Sunday, February 17, 2013

Kochakan Asan Road, Aratupuzha, Thrissur. What's in the name of a road?

Roads. We come across hundreds and thousands of them, across the the lengths and breadths of our cities and villages in our country. Every city has a Mahatma Gandhi Road, a Jawaharlal Nehru Street, a Sardar Patel Road but we take it for granted whenever we see a name as Dr.Nair Road or a place such as Dr. Seethapathy Nagar. What if there was something interesting behind the name of that road? The story behind one such road is worth mentioning.

Kochakan Asan Road is located in the small village of Aratupuzha, a beautiful green village located by the side of the Aratupuzha river in Thrissur, Kerala. The road was laid about 5 years ago and it was named to honour a music teacher from the village.

So what was special about Kochakan Asan? Our story dates back to the 1950's and 1960's almost more than half a century ago. Kochakan Asan had only one goal in his life - impart his deep knowledge of music to at least "one" worthy student of his to take his legacy forward. So tenacious was he of this goal that he lived his life a bachelor and fully dedicated himself to teaching music.

Kochakan Asan used the "Chavuttu Harmonium" to teach music. This instrument is almost extinct now. A small description of the "Chavuttu Harmonium" will suffice.  It is also called "Pedal Harmonium". It is similar to a normal Harmonium but it is played with both hands instead of one and it sits on a table. So you basically sit on a stool or bench beside the Pedal Harmonium like you would sit at a Piano and move the bellows (rhythmic contracting apparatus that helps in making the sound on a Harmonium) by rhythmically stepping on a pedal with your foot, something like the pedal of the older sewing machines. If you are curious do a search on YouTube for "Pedal Harmonium". I am sure I did find a video.

The most noble part of Kochakan Asan's teaching was that he was teaching music for free. Anyone could join his classes. And because it was free most students took his teachings only lightly. Many would lose interest after a few initial classes and many would also skip classes knowing that Asan would always cover those classes in a later class. And because of this Asan was always on the quest for that "dream pupil". He was seeking just one worthy student who could take his music legacy forward.

Then finally he had four students who seemed to show a lot of promise. In the batch were two girls and two boys. One of the boys in particular was Kochakan Asan's "apple of the eye". According to sources I know, it is said that the student could never made a false beat. For the other three interest gradually waned and very soon even they started boycotting classes. Now here comes the best part. To make sure the batch came to his classes without fail, Kochakan Asan used to make the traditional "Kerala Puttu and Pazham" thinking that at least to taste them the pupils would come and then eventually attend class. Can you believe such dedication from a teacher?

Kochakan Asan's dream was finally fulfilled. The "bright pupil" from that batch of four, became that elusive student Asan was looking for and eventually took over his master's legacy. He is none other than Vidhyadharan, a music director of repute in Kerala. Coincidentally today, Vidhyadharan lives on Kochakan Asan road.

So how do I know this story? Among the girls in that batch of four and one who would sneak out from her home to learn music from Kochakan Asan was a girl called Lakshmi, who today, is my mother.

P.S - Though learning music was a big "no-no" for girls in those days, grandfather finally came to know of Amma's music classes and got her a regular Harmonium. But then came another problem. How do you play "Pedal Harmonium" style on a regular Harmonium. That's another interesting story I'll post some other time.

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