Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Dude, Where is my "Oola Ppera" ?

One of the most visible development indicators of any area is the condition of the houses.

I remember in the old days when I was growing up, there were a lot of “oola Pera’s” in my neighborhood and on the roadsides that I used to travel. Suddenly sometime after mid nineties, sort of an “oode” revolution started to take over the roofs of many poor folks’ houses in my village. Many rebuilt their small huts made with muddy walls into modest homes with “oode” (Tile) roofing and strong brick walls. Shitty floors (literally) were replaced with smooth cement. Even one of our neighboring family who missed out on this housing revolution, managed to get their roof upgraded from coconut “oola” to “Pana oola” during this period.

Building a stable, non-leaking roof over the head was the “chirakaala abilasham” of many of these families. I am really happy that they made this difficult transition from Oola to Oode after years of waiting.
Interestingly, as far as I have noticed, the capital that they used to build these better habitats hasn’t come as a result of an improved economy. Rather it is the financial help from NGOs (mainly the church) and the housing grants from Panchayath that helped them to make the final move

By the time I left Kerala in early 2000, I could hardly see any “Oola Pperas” on the roadsides. To spot any, I really would have to look deep into the interiors. The rush of the ladies trying to snatch up falling coconut leaves has died down. The lovely craft of weaving coconut leaves had also became a rarity by then. Coconut leaves must have felt so used and unwanted.

Statistics do support a statewide roofing revolution that happened in our state over the last few decades. As I understand now from the stats, my neighbors’ roofs’ were just late entrants to this revolution. According to Kerala planning board document, percentage of households that use modern roofing materials went up from 26% in 1961 to 75% in 1991 to 89% in 2001. Impressive by Indian standard and is in consistent with Kerala’s tradition of development.

Yet the data of the roofed houses is an excellent example of Kerala’s paradox in development. In one side, Kerala’s development trajectory is moving up the ladder as upgrades from Ola to Pana Ola to Asbestos sheets, to Oode and to finally concrete, but at the same time our youths in the same villages are left to walk north south in their own ‘angaadies’ and forced to live elsewhere to put food under their roof! This is the great irony of Kerala!


Shinu Mathew said...

By Shitty floor, you must have meant dung polished floors. You could have done a little explanation there or those who are not in the knowing would take it as something else, as in unhygenic.
During the 90s, Kerala witnessed a boom in it's "FDI". Ie, immigrant Keralites sending dirhams and dinars and ofcource dollars. My place, a laidback village in Pathanamthitta Dist, has undergone a massive metamorphosis. As you said, not a single house use cocunut leaves as their roofs. There is a lower caste colony nearby, where all the houses used mud-walls and 'oola' now sports a plastered brickwall and tiled roof or concrete.
But as much as I apreciate the development, the life under these roofs has become a virtual hell. The oola and mudwalls, to an extend, were resistant to the opressive heat during summer and made a cooler interior. Now it's a hell without proper ventilation and who is gonna consult an architect to build a small house. Those masons double up as architects and built them. Without sparing a thought for ventilation and lighting.
Finally, our smaller cities are fast turning into a concrete jungle. Every other person who spend 2 or more years in Gulf, came back and build a double story building. It's a matter of pride for them. But eventually failing to maintain it.
I miss those oola puras till this date. May be I have an acute nostalgic diarrhea. Forgive me for it :D

Babin said...

Yeap Shinu, I meant dung polished (aka ' jaanakam poosiya') floor. I didn't know the english word for it, that is why i left it like that. People shouldn't misunderstand, as shinu said it is not unhygienic, rather a cleansing agent.

Yeah, there is no place cooler as an oola ppera during the summer months.
I miss it too.. But in the end, I feel the disappearance of these huts are for the better. It was really a pain in the neck for the poor folks to change roofing every year.

Sadly, there are no underlying economic substance to all the change. I guess that is why the plight of poor keralians remains even though they, by most part, were able to secure better housing.

Sarah said...

Our cattle shed and store yard had ola..kadavuley, wht is roof in Malayalam??..
Ammachi would weave ola and try to teach me to weave and occassionally swear..'ninnayokke padippikkunna enne venam chavittan dialogue'.. Your post made me feel very nostalgic

Anonymous said...

Ola pura kananilla ennu paranju 'vilapikkunna' babinodu, sankalpathilulla veedine kurichu chodichal enikkoru 'oru ola purail' ennekkumayi thyamasikkuvanu thalparyam ennu uthram parayumo? Ella.:).Simple. Athu thanne anu ava aprathksham aavanulla karanavum. Ellavarum kaalathinothu marum 'including u'. Enthenkilum ezhuthunnathinu munpu onnu chinthikkunnathu nannayirikkum babin, especially when it is opened to the public.

Shinu Mathew said...

Immigrant, :)
Kadavuley, the malayalam for roof is 'Melkoora'. :D. I make it a point to speak Malayalam in my house, so that my little daughter can learn and speak it. Have you forgot Malayalam?
I too had a cattleshed with 'Ola Melkoora'. My grandma taught me how to put leaves in water, make it soft and weave and dry under the sun. I still remember it splitting along the half and immersing under water with a stone placed above it etc..
Man I feel like I am transported to som 25 years back :(

Shinu Mathew said...

2 Anonymous:
In this post he is not ruing that oola pura is no longer there. Rather it's a nostalgic note, a travel back to the past and reminiscence. Just take it like that. he is not arguing that OOla should be brought back and a law should be passed to save Oola pura.
"Just think before you write something in the comment and get the essence of the post. Since it is open to public"..

rauf said...

what would be the first thing you do when you have money on your hand ?
Every ten kilometers you have a marble yard in Kerala
I have never seen such use of marble in any state, even in Rajasthan where it comes from.

rauf said...

Shinu Mathew, have posted a comment on your God's own country blog

Mind Curry said...

very nostalgic post babin..and its so true that there is a stark contrast in the changes of landscape and people.

i think like shinu said, kerala had some "tone" of development when the "gulf money" was flowing in..its at that time the oola peras disappeared and marbles and granites were laid. but now that the money from NRK's is kind of diminishing, there is a sudden realisation among the youth (the ones still left in kerala) that they need work! but yet they refuse to accept change or do something about their plight. Quills recently sent me an article from The Hindu which was about a majority of the Techies from Technopark did not vote saying it didnt matter. I dont know why those Techies felt so proud about not voting. It is such loser attitude that really hurts.

i think the point you were trying to bring out was missed by a few people here. i saw an anonymous comment which was uncalled for. i guess the person totally missed the nostalgic mood in your post and thought you wanted ola peras instead of strong houses across kerala. sigh.. anwyay :)

it was a great read!

ARK said...

the transformation from "oola" to "oode" is indeed welcome if we see it from the development side. But Babin, your point is right I think to a large extent, these changes don't necessarily indicate an improvement of the economic conditions of people.

It's more a matter of pride (and sometimes false pride => 'dhurabhimaanam') and going along with the current of change. And nobody has more Dhurabhimaanam than we mallus, thanks again to literacy and social consciousness. So as u said, by any means (crook or hook), people will try to match what others are doing even if this entails more financial and other constraints.

of course, nobody is saying this change to modern roofs is unwelcome (A point our dear Anonymous sadly missed) but yes, once oola ppera and 'chaanakam poosya' floors used to be so common and symbolized our villages. I don't think many people regretted having them then. So in that sense, nobody can deny us the nostalgia...

Mind Curry said...

i think arjun has made a wonderful comment! totally agree with him.

by the way, congrats to all the contributors, visitors, commentors, on-lookers.. DOC has made its first news appearance.

way to go people!

i would also like to thank vinod for his great support and encouragement. his blog also appeared in the same column.

Sarah said...

Shinu:Thanks..Sometimes, the words don't get translated in my head anymore. i try not to forget Malayalam. Kids don't speak malayalam..and no i am not proud of tht. i tried to teach them..But they hd to learn malay and mandarin in school and tamil to speak to our neighbours.. There was no way I could add another language to their already confused mind. I have no one to speak to in Malayalam.. The ammachies here in Canada, eat burger and budhimutta malayalam parayan types end of my malayalam speaking

Babin said...

@Immigrant in Canada haha, weaving an Ola is not easy, even though people who know how to do it will make it look easy.. I have tried it too, was only half successful.

@anon, as shinu and others pointed out, you missed the point of my post. I am absolutely happy for those who were able to make the transition from Ola to Ode or to 'Vaarkka'. This is what called upward mobility (well, at least on paper). If they were able to make these transition in one generation, the better it is. My family was one of those, even though I was born after the Ola era.

@Shinu, Now we know who to call, if we want our roof's Ola-ized .
You should start a business.. can probably earn RS 2-3 per medenja oola:)

@aashik, good story about the architect.
These days only tourism people are willing to build oola papers.. In fact, if it wasn't for the tourism industry, many of our cultural heritages will be long dead.

@rauf, True.. I guess marble is already the new thing that will uniquely identify modern kerala homes.. I won't be surprised, if malayalees start flooring with gold or diamond instead of marble in the near future:)

@Mind, Good point. The lower the foreign money flow to kerala, the better it will be for its economy in the long term.
Come to think of it, this gulf money aka oil money is a huge villan around the world. The whole world has problems w/ it. Where is our Ramer petroliam??

@arjun, you said it right.
without underlying economic substance these transitions can not be termed as 'real' development but for a social equity and just view point, y not?.

Biju said...

Oola Ppera has transformed into oodu and concrete roofs. This is development. I agree 100% with mindcurry about the Techies not voting. It is very sad. The post is pretty nostalgic and Kerala ecomomy is any economic students case study. :-)

Babin said...

@Biju, thanks for stopping by. kerala is indeed a case study for students around the world.
First handout my Bro's Econ professor at Cornell University, (in US), gave was about Kerala!

Babin said...

Special thanks to Rauf for sending us the above added picture of an Ola ppera. Many Thanks.

Shinu Mathew said...

Thanks for the Idea Babin, :D
If worse come to worst, I could start an Ola Shop where ppl can bye different patterns done on it. Coming to think of it, may be we could try different colours too. Think about a tricolor dotting your roof...
And this may trigger a few trends too. And if it clicks, we may see ppl cutting down Rubber and planting coconuts instead.
stretching it too far? Mallus are crazy and if one or two bigshots do this, the whole kerala follows..

Babin said...

Ha.. best ideas Shinu!! Tri-colored roof is the best:) It will definitely start a fashion trend among roof.
You are really an excellent innovator:)

Anonymous said...

Mr.Mathews aalu 'puli' aanu.Thannyedai? 'Thankal' ee bloginte'official spokesman'
'Aashik' paranjathanu vaastavam. 'Kaalathinothu maarathavane samooham 'vila kurache' kanuka ollu. Onnukil avane 'kasillatha thendi' enno allenkil'abnormal'enno vilichu 'janam' parihasikkum. Athu kaaranam kaasillenkilum 'maanabhimaanathe' orthu 'kuranjathu eshtika allenkil holobricks' vachu oru nila veedenkilum kuranjathu vaykkan avan nirbandithanakunnu ennathanu vaastavam.Pinne engane'olapura kaanum'?.Prathekichum oruvante veedu avante'status symbol' aayi kaanunna kerala 'samoohathil'. Babinte conceptinodalla ente viyogip marichu enthanu 'olapurakal ellathakunnathu' ennu vishdeekarichennu mathram.

Babin said...

@Anon, thanks for stopping by.. Anon um oru pulli puli thanneyade:)
What you said is true but at the same time we gotta remember that every human socities has some kinds of status symbols.. Showing off is printed on our DNA :p

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