Kandassankadavu! What is in a name? Everything. Drums around Kandassankadavu resonate with its name.
I used to tremble when I heard the drums during processions and festivals. Somehow, they kept time with my heartbeats. I never comprehended this and believed that I was afraid of them.
But, when I was seven years old, we moved from Mangaloru to the ancestral home of my parents: Kandassankadavu. They were born in two separate branches of the same family, Vadakkethala. Vadakkethala Outhudan Moopar and Vadakkethala Poovathingal Moopar were two of the elders who brought the copper plate (Cheppedu) for the creation of the St. Mary’s parish in Kandassankadavu in 1807.
Kandassankadavu is ten miles west of Thrissur. It hugged the coastline by situating itself by the Connolly Canal. Coconut trees waved their fronds above the waters in the balmy breaths of a breeze while the trunks leaned over in lassitude. During the 50’s, there was no bridge to span the waters. One had to take a boat or a canoe to cross over to Vaadaanapally. Beyond that lay the Arabian Sea which wafted salty breezes towards Kandassankadavu.
My early memories revolve around the trio who traversed the highways and byways of Kandassankadavu. One carried a drum with drumsticks, the second a billboard, and the third a sheaf of fliers in colors. They took away the fear of drums from me. The billboard holder named Appukuttan is sixty-three years old today and is still around. They were the only means of advertising a new movie in town. The drums were welcomed warmly by children. Some ran to the gate to watch them and some followed them to a certain distance from home. I belonged to those who raced to the gate. These movies were not new releases because it took a long time for a movie to reach remote areas. The drum beats did not have any sophistication, but were just followed some indifferent rhythm. But, the beats were the harbingers of much awaited excitement – another movie. I was home and the drums were welcome. There was no more trembling and syncopated heart beats.
What movies and what atmosphere awaited us after the excitement of the drums?
In those days, the only venue for movies in the surrounding areas was Kandass Talkies, the movie theater placed not far from the Carmelite convent. Kandass is a shortened form of Kandassankadavu. It boasted no grandeur and was strictly utilitarian. Yet, it was the only place for movies! The structure itself appeared like a warehouse with corrugated tin sheets for roof. There were several exits which were wide openings covered with faded navy blue curtains which were pulled aside to let people out.
The seats in Kandass Talkies were hierarchical. Right in front of the screen was the sand covered floor for the cheapest tickets. This was “Thara” or the place for groundlings. Men and women were segregated. The men enjoyed the central seats and the women were relegated to the right side. Most of the catcalls and comments came from this section. Next came the wooden benches. Men and women were segregated here also. Advancing to the folding wooden chairs, the segregation stopped abruptly. The level of education of the spectators have advanced here. At the apex of the seating arrangement are the seats reserved in the back on a two feet high raised floor. The chairs were made of wood with no plush cushioning. But, they had arm rests! The wall behind these chairs had small openings for the projection streaming to the screen. I used to watch the streams of light in which dust motes danced with the variations of the picture hues. Let us not forget the hawkers during intervals. The only available delicacies were roasted peanuts or chickpeas in paper cones. Plain sodas of carbonated water closed tightly with glass marbles were also available.
Every day, there were two showings and Sunday was privileged with the addition of matinees. Half an hour before the shows, the loudspeaker released several old movie songs for the delectation of Kandassankadavu residents. Along with the drums, these earsplitting songs reminded people of the movies. The songs were from old Malayalam, Hindi, and Tamil movies. Once in a while, English movies appeared. We became quite well versed with the lyrics of all these songs. The late show was at 9:30 pm and the songs blared from the theater. But, they were good alarm clocks. People did not have to look at their clocks to tell time.
Now, Kandass Talkies is no more. The advent of the bridge across the river extended the limited boundaries. The neighborhoods developed rapidly and, everywhere new new theaters sprang up, one better than the other. The new releases did not take time to reach the village communities. Somehow, Kandassankadavu never resurrected its own theater. The drums are silent for movies. The natives do not mind travelling a little farther to watch movies.
The drums do come alive for festivals and processions. Shingari melam and Pancha Vaadyam compete during the parish feasts and I am lulled by their musical beats. No more heartbeats thrumming with the drums for me! I am cured completely because of the tuneless single drum of the movie advertisements for a rustic theater. Now, that memory is in a time warp.