Though advancing age discourages me from undertaking long journeys, I enjoy visiting my native place in Kerala once a year in the summer with my son and his family.
The river Pampa at the northern end of the village was an integral part of the village. Shopkeepers used to bring their wares from distant places in large country boats. The river was belligerent during the monsoon, with muddy water rushing from the eastern mountains, creating several dangerous whirlpools, but placid during the summer. We, the children, used to spend much time in the river and swim to the other bank at least once while bathing. In the absence of piped water and bathrooms at home, people bathed in the river in the morning and evening. The Hindus would visit the Siva temple, pray, and smear their foreheads with the sandal paste put into their palms by the priest, while the Christians would cross the river on Sundays to go to their church.
Now, the village has become a small city with modern buildings that have several facilities, but one thing I miss most is the annual cattle fair at Parumala on the other bank of the river. The fair was held at the beginning of the Edavam month of the Malayalam year, which comes around the May15. The vast patch of land at the other bank was used for the fair, which attracted a large crowd for about a week.
As there was no other cattle market nearby, those who wanted to sell or buy livestock used to trek to Parumala. They would come in groups and camp on the way, prepare food, and sleep on the roadside. The animals they wanted to sell would be given a thorough wash and groomed to attract buyers. Since there was no bridge, people and cattle would cross the shallow river on foot.
The whole week was like festival time for the locals. The fairground being sandy, dust would rise throughout the day with the movement of people and animals. Some children would roam with baskets to collect dung. Hawkers would sell tea with burning stoves underneath the container. Some others sold vadas and other snacks fried in coconut oil. There were also children selling parched chicken peas and groundnuts.
Pick-pockets had a field day despite police personnel taking rounds of the area. There would be magicians, snake charmers, beggars, and gamblers playing different games, always on the lookout for the police. A spot that attracted many spectators was the ‘Well of Death’, in which a male and female cyclists in colourful attires would perform acrobatic stunts.
Tamil and Malayalam movie songs and announcements would blare from several loudspeakers continuously amidst cries from cows, bullocks, buffaloes, goats, and other animals.
There would be traders selling various bamboo products such as baskets, winnows, and sticks. Some would sell vessels made of bronze, wooden mortars, pestles and traditional measures like para, changazhi and nazhi. Most of them would camp at the site for some days before moving to another place where festivals that attracted large crowds were held. Barbers would move around the area, offering their services. Petromax lamps that attracted flying insects would flood the ground with bright light at night. But now these cattle fairs have disappeared.