Appu (or some other cliché name for a Malayali kid) runs into his grandparent’s room and finds a zone of comfort between his Ammumma and Appuppan, in their bed. Ammumma slowly pats him on the side and attempts to lull him into sleep. But Appu is not so compliant. So, Ammumma, or Appuppan, wields the tool of narration. Now, the matter of the story can vary. But most of the time, it will be some forgotten legend of the land, that will be repeated in Appu’s friends circle. Some forgotten story of a banyan tree that harbours a yakshi, or a person driven mad by his dabbling in chathanseva. This story will linger in Appu’s mind till he falls into deep sleep involuntarily. But it will no doubt be revived in the process of him honing his storytelling skills. And the tale goes round and round and round, till it becomes a not-so-forgotten forgotten tale of the land.
This is the circle of life of a Muthassikadha. Most of the Malayali kids have grown up listening to these enchanting tales involving a mixture of myth and if you are lucky, a hint of ‘yakshis’. In our childhood, we often find ourselves engrossed in such tales as they also involve the places that we encounter in everyday life. Hence, the childhood fear of going near an ‘Aalmaram’ or banyan tree. Such stories inspire awe in us and kick-start the instinct within us that makes even the ordinary seem extraordinary. I, personally, have these stories to thank for my inspiration behind writing stories. We find the bits and pieces of this inspiration in the art that surrounds us. It becomes the fertilizer for our imagination.
Many of the legends and stories that our grandparents impart to us have some sort of religious sanction. They often recount stories from their own childhood, in a pre-independence India that was governed by religion more than science. So, most of our elders strongly believe in religion and the explanations it provides for various phenomena. These phenomena also appear in their stories. In a way, the stories and the beliefs they contain are deeply entrenched in our grandparents’ minds, while to us, they are just ‘stories’. For example, there are some interesting beliefs regarding chickenpox. In modern medicine, it is just an infectious disease that is treatable. But a myth explains that chickenpox is caused by the wrath of a goddess. There are also some practices paired with this myth, which is coherent with the precautions we usually take. The normal around us might be extraordinary to them.
But nevertheless, we see that many of these stories reflect the sensibilities and stereotypes of that time. A ‘yakshi’ hints at the apparent exclusion or aversion towards strong women. This portrayal of a ‘yakshi’ had also crept into movies and had become a sort of ‘trend-setter’ – the white saree, fair as white skin, beautiful beyond comparison and songs that are sweeter than ever. Their modus operandi is almost always the same – the ‘yakshis’ use their out-of-the-world beauty to lure in men, kill and then drink their blood. This aligns with how patriarchy portrays women as the cause of trouble or vile actions and men as the saviours and the righteous. A ‘thamburaan’ becoming the saviour hints at the caste prejudices that existed. There are many rituals in Kerala that were made up so that the oppressors got some sort of religious sanction to continue with the ‘oppressing’. These beliefs and rituals were used to imprint, entrench inside the minds of the ‘oppressed’ that they deserve and require to be ‘oppressed’. The stories of the past that are passed on to generation after generation have these elements in them. It is a retelling of these stories that is much needed right now. They are just ‘kettukadhakal’ or mere fiction.
We should sieve through these stories and make an effort to recognise the ways in which these prejudices or stereotypes have been portrayed, thereby identifying and gradually rejecting them. The Muthassikadha should become quintessential through such a process in the present world. After all, should such pleasure be denied to anyone at all?