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Wednesday, 26 April 2017

Fifth death anniversary of two Black cats

Two Black cats which troubled us died in an accident five years ago on this day. We all, including our neighbours, were so relieved by the death of those two ominous black cats that each of us remember how they troubled us each day. Not one did feel bad when heard about the accident. Surprisingly, both the cats were run over by a speeding vehicle, on the same day at the same spot. Hope they are resting in peace, wherever they are and hope they are not troubling anyone in the other world!


   

Dhatri Kutty and Smarthavicharam

When a dirty woman called me jealous of her, a friend laughed and said this is what exactly Dhatri Kutty did ages ago. She slept with more than 65 men and when caught red-handed she blamed others being jealous of her! I was surprised to hear the story from her. Then I got to read the whole story of Dhatri Kutty on Spider Kerala. I'm sure you'll enjoy this:

Dhatri Kutty – The Story of a Social Revenge by high Society Lady
Thathri Kutty (is also known as Dhatri Kutty and Savithri antharjanam) was born in Kalpakasseri Illam.Read this story of a bold and beautiful Dhatri Kutty who caused a social upheaval in the Nampoodiri and Nair communities in Kerala in the early years of 20th century (1900s) by her daring, cunning and revengeful act of prostitution with famed men of the time.

Tatri's trial of Chastity – Smarthavicharam
As the name suggests it is a real life incident that happened in the central part of Kerala. Smarthavicharam (chastity trial) is a procedure followed by the Nampoodiri Community against their girls or ladies if girls/ladies are found guilty of adultery or illicit/illegitimate sexual contact with other men than the husband. It is a trial to punish the erring women of Nampoodiri families. This procedure is followed only in their community.

This particular trial of chastity or Smarthavicharam is in respect of the prostitution indulged by a Nampoodiri lady by name Dhatri Kutty involving more than 65 males of the society from various communities. Most of these males were famous and are of a high level in the society. The trial took nearly 7 months to complete. The trial had to be conducted in 3 places at Chemmanthitta, Pallimana and Irinjalakuda. There were few trials before and after this particular Smarthavicharam which attracted as much attention of not only of entire state Kerala but even the neighboring states and the country itself.

This is the only one which went to the high court which was at Madras (present Chennai) for the entire South at that time. The court gave a verdict that the Smarthavicharam held in this case was null. However the effect of the Smarthavicharam was already implemented and at that time no one can challenge the Nampoodiri community decisions. So those who were found guilty by the Smarthans were punished as per the system by ordering Brashtu (excommunications – out casting from society) except the two who died immediately.

Dhatri Kutty was a girl born in the village Ezhumangad (popularly known as Arangotukara), on the border of Trichur District but in Palakkad district of Kerala. The Smarthavicharam about Dhatri was decided when her husband complained about her infidelity – adultery. The authorities' concerned decided to try her through the Smartha Vicharam procedure that was the only procedure followed by the Nampoodiri Community against their women.

From the time her illicit relations were noticed till the trial was over she was kept in isolated houses without giving any chance to her meet anybody. Even during the trial she was asked questions and was allowed to answer from the isolated place without the chance to see her questioners or anybody else nor could the others see her. There was her maid servant who supplied the necessities to Dhatri. That was the general practice for such cases.

She was intimated of the charge and asked her to have her say on the issue. She admitted having committed adultery with so many persons and was prepared to have the punishment on condition that along with her the male members of the society who had enjoyed her should also be given identical punishment as that was being given to her. Since there was no practice of punishment for men for such offense till that time, the smarthans (persons trying the accused in such cases) tried to ignore her but she was adamant and gradually she got the support of the population of the area.

The persons doing the Smartha Vicharam were forced to refer the matter to the then Raja of Cochin under whose jurisdiction this matter was. The Raja under pressure from social organizations had to agree to her condition and the Smartha Vicharam (trial) started. If any men are accused, the lady concerned had to give proof of his having had sex with her. She said to the Smarthas that she has a large number of men and she will give the name and addresses of the persons one by one and they are to be tried one by one. The evidence includes some identification marks on covered part of the body of the males and by identifying the persons in an identification parade.

She started giving names one by one. The persons were subject to identification by Dhatri and then as identification marks she gave the details of the marks on or around the genitals of the persons so accurately that the persons had no escape. When she came to the name of 65th man, families in the twin villages and other villages around and families from outside the village were apprehensive that someone from their families also may be named by her and started feeling the extreme heat of the situation and forced to stop the trial.

So only these 65 came under the category of guilty. Out of these persons two had died during the process and some others left the country to some foreign destination to escape the stigma and punishment. At least there were another three who escaped the situation. One of them gave false name and address to Dhatri and could not be traced. Another was a Muslim. The Muslims do not have the Brashtu system and did not come under the Smartha Vicharam.

One more escaped due to some other reason not known. Apart from these if there were any others, it was known only to the lady and her companion. During the trial it was revealed that her jarans (men who have illicit relation with ladies) included 30 Namboodiris, 10 Iyers (paradesi Brahmins, Tamil Brahmins or Pattars), 13 ambalavaasis, people in the services of temples like those who clean the inner prakaram, those who play drums or perform kathakali, koothu etc (outside the Sree Kovil but inside the compound of the temple) and 11 Nairs. Dhatri was given the punishment of Brashtu along with the available male members of the 65 tried.

What happened to her afterwards was not known. There are several gossips about her life after the Brashtu. It was said that the companion of Dhatri broke down at her master's fate and tried to persuade Dhatri to go to Mannanar's asylum and there were several of them waiting for accommodating her as a wife or sister. Dhatri refused and faded into obscurity may be by her own choice. There was a very strong gossip that she went to an Anglo Indian man who was a railway employee at Pothannur railway station. People firmly believed that Dhatri lived up to the age of 80 somewhere around Coimbatore in Madras State (present Tamilnad State).


The Ancestral House of Tatri Kutty
It is the story of a real life event that happened between the years 1850 and 1910 when the communication and transport facilities were at a very low level. It is an unimaginable daring action in a kugramam (a backward village with no infrastructure at that time) Ezhumangad known more popularly as Arangotukara in Palakkad District of Kerala State by a lady of most orthodox community of that time.

The centre stage of the story is a house in the junction of two villages divided by a village road. One side of the road is Ezhumangad village in Thirumittakode Panchayath, Ottapalam Taluk, Palakkad District and the other side is the village Arangotukara (Arangode) in Desamangalam Panchayath, Thalapilli Taluk of Thrissur District, Kerala State. This village is a beautiful village surrounded by paddy fields, few hills scattered around with plenty of trees, 4 temples, ponds and tanks. The house is known as Kalpakasseri Illam (Mana – houses of Namboodiri), a house of a rich zamindar (landlord) of the area at the time of the story.

The house was in a compound of about 4 – 5 acres of land and as any house of rich family was a sprawling one with all facilities available at that time. I belong to the same village and my ancestral house is the 4th house on to the South of the then Kalpakasseri Mana. This mana was right opposite to the village main temple of Karthyayani Devi on the Arangode side.

During my childhood the mana was already nonexistent and only some ruins were seen in the land. There were the remains of some idols worshiped by the family members of the Mana, two wells one for the kitchen and other for outside use and two ponds one for the ladies of the house and the other for men of the family. The house was on higher level of about 2 – 3 feet from the road level. My knowledge of the subject is through hearsay, over hearing conversations and some literature on the subject.

My father, as any grown up person at that time had a good knowledge about the family and the actions of the heroine or villain, Dhatri Kutty after she was caught at her own instance through her husband for having illicit / illegitimate sexual relations with numerous men. My father being very strict and short tempered, I could not ask him and get any detail. However I used to be with him whenever, I do not have to study for school and I could get some information by gossip or through conversations between him and his friends about Dhatr's life.

Then there were discussions between self and my school mate friends from what they have overheard through their parents or others. Because it is on hearsay and I do not want to hurt anybody who may be directly or indirectly connected with the characters or incidents involved in this article I have made some slight changes in the names and narration of the facts.

Childhood of Dhatri Kutty
Thathri Kutty (is also known as Dhatri Kutty and Savithri antharjanam) was born in the above mentioned Kalpakasseri Illam. There is no record available about her birth or childhood so not much is known about these aspects o f her. But one thing with definite date in her case is the Brashtu order which was on the 13th of July, 1905. In the days of lack of communications to complete the activities she could have taken about 30 to 40 years and adding her age at marriage at 13 the birth year might be between 1860 and 1870.

There was a gossip that when she was born her father Kalpakasseri Ashtamoorthi Namboodiri was going towards Arangotukara from Pattambi side. Those days the nearest centre to the village was Pattambi where there is a railway station perhaps with one train in a day between Madras (now Chennai) and Mangalapuram (Mangalore) and one or two buses from Palakkad to Calicut or so via Pattambi.

When he was crossing the Bharatha Puzha from Pattambi to Thirumittakode en route to Arangode he got the news of the birth of his daughter and on consultation of an astrologer, he was informed that the birth was at an inauspicious time and the girl will be responsible for a calamity involving the destruction of his family. After three years another girl was born, the younger sister to Dhatri Kutty.

After that Dhatri lost the love and affection of her mother who was fully engrossed with the new born child. Because of the astrological prediction the family members were a bit apprehensive of the girl. The girl was extraordinary intelligent and wanted to study in school. Those days girls were not allowed to go out alone especially of the orthodox Nampoodiri community.

Hence allowing her to study was not agreed to by her parents in spite of her obstinate pressure. Being intelligent and ingenious she learned to read and write to some extent from brothers. She was having good appreciation of fine arts and had learned something about Kathakali, music etc. Those days girls are married at a very young age of 11 years onwards. Accordingly Dhatri Kutty was married off at a very young age to Chemmanthatta Kuriyedathu Raman Namboodiri (Aphan Nampoodiri) of Mukundapuram Taluk a much older man, almost the age of her father. Thereafter there was not much information about her for some time.

Dhatri Kutty's Illicit Relations
Between the period of 1200 and 1950 A D, the Zamindari system was very powerful in Kerala. The ladies of landlords' will have at least one maid servant cum companion (daasi - thozhi) exclusively to be with the lady. In Kerala the Zamindars were the Nampoodiris - the Kerala Brahmins. The maid servant cum companions of Brahmin girls/ladies used to be Nair girls/lades who will be company to the Nampoodiri ladies (Antharjanams – akathulla alu as they are called).

Dhatri Kutty had one Nair lady companion who was very loyal to her and was helping her without question in anything Dhatri wanted. Through the help of her thozhi Dhatri had arranged a secluded place to have sexual relations with males other than her husband. Dhatri was a very highly intelligent lady now. Her husband was a much older man who had other wives. He may not have been able to satisfy her sexual needs.

Besides Dhatri could not fulfill her ambition to study and lead a normal girl's life due to the ill arrangements of the system. She used to gather information of all well known people of the society of not only of her villages of Ezhumangad – Arangotukara but nearby and far way also. She was such a beautiful lady that anybody would like to possess her. Since she is already married people will be happy to try to spend some time with her and have sex with her for at least once if there is any possibility. Such being the case she had no difficulty in getting the men she wanted to be in bed or otherwise with her.

She had arranged to get most of the well know people of her time who are grown up enough to visit her for sex. It is not known whether she had sexual relation with anybody for a second time. It had gone on for a long time and a number of persons had contact with her at the place she had arranged for this purpose through her thozhi. She being a very intelligent lady, it is not possible for anybody to say whether she had really sex with all or she had fooled some of them without having sex. That fact was known only to her and the persons concerned.

But one thing is sure whether she had sex or not with the persons who visited her, she had the details of identification marks/birth marks of the body of the visitor and had noted the same in some way for future use against these persons with their names and residences without their knowledge. The numbers of persons involved were so many and it was known only to her and her maid.

What I understood about her mode of communication was that she used to get information about famous people throughout the length and breadth of Kerala through her companion. She used to send her maid to establish contact with the persons one by one and invite them. Since the Nampoodiri ladies are seen only by their fathers till marriage and their after only by their husbands, remaining unknown is not much difficult especially when the community had the system of not seen and not being seen between the Antharjanams and men other than father up to marriage and there after only by the husband. And with the system of mara (hide) kuda (umbrella used by Nampoodiri ladies to cover upper parts of body and face from others) it will not be difficult to go out with the maid unknown.

In the place where she was operating as a prostitute she used all her skills so satisfy the men who go to her. But none of them knew her as an antharjanam of Dhatrikutty for the above mentioned reasons. Then one day an old man from her community came to her either by knowing the possible flick through somebody or as per her way of inviting the males. He had a nice time and spent some time talking to her that he would like to have her permanently for himself if possible.

At the end of it she opened her veil which she was wearing most of the time outside her house. The man had the shock of his life on seeing her as she was none else than his wedded wife. He was shaken out of his wits, ran out shouting which made people to gather. Those days the tilt of society against the women was much stronger especially for the upper caste Namboodiri Brahmin ladies. Her husband wanted her to be punished.

For trial of such illicit or illegitimate sex of Nampoodiri ladies there is system of trial known as 'Smartha Vicharam' where with the permission of the ruling Raja of the area, the learned Brahmins of 3 or more in numbers will intimate the charges against the lady concerned and give her a chance to reply on the matter. In overwhelming majority of cases the ladies get excommunicated from the society which is known as Brashtu (out casting).

The family of the ladies will send her out of the house and do the last rites (irikke pindam – irikke means while living and pindam means doing last rites too dead persons) to her as if she is already a dead person. After this Brashtu she is no longer considered as human being. She will be addressed as if she is an object like 'sadhanam' or 'it' 'that' etc. After that anything may happen to her.

There may be some vulture like males waiting to take chance or there were some institutions where such ladies were being accommodated. The owners of these institutions known as Mannanars have immunity from Brashtu. Such places have some system where there are two gates/entrances. If the lady comes through a particular gate she is taken as wife and if through the other gate she is treated as a sister. Mannanars are from a royal sect of Thiyya community that ruled some parts of Malabar between Kannur and Kasargod.

The Mannanars are supposed to have been following Buddhism. They used to give refuge to Antharjanams (Nampoodiri ladies) who were declared outcaste in a Smarthavicharam. Since the Mannanars follow Buddhism they have no problem with Brashtu and more over they consider themselves as Royals where they only decide things for them.

It is also said that the Chakyars (those who perform koothu and chakyars koothu in the temple premises) were also giving asylum to the outcast Nampoodiri ladies/girls. It is a bit difficult to accept this as the Chakyars like the ambalavaasis and close proximate people will not be allowed to give such asylum of the Nampoodiri ladies. It was not know whether Dhatri was taking any money for the service she was giving to the men and where she was conduction these services.

Possible connections with the known persons
The chief of the Smarthans committee of five members was the late Jatavedan thirumeni (as the Nampoodiris and the thampurans etc were addressed at that time). The famous writer Madambu Kunhikuttan is the grandson of the famous late Jatavedan Nampoodiri. His two uncles, that is the brothers of Jatavedan Nampoodiri were also involved with the sexual act and were given the order of Brashtu.

It is rumoured that one Gopala Menon who was given the verdict of Brashtu escaped to the then Ceylon (present Sri Lanka) to avoid the stigma and shame. As per gossips the super hero of film and of Tamilinas, M G Ramachandran (M G R) was a son of the said Gopala Menon.

Another person's name which was doing the round was the super heroine of Malayalam films. Some people feel that Sheela is the granddaughter of Dhatri Kutty.

Dhatri was particularly targeting persons who are supposed to be of very high moral standing, famous personalities, well known scholars of that time, musicians, kathakali artists and other prominent high society people of that time from the area under the erstwhile Cochin state and Malabar to sleep with her. She had clinching proof of identification marks on the covered parts of the persons, and in many cases letters written by these people to her. It was being rumoured that the then celebrated Kathakali artists Kavunkal Shankara Panicker, Kaattalathu Madhavan Nair, Panangavil Narayanan Nambiar, Achutha Poduval etc were in the list and they had to leave their professions and their places.

Consequences to her families and her Jarans
Her father committed suicide after the incident. Other members of the family fled out of the village and were lost touch with anybody from the village or any nearby areas. The property was abandoned for some years and later slowly some unscrupulous people encroached and appropriated the same. During my childhood it was a deserted land though in the centre of the village right opposite to the main temple and people were afraid of going into the ruined place.

There were some deities of the family in abandoned condition with no one daring to do anything about it. There was a huge tree with the first branch about 40 feet high from ground, and the thickness may about 20 - 30 feet which was later sold to the boat making people. There was a peepal tree at the back end of the compound from which some birds, owls and another variety known at that time as Kalan Kozhi. The owl makes noise in the night which is fearsome at that time as there was no battery torch or electricity. The noise of the Kalan Kozhi is still more frightening.

There was a belief that when someone is about to die or killed the Kalan Kozhi will make the cry to alert the coming of the Kalan (Yaman) and for this reason it got its name. Then there are some whose names were not disclosed or not allowed to be disclosed by abruptly closing the trial after the 65th man of Dhatri's list. 62 of them had to leave homes, most of them being very high level in the society or famous in their professions, humiliated in the society and had to live on begging and treated by society worse than those who are suffering from terrible contagious diseases. They cannot come anywhere near anybody within 30 feet. In my school days I have come across 2 – 3 of them.

Books and Movies on Dhatri's life
There are 3 – 4 stories and 2 – 3 films on the subject. In fact it will appear to be like the story of a super hit movie of "A" certificate category. The centre character of the incident is one Tatrikutty (Dhatrikutty or Savithrikutty antharjanam).

There are books on the subject with titles 'Thathrikuttyude Smarthvicharam' (Tatri's Trial of Chastity - known those days as Smarthavicharam) by Alankode Leelakrishnan, 'Kuriyedathu Thathri' by Nandan (VT Nandakumar), 'Cast me out if you will' by Lalithambika Antherjanam, 'Brashtu (excommunication or out casting from society)'by Sri Madambu Kunhukuttan whose grandfather was the main Smarthan, 'Outcaste' translation of M Kunhukuttan's book by Vasanthi Sankaranarayanan, The British Commission by Pavithran, Malabar Manual by Logan Castes & tribes of Southern India by E Thurston, Nambuthiris by Fred Fawcett and a story on the subject by Smt Lalithambika Antherjanam with the title 'Pratikara Devata (Goddess of revenge)'. A story of the subject has also come as serial in Mathrubhumi weekly during 1998 -1999.

There are two films directly on this incident by name Brashtu and Parinayam (National award winner -1994). There were several other films with stories borrowed from the Tatrikutty incident with various names at different times. Even in other languages such films were made.

Social Upheaval
This was a landmark or historical trial (Smartha Vicharam) in many respects. This was one with 65 persons involved. Possibly the number might have been much more had the trial continued instead of abruptly stopped further trials. Even there were strong rumors that the next person may the Kochi Maharaja himself. That was the extent of her attraction as a desirable lady to sleep with. Till that time only the ladies were tried and punished.

In this case Dhatri forced the authorities to give equal justice to lady and the men involved. For the entire duration of the trial of about 7 months the family members of all persons of some social standing were in tenterhooks or tremendous anxiety and fear that the next name may be one from their family. The persons involved were all of high standing one in the society and well known professionals. The whole incident had a shattering effect on the society at that time.

This situation prompted the Kochi Maharaja to declare that in future to institute 'Smarthavicharam' against anybody a hefty amount has to be deposited in the treasury to discourage the possibility such public embarrassments in future. This is the only trial challenged in the then Madras High Court which gave a verdict the trial as void, but could not give relief to anybody under the order.

As mentioned earlier, Dhatri Kutty an extremely intelligent, courageous and beautiful girl had to marry an old man who cannot fulfill her desire for sex. Hence she must have planned the revenge against the society by selecting some of the famous persons of that time to partner in sex. She was virtually running a brothel with herself as the prostitute without anybody knowing her identity with the use of veils. She had the unstinting support of her maid servant cum companion cum thozhi, as per the custom of those days, a Nair girl.

She was able to satisfy all who came to her so that her professionalism as a prostitute went far and wide and anybody will be willing to come to her to get chance. During the Smartha Vicharam there was a gossip that even the King of the Cochin was involved and he was afraid that his name may be divulged by Thathri Kutty. Anyway she had to stop divulging the name of her illicit relations at the 65th man which itself had created commotion and turmoil in the society. When this got exposed the very foundation of the social set up of that time was shaken.

There was an upheaval for change in the marriage system and family definitions and set up not only in the Nampoodiri Community, but also in the lower communities. After the Smarthavicharam of the Tatrikutty the Namboodiris started organising to take up the common issues of the community. The main issue was the marriage system of their community. On the one hand the elder one marries as many as he can and on the other the younger members have no right to marry.

Many girls and ladies remain either unmarried or married without the married relations and in many cases widowhood due to death of the old husbands while they are still girls. In order to change the unequal system in the Nampoodiri community, some revolutionary men formed a council "Namboodiri Yogakshema Mahaasabha" (Namboodiri Community Welfare Organisation). In this forum they promoted the idea for abolition of the system of sambandham and a thorough change in the marriage regulations of Nampoodiri Community. This had the chain effect in the Nair Community also where there were organised revolt against the matriarchal system and to introduce patriarchal system among them.

Possible Reasons for the Revolt
There are several versions as to why Dhatri Kutty went in this type of actions which in the ordinary course no other girl/lady would have dared to try even in the modern times. Even to think such an act would be frightful or even it may not come to the mind of nay normal or even a slightly hyper active lady. Therefore there must have been a strong reason for her to such an extreme step in the period when the society was so cruel to the women with so much of restrictions, fetters and taboos etc. It is not known if she had expressed anything to anybody.

In the trials she had restricted herself to insisting on equal punishment for the involved males also and thereafter she had only given the details of the names, addresses and identification marks of the involved men. So whatever is mentioned here can only be guesses. The following are the possible reasons. It may be any or a combination two or more reasons.

The first possible reason is the system prevailing especially in her community. The girls are not given education, the husband will have many wives, and while the girls are very young the marriage is to an aged person and no freedom to move anywhere alone. In Dhatri's case all these circumstances applied and while she was extremely beautiful and bold; her husband was a vainglorious person. She might have felt to smash the shackles of the society so that the future generations get relief, even if it is at the cost of her life. It requires iron will to do what she had done especially with the punishments for adultery during the trial period.

Another reason told is that her husband was jealous of her beauty, intelligence and boldness. He wanted to insult her as the male members can do anything and get away with it normally. Once he brought a prostitute to the house and after spending time with her sent out. While spending her off he teased Dhatri that he enjoyed the time he spent with the prostitute and if Dhatri had guts she can be on e like her. As per this version Dhatri accepted the challenge and started the orgy and finally invited her husband without his knowing the identity of her. After his session with her, it was reported that he went to the pinnacle of sensual feeling and suggested to her that he enjoyed the session and would like her to be with him permanently. On this she lifted her veil and the man ran away screaming.

Another reason gossiped was that Dhatri was forcefully enjoyed by her young brother in law against her will.

One more gossip was that her own father abused her.

She being a beautiful lady it could have been a possibility that her brother-in-law or father tried to enjoy. But as against this, it is to be considered that she was a bold, intelligent and courageous girl/lady. Even assuming such a thing could have taken place, Dhatri would not have gone to the extent of hunting for famous person of the society to be trapped to show her revenge. There is no mention of her brother-in-law or father in the list of jarans submitted by her at the trial.

As per the opinions of all concerned, Dhatri was a bold, cunning and revengeful lady. Therefore, the gossip about the brother in law or father would not have been a reason as she was bold and intelligent and could have easily foiled their attempts if any. Therefore the only reason left is that of revenge against a cruel and cunning society which tried to keep the ladies as the tools for satisfying the males of the society especially in the Nampoodiri community.

Those who read the story will admit that even in this 21st century it will be very difficult for any lady to do what Dhatri Kutty did 150 years back without the communication facilities, where the ladies were under strict observation and checks of the society. Therefore it stands to reason that her action was a revenge or revolt against the society if we take into account that she was intelligent and bold. It is also possible that if her husband had challenged her to be like the prostitute she could have taken the challenge. Perhaps the husband's taunts and the suppression of the ladies of that time combined might have prompted Dhatri Kutty to plan and execute such a daring and shocking act.

Smarthans involved in Dhatri's case
The Smartha Vicharam was done with a committee of 4 persons with the famous Jathavedan Nampoodiri from the Perumannan village as the Smarthan (knowing the Vedas and competent to conduct the trial of chastity as per the Nampoodiri Community rules). Another one was the eldest Nampoodiri from Desamangalam Mana.

The Mana was the biggest landlord around 4 – 5 villages including the Arangotukara and have the right to try guilty persons of these 5 villages and punish under the order of the Cochin Raja at that time. The other two are not known to me. Most probably one member might have been from either the Naareri Mana or Pumulli Mana 2 prominent landlord of the area where Kalpakasseri Mana was situated. And the last might have been the land lord of the area under which the Mana of Dhatri's husband situates.

Dhatri's Isolation House
Dhatri antharjanam (Tatri – Savithri) was caught on adultery and was taken and accommodated in an isolation house known as Pacha olappura (house with green palm leaves) – Achanpura on river bank at Chalakkudi. Such houses specially designated for such purposes were under guard so that the inmates do not escape or have contact with outside world. It used to be like a remand home or virtual jail till the inmate is declared as innocent, which is very rare or till punishment is awarded. Dhatri was also not allowed to have contact with anybody.

The trial – Smarthavicharam took about 7 months to complete. It is also said that there were persons waiting outside the Smarthavicharam place for Dhatri to come out and take her with them if she was willing. She did not agree and fought with them who tried to use force or coercion with her. Her loyal maid servant also was with her to support her. Nothing much is known about the maid servant except her help to Dhatri in the background.

The Last Smarthavicharam
The next one and the last of the Smarthavicharam happened in 1918. This case was that of another Savithri Antharjanam (Tatri) of Pazhur Paduthol Illam. There were 12 persons involved. The Smarthan was the same Jatavedan Nambuthiri. This Savithri married a Muslim after her Brashtu punishment. She had a daughter from the Muslim and thata daughter married a Chakiar.

Madras High Court Order on Smarthavicharam trial
The high court ordered that the Brashtu of the men who had intercourse with Dhatri as illegal as these men were not properly charge sheeted and not given proper chance to cross examine the lady, or given chance to argue their defence. In Jatavedan's report he has mentioned that it is not customary to record the details and minutes of the trial normally. However, he had written down briefly the matters of the men involved also were given chance to say what is their case against the allegations of Dhatri against them.

A brief description of Smarthavicharam
This procedure is followed in case of Nampoodiri ladies caught for adultery. Wherever the chastity is doubted, the lady in question was given to the custody of the society, for inquiry. The suspected person is sent to an isolation home known as the 'Achan pura or Pacha olappura' where she will be confined without allowing any outside contact. She will; be provided the basic necessities. First the maid servant will be questioned.

 All Nampoodiri ladies used to have a maid servant cum companion cum thozhi who will be most of the time with the lady. The questioning of the maid is known as the 'daasi Vicharam'. Then a formal request is made with a nominal deposit to the king who will agree if he feels it has to be conducted. Along with the approval the maharaja appoints the Smarthan (Vedic arbitrator) and his assistants. There will be some observers called 'Akakkoyamma' and 'Purakkoyamma'.

The enquiry is routine and may continue for days, weeks or months depending on the complications. During the entire period of the Smarthavicharam all those connected with the Smarthvicharam are to be accommodated and fed and their other basic necessities are to be met by the girls' father. At the end of the trial the verdict is arrived at. Invariably it will be finding the girl guilty and the punishment of 'Brashtu' –excommunication – casting out of society is declared.

Till then she is considered as an inanimate subject and is known as the 'Sadhanam' or object. After this she is as good as dead for the family and community and the other communities depended on the Nampoodiris and the last rites are done to her. She is thrown out into the street.

The stages of the procedures are
(1) the daasi Vicharam – questioning the made and a report is taken from her about the suspected antharjanam's illicit sexual conducts;

(2) if there was prima facie conclusion of infidelity, the system of isolation or transferring to Achan pura or Pacha olappura is done of the accused;

(3) intimation and request to the king concerned about the incident and proposed Smarthavicharam;

(4) the king sends the Smarthan and 4 assistants for the Smarthavicharam;

(5) These king's representatives frames the questions to be asked in consultation with the king;

(6) the questioning of the accused – the questioning and answering is done while the lady will be in the isolation place and the Smartha and others outside without each other seeing;

(7) The accused women are subject to severe torture during this period – there were several inhuman methods followed. One such method is to keep the woman in a palm leaf mat like the packing of a dead body and roll the mat with her inside the fold and roll it down from the tiled slanting roof top. Other women will be given opportunity to torture the woman according to their fancy and capacity. Sometimes snakes and rats will be let loose in the isolation place where the lady is kept;

(8) generally she is labelled as a nymphomaniac or a cursed demon who has ruined the lives of successful men. She is depicted as horrible demonic creature. But for the suffering antharjanam's she might be a heroine fighting for their cause, though they canno9t even express it to anyone.

Remains of the Tharawad (ancestral House)
At the time of my childhood the concerned house structure or remains were not seen, except for the remains of a pambumkavu (a raised platform with with all round walls of about 3 feet height and with a gap for entry to light lamps).

There were some granite stone installations of some deities supposed to be of Brahmarakshassu (may be the spirit of dead Brahmins), mookkan chathan (may be some snake god) and a few others. There were two wells (one for kitchen and the other for outside use) and two ponds (one for the bath of the antharjanams (Nampoodiri women) which were filled with mud and other dirt falling into them during rainy seasons. The whole land may be to the extent of 4 -5 acres.

There was a peepal tree near the back end of the land. The land is about 2feet in height and is in Ezhumangad portion was facing the main temple in Arangotukara portion, Sree Karthyayani Devi temple. The incident is the history created by the acts of a girl of extraordinary beauty, intelligence, courage and perhaps perversion or calculated revenge against the community, social system and society in general of her time which was fully loaded against women folks especially of the forward Namboodiri community during those days of virtual non communication facility, orthodox system of society and no easy transport facilities etc. Excommunication or ostracism ("Brashtu")

The Society at that Time
For majority of the population who are young may find it difficult to understand some of the issues unless the social set up of that time is understood. Hence a brief idea is given here. It was a period of feudalism at its peak but on the verge of degeneration. In Kerala the system followed was strange. The caste system was very strong.

The Brahmins had predominance and preferences in everything over others. The Kerala Brahmins were wealthy land lords and had several rights over other communities and castes. In fact they had the right to punish others. The society set up depended mostly on the set up of the Namboodiri community and all other communities set up was to suit their interests.

The Namboodiris of that time did not want their hold on the society to get diluted by having to divide the land of the family between the sons. Hence they devised the system in their community that only the eldest son can marry to have children of the family and there again only the eldest son gets married and hence the land of the family will be in the hands of the eldest son, i e only in one person. This threw up problems in their community as the other sons in the family cannot marry. They cannot control the sexual urge and had to do something to satisfy that urge. .

They introduced the system of sammandham for the younger male members. Under this system the property need not be shared with their children from the sambandham. Another problem was that since only one man from a family can marry, marrying only one girl / lady will make other Nampoodiri ladies spinsters/unmarried. The ladies too have the sexual urge as a natural biological process and might do something to satisfy their sexual urge. But the Nampoodiris wanted their ladies and girls to be chaste.

Under such pressure situations the powerful Namboodiris devised a system to meet the situation. To solve the Nampoodiri ladies problem, they introduced the system that the eldest male member can marry any number of Nampoodiri girls and ladies. This again had its problem. When more than one wife is there, there will be family quarrels in spite of the tight control of males over the ladies, and the man may not be able to satisfy the sexual necessities of all his wives.

This is further complicated when he marries in the old age to a young girl / lady. There were several instances where immediately on marriage the old husband dies and the young girl / lady will live as a widow with lot of restrictions and torture for balance of her life which may be a very long one. On the other side there may be also many ladies not getting a chance to marry and have to spend their entire life as spinsters.

So there were simmering discontent among the unsatisfied ladies and some of them clandestinely try to have illicit relation which when caught, will out cast them from society. They will be thrown out of the house on the road. There were asylums for such outcast ladies. Some may be lucky to get there. Some may marry lower cast men and live with them. Some will get exploited by men and some will be wandering as beggars for food. In the normal circumstance itself there were lot of restrictions on the antharjanams, akathulla aale or aathole (those are the words by which Nampoodiri ladies are known) in those days. They cannot go anywhere except to nearby temples or to their close relatives and are mostly confined to the homes.

Even to these places they were not allowed to go alone. There will always be a maid servant, a Nair lady who will be constantly with her. The Nampoodiris were using this as status symbol and the lady may feel elated. But in fact this is also a spying method by the men against the ladies activities. Then whenever the ladies go out they have to keep an umbrella in such a way that the lady's face and upper body cannot be seen by others, a predecessor or variation of the purda (veil) system of the Muslim ladies. The ladies cannot see anybody and anybody cannot see the ladies.

There will be a Nair maid with the lady who will walk in front and other Nair ladies will be on sides and back of the lady. The lady can see the foot of the Nair lady in the front and she just follows the feet. In fact everything possible was done to keep them chaste. The only activities they had were taking bath, chanting hymns or slokas, cooking food and sleeping.

In order to avoid the division of property to the family with the sammandham children, they again devised a clever system of maternal linearity for the lower caste families with whom their younger male members will have sammandham, mostly of the Nair community. Under this system the males having sambandham and children need not give anything to the lady or children except one two pairs of dresses during the Onam, Vishu and Thiruvatahira.

Since the Namboodiris wanted their younger male members to have facility of sammandham, they extended this concept to the Nair community also. So the Nair girls used to have only sammandham arrangements either from persons of their own community or from Brahmins. If any Brahmin is interested to have sammandham with a particular girl or lady the Brahmin will get preference over the Nair. So even if there is a sammandham arrangement for a girl or lady with her own community, he has to stop the sammandham to accommodate the sambandham arrangement of the Brahmin.

What is Death?

Lot of great people have explained the meaning of Life. A student from Bangalore explains the meaning of Death.


Tuesday, 25 April 2017

20 utterly profound Winnie-the-Pooh quotes to make you smile

Perhaps we adults need to revisit the realms of children’s literature, TV and film once in a while because there is a surprising amount of wisdom to be gleaned from them.

Author A.A. Milne created some of the most thoughtful and profound characters when he penned his Winne-the-Pooh novels and many of the quotes that were born from it have life lessons we can all learn from.

Some of these, and others from the subsequent animated adaptations, can be found below. As soon as you start reading them, you’ll be blown away by how deep and full of meaning they are.

If you are a parent, perhaps you should consider tracking down the books, TV series, and movies to introduce your children to the wonders of this bear in the forest.

I recommend grabbing a copy of The Tao of Pooh as you’ll no doubt enjoy it if you enjoy the quotes below.


On love:
“How do you spell ‘love’?” – Piglet
“You don’t spell it…you feel it.” – Pooh

On trusting your ability to deal with anything:
Promise me you’ll always remember: You’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

On the importance of the little things:
Sometimes, said Pooh, the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.

On being present:
“What day is it?”
“It’s today,” squeaked Piglet.
“My favorite day,” said Pooh.

On the futility of worry:
“Supposing a tree fell down, Pooh, when we were underneath it?”
“Supposing it didn’t,” said Pooh after careful thought.
Piglet was comforted by this.

On knowing by simply being:
Sometimes, if you stand on the bottom rail of a bridge and lean over to watch the river slipping slowly away beneath you, you will suddenly know everything there is to be known.

On individuality:
The things that make me different are the things that make me.

On the difference between knowledge and understanding:
“Rabbit’s clever,” said Pooh thoughtfully.
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit’s clever.”
“And he has Brain.”
“Yes,” said Piglet, “Rabbit has Brain.”
There was a long silence.
“I suppose,” said Pooh, “that that’s why he never understands anything.”

On knowing that you don’t need anybody else to complete you:
I was walking along looking for somebody, and then suddenly I wasn’t anymore.

On self-sacrifice:
Love is taking a few steps backward maybe even more…to give way to the happiness of the person you love.

On gratitude:
Piglet noticed that even though he had a very small heart, it could hold a rather large amount of gratitude.

On comfort zones:
You can’t stay in your corner of the Forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.

On not overthinking:
Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits…

On unselfishness:
A little consideration, a little thought for others, makes all the difference.

On the wealth in your life:
How lucky I am to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.

On clearing your mind of all thoughts:
Don’t underestimate the value of doing nothing, of just going along, listening to all the things you can’t hear, and not bothering.

On the value of dreams:
I think we dream so we don’t have to be apart for so long. If we’re in each other’s dreams, we can be together all the time.

On the benefits of not micromanaging everything:
One of the advantages of being disorganized is that one is always having surprising discoveries.

On the beauty within the arts:
But it isn’t easy, said Pooh. Because poetry and hums aren’t things which you get, they’re things which get you. And all you can do is to go where they can find you.

On finding joy in everything:
Nobody can be uncheered with a balloon.

(Source: A Conscious Rethink)

200 superb books everyone should read at least once

We all have few books we especially love and cherish. We keep coming back to them for comfort and wisdom. But every once in a while, it’s nice to branch out and try adding some new tomes to your collection.

Look no further. Bright Side has brought you a list of 200 of the most extraordinary books, put together by the BBC. Ready, set, read!

A
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll
All Quiet on the Western Front by Erich Maria Remarque
American Psycho by Bret Easton Ellis
Angus, Thongs and Full-Frontal Snogging by Louise Rennison
Animal Farm by George Orwell
Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy
Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery
Artemis Fowl by Eoin Colfer
Atonement by Ian McEwan

B
Bad Girls by Jacqueline Wilson
The Beach by Alex Garland
Behind the Scenes at the Museum by Kate Atkinson
The BFG or Big Friendly Giant by Roald Dahl
Birdsong by Sebastian Faulks
Black Beauty by Anna Sewell
Bleak House by Charles Dickens
Brave New World by Aldous Huxley
Brideshead Revisited by Evelyn Waugh
Bridget Jones’s Diary by Helen Fielding

C
Captain Corelli’s Mandolin by Louis de Bernieres
The Catcher in the Rye by Jerome David Salinger
Catch-22 by Joseph Heller
Charlie and the Chocolate Factory by Roald Dahl
Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White
A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens
The Clan of the Cave Bear by Jean M Auel
Cold Comfort Farm by Stella Gibbons
The Color Purple by Alice Walker
The Colour of Magic by Terry Pratchett
The Count of Monte Cristo by Alexandre Dumas
Crime and Punishment by Fyodor Dostoyevsky
Cross Stitch by Diana Gabaldon
The Cruel Sea by Nicholas Monsarrat

D
Danny the Champion of the World by Roald Dahl
The Dare Game by Jacqueline Wilson
David Copperfield by Charles Dickens
The Day of the Jackal by Frederick Forsyth
The Day of the Triffids by John Wyndham
Diary of a Nobody by George and Weedon Grossmith
Double Act by Jacqueline Wilson
Dracula by Bram Stoker
Dune by Frank Herbert
Dustbin Baby by Jacqueline Wilson

E
East of Eden by John Steinbeck
Emma by Jane Austen

F
Fantastic Mr Fox by Roald Dahl
Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy
The Far Pavilions by M. M. Kaye
Flowers in the Attic by Virginia Andrews
The Fifth Elephant by Terry Pratchett
A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry
The Forsyte Saga by John Galsworthy
Frankenstein by Mary Shelley

G
George’s Marvellous Medicine by Roald Dahl
Girls in Love by Jacqueline Wilson
Girls in Tears by Jacqueline Wilson
Girls Out Late by Jacqueline Wilson
The Godfather by Mario Puzo
The God of Small Things by Arundhati Roy
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell
Good Omens by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman
Goodnight, Mr Tom by Michelle Magorian
Goosebumps by R. L. Stine
Gormenghast by Mervyn Peake
The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
Great Expectations by Charles Dickens
The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald
The Green Mile by Stephen King
Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett

H
The Handmaid’s Tale by Margaret Atwood
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone by J.K. Rowling
Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban by J.K. Rowling
Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad
Heidi by Johanna Spyri
High Fidelity by Nick Hornby
His Dark Materials by Philip Pullman
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Hogfather by Terry Pratchett
Holes by Louis Sachar
The Horse Whisperer by Nicholas Evans
The Hound of the Baskervilles by Arthur Conan Doyle
House of Leaves by Mark Z. Danielewski

I
I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith
The Illustrated Mum by Jacqueline Wilson
It by Stephen King

J
James and the Giant Peach by Roald Dahl
Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë
Jonathan Livingstone Seagull by Richard Bach
Jude the Obscure by Thomas Hardy

K
Kane and Abel by Jeffrey Archer
Katherine by Anya Seton
Kim by Rudyard Kipling

L
Les Misérables by Victor Hugo
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by Clive Staples Lewis
The Little Prince by Antoine De Saint-Exupery
Little Women by Louisa May Alcott
Lola Rose by Jacqueline Wilson
Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov
Lord of the Flies by William Golding
The Lord of the Rings by J.R.R. Tolkien
Lorna Doone by R.D. Blackmore
Love in the Time of Cholera by Gabriel García Márquez

M
Magician by Raymond E Feist
The Magic Faraway Tree by Enid Blyton
The Magus by John Fowles
Man and Boy by Tony Parsons
Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian
The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov
Matilda by Roald Dahl
The Mayor of Casterbridge by Thomas Hardy
Memoirs of a Geisha by Arthur Golden
Men at Arms by Terry Pratchett
Middlemarch by George Eliot
Midnight’s Children by Salman Rushdie
Moby Dick by Herman Melville
Mort by Terry Pratchett

N
The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco
Night Watch by Terry Pratchett
Noughts and Crosses by Malorie Blackman

O
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Oliver Twist by Charles Dickens
The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway
On the Road by Jack Kerouac
The Once and Future King by T.H. White
One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest by Ken Kesey
One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel García Márquez

P
Papillon by Henri Charriere
Perfume by Patrick Süskind
Persuasion by Jane Austen
The Pickwick Papers by Charles Dickens
The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde
The Pillars of the Earth by Ken Follett
Point Blanc by Anthony Horowitz
The Poisonwood Bible by Barbara Kingsolver
Possession by A.S. Byatt
The Power of One by Bryce Courtenay
A Prayer for Owen Meany by John Irving
Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen
The Princess Diaries by Meg Cabot

R
The Ragged Trousered Philanthropists by Robert Tressell
Reaper Man by Terry Pratchett
Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
River God by Wilbur Smith

S
Secrets by Jacqueline Wilson
The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ by Sue Townsend
The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett
The Secret History by Donna Tartt
The Shell Seekers by Rosamunde Pilcher
The Shipping News by Annie Proulx
Shogun by James Clavell
Silas Marner by George Eliot
The Silver Sword by Ian Serraillier
Skeleton Key by Anthony Horowitz
Sleepovers by Jacqueline Wilson
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett
Sons and Lovers by D.H. Lawrence
Sophie’s World by Jostein Gaarder
Soul Music by Terry Pratchett
The Stand by Stephen King
Stormbreaker by Anthony Horowitz
The Story of Tracy Beaker by Jacqueline Wilson
A Suitable Boy by Vikram Seth
The Suitcase Kid by Jacqueline Wilson
Sunset Song by Lewis Grassic Gibbon
Swallows and Amazons by Arthur Ransome

T
A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens
Tess of the D’Urbervilles by Thomas Hardy
They Used to Play on Grass by Terry Venables and Gordon Williams
Thief of Time by Terry Pratchett
The Thirty-Nine Steps by John Buchan
The Thorn Birds by Colleen McCollough
Three Men in a Boat by Jerome K. Jerome
To Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee
A Town Like Alice by Nevil Shute
Trainspotting by Irvine Welsh
Treasure Island by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Truth by Terry Pratchett
The Twits by Roald Dahl

U
Ulysses by James Joyce
The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera

V
Vanity Fair by William Makepeace Thackeray
The Very Hungry Caterpillar by Eric Carle
Vicky Angel by Jacqueline Wilson

W
War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy
The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells
The Wasp Factory by Iain Banks
Watership Down by Richard Adams
The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame
Winnie the Pooh by Alan Alexander Milne
The Witches by Roald Dahl
Witches Abroad by Terry Pratchett
The Woman in White by Wilkie Collins
The World According to Garp by John Irving
Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë
Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett

1-9
1984 by George Orwell

How farmers in North Kerala are using an age-old water system to beat the drought

Even as Kerala reels under severe drought, Gangadhar Rao never misses a day to irrigate thousands of areca nut trees, coconut trees and pepper plants on his 30 acres of farmland.

Rao is a farmer from Bedadka Panchayath in Kerala’s northernmost district of Kasaragod and depends on Suranga for all his water needs — irrigation and domestic — round the year.

Suranga is commonly found in the hilly regions of North Kerala and South Karnataka. It is estimated that Kasaragod district alone has over 5,000 Suranga.

Suranga in Kannada means tunnel. It is known as Thurangam, Thorapu and Mala in Malayalam.

Rao’s farmland has more than 30 Suranga, but a majority of them are dysfunctional. “We excavate new Suranga when water discharge from the old one goes down. Now I depend on just two Suranga,” says Rao.

“Crops in my land never faced the vagaries of summer thanks to Suranga that release copious amounts of water even at the peak of summer.”

A Suranga is constructed by the horizontal excavation of laterite hills until a good amount of water is struck. Water seeps out of the rock and flows out of the tunnel like a narrow stream. It is collected in a reservoir made of mud, known as Madhaka, just outside the Suranga. The water flows into the reservoir round the clock, and it doesn’t need electricity to pump.

A normal tunnel well is 500 cm to 700 cm wide and two metres high. The length varies between 200 and 300 metres. Longer wells contain many vertical shafts to ensure atmospheric pressure inside.

Digging a Suranga is a tedious task, combining traditional knowledge and the skills of a labourer.­ Of late, Kasaragod is facing a dearth of labourers with the technical knowledge to undertake the challenging job. The reluctance of youngsters to take it up as a profession has only worsened the situation. It is left to veterans such as Chaliyan Kunhambu to keep the tradition of Suranga excavation alive.

At 65 years, Kunhambu shows the energy and enthusiasm of a young man. He enjoys working from dawn to dusk, cutting the hard rocks with his pickaxe and never-say-die attitude.

He has dug more than 1,000 Suranga in different parts of Kasaragod and Southern Karnataka. Put together the length of all Suranga excavated by him and the total distance may exceed 45 km.

“Summer is the busiest season for me,” he says. “Because people begin to worry about water scarcity when summer sets in.”

Kunhambu has dug several of the Suranga on Rao’s farmland. So he visits the place occasionally to inspect the water flow. “Listening to the sound of flowing water in a Suranga makes me happy,” he remarks.

Last month, he took this correspondent to Rao’s farmland to show how a Suranga works.

Kunhambu slipped into a labourer’s attire and stepped into the tunnel with a pickaxe and a couple of lit candles. I held on to his hand.

After wading through for a few minutes, we reached the water source. “I dug this Suranga all alone,” he tells me, while shaving the laterite rock gently.

Kunhambu says Suranga provides the purest water because of the natural filtration process. “Trust me, it is pure and you can drink it anytime,” he says.


Ancient lifeline
Suranga is said to be similar to Qanat or Karez that existed in Mesopotamia and Babylon around 700 BC. Qanat is a deep well with a series of vertical access shafts that provides a reliable supply of water for human settlements and irrigation in hot, arid and semi-arid climates.

Suranga has many advantages compared to open well and borewell. It is easier as well as cheaper to dig in hilly regions such as Kasaragod. Kunhambu estimates the cost at Rs 1 lakh for a 60-metre long Suranga. “It is very low compared to the money needed to dig an open well or a borewell,” he says.

Suranga offers no less than a lifeline in a place where water scarcity is becoming more common. But because this old method of water extraction is poorly publicised outside the region, Shree Padre, a farm journalist and editor of Kannada magazine Adike Patrike, believes the Suranga is dying. “When I say it is dying, I mean further extension is diminishing.”

He believes that people have lost faith in traditional water resources with the advent of mechanical means of water extraction. “The excavation is labour-intensive and needs a lot of time. If you don’t strike water within a fixed time, the budget will inflate.”

Suranga, however, is highly sustainable, Padre says. “But we have to preserve it for future generations.”

Govindankutty, hydrogeologist and assistant professor at Government College in Chittur, Palakkad, can’t extoll the virtues of Suranga enough. “We can conserve a lot of water by reviving this age-old traditional water system. It is very important at a time when we face huge water scarcity.”

Cleaning up their act
Elsewhere in Kerala, the severe drought has made the people realise the need to conserve water bodies.

Budhanoor Grama Panchayat in Alappuzha district recently cleaned a 5-km stretch of Kuttamperoor river, a tributary of Pampa and Achankovil rivers. Water weeds and waste dumped into the waterway for over a decade were cleared out. “The river was blocked with plastic bottles, containers, and food waste. The panchayat spent Rs 72 lakh on the project,” the panchayat’s president Viswambhara Panicker tells Scroll.in.

The cleaning drive had a huge impact. “Water surged in the open wells in the vicinity. It gave us huge relief from drought. The panchayat has been distributing water through tanker lorries for the last two months in the area,” Panicker adds.

Anpodu Kochi, a non-profit organisation based in Kochi, has decided to clean 100 water bodies in Ernakulam district over 50 days. The innovative programme titled Ente Kulam Ernakulam (My Pond Ernakulam) was officially launched on March 23.

“The cleaning effort is to fight the severe drought and drinking water shortage in the district,” the organisation said in a Facebook post.

The revived ponds are being handed over to the public and reviews will be conducted once every two months to ensure proper maintenance.

Even political parties have joined the fight against drought. The Communist Party of India (Marxist), which leads the state’s Left Democratic Front government, has launched an ambitious plan to clean and conserve 1,500 water bodies across the state. CPI(M) State Secretary Kodiyeri Balakrishnan has said a social movement on the lines of the literacy drive and the people’s planning initiative is needed to protect drinking water sources. “All Keralites should join the mass movement,” he has appealed.

(Source: Scroll)

Dogs are doggos: An internet language built around love for the puppers

Some dogs are doggos, some are puppers, and others may even be pupperinos. There are corgos and clouds, fluffers and floofs, woofers and boofers. The chunky ones are thicc, and the thin ones are long bois. When they stick out their tongues, they're doing a mlem, a blep, a blop. They bork. They boof. Once in a while they do each other a frighten. And whether they're 10/10 or 12/10, they're all h*ckin' good boys and girls.

Are you picking up what I'm putting down? If not, you're probably not fluent in DoggoLingo, a language trend that's been gaining steam on the Internet in the past few years. The language most often accompanies a picture or a video of a dog and has spread to all major forms of social media. It might even change the way we talk out loud to our beloved canines.

DoggoLingo, sometimes referred to as doggo-speak, "seems to be quite lexical, there are a lot of distinctive words that are used," says Internet linguist Gretchen McCulloch. "It's cutesier than others, too. Doggo, woofer, pupper, pupperino, fluffer — those have all got an extra suffix on the end to make them cuter."

McCulloch also notes DoggoLingo is uniquely heavy on onomatopoeias like bork, blep, mlem and blop.

It's no surprise DoggoLingo is made up of cutesy suffixes and onomatopoeias. "You're taking on characteristics of how people would address their animals in the first place," McCulloch says.

What's more, DoggoLingo is spoken by humans online, as opposed to in memes like LOLcats, doge and snek where the animals themselves do the talking. This makes DoggoLingo much more accessible, McCulloch notes, and perhaps more likely to find its way into spoken human speech.

It wouldn't be surprising if people started to call their Samoyeds fluffers, point out a Labrador's mlem or call an overweight pug a fat boi, as in this Facebook post. In fact, they're probably saying these out loud already.

"A new cutesy word for a thing you're already used to using cutesy words for? That's such an easy entry to vocabulary," McCulloch says.

A menagerie of meme-speak
DoggoLingo's array of words is a hodgepodge of existing Internet language.

For example, the phrase "doing me a frighten," used to describe startled dogs, comes from an image posted in late 2015 according to KnowYourMeme.com. In it, a tiny Rottweiler puppy shocks its parent with a flurry of borks. The parent replies, "stop it son, you are doing me a frighten."

The origin of "bork" itself is less clear, but it's clearly onomatopoeic. It's perhaps most well-known thanks to Gabe the Dog, a tiny floof of a Miniature American Eskimo/Pomeranian whose borks have been remixed into countless classic tunes. Jurassic Bork, The Bork Files, Doggos of the Borkribbean, Imperial Borks — the list goes on and on.

Tongue sounds have been floating around the Internet for a few years now, but seem to have finally found a home in DoggoLingo. They even have precise meanings. As Redditor blop_cop points out in a comment, "A blop is when a dog pokes his tongue out due to tiredness/forgetfulness and it often is only a small portion of the tongue. A mlem is basically any time a dog is licking their chops, or sticking their tongue out!"

A perfect example of a miniature Australian shepherd doing a "mlem" was captured on Facebook, as shown here.

Not all of DoggoLingo is canine-bound. "Blep" is commonly used for cats sticking out their tongues, too, as demonstrated on the feline-focused subreddit /r/blep.

The constant use of "heck" in DoggoLingo might come from the snek meme, McCulloch says, where snakes try to act tough but are really just loveable losers.

Sometimes heck is censored as h*ck. Matt Nelson, who runs the WeRateDogs Twitter account (@dog_rates), says tweets from WeRate popularized h*ck and its derivatives. "I'm sure someone else did that before," he says, "but it was something original to me and I used it to such an extent that people associate it with [@dog_rates] now."

@dog_rates currently has 1.77 million followers. Nelson rates submissions to the account with such lighthearted humor that, when combined with the power of a bombastically cute pup, often go viral.


Internet circles define DoggoLingo
McCulloch thinks DoggoLingo may have become popularized and perhaps even solidified in this way thanks to accounts like WeRateDogs on Twitter, and also to dog-devoted groups on Facebook with thousands of members.

One such group is called Dogspotting. At more than 500,000 members — and gaining around 10,000 a week — it's one of the larger dog-devoted groups on Facebook. The rules are simple. ...Well, OK, they're not that simple.

Essentially, members around the world post photos and videos of dogs they happen across in their daily lives. The No Known Dogs rule makes sure people don't spam posts of their own pets, the No Selfies rule keeps the posts dogs-only (no humans!), and the Don't Drive and Spot rule keeps spotters safe.

The result: thousands of doggos and puppers flood the Dogspotting group — and members' newsfeeds — every single day.

Of course, with members constantly posting and writing captions, the group is a breeding ground for DoggoLingo.

"We can't help but be socially influenced by each other," McCulloch says. "The fun part of a meme is participating in something that other people recognize."

So, if one person calls a fat Corgi a loaf (like in the Dogspotting Facebook post shown here) and others find it funny, it's easy for terms like that to proliferate and eventually become part of a language like DoggoLingo.

Dogspotting may even be the birthplace of DoggoLingo's titular term "doggo."

Though created in 2008, Dogspotting really took off in the summer of 2014, particularly in Australia.

This is significant because, as McCulloch points out, adding "-o" to words is very Australian. For example, where we'd say def to abbreviate the word definitely, Australians would say defo.

So were Australians posting in Dogspotting saying "doggo," which English-speakers around the world picked up on and turned into a viral Internet word?

"That makes a shocking amount of sense," says John Savoia, who founded Dogspotting and runs the page with Reid Paskiewicz and Jeff Wallen.

"I bet you anything [doggo] was used before Dogspotting and we just made it part of the lexicon," Paskiewicz says.

James Moffatt, a performance artist who grew up in Adelaide and is not a member of Dogspotting, says he remembers doggo being used "as an affectionate diminutive to refer to dogs throughout my childhood."

All in all, it's possible that doggo got a boost shortly after more Australians joined Dogspotting. Pages like Ding de la Doggo may have also assisted its slingshot into meme stardom.

A canine oasis
Dogs' wholesomeness could be why groups like Dogspotting and accounts like WeRateDogs have become so popular. They're an escape from a news cycle that's become terrifying and depressing for so many.

Nelson isn't sure why exactly dogs are so genuinely heartwarming. "Maybe they represent this sort of unconditional love that we strive for," he says, "or they just embody this innocent perfection that we can't really find in ourselves or immediately in other animals."

"Dogs in general are wholesome and uplifting," says Dogspotting moderator Molly Bloomfield. "Irrelevant of your political views, your gender, your socioeconomic status; everyone loves dogs and dogs love everyone."

To preserve this oasis and prevent conflict among members, Dogspotting doesn't allow its members to take political stands in their posts.

"We try our hardest to be fair to everyone," Wallen says. "We allow spots from rallies, protests and such, but we don't allow people to project their agendas onto the spotted dogs." For example, a Dogspotter could say, "I spotted this pup at the anti-Trump rally," but not, "This dog hates Trump."

This Dogspotter followed the rules perfectly, spotting a "beautiful doggo" named Oreo at a Planned Parenthood rally in Illinois.

Rule breakers are banned, but can appeal to the Dogspotting People's Court for re-entry. "We want everybody to get back in," Paskiewicz says, "as long as they don't do it again."

As WeRateDogs followers are constantly reminded, all dogs are good dogs. And just about every dog posted on Dogspotting is accompanied by a tone of wonder, gushiness, or pure elation.

"In this time of politics hijacking our social media, people need dogs to smile and enjoy the good things in life," Paskiewicz says. "I feel honored to be a part of this social happening."

"Dogspotting is relentlessly positive," says Joey Faulkner, a Dogspotter and Ph.D. student at the University of Edinburgh who's blogged about the group in the past.

As Bloomfield puts it, "Dogs are here! How can the world be evil when dogs exist?"

Even the way Dogspotting is run is wholesome. Other dog-devoted Facebook groups like Cool Dog Group and Big Hecking Group of Dang Doggos aren't seen as competition to Dogspotting, Paskiewicz says. "The more dogs, the better."

And if Dogspotting ever becomes profitable, Paskiewicz says a fixed percentage of profits will go to a respected dog charity.

Dogspotting is so positive and complex that Paskiewicz has felt the need to specify during interviews that the group is not a cult. The phrase "we are not a cult" has even spread to posts and T-shirts. It's one of many Dogspotting mottos, along with "the dogs must flow," a reference from the novel Dune, and "be excellent to each other," from Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure.

The newest slogan? "Come on in, the dogs are fine," Paskiewicz says.

DoggoLingo in the dictionary
This dog-centric positivity has driven the popularity of DoggoLingo to new heights. Even Merriam-Webster is aware of terms like doggo and pupper. Though they have a long way to go before they're eligible for dictionary-entry — they need to be used in published, edited work over an extended period of time — they're definitely candidates.

"I personally like both," says Emily Brewster, an associate editor at Merriam-Webster, Inc. "I think it's great when people play with their language, and the new 'doggo' is way more fun than the unrelated adverb meaning 'in hiding.' "

McCulloch thinks some DoggoLingo terms have staying power, too: "I wouldn't be surprised if we see 'doggo' around in 50 years and people never realize it came from a meme."

(Source: NPR)

Raziya was India’s first female Muslim ruler and a brave warrior

Given the fact that Shams-Al-Din Iltutmish entered the court of the Delhi sultanate as a Turk slave and died as Sultan of Delhi, might have been the first indication that his daughter, Jalalat-Al-Din Raziya was destined for greatness. In 1236, Jalalat-Al-Din Raziya, historically referred to as Razia Sultan, ascended the throne as the first female ruler of the Delhi Sultanate. Though, her story might be perceived as romantic in popular culture, reality was anything but romantic.

The First Female Successor for the Throne
Iltutmish arrived at the Delhi sultanate as a Turk slave. He grew to be a great favorite of his master, Qutb Al-Din Aibak, the first Sultan of Delhi and so was married to the sultan’s daughter Qutub Begum becoming an actual part of the ruling family. With Qutb-Al-Din Aibak, he had a son Nasiruddin Mahmud and a daughter Jalalat-Al-Din Raziya. When Raziya was still a child, her grandfather Aibak died and her father became second Sultan of Delhi.

During the final years of his life, Sultan Iltutmish had to make an important decision. Whom would he hand-over the administration of the sultanate? Based on qabliyat (i.e. capability), Iltutmish would have chosen his son Nasiruddin Mahmud, who at that time also ruled as governor of Bengal. Yet, under mysterious circumstance, Nasiruddin Mahmud died and Iltutmish was at a loss. None of his other sons, born from his other wives, were too young to be crowned his successor.

His daughter Raziya had already shown her capability of managing the sultanate. When her father left for business or campaigning affairs, she took charges as a competent regent with the assistance of the Sultan’s trusted minister. She had become a well-educated woman, both in formal education as in the Qu’ran. Moreover, she was skilled in martial arts and, thus, an excellent trained warrior, rode both horses and elephants with an exquisite accomplishment and exercised authority with great dignity.

Without consulting the ulama (i.e.  scholars within the Muslim law), Iltutmish appointed his daughter Jalalat-Al-Din Raziya as his successor, for he saw “the signs of power and bravery” in her. Whenever someone questioned his decision he would reply: “My sons are devoted to the pleasures of the youth, and not one of them is qualified to be king […]. After my death, you will find that there is none more competent to guide the state than my daughter.” As such, Iltutmish became the first Sultan to appoint a woman as his heir apparent.

As a woman, Raziya was not given full support from the noblemen. She only managed to secure her control over the throne by dividing the opposition. After her official accession, many nobles opposed her. Ultimately, she won the majority over and the kingdom slumbered into peace again. She could extend the power of the state widely through the obedience and submission of maliks (i.e. kings) and amirs (i.e. state leaders).

By building a system of roads, she could easily inform herself of the affairs in the distant parts of the empire. She linked towns up with villages and built small forts as guard posts around these routes. In addition, she established schools, academics, research centers and public libraries where both Islamic tradition manuscripts and Hindu works shared places. Only one of the many examples that showed that Raziya considered the Muslim community and the Hindu community on an equal footing.

Raziya was clearly a devoted leader for her empire and subjects. She listened to her people’s complaints and demands, trying to reserve herself as a guiding hand among them instead of an indifferent ruler. By stating her title to be officially Raziya Sultan, rather than Raziya Sultana, she underlined her rightful credibility as a powerful sovereign leader of the Sultanate of Delhi. As her desire was to keep close relations with her people, Raziya Sultan substituted her female attire with that of a man’s head-dress and tunic, abandoned the veil and rode out on elephant without purdah (i.e. covering of the face).


A Conspiracy That Secured the Existing Opposition of Raziya’s Noblemen
Letting Raziya assume power, her noblemen had expected their female ruler to be a puppet in their hands. Instead, Raziya openly confessed herself to be an independent leader which caused much dissatisfaction among her nobles. With the arrival of Jamaluddin Yakut, a Habshi (i.e. Ethiopian) slave, the last straw was drawn.

Yakut had a calm and dependable nature, something that lead to Raziya favouring him so much to elevate him to position of Amir-i-Akhur (i.e. intendent of the royal stables). This position was a strategic position, very close to the sovereign. Raziya Sultan had basically made a non-Turk commander of her army. She did not intend to counter the power of her Turkish nobles whom, at that moment had monopolized that position, but her choice eventually led to their decision to dispose her. Together, Malik-i-Kabir Ikthiyaruddin Aitigin and Ghiyasussin Balban, set a conspiracy into motion against Raziya Sultan and a key chess piece in their plan was Malik Ikhtiyauddin Mirza Altunia.

Malik Ikhtiyauddin Mirza Altunia, a prominent noble man under Raziya’s father reign, had supported Raziya’s accession. Raziya favored him and had him rewarded with governorship of Tabarhinda (Bhatinda).  Before his departure to Tabarhinda, he offered marriage to Raziya which she refused stating that her priority was taking care of the empire. Aitigin and Balban took advantage of Altunia’s absence and told him rumors about Raziya’s and Yakut’s intimacy. The fact that Raziya and Yakut were always together, discussing affairs concerning the empire and she asking him advice about strategies, Aitign and Balban could arouse Altunia’s jealousy by telling them that Raziya was in love with Yakut. In anger, Altunia joined the opposition of the rebels, offered his help to depose the Sultan and by doing so, he would receive a portion of the empire.

A Prisoner Who Wins Over Her Captor to Win Back her Throne
The noblemen could not oppose Raziya in Delhi, as she had joined most her subjects in support for her rule, therefore rebellions were started in the distant provinces. One of the many rebellions came from Tabarhinda, Altunia’s government, a place she never expected rebellion to be stirred. Still, she asked Yakut to prepare the march against Altunia. At that moment, the army was exhausted, having put down a different rebellion in Lahore and Yakut was afraid that victory would come so easily this time. Due to his loyalty, he did not discourage the Sultan.

During the battle, Altunia realized that to defeat Raziya and to gain power for the nobles at Dehli, he had to kill Yakut. With the death of the commander of the army, soldiers lost their confidence and eventually surrendered to Altunia. Still trying to inspire her forces, Raziya sultan failed and was taking prisoner.

Meanwhile, the noblemen at Delhi assigned a new sultan, Raziya’s stepbrother Muizuddin Bahram Shah. He was a drunkard and finally could serve as the puppet the noblemen wanted. During his reign, the people were oppressed and opponents of the empire were unmercifully killed. Th promise that the noblemen had made to Altunia was forgotten. Raziya, still captured, realized that in order to restore her throne, she had to convince Altunia of fighting against a common enemy. Alluring him with the promise of power and rule in the sultanate, Altunia decided to help her. After their marriage, Altunia and Raziya recruited an army to win back Delhi.

A Story Made Romantic
It is not known who made the offer of marriage first. In any case, it did not last very long. Nearing Delhi, Bahram Shah knew that the only way he could win was killing Raziya. The people of Delhi were still allied to Raziya Sultan and merely her presence was enough to harden their love and respect for her. Unfortunately, Raziya Sultan was defeated.

Not much is known about the cause of her death. Some believe she fought as a valiant warrior on the battlefield until an arrow struck her. Others say she was defeated and fled where her survival was depending on a man who gave her bread and a place to sleep. During her sleep, the man saw a tunic of gold and pearls under her male army garment and realized that the man he had helped was a woman. He killed her, buried her body and took her valuables to sell on the market.

Popular culture turns Raziya’s life into a romantic story. The supposed love triangle has been source for various on-screen adaptations: Raziya having an affair with her noblemen but growing overly dependent on the Abyssinian slave, leading to a jealous lover and her subsequent defeat. How many inaccurate versions may exist, we should never forget Raziya Sultan’s true story: that of an independent female ruler who fought until the bitter end for her Empire!

SOURCES:
BRIJBHUSHAN JAMILA: SULTAN RAZIYA: HER LIFE AND TIMES: A REAPPRAISAL (MANOHAR PUBLICATIONS, NEW DELHI : 1990)

CHANDRA SATISH: MEDIEVAL INDIA: FROM SULTANAT TO THE MUGHALS : DELHI SULTANAT [1206-1526] (HAR- ANAND PUBLICATIONS PVT. LTD., NEW DELHI :1997, RPT. 2015)

DASGUPTA SHAHANA: RAZIA: THE PEOPLE’S QUEEN (RUPA & CO., NEW DELHI : 2001)

ERALY ABRAHAM: THE AGE OF WRATH: A HISTORY OF THE DELHI SULTANATE (PENGUIN BOOKS, INDIA : 2014)

FATIMA MERNISSI, THE FORGOTTEN QUEENS OF ISLAM (POLITY PRESS 1993, 1993)

(Source: MVSLIM)

From monarch to monk: Scion of Sikkim dynasty who became a spiritual recluse

Once crowned monarch, he now lives the reclusive life of a monk. Wangchuk Namgyal has preferred to slip into monasteries, caves and resultant oblivion despite being the scion of the Chogyal dynasty that once ruled Sikkim before merging with the Indian Republic to become its 22th province in 1975.

But some four decades later, Namgyal still evokes awe in at least some of his former subjects and derision among those opposed to the erstwhile royalty. Monarchists still speculate about his whereabouts and well-being. ‘Where is he’ and ‘how is he’ are frequent themes of discussions behind closed doors of many homes in Gangtok, the state’s laid-back capital.

Critics, however, are happy to wish him away as inconsequential. “The Chogyal is a forgotten past. He is nothing but a sort of a vague symbol of unity among the handful of royalists within the former ruling class and hardcore Lepcha and Bhutia minorities,” said a minister in the Pawan Chamling-led government in the state.

Namgyal, who ascended to the throne that his father Palden Thondup Namgyal had forfeited, has stayed away from controversies. Rarely seen in public, his mystique has grown instead. Now 64, he has spent the last 35 years meditating, sometimes in the caves of Bhutan and Nepal.

He visits what was the family palace in Gangtok at times. But he never ventures out, slipping out as quietly as he had arrived. “The Chogyal visits Sikkim quietly and leaves the same way,” a close relative said.

Wangchuk Namgyal was a crowned monarch before he gave up his throne 35 years ago.(Raghu Rai)

The former royal family is overzealously guarded about him. “We want the people to understand that the Namgyal family has lost the kingdom and people should respect our privacy,” one of them told HT.

Old-timers, however, say the Namgyal was a reluctant monk. “Once he realised there was no way of getting back his throne, he could only fall back on religion to seek solace,” pointed out a local.

But monkhood was far from his mind on February 19, 1982, the day he was crowned at the Tsuklakhang Palace atop a hill overlooking Gangtok even as his father’s funeral pyres were being lit at the Luksyama royal crematorium.

Inside the palace drawing room, Namgyal sat on the throne as a motley crowd of people – commoners, relatives and even 10 MLAs of the then 32-member state assembly – trooped in one by one to present him the traditional ‘Khada’ (silk scarf) and wish good luck.

India never recognized the coronation, though those present said Namgyal was the 13th Chogyal of Sikkim. “Prominent lamas from more than 44 monasteries chanted prayers while school students shouted ‘long live the Chogyal’, waving the banned Sikkim national flag,” recollected a former chief minister who happened to be present.

But the excitement died out soon and Namgyal receded to the background. “He can’t even be contacted on mobile as he takes no calls. It is he who contacts people when he needs some work done,” pointed out a cousin.

The family owns cardamom plantations and real estates and hotels across the globe, but Namgyal, it is said, is more at peace leading an austere life. He has not even pursued the compensation claim of Rs 110 crore that his father had sought from the Indian government for taking away his kingdom.

“Forget the throne, even the compensation is not in the realm of possibility,” pointed out one of his cousins, citing the fact that Palden Namgyal had refused to sign the instrument of accession. Taking refuge in religion has therefore been the best option for the monarch who ended up as a monk.

(Source: HT)

Can a difficult childhood enhance cognition?

Poverty tends to dampen test scores, but new research suggests people with hard upbringings can sometimes outperform their more-privileged peers. Read this wonderful article on the Atlantic:

Hard childhoods seem to not only rob children of material joys, but also of brain power. Children who grow up poor tend to score worse on tests of memory, processing speed, language, and attention. And they are 40 percent more likely to have a learning disability than their better-off peers.

Busier and less-educated parents utter millions fewer words to their babies, creating a gap in verbal ability by the time the children are 3. Factors like hunger, unsafe housing, and parental instability all contribute to “toxic stress” that impairs brain development. As a result, poor children tend to have less gray matter in areas of the brain critical to learning and memory, which explains as much as 20 percent of the gap in test scores between poor and middle-class kids. In adulthood, this can manifest as trouble planning ahead: In many studies, lower-income people say they’d prefer a smaller financial reward today, rather than a larger one later.

But a new line of research complicates the idea that worse childhoods necessarily lead to worse thinking ability. Instead, the chaos of early adversity might prompt some kids’ brains to adapt—sometimes in ways that make them better at certain types of reasoning than people with more privileged upbringings.

In one study, published in 2015 in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, researchers asked several groups of participants how chaotic their childhoods were, based on measures like, “I had a hard time knowing what my parent(s) or other people in my house were going to say or do from day-to-day.” They then reminded participants about tough economic times by having them read a fake New York Times article about the recession. Next, they had them perform a task that measure their inhibition, or self control, by requiring them to not look at a flashing, yellow box. Finally, the researchers asked the participants to play a game that would measure their ability to shift quickly between tasks by categorizing shapes according to rapidly changing rules.

Across four experiments, the researchers found that when primed with economic uncertainty, people with unpredictable childhoods performed worse on the inhibition task than those from stable ones, but they did better at the attention-shifting task.

“We’re not arguing that stress is good. We’re arguing that’s real, and that’s half the story.”
Chiraag Mittal, a professor at Texas A&M University and lead author of the study, explained that in uncertain environments, ignoring a potential threat can be deadly—thus, the subjects who had hard knocks earlier in life might have been skilled at keeping an eye on the periphery. “In an uncertain environment, where you don’t know where the next negative thing can happen, you want to be vigilant,” he said. “In a bad environment, you want to look at the light, because you want to know what it is.” And task-shifting might have behooved kids who had to, say, quickly adjust to new adults living in the house or to capitalize on fleeting and rare opportunities.

“We have been documenting deficits in children from high-stress backgrounds forever,” said Bruce Ellis, a psychology professor at the University of Utah, who was not involved with the study. “We fill libraries with all the things that are wrong with them. But this paper was the first systematic attempt to understand what was right with them.”

Switching between tasks isn’t the only cognitive enhancement that a difficult childhood can bring about. In a forthcoming paper in the Perspectives on Psychological Science, a team of researchers led by Ellis reviewed a number of studies that found boosts in various types of thinking among people from harsh or unstable backgrounds.

In one study, children of divorce remembered more early-childhood events; people whose parents were more verbally aggressive were better able to recognize emotions. “When you grow up in low-socioeconomic conditions,” Ellis explained, “there are other people around you who are more powerful than you and have more power than you, in ways that people from middle-class backgrounds don’t experience. In that context, being able to predict what they’re going to do could be very important.”

People who suffer trauma seem especially skilled at remembering it—perhaps a strategy aimed at avoiding trouble in the future. In one paper, kids who were abused could later remember the doctor who performed their Child-Protective-Services exam from a lineup, but they were worse than average at recognizing people they had interacted with positively. Poor adults performed worse on tasks that required working memory, but better on those that involved so-called “procedural learning”—more muscle-memory skills like driving a stick-shift.

“We’re not arguing that stress is good, or that it’s good for kids to grow up in poverty or under harsh conditions,” Ellis said. “What we’re arguing is that [the detrimental effects of stress] are real, and that’s half the story.”

It’s also important to note that this research is still in its infancy, and is far from conclusive. For example, Mittal’s study on shifting and inhibition found that childhood income—as opposed to stability—made no difference, and the study failed to produce an effect without the reminder about economic hardship. (Mittal said one possibility is that this task-switching skill is heightened when people are in a familiar, uncertain environment.) Still, it’s premature to suggest that all disadvantaged kids think a certain way.

But if these cognitive enhancements bear out in future research, it might be a reason for schools in low-income areas to consider tweaking their curricula to play to their students’ abilities. Traditional interventions, Ellis says, focus on making stressed kids more like their unstressed, middle-class peers. “They come in with an assumption that they’re broken and need to be fixed,” he said.

Instead, schools could try new approaches, like letting these kids move around and talk during class. That would put them in the type of chaotic environment they’re used to, with the goal of letting their hidden strengths shine through.