Mr Damodaran’s Treatment

(Lieutenant AK Parrat and Commander NK Parrat)

After reading my blogpost on Mr KP Damodaran, our Compounder at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar, Veteran Commander NK Parrat, reminisced about the medical treatment of Cadets by Mr KP Damodaran.

Commander Parrat was in 11th Grade, senior most in school, when we joined in 5th Grade in 1971.  He then Joined the National Defence Academy (48 Course) and was commissioned into the Indian Navy (IN.)  His claim to fame, both at the School and at the Academy,  was his swimming and basketball skills.  He later became a Clearance Diver in the Navy.  He came out with flying colours and was cleared for 100 meter deepsea diving in a Diving and Salvage Course at the Naval Diving and Salvage Training Center (NDSTC), Panama City, Florida, USA.

Commander NK Parrat’s father, Late Lieutenant AK Parrat served the Royal Indian Navy (RIN) and was transferred to IN on India’s independence.  Lieutenant AK Parrat specialised in air-radio and was posted at INS Hansa, which was then located at Coimbatore.  Thus Commander NK Parrat joined Sainik School Amaravathinagar.

With the liberation of Goa in December 1961 from the Portuguese, INS Hansa moved to Dabolim, Goa and Lieutenant AK Parrat was posted to Kochi, Kerala.  He now offered his son Commander NK Parrat, then in grade 6,  that he could move to Sainik School, Kazhakkoottam, Kerala.  Commander NK Parrat refused on the plea “I do not want to be new boy again!

AK Parrat knew Mr Damodaran from their RIN days and instantly a special relationship was established.  Mr Damodaran was well known as he had actively participated in the Bombay Mutiny, a revolt by Indian sailors of the Royal Indian Navy on board ship and shore establishments at Bombay harbour on 18 February 1946.

Lieutenant Percy S Gourgey, RIN, in his book, ‘The Indian Naval Report of 1946,′ has chronicled the events of the revolt.  The sailors were infuriated by the statements of Commander F M King, RIN, of HMIS Talwar, when he addressed the Indian sailors as ‘sons of coolies and bitches.’  Later, around 20,000 sailors stationed at Karachi, Madras, Calcutta, Mandapam, Visakhapatnam, and the Andaman Islands joined the revolt.

The revolt began with a demand for better food and working conditions, but turned into demand for independence from British rule.  They also demanded the release of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA), action against the commander for ill-treatment and using insulting language, revision of pay and allowances to be at par with  the sailors in the Royal Navy, etc.

That was a bit on the history of the Bombay Mutiny.

How did Mr Damodaran earn a place in the heart of all the cadets at Sainik School, Amaravathi Nagar?

It was all due to his dedication and love for the cadets.  He had many a magic potions which could cure all diseases and injuries the cadets suffered.

On returning from the sports field after a hard day’s play and leaving behind the epidermal layer on the ground, all Cadets straight went to the MI Room for an appointment with Mr Damodaran.

He cleaned the wound with savlon solution, applied a gauze over the wound and painted it with a layer of ‘Tincture Benzoin.’ It burned as the tincture was applied, but was a sure cure for all superficial skin wounds. After the superficial wound was cleaned with savlon, a gauze was placed on the wound and Tincture Benzoin was painted over it.  It burned as it was applied, but the adhesive nature of the medication ensured that it stuck to the wound and did not need bandaging.  On healing, the gauze fell off by itself.

Many cadets suffered from fungal infections of the skin, ringworm, athlete’s foot, scabies, etc – all because we played in the dirt, many a times bare-footed.  Gentian Violet, an antiseptic dye was used to treat these cases.  The cadet who suffered from the infection stood out as the dye remained on the skin for over a week.  It was a sure way to mark out those ‘Unhygienic Cadets.’

There were two magic potions compounded by Mr Damodaran – Soda-Sal (Sodium Salicylate) and Sodium-bicarbonate.  Soda-Sal is a  non-steroidal anti-inflammatory agent for relieving pain and reducing fever. Sodium-bicarbonate was the antacid.  Mr Damodaran had them in two labeled bell-shaped jars and was dispensed lavishly to cadets for any ailments.

We had the awful smelling IG Paint (Ichthammol Glycerin), also called black ointment or black drawing salve, a remedy for many skin disorders and inflammation. It is made from sulfonated shale oil and combined with other ingredients, like lanolin or petroleum.  For any sprains, this ‘stinking’ paint was lavishly applied.

The most uncomfortable potion was the Mandl’s Paint, used as throat paint for the treatment of pharyngitis, laryngitis, tonsillitis and sore throat. Due to high viscous nature, it retains the drug for longer time on affected part of the throat.  The agony was that he inserted into the mouth a cotton swab attached to a foot-long stick to paint the patient’s throat.  It left a severe after-taste, but it cured all those medical conditions in a few days – without any antibiotics.

Most of the medicines listed above have been discontinued today due to their harmful side-effects.  It was with Mr Damodaran’s loving care that we cadets of the days trained and graduated from the school without any serious medical conditions.

To read more about our Compounder and his magic APC, Please Click Here.

Pongoes


On 13 January 1979 I joined the National Defence Academy, Pune India as an Army Cadet.  National Defence Academy is a Joint Services academy of Indian Armed Forces, where cadets of the three services – Army, Navy and Air Force train together.   This is to ensure jointmanship amongst the three services.

We, the Army Cadets, were often referred to as Pongoes or at times Grabbies, especially by the Naval fraternity – both officers and fellow cadets.  It often intrigued me as to from where these terms originated. In fact, I disliked it, like every other Army Cadet at the Academy.

The word Pongo is seemingly used in a somewhat derogatory sense evoking a sense of both stupidity and a bad smell, something like a ‘stinking moron’.  Although a bit derogatory, the word is often used by the Naval guys in a friendly manner when they referred to the Army guys.

It is interesting to go into the etymology of the word.

Pongo is a British slang dating from the mid nineteenth century meaning soldiers. The word itself stems from expressions used by comedians in theaters and music halls to get a cheap laugh. The two most common quotes were “where the army goes the pong goes”, or “when the wind blows the pong goes” – pong meaning stink. This quickly became pongoes meaning soldiers (plural) and pongo meaning an individual.

Another possible explanation is that the soldiers were being likened to a large, hairy, smelly ape called a pongo. The expression is still in use today although not common, confined mainly to those who saw service in World War II or in Korea or who did National Service in Britain while this was still compulsory.  (www.urbandictionary.com)

There is another explanation given in a blog post ‘Be Proud to be a Pongo’ at www.theobservationpost.com. During the Napoleonic wars, the British Army was based in Portugal from 1807-1814. The Portuguese word for bread is written pão (this could also be the origin of the Indian street bread – the Pav पाव), and pronounced pong. British soldiers coined the term pongo as there is a letter from a soldier complaining about the lack of pong. One of the distinctive differences in service between the sailors and soldiers of the time was that sailors lived on biscuit while, the army lived on bread. So a sailor meeting army soldiers and hearing them complain about the quality or quantity of pong might reasonably refer to soldiers as pong-goes – meaning bread eaters.

As per Appendix: Glossary of British military slang and expressions, an  Army soldier is referred to as Pongo meaning “Everywhere the army goes, the pong (stink) goes”; derived from the supposed inferior washing facilities in field compared to those on a navy vessel.

Pongo was also used by members of the Royal Navy or RAF.  Sailors noted the similarity of the sand-apes’ colour to the rough brown (khaki) uniform of the British Army.  They believed that a Pongo was an ape that when alarmed did not climb trees, but dug holes and hide itself on the ground reminding the onlooker of the infantrymen.  They said a pongo dug holes and filled it for no rhyme or reason.  However, the only mention of Pongo – the ape – I could find was in National Geographic website which refers to a new orangutan species, Pongo tapanuliensis, or the Tapanuli orangutanthe rarest great ape species on the planet – found in the high-altitude Sumatran forests.

The term Pongo comes from the days when soldiers were stationed on board ships to protect the Navy when sailing abroad. Usually the first to be sent ashore when the ship docked, soldiers carried out all sorts of different tasks.  One important (the most important… surely) task being setting up of a brewery. The main part of it, the still (apparatus used to distill alcoholic spirits) being called a pongo. Hence the nick-name given to the soldiers who were sent to do the job “send the pongos ashore”. The name seems to have filtered down through the years and is used today by the Navy towards members of the Army.  (www.arrse.co.uk/wiki/Pongo)

Our childhood adventure series – Enid Blyton’s Famous Five – in its fifth volume, Five Go Off in a Caravan (1946), has Pongo as a main character who is a circus chimpanzee.   In David Foster Wallace’s novel – Infinite Jest – refers to Checkpoint Pongo, a border post of the Concavity near Methuen, Massachusetts.

That is all about the poor Pongoes, but how did they get their nickname Grabbie?

It is said that the poorly fed soldiers on boarding a ship scrambled to the Galley – the ship’s kitchen – and would grab anything and everything edible

Here I would quote from The Sea Regiments published in The Navy and Army Illustrated MagazineOctober 1806, where it says ‘The Marines, in a word, are a military force maintained by the Admiralty for service in the fleet.  “What’s the good of ‘aving leather-necked grabbies aboard ship?”  said an ordinary seaman once to a private of the Royal Marines.  “To keep you flat-footed, ginger-whiskered swamp rats from eating one another!” was the prompt and unexpected reply.’

Another reference to grabbies I found was in the book The Cameronians – A Concise History by Trevor Royle.   ‘Amongst the officers of my Regiment, nice fellows as they were, only a few cared for the Army as a profession.  All were proud belonging to splendidly drilled Light Infantry Battalion – drilled according to the practice of War in the Peninsula, before the introduction of the rifled musket.  They thought themselves to be socially superior to the ordinary Regiments of the Line, which were always spoken of as grabbies.’

In the book Seven Sailors by Commander Kenneth Edwards ‘The history of British Empire is rife with examples of devotion of British sailors to their brothers in army.  These reached their zenith at Dunkirk, not only among the matelots and the grabbies, but all the way down from the Admiral and staff to the over tired infantrymen.

Matelots, a Naval slang, refers to a sailor and originates from 19th century from French, variant of matenot, from Dutch mattenoot meaning ‘bed companion’, because sailors had to share hammocks in twos.

Whatever you call a soldier, especially an Infantry Soldier, Victory is still measured on foot.

Kasava/ Tapioca/ Kappa (കപ്പ)

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Walking down the isle of a Chinese vegetable store in Mississauga, Canada, after  immigration in 2004, I was surprisingly greeted by the Kasava/ Tapioca/ Kappa (കപ്പ) placed on a rack. On Closer examination, the tag read ‘Kasava – Product of Guatemala’. Any Malayalee (Mallu) will always and forever relish Tapioca cooked with spices and grated coconut and fish curry marinated with special tamarind (Kudam Puli (കുടംപുളി) scientifically known as Garcinia Cambogia). The concoction served in Toddy (alcoholic extract from coconut trees) shops all over Kerala (Indian Province where Malayalam is the native language and the residents are called Malayalees – now Mallus), is something one can never get in any homes.

Tapioca is not a native of Kerala. Then how come it reached the shores of Kerala?.

Tapioca is said to have originated in Brazil. Portuguese distributed the crop from Brazil to countries like Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia and Kerala in India in the 17th Century. Some believe that Vysakham Thirunal, the Travancore King (1880-1885 AD), who was also a botanist, introduced this laborer’s food in Travancore (South Kerala). By beginning of 19th Century, people from central Travancore migrated to the Malabar region (North Kerala) and they introduced tapioca to the locals.

Tapioca was promoted extensively during World War II in Kerala by Chithira Thirunal, Maharaja of Travancore and his Governor Sir CP Ramaswamy Iyer. Then rice was the staple food of the people of Kerala and was being imported from Burma and Indonesia. With Japanese Navy enforcing a blockade in the Malaccan Strait, the ships carrying rice to India were either destroyed or captured. This caused an acute shortage of rice.

A large number of people, especially the labour class, accepted the starch-rich Tapioca as a substitute to costly rice. Thus Tapioca came to be known as ‘staple food of the poor.’ Hotels refused to include Tapioca in their menu due to its working class image.

The only place that served Tapioca were the toddy shops, where the labourers turned up for relaxation after a day’s hard work. Today tapioca is a rarity in Kerala and so is a delicacy and hence all hotels including the five-star ones have tapioca with fish curry in all their menus.

During my childhood, we used to cultivate Tapioca on our land. Tapioca is a tropical crop, tolerant to drought, but cannot withstand frost. It is best grown in lower altitudes with warm humid climate with well distributed rainfall. Our land is terraced on the hill slope into 20 x 20 feet sections. Each section is held together with stone masonry retaining wall to avoid soil erosion. On top of these walls pineapple was grown to give additional strength to the retaining wall. On some of these walls a fast growing grass was planted as fodder for cows.

In the month of August, the labourers till the land and make mounds of about a foot after spreading a compost mixture of cow-dung and ash. These mounds are made about three feet apart. Tapioca is planted in June with the onset of the South-West monsoon. Stakes taken from plants of the previous year is now cut into pieces of about a foot and is planted on these mounds. After a month, all the unhealthy or weak sprouts are pinched off leaving only two sprouts to grow into stakes.

As the plants mature, underground stems called tubers enlarge with starch. This is the time when the plant is most susceptible to rodent attacks, mainly from rats. As the tubers matured, a plant was uprooted almost every evening and tubers either were boiled and eaten with chutney or cooked with grated coconut and spices and eaten with fish curry. During weekends our mother had off being a school teacher and she made thin slices of fresh tapioca tubers and fried them in coconut oil.

After about ten months, in April, tapioca is harvested. Firstly the stakes are cut off and the healthy ones are stored for cutting for next planting. Underground tubers are now pulled out manually, pulling at the base of the stakes. The tubers are cut off from their bases and carried to the peeling site.

At the peeling site, the women folk of the village sit on mats and peel the outer skin of the tubers and slice the white starch part into thin slices. The women folk were generally paid in kind at the scale of one for every ten basket of tubers sliced by them. The sliced tubers are now collected in baskets and carried by the men folk to the boiling site. Here the slices are boiled in water until semi-cooked. The slices are now drained and put on the ground to dry under the sun. Once dried, these are collected in gunny bags. Some of the dried tapioca was retained for our consumption and the remainder were sold off to Kunjappan Chettan, the trader who lived across our home. Please refer to my blog https://rejinces.net/2014/07/15/kunjappan-chettan-the-trader/

In the 1980s, labour in Kerala became very expensive and  rodent attacks on tapioca crops became severe. Most tapioca plants were infected with Gemini virus causing ‘Mosaic’ disease curling the leaves and thus reduced yield.  In this period, the price of natural rubber skyrocketed. This turned tapioca farmers to rubber cultivation. With the incoming of rubber, out went the cows first as there was not enough grass to feed them. Further, the skins of the tapioca tubers and leaves from the uprooted stakes, which were the staple diet of the cows for four months, were now unavailable.

Mr AD George, our botany teacher at school had mentioned that the Gemini virus intruded into Kerala through a sample brought in by a professor, who while on a visit to a foreign country where tapioca was cultivated, saw a plant infected by the virus. He collected a leaf to show it to his students and brought it home to Kerala. After demonstrating the specimen to his students, the professor discarded the specimen. This virus then is believed to have spread across Kerala.

The land lost all its herbal healing powers with the advent of rubber cultivation. Herbal plants like Kurumtotti (Sida Rhombifolia), Kizhukanelli (Phyllanthus Amarus), Paanal (Glycosmis Arboraea), etc, all very abundant until we cultivated tapioca, became nearly extinct. The undergrowth shown in the image above is mostly of these herbal plants. Further, the present generation is totally unaware of the existence of these herbs in our own land and uses of these herbs. The cows used to eat these herbs along with the grass they chewed off the land and hence their milk also should have had some herbal effect.

In 2002 I visited Colonel TM Natarajan, my class mate from Sainik School and he spoke about the Sago (Sabudhana[साबूदाना ] or Chavvari [ചവ്വരി/ சவ்வரிசி]) factory his family had. That was when I realised that Sago was not a seed and it was factory manufactured and tapioca is the main ingredient. As Tamil Nadu had many Sago factories and in order to feed them with tapioca, tapioca cultivation now moved from Kerala to Tamil Nadu. The only hitch is that it needs extensive irrigation to grow as Tamil Nadu does not enjoy as much rainfall as Kerala is blessed with.

Malabar and Tellicherry Pepper

TellicheryPepper

Grocery stores in Canada carry Malabar and Tellichery black pepper. Malabar, one can easily associate with pepper, but how come a small town Tellicherry in Kerala, India, has been associated with this spice.

Tellicherry is the name given by the British to Thalassery. The name originates from the Malayalam word Thala (Head) and Kacheri (Office), thus Thalassery or ‘head of offices’. The Europeans nicknamed the town Paris of Kerala, as it was in close proximity to the sole French military base in Kerala in that era. Later the French abandoned Thalassery and shifted their base to Mahé.

Thalassery had a unique geographical advantage as a trading center being the nearest point from the coast to the spice growing area of Wayanad. The trading center developed mainly after the 16th century when the British got permission to set up a factory in Thalassery from the local ruler. Various conflicts with the local chieftains prompted the British to build a fort in Thalassery. The local king gave the fort and adjoining land to the British in 1708. The fort was later modified and extended by the British East India Company. The king also gave permission to the British to trade pepper in Thalassery without paying duty. After the construction of the fort, Thalassery grew into a prominent trading center and a port in British Malabar. The British won absolute administrative authority over Malabar region after annexation of the entire Malabar region from Tipu Sultan in the Battle of Sree Rangapatnam. Thalassery thus became the capital of British North Malabar.

In 1797 The British East India Company established a spice plantation in Anjarakandy near Thalassery. In 1799 it was handed over to Lord Murdoch Brown with a 99-year lease. Coffee, cinnamon, pepper and nutmeg were cultivated there. Anjarakandy cinnamon plantation was the world’s largest at that time. Construction of the Tellicherry Lighthouse in 1835 evidences the importance the British attached to the area.  The British East India Company built a new spice warehouse in 1863 and also established the first registrar office in South India at Anjarakandy in 1865, only to register the cinnamon plantation of Murdoch Brown.

Thalassery municipality was formed on 1 November 1866 according to the Madras Act of 1865 of the British Indian Empire, making it the second oldest municipality in the state. At that time the municipality was known as Thalassery Commission.

The Arab traders had monopolised pepper trade from the Malabar region from about 1500 BC. They sailed in boats through the Arabian Sea, hugging the coastline and reached Malabar and Travancore regions. From there they used the backwaters and the rivers to move inland. The Arabs sold the pepper procured from these regions in Egypt and Europe. Black peppercorns were found stuffed in the nostrils of Ramesses II, placed there as part of the mummification rituals shortly after his death in 1213 BC.

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In order to dissuade the Europeans from sailing into the Malabar coast, the Arabs successfully spun many a stories and myths about black pepper. The most common story was that large many-headed serpents guarded the forests where pepper grew and the local people would set the forest on fire once the pepper ripened. The fire would drive away the serpents and people would gather the peppercorns before the serpents could return. The black colour of the pepper was due to burning.

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Trade interactions between the Arabs and the local Hindus from Malabar resulted in many marital alliances. Some Arab traders settled in the Malabar region and Islam flourished there as a result. Today the region is dominated by Muslims. In Kottayam, south of Malabar, spice trade was based on the backwaters and rivers with Thazhathangady (Lower Market) and Puthenangady (New Market) as trading posts established by the Arab traders. Wherever the Arabs established trading posts, Islam also flourished there.

The Cheramaan Juma Masjid at Methala,  near Kodungallur, Thrissur District of Kerala is said to have been built in 629 AD, which makes it the oldest mosque in the Indian subcontinent which is still in use.

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The Christians in the region believe that they were converted to Christianity from Hindus by St Thomas, one of Christ’s disciples in the first century, who might have traveled in one such ship.

Many Christians and Jews persecuted in Persia fled to Kerala in the Arab ships and settled along the coast. They were welcomed by the local Hindus with open arms. Fort Kochi area was known for its Jewish settlement and these Jews were called Malabar Jews and are the oldest group of Jews in India and settled there by the 12th century.  

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They built synagogues in the 12th century and are known to have developed Judeo-Malayalam, a dialect of Malayalam language.

Judaism, Christianity and Islam came to Kerala through trade. but these religions elsewhere in India mostly through the sword.

Peppercorns were a much-prized trade good, often referred to as ‘black gold‘ in Europe and used as a form of commodity money. The legacy of this trade remains in some Western legal systems which recognize the term ‘peppercorn rent‘ as a form of a token payment made for something that is in fact being given. Pepper was so valuable that it was often used as collateral or even currency. In the Dutch language, ‘pepper expensive‘ is an expression for something very expensive.

Its exorbitant price during the Middle Ages was one of the inducements which led the Portuguese to seek a sea route to India. In 1498, Vasco da Gama became the first person to sail to India by circumventing Africa. Gama returned in greater numbers soon after and Portuguese by the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas gained exclusive rights to trade in black pepper in Malabar.

Pepper’s popularity quickly spread through world cuisines once more trade routes were established. At one time it accounted for a whopping 70 percent of the international spice trade. As it became more readily available, the prices dropped, and ordinary people were able to enjoy it. Regional cuisines began incorporating pepper into their foods alongside native spices and herbs.

Whatever may be the history of black pepper. it is still sold as Malabar or Tellichery pepper even though currently Vietnam is the world’s largest producer and exporter of pepper, producing 34% of the world’s requirements.

Koduvath the Meat Basket

A typical Syrian Christian family history will forcefully trace its roots to the to the 31 Brahmin families supposed to have been converted to Christianity by St Thomas, one among Jesus’ 12 disciples or to Pakalomattom family, even though no documentary evidence exists to prove the connection.

While all ten disciples moved Westward to spread the message of Christ and establish churches, only St Thomas was sent Eastward (East must be a punishment posting then also).  This could be because St Thomas was known as the Doubting Thomas who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other disciples (Judas had committed suicide by then), until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross (from this originated the English idiom of “Doubting Thomas” as a skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience).

In the earlier days, the Syrian Christian  priests could only be ordained from the Pakalomattom family (an effect of the Hindu caste system prevalent then).   The Portuguese after landing in Kerala realised that the princely priesthood of the Pakalomattom family had to be broken to have a hold on the local Christians and so ordained priests from other rival families.

Vasco da Gama landed in Kerala in 1498 and was surprised to find local Christians, involved in spice trade.  In those days the Christians followed most customs of the local Hindus (some of it even continues today) and used Syriac as the liturgical language because of the association with Persia due to the spice trade.  Hence the Portuguese called the local Christians as Syrian Christians and the Christians they converted as Latin Christians as they used Latin as their liturgical language.  By 1660 they weaned away 84 of the 116 churches who aligned with Rome and became the Syro Malabar Catholic Church and the rest thirty-two churches and their congregations formed the Syrian Orthodox Church.  The purported aim of the Portuguese was to wean away the local traders, mainly Christians, away from the Muslim Arab traders.

It would be foolish on my part to do the same mistake others did and hence would limit to the details I had obtained by way of many discussions I had with our grandfather (he lived to the age of 104 and died in 2002).  Surely some of these would have been his figment of imagination and he also must have added enough spice to make it interesting for a hyper-active young boy.

In the nineteenth century Koduvath Easo (in those days the family name preceded the christen name) came with his daughter Eli and occupied Malamelkavu (in Malayalam meaning hillock with a temple on top), in Kolladu village, about eight kilometers from Kottayam and settled there.  Nothing is known about the other family members and from where Koduvath Easo came.  Thomas married Eli and moved into Koduvath family as the Adopted Son (Jamai जमाई) (DathuPuthran ദത്തുപുത്രൻ).  From then on it is said that the ladies of the family have been more dominating and I can see it in today’s generation in form of our daughter and her cousin sisters.   Thomas and Eli had nine sons and two daughters with our grandfather being the eleventh.  The nine sons and their further generations continue to live in and around Malamelkavu and some moved out in search of better jobs and opportunities.

The family belongs to the parish of St George Syrian Orthodox Church, Puthuppally (ex-Chief Minister of Kerala, Oommen Chandy’s family also belongs to the same church).  Kolladu village is located West of Puthuppally village and is separated by a river.  Crossing the river up to 70’s was by means of a ferry, now by a bridge.   The annual festival of the church is celebrated in first week of May and is like the annual festivals of the Hindu temples in Kerala.   Vechoottu (a ceremonial feast), adya choroonu (a ritual in which children get their first rice feeding by priests) etc. are some of the rituals associated with the festival.  Later  Raza, the grand festival procession taken out with the holy golden cross from the church, accompanied by “chenda melam” (drums of Kerala) and caparisoned elephants.  The Raza is received by every household which falls on its route, irrespective of their religion, with a lighted lamp.   In the evening the entire church is illuminated with lamps like any Hindu temples of Kerala.

The main offering to the church on the annual festival is fowl (preferably a rooster) as St George the patron saint of the church was a soldier and is believed to enjoy chicken.  In the earlier days the fowls offered were slaughtered on the church premises and the chicken curry was served as “Prasad” to the devotees.  This cruel practice was terminated by the 70’s being cruelty to animals.

I had heard a myth about the fowl slaughtering at the church from my grandfather.  In the earlier days, there was a Kali (Hindu Goddess) temple situated atop the hill adjacent to the church.  The fowls were offered there also on the annual festival day of the temple, which coincided with the festival day of the church.  One day both St George and Kali came together in a dream of the village chieftain and they came to a compromise that the fowls are to be slaughtered at the church and meat prepared there (St George enjoyed the meat), but the blood had to be collected and offered to Kali in the evening (Kali seemed to be interested only in blood) and that way only a few birds had to be sacrificed.

The next day the Holy Mass is offered at the church.  At the end of the festivity, the “chicken prasad” is distributed to the devotees at the East and West gates of the church.  The chicken pieces are carried to the gates in bamboo baskets.  The teenagers from the Koduvath family now come into action and they snatch the chicken baskets and run as a relay race handing over the basket from one to another and swim across the river.  The prasad thus snatched is distributed among the family members.  This practice continued for some years and all our family members, whether barristers, teachers, government officials of those days were all nicknamed ‘Irachi Kotta ഇറച്ചിക്കൊട്ട’ (in Malayalam meaning Meat Basket) and many of us still carry the same nickname, especially while studying in schools and colleges in Kottayam.