Lessons in daredevilry

Down memory lane
Last Updated 22 March 2014, 13:45 IST

It was late August. After the torrent of rain in June and July, the dark clouds had cleared a bit. The sun shone brightly in the mornings, but the evenings were rather dark and there were slight showers too.

The Chaliyar river was in spate. So was the fame and wealth of the Nilambur Kovilakam. The inmates of the kovilakam were landlords whom the locals respected and obeyed. Nilambur was noted for its dense teak forests.

The senior member of the kovilakam was known as ‘valiya thampuran’ and the second, ‘cheriya thampuran’. The other members were addressed as thampuran along with their respective names.

One evening, two teenage boys were seen on the bank of the river. They were members of the kovilakam and had come home for the Onam vacation from their colleges. They went to the boat jetty and asked the custodian for a boat. ‘Thampuran’ was how they were called by the locals. “Don’t take the boat in this weather. It is very dangerous, please don’t go,” the man at the boat jetty implored them.

But the two boys (who were cousins) pooh poohed his words of caution and took a boat and sailed. They were real daredevils. Very adept in handling the boat and swimming too.However, that day nature was against them and fortune too was not on their side. After some time, they lost control of the boat in the swelling river. The boat began drifting due to the force of the current and smashed against a rock and turned upside down. Both of them tried to lift it up, but could not. The force of the current was such. So, they swam to the bank on the other side of the river which was nearer to them. Soon, dusk was replaced by night and they could hear the howls of foxes and wolves from the dense forest that skirted the banks of the river.

For once in their life they were frightened. They sat back to back so that they could see if any wild animal was coming from the forest. They were determined to swim back to the other side if any wild animal came towards them.

By this time it was noticed in the kovilakam that these two were missing. And then, the man from the boat jetty came and informed them that the boys had taken a boat and sailed in spite of him cautioning them.

Soon, a search party was sent with big boats across the river. Some went into the forest with torches made of big sticks covered with oil-soaked cloth which was lit with fire and gave out a bright light. They thought that the boys would be able to see the light.

The men went into the forest calling out loudly, “Thampurane, where are you? Where are you?” The cousins heard the shout and knew that someone had come in search of them. They shouted back, “Here we are. Here we are.” At last, they were spotted by the search party and brought back to the kovilakam safely.

The senior raja (valiya thampuran) thanked the search party and gave them money and clothes. After they left, he scolded the boys. But cheriya thampuran asked the culprits to come forward and gave them a nice thrashing on their buttocks with a cane.

He told them to go and change their clothes and have supper. He also told them to remember the caning if they venture to do any such foolish thing henceforth. Many smiled. The womenfolk were heard saying “Vettekaran (another form of Lord Shiva, Vettekkorumakan) saved our children.” In a chorus they all prayed, “Kiraataroopaya namasivaaya.”

(The writer is 90 years old now, and she was married to one of the boys mentioned in the incident later in his life.)

(Published 22 March 2014, 13:45 IST)

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