An imaginary interview with Guru Gopinath - Part 4
- Tapati Chowdhurie
Photos courtesy: Vasanti Jayaswal
November 9, 2021
The story so far
A peep into Guru Gopinath's life from his autobiography in Malayalam, translated into English by Babita Nair was the inspiration behind my imaginary interview of my Guru. The first part of the interview was about his meeting with Ragini Devi whom he partnered in Bombay. His presentation of Kathakali with her made headlines. It was the first time Kathakali was performed outside Kerala. His marriage plans to Thangamani was made when mridangist Shivaram Iyer informed him about the starting of Mohiniattam classes in Kalamandalam under Mankara Kalyaniamma where she was the sole student taught. In the third segment, Guruji said that Vallathol's driver had volunteered to go to Thangamani's residence and tell her father about his proposal to marry his daughter.
All parts of the interview
This is the fourth part of my imaginary interview of Guru Gopinath.
Master, what was the result of the driver's visit to Kunnamkulam village where Thangamani lived?
The driver returned to give me the bad news that both her father and Mukundaraja were not in favour of our getting married. The driver in fact advised me to give up my wish to marry Thangamani.
Later that evening my meeting with an acquaintance, a retired military serviceman, Pattyethu Raman Nair, was a godsend. During my conversation with him I told him about my wish. He said one of his relatives lived close to Thangamani's house and he would go there next morning and try to talk to Thangamani and gauge the situation there. True to his word, the very next day he left for Kunnamkulam to meet Thangamani and returned in the evening.
I am curious to know what news he had in store for you...
Thangamani, he said, was interested in marrying me, but her father was completely against it and her mother had no opinion on the subject. He also affirmed what Thangamani had already told me, that she was not interested in beginning her new life without her father's consent. Raman Nair's consoling words to me were, "Let destiny take its own course."
In my desperation I took the address of Thangamani's father Govindan Nair from Raman Nair. The two consecutive failures in winning Thangamani's hand had depressed me. I passed a sleepless night. Next morning after my prayers to Sri Mookambika, I took the bold step of writing a letter to Govindan Nair detailing about my birth star, age, birth place and my wish to marry Thangamani. I requested him to respond if he accepts my proposal.
Three days later, I was thrilled to get a reply from him with a number of enquiries about me and my family. I seized the opportunity to speak about my family members and mentioned that I belonged to a middle class family and also quoted the proverb "Education is the most important wealth", which, I said, was my guiding principle and underlined it.
Thangamani & Guru Gopinath
Didn't it occur to you that you could have asked Mukundaraja to help you out?
I went to Manapattu in Kunnamkulam (The manager of Kalamandalam had earlier informed me that Thangamani's father is a tenant of Mukundaraja at Manapattu) to Mukundaraja's place to request him to convince Thangamani's father, but that day Mukundaraja was out of station.
What did you do then?
The Kalamandalam manager Rama Kurup's house was just beside Thangamani's house in Manapattu. I had been there once. I went there and spoke to Rama Kurup's sister. She told me that Raman Nair (the retired military serviceman) had been there and spoken to Thangamani. I also came to know from her that Thangamni was her daughter Parukutty's friend. She offered me lunch at her place and asked Parukutty to fetch Thangamani to their house so I could meet her. Half an hour later, Thangamani came while I was having lunch. Without uttering a word, she removed the ring that I had given her and quietly placed it near the banana leaf on which I was having lunch and left with a sad face. I stopped eating, took the ring, washed my hands and sat there for some time in dejection. Rama Kurup's brother and sister tried to console me and said that god willing the marriage would definitely take place.
How did you react when your ring was returned?
I walked nearly 12 miles to reach Ambalappuram. I sort of lost hope since Thangamani had returned my ring. I was very sad the whole day. I was convinced that only Mookambika Devi could help me. I plucked some pavazhamalli (parijata / shiuli) flowers and placed it in front of the photo of Mookambika Devi that I possessed, chanting Kali Sahasranaamam and did puja. I repeated this puja for seven days.
On the 7th day after puja, I heard someone calling out my name loudly from outside saying, "Gopi, are you there?" My man Friday Balan told him that I was in the Bhajan room. I rushed to the veranda and saw a gigantic figure waiting for me. I asked him who he was and from where he had come. The man replied in a stern voice that he was Thangamani's father and had come all the way from Kunnamkulam. I was scared to hear that, because I had heard from Manghat Govindan Nair that Thangamani's father had promised to hit me if he ever saw me! For self defence I held on to the ceiling bar, just in case. But he said that he had come to fix his daughter's marriage with me. Hearing this, I heaved a big sigh of relief. I invited him inside and placed a chair in the veranda for him to sit. I requested Balan to bring us tea and went inside to change from my puja clothes. With his permission, I sat on the steps of the veranda as a sign of respect.
What did he tell you?
He wished to get his daughter married in a week's time. He had despatched his son to my home town to make enquiries about me. He said that he would not send her to Kalamandalam without getting her married. Now that I was sure of his intentions, I asked him about the suitable Muhurtham date and time for the wedding. His astrologer Panicker had already checked that and had fixed the wedding date and time on Chingam 21 (Chingam - Malayalam month falls in mid August - mid September) between 10am and 11am.
I told Thangamani's father that it was of utmost importance for me to take permission from Vallathol and Mukundaraja. He said that he had already informed Mukundaraja and wanted me to go with him to inform Vallathol. Thangamani's father gave Vallathol the good news. Vallathol's son Balakrishna Kurup wrote it on his palm and showed it to Vallathol. Immediately Vallathol turned towards me and asked if it was to my liking. My answer was a resounding yes!
What did Vallthol have to say to Thangamani's father about you?
He said he knew me from a young age and that I was good and hard working. He wanted to know if Mukundaraja was informed. I requested Vallathol to grace the occasion to bless us. He had promised a speech at 12pm on that day at the Pattambi Sanskrit College, but he promised to attend. We said that the Muhurtham was at 10:30, so we could arrange a car to drop Vallathol at Pattambi after the wedding and bring him back to Kunnamkulam after the meeting. We departed in a happy frame of mind.
What were your preparatory activities leading to the marriage?
When I informed Raman Nair about the wedding, he was overjoyed. I also told him that since I had no acquaintances in Ambalappuram, his presence would help me a lot and he readily agreed to extend his support. After understanding the marriage rituals of that area from him, we came to my house. I sent letters to some relatives and friends about the marriage. On Chingam 17th morning, Raman Nair and I went to Thrissur to meet Madhava Menon, the owner of Thrissur-Pazhanjani route bus. We booked a bus and a car for Chingam 21st morning from Ambalappuram to Kunnamkulam for the wedding party. Subsequently, I took some money from the bank and bought a gold chain and mangalsutra (8gms), and a ring (4gms).
I also bought a set of dhoti. Madhava Menon was given the responsibility of bringing the flower garlands. We returned to Ambalappuram in the evening. The next morning, I went to invite few acquaintances in Ambalappuram and all the members of Kalamandalam. I received a letter from my elder brother on Chingam 19th that he, one of my uncles Vechoor Raman Pillai and Kuruchi Kunjan Panicker will attend a Kathakali show on Chingam 20th at Irinjalakkuda temple and will come to Ambalappuram on Chingam 21. They reached accordingly. The car that was booked also reached Vallathol's house on 21st morning at 9am. All the invitees and I reached exactly at 9:50am at Manappattu in Kunnamkulam.
I got down from the bus and went to meet Mukundaraja. He said, "So, Gopi, your wish is fulfilled, right?" I nodded respectfully. I requested him to be present during the Muhurtham. Thangamani's house, the place where the marriage was to be held was hardly 100 feet away from Mukundaraja's home. He said, "Gopi, Govindan Nair (Thangamani's father) is one of my tenants. (Note: It was a law prevalent in Kerala that whoever had excess of land and property, used to give it away to the needy). We usually do not go to the homes of our tenants. But, I wish you both a very comfortable and prosperous married life". Vallathol reached right on time. Vallathol had lived a long time in the house where Thangamani was currently living.
What was the final happy moment of the ceremony like?
In the presence of Mahakavi Vallathol, Guru Kunju Kurup, Kavalappara Narayanan Nair, Vechoor Raman Pillai, Kuruchi Kunjan Panicker, my elder brother Champakkulam Pachu Pillai, maternal uncle Shankara Pillai, my friends from Kalamandalam, well-wishers from Ambalappuram, bus owner Madhava Menon, my best friend Pattyethu Raman Nair and their well wishes and blessings, our marriage was solemnized on Chingam, 21st at Vattakkattu house. And I was married to a member of Mangattu Mulakkal family. Thangamani was then 16 and I was 26. What an unforgettable day for us. We still believe that it was due to the blessings of Sri Mookambika Devi that it had worked out.
What made Thangamani's father change his mind and get her married to you?
I understood that Thangamani's father agreed to the wedding immediately because of an astrologer of Manghattu. Thangamani's father believed in Astrology and the moment he received my letter he went to the astrologer to find why his only daughter received such a proposal at such a time. The astrologer promptly said that the match was utthamam (perfect) and ideal, the Muhurtham was fixed and he came home and informed his wife. Thangamani's worries vanished when she came to know about this. Thus, almost after a year and a half, the wish that came to my mind during a program in Kolkata was fulfilled at Vattakkattu house.
What steps did you take for your future?
After the marriage, the money left in my bank account was 11 annas. Three days post my wedding, an invite from the owner of Malayalarajyam newspaper, K.G. Shankar, for a dance performance on the occasion of Ashtami Rohini Mahotsav at Kollam, Unichakkam Veettukshetram was a sheer piece of good luck. I started for Kollam for our performance. On the way to Kollam, I met my parents and other family members at Chambakulam. I had planned to take a boat from Karumadi to Kollam so I took a boat from Chambakulam.
You are a devotee of Krishna too and on the way to Kollam by boat you had to cross the Sri Krishnaswamy Kshetram. Did you think of stopping there to offer your prayers to Lord Krishna?
Yes, I did. As we crossed the Pallathuruthi river, I asked the boatman to steer the boat to Ambalapuzha where Sri Krishnaswamy kshetram was before proceeding to Kollam. I reached the temple in the evening and met some childhood friends. Since that day was Ashtami Rohini, the temple was crowded and as I was a well known dancer, people gathered around me. In that crowd was present the Devaswom Assistant Commissioner Sankaran Nair. He wanted me to perform in front of God as an offering (seva). At the outset I refused to perform, because my musicians would reach Kollam only the next day. How was I to perform without an orchestra?
You performed Mayura Nrittam here. How was that possible?
The Assistant Commissioner promised to arrange for musicians, so I agreed to perform the peacock dance - Mayura Nrittam - there. I picked up my costume from the boat and the Commissioner by then had also arranged for a flautist and an edakka player. I rehearsed for half an hour in the Manthrashala hall and performed the Mayura Nrittam at the Natakashala Hall at 8.30pm. Sankaran Nair was very happy and offered me prasadam and unniappam (a sweet dish) and an envelope containing Rs.50. I thankfully accepted it and proceeded for Kollam at 11pm by boat.
I reached Kollam on Chingam 24th and performed at Shri Krishna Matham, Vadayattu Kotta. I received Rs. 300 as a reward from K.G. Parameshwaran Pillai. I went to Chambakulam from Kollam and searched for a mridangist and a singer and we reached Thangamani's house in Kunnamkulam.
Tell me about your dance programs with Thangamani.
Dance programs with Thangamani were close to my heart. At Kunnamkulam we practised, rehearsed and designed necessary costumes for the duet performances that I had performed with Ragini Devi, as well as Mohiniattam items like Cholkettu and Sami Varnam at Thangamani's house for a week. We arranged everything required for a 2 hour cultural program. We also got a theatre booked with the help of Thangamani's father at Kunnamkulam and in the presence of Mukundaraja, Thangamani did her Arangetram.
The next day, someone came from Thrissur and informed us that Kollamkottu Vasudeva Raja would have a guest, the Madras Governor Erskin Prabhu and Vasudeva Raja had arranged a dinner to honour him, post which they would like to have our dance performance. We agreed and received an advance of Rs.200 from him. On the designated date we presented our 2 hour program. They loved our performance. Vasudeva Raja offered each of us an Onam pudava (new clothes) and Rs.300 as a reward.
Who were the luminaries present at your performance that day? What were the other programs in Thrissur?
Ilamana Krishna Menon was one of the guests. He informed us that night that the Kochi Maharaja had arrived at Thrissur that day and he can arrange a program by us for him. We reached Kunnamkulam the next day and a person reached us with a letter from Krishna Menon with the message, "For the Maharaja, we have arranged your dance program at Thrissur Jose Theatre". Accordingly, we went to Thrissur and performed.
The next morning, the king profusely praised our performance and presented us with a Kasavu dhoti (off-white golden bordered dhoti). The king also spoke to me about Thullal art form. Later, I came to know that the king was a big fan of Thullal. Ilamana Krishna Menon gave us Rs.400 for the program.
What made you go to Thiruvananthapuram after Thrissur?
Thangamani and I along with my group had started our rehearsals in our house at Ambalappuram. A few days later, we received a telegram from the State Guest Director Miss Watts. The telegram content asked us to reach Thiruvananthapuram as soon as possible with my team. With the help of my old friend G.P. Shekhar, we took a house on rent at Vanjiyoor. I informed Miss Watts on phone that we had arrived. As per her directions we visited her at Nandan Kottu Bungalow at 4pm the same day.
When G.P. Shekhar and I reached her residence and we were about to enter the veranda, a big sized dog came and started barking and raised his forelegs on my chest. Since it was a rainy day and the rains had just stopped, the red coloured mud from the dog's paws were imprinted on my silk shirt. I didn't move. Shekhar was right behind me, but the dog did not touch him. Hearing the dog, the butler came to the veranda and saw that the dog with his paws on my chest. The butler immediately asked the dog to leave me and I cleaned the paw marks from my shirt in the wash basin. Miss Watts followed soon and apologised for her dog's behaviour.
What programs did Miss Watts offer you?
We got the invitation to perform the next night at Kanakakunnu Kottaram (palace) and the day after at the Kavadiar School house, post the garden party. Miss Watts also informed us that Kollamkottu Chella Thampuratti (Queen) had seen our performance at Kollamkottu and she was the best friend of the Queen of Thiruvananthapuram. Thus, according to the Queen's wish, we were invited to perform for her.
Once we reached our place of stay, we rehearsed for 3 hours and the next morning also to give a good program. Unfortunately, the dinner at Kanakakunnu Kottaram next day extended for another hour, thus our program got delayed by an hour and we had to wait till that time in our costumes.
(To be continued...)
Tapati Chowdhurie trained under Guru Gopinath in Madras and was briefly with International Centre for Kathakali in New Delhi. Presently, she is a freelance writer on the performing arts.
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