya, and ah! it is now mine ( who was this pictured on ? Adoor Bhasi or Bahadur? I tried picturing it and ended up with Bahadur since only Bahadur could have the size of a fakir- they are usually thin). Hey bed bug who lives in the coat, don’t bite me or I will quash you (actually stated as chop you to bits – Kashap akkum). There lives in the coat another parasite ‘kalan Paatta’ which eats away into the collar and sleeves, an entreaty to him – stop please, allow me to wear this coat for a while…

And it got me all pensive, taking me to my childhood days at Chalappuram – Calicut and the Ambalakkat house where I spent my primary school years. As the only child around, I had the large house all to myself with many trees, plants, sticks and stones for company. My Valiachan and Valiyamma who were taking care of me then (parents were living in the high range Estates – no schools in the estates, only Englishmen, Indian staff, tea plantations, tea pickers & wild animals lived there) and my bachelor uncle Balamama. Valiachan was a retired headmaster, and he was quite strict with me, the house was full of books and pictures, I recall one of those pictures on the wall, my dad’s brother (whom I never met – he died young) receiving some award from Chacha Nehru. Valiachan was always telling me about the great freedom fighters Nehru, Bose, Shastri (he never told me about VK Krishna Menon though)and making me write in copy books, using a fountain pen and old fashioned rulers (solid wooden cylinders that are rolled over paper, not today’s flat scales). Balamama my uncle worked at the Standard furniture factory in Kallai, he was always meticulously dressed in white, spending much time on an elaborate shave (first hot water, then the soap, then the Wilkinson razor with the 7’0 clock blades, then Mennen after shave), finally Brylcreem-ing his hair to perfection and finishing off by donning crisp and spotless white shirts &ndhoti’s. I used to sit and watch all this before my own travel in a rickshaw to the school. Sometimes the 1-2 mile travel was by a hand drawn two wheeler; usually an old guy pulling it, sometimes it was a cycle rickshaw. Sometimes it was a ‘kuthira vandi’ – horse cart that took me clippety clop to nearby Ganapati School. Once or twice I went to school in an uncle’s Morris Minor. What an event that was!! As I got older though, I was allowed to walk the distance and I enjoyed that slow walk taking in the life around me.

I still recall the dreaded days when doctor mama came by for monthly check up’s – Dr Balakrishnanan Nair, our family doctor who owned and ran the Karunakara Nursing home across Malabar Christian College. He always ended up prescribed more tonics and asking tricky questions from school books which I had no answers for. And I remembered the many volumes of leather bound ‘book of knowledge’ that I pored over, reading about the Greeks and the Romans and many more. I can remember even today that particular musty book smell, and the wind up record player playing 78 rpm MS Subhalakshmi vinyl records.

The elders sold that house in the late 60’s to a wealthy Koya and moved to Palakkad where the rest of the family had settled down..

Balaama (shortened Balamama) used to call me Mammada…And that is where Mammad kaka’s coat took me today.

There are so many interesting words that have crept into the North Malabar Muslim dialect – words like Koyi – Which is as everybody knows Kozhi – Or Arabic words like Jannath (Heaven) or Mayyath (dead body ). ‘You’ is ‘JJJ’, now that is quite special & known only to Calicut’ians and ‘Oon’ is ‘He’. In those days we heard all these choice usages from the fish monger (almost always a Koya) who passed by or the guy who purchased old pots and pans…Today it is popularized by our comedian Mammu Koya. The z is silent in the koya dialect, koyi, puya etc are examples. Mohammad became Mammad. Kaka here does not mean crow, but means an elder. This word came from Gujarati & Hindi! Sometimes you see the learned Haji or fakir passing by, wearing the ‘Mammad’ kaka coat, small beard and mostly no moustache. Children feared the Haji, I won’t tell you though what the elder’s usual threat was…lest I create furor. Kabaristan (graveyard), Beebi (lady), Ithata(sister), Umma (mother), Odath (garden), suvar (pig) are a few of the many such special malayalified words that frequent the Calicut dialect.

Today the fish monger Koya has changed a lot, he checks with the catchers and fish retailers about the catch after whipping out his latest model mobile phone, calling to find out if a specific fish, mussels or prawns are available. I am sure we will have online fish ordering soon in Calicut..

Kandam bechoru kottanu, pande kittiya kottanu
mammad kakade kottanu ithu nattil muzhuman pattanu
Tozhilalikale kollayadikkana muthalalikalude kottalla
Kashtatha perukiya sadhu janangade kanneer oppana kottanu
Kottil irikkana van mootte, mootte nee ithu keettatte
Kadichu kollan vannal ninne kashap cheyyum mushette
Vakeel marude kottalla, ithu fakir aniyana kottanu
Rabbin kalpana kettu nadakkana kalbine moodiya kottanu
Varsham nalayi kottin akathoru kalan patta irikkunnu
Collarum thinnu keeshayum thinnu kottum koodi thinnalle....



Picture - Courtsey Hindu, HMV

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