Date:07/10/2005 URL: http://www.thehindu.com/thehindu/fr/2005/10/07/stories/2005100700420200.htm
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Of an old school of teachers

DILEEP G. RAJA

Ezhuthukalaris, which teach children to read and write Malayalam in the traditional way, are dying out.



TEACHER'S WAYS: Sarojini Asatti.

Om - Hari Sree Ganapathaye Namaha ... Sarojini Asatti, is illuminating little minds with the first spark of knowledge. Tender fingers run through the sand spread in front of them, they are writing and learning Swarangal and vyanjanangal. Ezhuthukalaris or Asan Pallikkoodams - once part and parcel of Kerala's educational system and a salient feature of Malayali culture have almost ebbed away. In the past, generally, people belonging to the community of `Kaniyans' ran these Pallikkoodams. Women belonging to this community too were encouraged to teach.

But now, like the remnants of an extinct culture, only a handful of Ezhuthukalaris are found in the villages of Kerala. The one at Nooranadu Palamel in Alappuzha district is one such kalari.

Teaching the old way

Sarojini Asatti of the kalari talks about Asankalaris. "Earlier there would be around 30 pupils joining every year. But down the years, attendance in the kalaris is dwindling. Now the attendance has come down to seven this year."

In earlier days every child in the village went to this Asankalaris.

Even today, Asatti uses palm leaves to write instead of notebooks. Only the leaves of a particular species of palm tree called `Ezhuthupana' are used to write. These leaves are very hard to come by these days.

The Ezhuthasan would write down the letters on the palm leaves using `Narayam,' a pointed metal.

Pupils were initiated only after sufficient verbal training. "One has to attend Asankalaris to get the feel of Malayalam. Even the handwriting gets better," opines Asatti.

New schools with English medium education that have come up in and around the village are a threat to the functioning of these kalaris.

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