Polders in Thakazhi

Kayar, chaps. 1, 10, 11, 27-28

Chap. 1, [transl.] p. 11:

The village boundaries were fixed at the river in the south and the canal in the west. Within these boundaries, the land had been divided into segments, their length and breadth being recorded before assignment.

Ittiraman Konti had been in jitters. He had fallen at the feet of the officer and had begged him, offering him a 'gift' of seventy silver coins, to let him off. Because of these inducements, the original allotment of 500 paras was reduced by 100 paras. Even then, for Ittiraman Konti, it was a dead weight! Ittiraman Konti had only two nephews in his family. How could they cultivate one hundred paras of paddy field? Also they just didn't have the paddy for cultivating that much land. But the officer showed him some further favour. The field was by the riverside and could be cultivated only after desilting. On that ground it was classed as only fourth grade, on which a low level of tax was levied, even though, potentially the field was very fertile.

Chap. 1, p. 17:

Land assignment was in the offing. Instead of paying in paddy, tax would now have to be paid in cash. Was it for good or bad? He went to the portico of the administrative block of the temple and sat on a plank. The Temple Manager was sitting there on another plank. Assan said:

"It is all a confusion. It seems the Mangalassery family stands to gain in the new assignments."
"Why so?"
"They have got many hefty young fellows in the family. Do you know how many?"

The Manager calculated.

"Some twenty or twenty-five—an army of strong men," he said.
"That is what I thought. As it is, they have taken illegal possession of the marshy land belonging to the State and are cultivating it. They are not concerned about the crop. They just want to work."
"They do get good returns, the manager said. Even this year they got a six-fold return from that wild plot—Kathiravanam. One morning they leapt into that wilderness; in one month they had cleared the area. They themselves pumped out the water. These boys are more than a match for their Pulayas."
"It is virgin soil," said the Assan. "It has never been cultivated. Six-fold returns are no wonder. But how much rice is required to feed this army! In spite of all their labour they don't have enough paddy for the whole year. This is the situation with Mangalassery."

The Mangalasseris and the Chalayils

Dr K. Ayyappa Paniker, the well-known poet and scholar, suggested the connection in the course of a personal conversation. Ayyappa Paniker hails from Kuttanad, and he is a scion of the Chalayil family. His forefather, Chalayil Iravi Kesava Pillai, was the first to reclaim land from the backwaters of the Vembanad Lake in the 1890s. The historical family name is mentioned later in Kayar, chapter 27. In the master narrative, which begins with the early history of land reclamation, the Chalayils are romanticized under the name of the Mangalasseri family.

Chap. 10, p. 83:

Iravi Pillai of Mangalassery was now very intimate with Nagam Pillai. Half of the marshland he had forcibly occupied had already been demarcated in his name. Even then they required more land. They wanted to work and eat like the giants of the fairy tales. They wanted to eat well and, after eating well, if people remained idle, the land would be ruined.

Chap. 10, p. 84:

One thousand paras of paddy field had to be bunded. It was marshy soil. The wild grass and some wild plants grew thickly in some places; in other places, men and animals would sink deep in the marshy soil; and there were mounds of clay like little hills at some other spots. the place had to be levelled and the boundaries had to be demarcated and strengthened.

Iravi Pillai ordered that sowing should be done in December. The hefty men of Mangalassery and the fifteen Pulayas from the Devaswom-bund, would surely accomplish it. Early each morning this black army would push off to the areas in huge country boats. The food for the scores of men would be carried in huge country boats. The food for the scores of men would be carried in huge brass vessels. The work would be tackled efficiently.

Chap. 10, p. 85; Malayalam, p. 88:

Kayar p. 88

The Mangalassery property was levelled. Iravi Pillai came in a canoe, landed at one corner of the area and named the place Mangalasserykari. Thrice he announced it. It reverberated from corner to corner and the echoes shook the air. But the men of Mangalassery were not satisfied with even this chunk of land.

Chap. 11, p. 90:

The seedlings sown in Mangalasserykari initially came up well. But within a week, tepid water came up from underground. It was marshy land. From under the logs of the dead trees rotting under the muddy soil, water with a reddish tint came up with sawdust. So the polluted water had to be pumped out and fresh water brought in. huge, 24-bladed water-wheels were installed and 32 hands were engaged, day and night, for this purpose alone.

It required 16 men per shift. Only 10 of the hefty members of the family were at it. That the others were busy cultivating other sectors was the explanation they gave for their absence. But no one was taken in by this. So when the head Pulayan asked about the other male members of the family, he was told that they would not cooperate. sadly the Head Pulayan remarked that this portended the ruin of the family. It was the young men of Mathu's Pillai branch who were abstaining.

Chap. 27 (end), p. 202; Malayalam, p. 200:

Kayar p. 200

The bund was being built. The weeds and the green twigs were being transported by Thomma. It was purchased in bulk from Pullattu Kaimal for 800 coins. After use, he sold the balance for 3,000 coins. Thomma knew how to make money!

The bund was speedily completed and the water was pumped out in great force by a pump driven by a steam engine. The smoke from the heaps of firewood consumed by the engine could be seen from a long distance away. The driver was a fat black man with a moustache, who wore English-style trousers and shirt. He had five workers to help him. He continuously drank toddy from a big pot to cool his body which was always exposed to the heat of the furnace. The logs were brought down from Manimala in boats and heaped up like a hill. The engine consumed a lot of logs every day. Sometimes the engine let out whistles which could be heard from miles around. With this contrivance the draining of low-lying fields became easy.

In two weeks' time the field water was pumped out. After the sowing and the sprouting of the seeds the field had to be washed with water three times. So the engine had to be used for another three days. Previously, the physical labour involved was very great, and the time required for de-watering was more than a month. The work brought a good profit to Thomma. The cultivators also benefited, because they could water and de-water the paddy plants whenever necessary and ensure their proper growth.