Small Joys Of A Malayali Childhood

Do you know what the first sign of growing old is? No, it isn’t the grey hair or the wrinkles. It’s when you realize you are now that person who start saying things like “Back in the day…”, “Nyangalde kuttikalathe…” or “Ahh, remember the good old days…”

You will have that moment where you’ll be like “Wait, did I just turn into my dad/mom?” I think I had that moment a few years ago when I watched a song by a new boy band and could only (and obsessively) think about how long their hair looked, and how badly I wanted to cut it. 

And then there is the nostalgia. With social media flooded with “If you remember this, then your childhood was awesome” posts, there is literally no escape from nostalgia. You get it stuffed down your throat whether you want it or not. Which is precisely what I plan to do with this article! Get ready for some nostu- stuffing!

So my childhood days in Kerala were quite limited. Even though I grew up primarily in the Middle East, there were a handful of years that I spent as a child in Kerala before turning into an NRI. Around 5 or 6 years that were loaded with enough memories- some vivid while some just a blur- to last a lifetime.  After rummaging through my mind, I’ve listed out a few of the small joys that were part of my days in Kerala as a child.


“Is it magic?” my niece had whispered breathlessly when she first witnessed a thottavadi. Watching her face light up in disbelief as the tiny green leaves drooped bashfully at her touch was such a satisfyingly nostalgic experience. I don’t remember the first time I ever saw a thottavadi, but I do remember the delight I’d felt when my cousins and I would chance upon a whole crop of them hidden in our backyard.

Apoopan Thaadi 

I don’t know if Apoopan Thaadis became popular after the movie Kakkothi Kaavile Apoopan Thadi came out. But every time I catch this gem of a movie on TV, it evokes memories of running after apoopan thaadis with my cousins, trying to collect as many as we could only to set them all free again. Watching this delicate little fluff blowing in the breeze is one of those “small” memories that stay on with you forever.


I admit I was pretty old before I realized that Manjadikurus are actually seeds. As a kid, I thought they were little porcelain balls that someone painstakingly painted bright red with a dab of black in the middle and polished it so that it’s so shiny and then accidentally kept dropping them everywhere. How dumb was I? Even while slyly grabbing a handful from the giant vat of manjadikurus at Guruvayoor Temple, it never occurred to me that this charming little seed was anything but manmade.

Source: Flickr

Kanji with a Plavila spoon 

One of the earliest memories that I have of my late grandfather is of him gently feeding me scoops full of kanji and cherupayar with these unique jackfruit leaf spoons. Though I haven’t had it in over two decades, I still remember the distinct flavour that the plavila added to kanji. The way the leaf is folded and then pinned using an eerkali is so ingenious and efficient, it makes me wonder who thought of it in the first place and why it isn’t being used anymore since everyone is trying to be eco-friendly these days.

Source: Instagram 

Ola Kannada 

Walking around the house, sporting one of these ola kannadas was considered so cool back then! My uncle used to be an absolute pro at making wonderfully intricate things, much to our delight.  My sisters and I would also make watches, crowns, belts, rings and even earrings fashioned out of strips of palm leaves. Kids were so resourceful back then. It gets me thinking – how parents today subscribe to monthly activity boxes to keep their kids entertained whereas back then we would just walk around the yard and pick up some ola leaves, sticks, stones and seeds and that’s it! Endless fun and creativity at zero cost.

Source: YouTube

Puli/Nellika/Pacha Manga

Simply writing this paragraph is making my mouth water. 

I remember the pure joy of cracking open a tamarind shell that was plucked straight off a tree, sucking the fruit down to the seed, the flavour so strong that your right eye will automatically quiver and shut. And in the end, we’d carefully collect the dark tamarind seeds for the game we’d play later.  The person who had the biggest collection of seeds would be the envy of all the other kids.  

There was such sheer bliss in unhurried holidays, catching up on the latest adventures of Bobban and Molly while feasting on green mangoes dipped in salt and chilli powder. Or biting into fresh gooseberries and then following it with cool water immediately to turn that bitterness into sweetness.

Seriously, my mouth has turned into a freaking dam.

Climbing Trees

I think a good portion of my early childhood was spent atop a huge old guava tree in our yard. A typical afternoon involved hanging upside down from the branches, or trying to see who reaches the top the fastest, or holding secret conversations amidst the flurry of green leaves brushing against our cheeks. A worn-out wooden swing hung from a branch, on which we would push each other at dizzying speed, bend over with giddy laughter. 

Why don’t kids climb trees anymore? Oh, that’s right…their phones would drop out of their pockets and crash and break, if they tried. Right!

And with this article, I’ve effectively turned into that disapproving old ammayi who shakes her head and goes “Ee kaalathe pillarde oru kaaryum…”

Come be an annoying old-timer with me. Let’s complain about how much kids today are missing out on – Comment and tell me what your favourite memories are from your childhood days!


  1. Hey Anju . I won’t say those were the days…as I still won’t pass by without touching the thottavadis. …even if it’s in school 😉 with my children.. I still run behind the appoppan thadi…drink nectar from radon flowers/ banana flower too….just had nellikka today..served pachamanga with salt, chilli powder n oil to my son’s friends….I guess I relive those days with these kids…just to pass on the little joys in life… that I enjoyed so much…The write up sure made me smile and feel like a little girl…and did bring back a lot of little things I have enjoyed years back…Keep writing… waiting for more😊😊

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