Monday, 18 November 2013


Have you ever heard about a city called Chacko City?. It is one among the numerous cities in Idukky (The hilly district of GOC) known only to its residents (usually less than hundred) . Chako city just like its neighbor Balan city had three shops and a bus stop. I used to wonder who these cities were named after


'Kunnele Chacko ni pura kettiyoda
 pura kettikko pura kettikko
mazha vannal nanayum'

(Chacko of the hill
Did you thatch your house?
Thatch your house,Thatch your house
You will be drenched if it rains)

Young Chacko was lucky to hear the lullaby till he was ten. First from his mother who became mentally ill after the birth of his young sister and then from his elder sister who was very fond of him. He too was very fond of his sisters. His father, a sawyer traveled through the High Ranges which were  thickly forested in those days. After drinks he had very little money to provide for his family, the money they received was just enough to buy rice. Curry was the responsibility of the children. So Chacko shouldered the responsibility at a very young age by doing odd jobs in fields

 Chacko though good at studies finished his school at the age of twelve. 'Tuition' from a local school teacher in English and Hindi would be more useful in getting a job in Bombay' he thought. He could not grasp the languages but by sixteen he was an expert in cultivation of local crops.

A letter from a cousin wandering the high ranges doing odd jobs, informed chacko of the availability of land in Kallar and gave him a new direction .

Those were the days of encroachment. The government in its bid to increase agriculture production alloted five acres of land each to identified farmers in Kallar. It prompted many unauthorized people to encroach the near by hills.

 The dangers were many. There was total lawlessness. It was the rule of might. There was no assurance that the land encroached by one remained with him, another more powerful could easily throw him out. The harsh climate with too much rain and non availability of essential commodities and services together with wild animals and poisonous snakes made the place barely habitable

 Food scarcity forced many of the encroachers to work in the lands of others who were alloted land from the Govt. A trader who thought out an easy way to get his thickly  wooded land  cleared offered full crop of the first year to any one willing to cultivate. Chacko was quick to see the the opportunity.

By cutting branches of trees and under growth during sunny days and burning them Chacko got the required level of clearing. During rains he mixed buds and decaying  leaves to soil while tilling and used the seeds he knew well. The first bumper crop gave Chacko confidence, food for a year and more to sell.

 In spite of the lawlessness he cultivated his own field alone.  The rocky terrain and young boy's courage made many spare him and charcoal making  at night eliminated the threat from wild elephants. The  velleetty ( a type of hard wood in rocky terrine ) Charcoal  he made fetched more in Kambam ( Tamil Nadu ) market eight miles away. Chacko carried the charcoal on his head to the market.

But the progress did not last long. The forest guards arrested him for possession of charcoal with out permit.    The bribe of Rupees twenty five he had to pay to escape punishment landed him in debt and it took an year's  hard labor to recoup. But the set back did not deter him from planting his land.

It was at that time that his elder sister, leaving her husband who ill treated her, joined Chacko. Food and home encouraged him to diversify into pepper and coffee. But the comforts did not last long. She ran away with a young man of different religion to Chacko's dismay. Though she came back and explained that she had no chance of getting married in the  normal course and that what she did was in the interest of both of them as she  she did not want to be a burden on him. But the hurt Chacko was not convinced and did not make charcoal for a week.

 The elephants took the opportunity to attack the plantation. A herd of five and a loner were on rampage one whole night. At day break the herd left but the loner stayed back. Chacko was in no mood to forgive, He fought the loner with crackers and stones. The loner chased Chacko but he escaped by climbing a large tree. The loner waited till noon for Chacko to climb down the tree.

Angry Chacko resumed charcoal making with vigor and transported it at night by bullock cart making good money. His plantation also started yielding. Chacko readily spent his money for treatment  of his mother. Seeing no improvement he turned  to the quacks and then to religion. Most of the  treatments were not in line with his faith . Bhajana in temples and sucking poison out with magical pipes all led to no cure but  only to the guilty feeling for having deviated from his faith.

 The Tamil sooth sayer of the Cross of Theynam petty Christian village was a mystery of those days.  Every year one of the elders of the village was selected by lot to play the part of Jesus on the cross on good Friday.  After the act such persons were considered to have been bestowed with powers by God.  Desperate Chacko went to sooth sayer, who prescribed hard work and building a place of worship for remission of sin.

Chacko spared the land to build a cupola from his holdings. Soon the cupola was built accepting nothing from others. Many attended the prayers at the cupola and bought goods from the Two shops that opened in front of the cupola. But that did not bring any name  to the place. With no roads or buses there was no need either.

-----------------------part two comming up-------------------------

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