During 1970, when I was attached to the Department of Medical Physics, University of Leeds, England as a Colombo Plan Study fellow, the British Council organised a tour to Durham, a city which has an interesting historical background. After the visit we assembled in the evening in a restaurant to have some rest and a cup of tea. Six or seven of us sat near a corner. Someone in the group suggested that each one of us may describe the best place he/she has visited. The list included Zurich in Switzerland, some village in Sweden, a small town in France, some hill station in Brazil etc When my turn came, I decided to talk about Arpookara, my home town in Kerala, a small State in the south west corner of India.
I was overpowered by nostalgia. I left my home town in 1958. Then it had a population of a few hundred. Mostly living on subsistence farming. It was a lovely village in Arpookara Panchayat. Panchayat is the smallest administrative unit in the administrative hierarchy in India…
Sixty years ago if you want to go to Kottayam town, 6 km away from my village, the most reliable method was walking! The bus service starting from Kudamaloor, the adjacent village was so irregular that I successfully reclaimed the amount paid in advance for my monthly bus pass which I needed for commuting daily to CMS College, where I started my university study.
Digging a well, lasting contribution
That takes me to one of the central themes. The greatest and lasting contribution any one can make to villagers anywhere in the developing world is to dig a deep well and provide a perennial source of clean drinking water. In Arpookara east, there was an elevated area called Parappuram (“Para” in Malayalam means rock, “puram” means top region) where there were a few dwellings. They did not have any source of water. They had to go farther down the hill to a river to bring mostly muddy water home.
Though the villagers discussed this issue very often, there was no solution in sight. One day Shri Z M Mampara, a self less, dedicated social worker, has reportedly suggested that someone in the village must help the Parappuram residents by digging a well.
Smt K Karthyayani Amma, a village resident took up the challenge and dug a useful well on the rocky terrain at a cost of Rs 16,000, a princely sum then. Rs 1.3 million in ‘2020 Rupees’ if you consider inflation. Please see the calculation here.
She dedicated the well to the villagers without fanfare on August 16, 1956, her 60th birthday (Shashtipoorthy).
Charity and philanthropy?
What is the difference between charity and philanthropy?
Steve Gunderson, former President and CEO of the Council of Foundation, described the nuanced difference between charity and philanthropy thus:
“Charity tends to be a short term, emotional, immediate response focused primarily on rescue and relief, whereas philanthropy is much more long term, more strategic, focused on rebuilding. One of my colleagues says there is charity, which is good, and then there is problem solving charity, which is called philanthropy, and that is the distinction I have tried to make.”
As The Melvin and Bren Simon Foundation clarified “Philanthropy, then, is the preferred method because it not only seeks to help, but intentionally searches for the root of the problem and looks for solutions.
Who is this Karthyayani Amma whose philanthropy helps generations of villagers?
Kallikat Karthyayani Amma was born on August 16, 1896. According to “Arpookara Grama Charithram” (History of Arpookara village, 2003, more about it later) she “was a lady who had shown a keen interest in societal issues till her demise. As there were no schools in her village, she had educated herself, which she continued all her life”
“As a fluent and humorous speaker, she had been a regular presence in the meetings of the Nair Service Society (1) during its early years. As someone who could routinely deliver an eloquent speech, even without a microphone, she had expressed the desire that Mahila Samajams (Women’s Societies) be started at every NSS Karayogams. She had held the view that women should not be burdensome to the society. She strived hard for the overall development of Arpookara Village and had borne the expense to dig a well at the water-scarce Parappuram area of the village,” the history book added.
Since 1958, my visits to the village were too few and far in between. In 1968, when I visited Parappauram, I walked over a barely visible dog track to reach the well. The scene was very peaceful. A few women from the neighbourhood were drawing water from the well.
Revisit to the village
This year, after 52 long years I visited my village in the month of March. The face of Arpookara East has changed. In 1962, Kerala Government started a well equipped medical college catering to all specialties. The State Government chose the location because of the generosity of a single family. According to the ‘History of Arpookara Village’, Patakassery illam a family who owned 140 acres of land where the medical college is located now agreed to give away the entire area called Panikkan kunnu at Rs 5 per Cent (Cent is a unit of area, one Cent is 1/100 of an acre), The family received a paltry sum of Rs 70,000/- for 140 acres.
The Government also set up a major University in the area.
The land cost shot up after the Government set up the college. During the peak the cost per Cent was reportedly Rs 800,000! Now the officially quoted cost is less, at Rs 350, 000/- per Cent
The Medical College generated enormous employment potential. Shops and supermarkets sprang up. Dozens of buses from most part of Kottayam District and adjoining districts daily bring thousands of patients and visitors to the area day and night.. Multi-storeyed buildings mushroomed.
I hired an auto rickshaw to go to Parappuram. The streets to the area was narrow, I went back and forth in search of the well. I could not locate it. Finally, my brother who accompanied me got out and asked a few women in the locality. They indicated the location. We were happy that the well is still used.
The entire area blossomed into a nice township. Here I must pay compliments to Smt Deepa Jose Thekkedam the Member of The Ward where the well is located. She took special care for the upkeep of the well, a dependable perennial source of water for many. The well has plastic sheet covers to prevent leaves falling into it. A narrow footpath leads the users to the well.
I located an inscription in English and Malayalam on a stone plaque hidden behind on the wall of the well, “Smt Kallikattu Karthyayani Amma, in Memory of her Shushtipoothy 16.8.1956”.
It was an emotional experience for me. To be fair, I must declare my conflict of interest. Smt. Karthyayani Amma is my wife’s grandmother. She was generous to her workers. She considered them as equal and as members of her family. She had planted coconuts and Banana and other crops by rotation in her land. She used to accompany her workers to far away paddy fields in rowing/paddling boats.
She was well ahead of her time. He strongly advocated family planning. Though she never travelled far and wide, she was well aware of the developments in the country, through reading news papers and listening to All India Radio.
Arpookara Grama Charithram
Before I visited the Panchayat office, I met with Shri P A Cherian Punnakuzham who as Chief Editor, along with a team of four volunteers as Editors wrote Arpookara Grama Charithram (History of Arpookara Gramam) in 2003. This book summarizes the historical, social, economic and political developments in the village. It is a unique publication to be studied and preserved for ever.
Shri Cherian has been in public service from 1988 till 2000 in virtually every capacity in the Panchayat. He has several publications to his credit. His phenomenal knowledge about the village and its people is truly enviable. His enthusiasm to recollect the many political developments surrounding the present and past leaders was infectious.
I visited the Panchayat office and met with Shri Justin Joseph the President of the Panchayat. He explained briefly the economic, social, health service related activities being carried out by the Panchayat. His description revealed how self sufficient the Panchayat was as the smallest administrative unit in the State. He has a graphic memory.
I had a memorable discussion with Smt Rosily Tomichan Chalkadavil. She has been a Member of the Panchayat for two terms and served in various committees. She gave me copies of very useful documents which highlighted the activities of various committees. It was very heartening to note the latest welfare measures included Rs 1300 monthly pension to Agriculture labour 1026, old age pension 1552, widows 584, persons with disability 239 unmarried women 24.
An important development leading to empowerment of women was the reservation of 50% of seats to women in Panchayats in Kerala. Arpookara Panchayat has 16 wards eight wards are reserved for women. Some of them got opportunity to be vice presidents. Hopefully the next president may be a lady!
- NSS, an organization dedicated to the uplift of Nair community