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I spent my childhood in Agraharam- a typical village in Palakkad, Kerala. The temples were the village’s center of attraction. And the lakes, public wells where people bathed, lengthy stretched streets with rows of houses on both sides- surrounded by vast and wide paddy fields, brightened the village with a healthy environment.
Here I am not exploring the scenic beauty or cultural lives of the people, my subject is an exclusive few elderly men and women whose presence had a significant impact on society. Everyone in the village held these wise men and women in high regard. They, in turn, considered the village people as one big family, always lending a helping hand. Be it a child’s illness in a family, caring for pregnant women, advising the value system, they were there, extending their gestures and kindness. Through their experience in dealing with challenging situations, they gained respectability. The villagers acknowledged their wisdom and their selfless approach to any problem.
These wise elderly women used to take special care of other women by speaking endearingly to them and providing a reassuring sense of accommodation and concern. They were not secretive, so they discussed all family matters openly. They also aided in the development of quick fixes for ostensibly complex problems. Their discussions were not merely gossip but were meaningful and solution-oriented. On their evening walk through the street, the wise men made it a point to check on members of every house and ensure their well-being.
Leaving aside all these, what attracted me the most in my reflective thinking, later on, were two stereotype questions commonly asked by the wise women to other women members routinely-
(1) Did you bathe?
(2) Had your food?
Surprisingly, they never waited for the answers and continued with other discussions, assuming their response was affirmative.
The questions perplexed me considerably, as they were routine. It was more so when the questions were addressed to a woman who had just finished her bath or food. As I grew up, I realized the importance of these two routines, but serious inquiries. I shall illustrate them in sequence.
In those days, people preferred taking baths in lakes or from the water drawn from wells, as there were no pipelines to individual homes. If a woman was not spotted bathing, it would be a talk of the village. Either she was not well, or the death of a relative staying elsewhere prevented her presence. It was a custom then not to take bath in a village lake or well for a certain duration during such events.
Similarly, whether one had food or not reveals the family’s economic and health situation. There were no refrigerators back then, and people cooked daily with firewood or coal. If there was no cooking, one could assume there were serious health or economic issues in that family. In both events, the wise people of the village took steps to assist the affected families routinely in whatever manner required.
But, alas! These days, even in villages and neighborhoods, such well-meaning people are scarce. It is also a fact that each of us claims to be an expert in everything. Consequently, we have resorted to Google Search and other forums, missing out on the wisdom of the wise. Though one can argue that society has advanced significantly, we still lack a cohesive and well-knit social fabric. As someone who grew up on those routes in a village, I feel a void, although many aspects of life have improved in the intervening years. Those wise people were pillars of strength, accommodating, and viewed everyone with equal vision. Status or symbols were no consideration for them. They always kept in mind the welfare of others. The above narrative is not a story, but my personal experience. Sometimes I feel I am in the midst of wise people sans wisdom.