Allapuzha, Kerala, India
It’s 1957. My grandmother rushes through the fields with her siblings following behind her. They hide behind tall grains and bushes so as to not be seen by the workers on the fields. Their parents expected them to be indoors studying. She goes down a shortcut her brother found days before, which also enabled them to stay away from the eyes of her watchful neighbors. As the dirt became sand under their feet and the sound of the familiar chant in the distance began to increase, they knew they were getting closer. It happened only once a year. They couldn’t miss it.
On every second Saturday of August each year, the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, one of the most popular Vallam Kali (boat race) events, is conducted in the Punnamada Lake of Alappuzha District. The prize was a rolling trophy donated by the first prime minister of the independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru; it was a gift for the people who welcomed him to their town and amazed him with their 120 feet long snake boats.
My grandmother, holding both of her brothers’ hands, weaves her way through the crowd trying to get a better look at the boats. She got herself a “balcony seat” atop a coconut tree. Each boat had more than 100 oarsmen chanting the vanchipattu (boatman’s song) in order to hype up the increasing crowd and their fellow rowers. The race was almost over, but the crowd’s cheering was ever increasing. She pulls her great-grandfather’s watch out of her dress’s pocket. It’s already 4:30.
After the winner of the race is announced and while everyone starts running to the boaters by the shore, my grandmother grabs her brothers’ hands before they start to follow the crowd, and she races back home. It’s almost 5; her grandfather will be home soon. She sprints through the rubber trees, and as she comes up the hill, she can see her grandfather’s paddy fields. She races through the muddy fields deciding that she’ll just have to throw away he dress she wore because clearly it wasn’t made for the kind of adventures she went on. As she got inside her house, she threw her brothers into the shower and told them to clean up fast. Rushing to her own room, she ditched her dress in the wastebasket and cleaned up her arms and legs in the sink.
Not even five minutes after she and her brothers sat themselves in front of their school books did their grandfather arrive home. She sighed and began to read her textbook. Her grandfather was against attending the Vallam Kali since it a part of Onam, a Hindu holiday. According to her grandfather, no good Christian would even think of participating in such a thing.
Kodungallur, Kerala, India
Vasudhevan Nambiyar was the forefather of Sankaramangalam family. In 52 AD, he began his day doing what every good Brahmin does, praying. It was early in the morning, the sun had yet to rise. Gathered with him were 32 other Brahmin families, all here for one purpose, to give offerings to their god. Cupping his hands, Nambiyar scooped water from the pond into his hands and poured it back into the river. He and the others repeated this action while silently chanting a prayer to their sun god. Unbeknownst to them, a stranger was watching them, intrigued at their actions. Suddenly the stranger stepped out of the shadows and made his presence known to them. This is the first encounter.
The stranger introduces himself as Thomas, the disciple of Jesus. Although he doesn’t look like he is from the land, the Brahmins are able to understand him. Thomas begins to speak to the Brahmins about Jesus and about how there is only one God; however, the Brahmins are also well versed in their religion and begin to refute the stranger’s claims. As Nambiyar and the Brahmins turn back to continue their prayer, Thomas gives them a challenge. He tells them to throw the water they have in their hands into the air, and it will stop in mid-air. The Brahmins proceed to do so, and surprisingly, when they throw the water, it stops above their heads.
That day, all 32 families converted to Christianity. They were the first Christians in India.
With my project, I want to explore whether my grandmother felt any prejudice from people in her school for her religion. I also want to explore how her opinions of what a Christian should and shouldn’t do differed from her parents. More importantly, I want to share the tribulations and accomplishments of my grandmother with my family.
Potential Interview Questions
1. How is the family able to know about St. Thomas converting our forefathers?
2. Did you ever get into an argument about religion with your parents?
3. Did you ever have any friends who were strongly against Christianity?
4. Did British occupation around the time you were a child influence people’s feelings about Christians?
5. Where did you go to church?
6. Why do you celebrate Onam now?
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