I am feeling very nostalgic this week, hence a walk down memory lane to my maternal ancestral home, Mankada Covilakam seemed apt for this week. Another reason why I decided to write about Mankada was my friend’s post reminiscing Monsoons at home. The photograph of her courtyard brought back a rush of memories of many fun summers spent at Mankada. You all know by now that I grew up as a Navy brat, so it was only during the summers that we usually visited Mankada and other parts of Kerala. My earliest memories of this palatial home are the gigantic pillars at the entrance, the heavily carved front door, the natumuttam (central courtyard), a private temple and of course the numerous rooms.
Each bedroom has a name, based on its location, for instance, the thekke ara (thekku meaning South, ara meaning room) and vadakke ara (vadakku meaning north). My great grandmother occupied one of rooms and the others were self-assigned (I think) by my grandmother and her siblings, for themselves and their families to use. Summers typically brought many family members to Mankada, and if there was a wedding or other special occasions, the house would swarm with people — every room would be occupied, the adults cooked together in the sprawling kitchen with a rickety well, we ate together in a large hall and as the day ended, we would each find a spot to sleep wherever there was an empty mat or mattress. Power cuts were a common feature and many a night was spent trying to find our way around the corridors with torches and little kerosene lamps. Those were fun times filled with laughter, games, and simple joys.
One distinct memory I have of Mankada is the beautiful temple pond (ambalakulam), where we would all go for a dip before going to the temple. Well, the others would take a dip, while I would stand on the step closest to the water and use a mug. Spoiled little city girl, you might think but the truth was that the tiny fish in the pond were not my favorite. The fact that I did not know how to swim may have contributed to the fear too!
Even though I visited my ancestral home only once or twice a year, the name Mankada stayed with me until a few years ago. When I enrolled in school, my name on record was Aparna Ajit Kumar. Over the years, as I changed schools with each transfer, my name changed too. It went from the original to Aparna A Kumar, Aparna Kumar, and even Aparna Kumari at one point. Finally, my parents decided that initials would be a better option. Since we Malayalees have a tradition of adding the name of our tharavadu (ancestral home) as our last name, I became Aparna MC. I don’t think anyone knew or bothered to ask what MC stood for and I was fine with that.
But after moving to the US, every form I filled required a FULL last name. I had to expand the MC as Mankada Covilakam and people began addressing me as Ms. Covilakam. We even received mail for The Covilakam household and it all soon became very annoying. Soon after, I started considering changing my last name and my father happened to discuss it with his lawyer. The lawyer told him, “Mr. Ajith, please ask your daughter not to change her name. Tell her there will be many Aparna Prakash’s in the world, but only one Aparna Mankada Covilakam.” I understood his point well, but he was not the one being called Ms. Covilakam.
I finally got around to changing it during the citizenship process and officially became Mrs. P many years after marriage.
What’s in a name, you might ask… but it mattered to me. It may have been brought on by the fact that I no longer lived in India and being called Ms. Covilakam made zero sense to me.
I strongly believe that having the name of my ancestral home attached to my first name did not in any way increase my attachment to the place, nor did its removal decrease my love for it. The connection was formed in the heart and the fondness will last there forever. I guess I belong to the last generation that has some emotional connection to Mankada and even though the building may have lost much of its glory now, I will forever cherish the memories of the days spent there.
Here’s to ancestral homes, nostalgia, and name changes!