Lifestyle in Rural Kerala
Lifestyle in rural Kerala has changed dramatically in the last few decades. See box (at the bottom) for a brief look at the lifestyle two generations ago. We will compare it with the lifestyle in rural Kerala these days.
In Kerala, a village is not an isolated hamlet among vast open spaces. Except forests and wastelands, the entire state is densely populated. One village is separated from another through human decisions rather than physical factors.
Let us first look at the main features that distinguish rural areas from urban ones.
Cultivated fields, like the banana garden to the right, is one main feature of rural areas.
Vast green rice fields tended to dominate the rural scenario in old times. As rice cultivation became uneconomic, people turned to commercial crops like Vanilla. However, you would still find the traditional Coconut, Mango, the exotic Jackfruit (see pic) and Banana on most home grounds.
Many rice fields were also converted into brick kilns or leveled up and made homesteads.
Rural Lifestyle in Old Days
The lifestyle outlined below is for a typical Hindu family.
Men, women and children rise by 5AM early morning. Women get immediately busy cleaning the house. They light an oil lamp and place it facing east in front of the granary room of the house.
Everybody then goes to the temple. Before going in, they bathe (immersing fully in the water) either in the nearby river or the temple pond. After the bath, they stand praying in front of the sanctum sanctorum, palms pressed together in front of the chest. The priest would come out of the sanctorum to distribute flowers, popped rice and holy water as the deity's gift to devotees.
The men might then go to their agricultural fields to inspect things and attend to any work. Women return home and get busy milking the cow, boiling water and milk and cooking breakfast. Breakfast consists of local dishes (iddli, dosa, uppuma, or rice gruel and chutney).
Work of preparing lunch starts immediately. Lunch would be vegetarian, consisting of cooked rice accompanied by a spicy curry, oil-cooked vegetables, a pickle and buttermilk. It would be served to school-going children first, then the men and finally by the women to themselves, and would typically be over by 9-10AM.
Then would come the time for rest, with the men mostly taking a siesta and the women engaged in small talk or reading devotional stories. By 3PM, cooking starts again for a light evening snack and the later lunch.
By 5.30PM, oil-lamps must be lit again and children sit down to chant deity names or sing a devotional song with the grandmother in attendance.
Lunch would be over by 8PM and then would come reading devotional books. Everybody goes to sleep around 9PM.
Women were typically homebound, with their only outings being: (i) going to temple festivals, (ii) attending birthdays and marriages of relatives, (iii) visiting dying (or dead) or ailing relatives and (iv) meeting relatives who have delivered a newborn. Men would be busy supervising agricultural operations, doing business, gathering together at favorite haunts with friends and such outdoor activities.
Whereas rural areas have more open spaces and greenery, on the negative (or is it positive) side, they lack shopping, entertainment and eating-out facilities. In the villages, it is still your friendly (or sometimes not all that friendly) corner grocer stocking everyday needs like rice, chillies, jaggery, salt and so on.
For describing rural lifestyle in Kerala, the best option might be to compare an earlier lifestyle (see box right) with the prevailing one.
These days, people do not usually rise early unless they have to travel to distant locations, for work or business. Daily morning temple visits have all but disappeared, except among very traditional families.
On the other hand, temple festivals have become grander affairs with thousandfold increase in the number of attendees at certain reputed ones. Local festivals have tended to become entertainment programs.
Food habits have changed. Even the traditionally vegetarian Hindu families have mostly become non-vegetarians. Cooking lunch and dinner are often not separate operations, with the leftovers from lunch serving as dinner.
One common rural lifestyle task is the cooking of special delicacies (see pic of cooking jackfruit chips) and preserves. Rural people can get banana, mango and other fruits from their home gardens to cook banana chips, jackfruit chips, jackfruit and mango preserves, mango pickles and so on.
Agriculture has ceased to be the major income earner in rural areas. Villagers migrate overseas (mainly to Arabian Gulf countries) in search of jobs. The overseas workers send money to their village homes.
Others travel to nearby (or often, distant) towns and cities to work in government or private organizations. Some come home once a week while others start early from home and return late in the night.
Women are not confined to home and cooking, except in old-fashioned families. They go to work, take up business and might even become politicians. A new development is the formation of women's self-help groups to produce marketable products, thus helping rural women earn a regular income.
Sports activities are also attracting increasing number of boys and girls even in rural areas of Kerala. People have come to recognize that one could earn a living from sports, often a better living than in traditional jobs.
And bed times are much later. Few go to bed by 9PM. Unlike in old days, when only oil-lamp was available to provide light, electricity is powering not only light sources but also TV programs, which many persons, notably women, watch late into the night.
We would look at the life in some specific villages in forthcoming articles. For now, let us conclude with a (literal) look at a quite village road (see pic right) that is as much a part of lifestyle in rural Kerala as anything else.