A Man of Mongoosebush:my life in India and America
Growing up in a remote village in the hill country of Kerala, India and then living most of my adult in the United States,I have an interesting story to tell.I am sure that there may be thousands of other immigrants, particularly those who came from non-European countries may also have similar or more exciting experiences to share. America, being a land of opportunity, had been always a magnet to attract venture-some and enterprising people to come.I came to the US as a student, with almost no money and big dreams. Even after four decades of life in the US, the nostalgia and fondness for India still remains and I sometimes wonder what life would have been if I remained in India?
Through this website, I want to share my experience in India before I came and afterwards, my life in the new country which I have chosen to be my home. Those experiences have certainly influenced my life and my outlook. I want to invite here others who have direct or indirect experiences to share their stories and express their views as well. The children of the immigrants may have stories of their own, especially about the cultural conflicts and adjustment problems they encountered with their foreign born parents and grandparents. All these will be interesting.
My life’s journey started in a tiny place called Aruvapara (translation- Sickle Rock) about 40 or miles east of Kochi,Kerala.My home was a small thatched shed (last time I visited, it was used as a cow-shed) and my parents were poor farmers. They owned about two acres of land, with constant crop failures and drought, we had a hand to mouth existence. As far I can remember, I was always hungry as a child.
My parents were young, hard working and highly motivated for their children to study and do well. They themselves had only four years of schooling. But they were determined that all their four children got a minimum of high school education or beyond. Since the nearest elementary school was about three miles away, but with no roads and narrow footpaths through the woods and paddy fields,the distance seemed a lot more. With heavy monsoon rains and harsh summer heat of Kerala, going to school was not an easy task,particularly on barefoot. Yet, I loved my school, and did well.
You may be wondering how I got the name Mongoose bush? It is a story in itself. This is the story I heard from one of my great uncles and I do not know if it is true or not? However, it is and interesting story worth telling.
Generations ago, a young man was forced to flee from his home and family under a very tragic circumstance. His was a fairly wealthy and established family with eight or nine brothers and a sister. The sister was married to a very cruel man who used to beat her almost every day and mistreated her. It reached a point that the brothers could not tolerate it any more and they decided to do something about it. In those days divorce was unheard of and not allowed, especially among good Christian families. The only solution they could think of was a radical one and they conspired to murder their brother-in-law. The oldest among the brothers was an innocent man and he had no idea of any of the other brothers’ murderous plot.
The brother-in law and the oldest brother liked to go to the Toddy Shop- local bar (almost every day) and enjoy the evenings. Hence, it was easy for the brothers to sent them both to the bar and wait for intoxicated couple to walk back home. They hid on the side of the country road, and shot the brother-in-law (at least, that is what they thought). Unfortunately, the victim was their own brother and he died. Naturally, they got scared and ran away from home, before law could reach them. One of the brothers who escaped was my ancestor.
With no money or any possessions,my forefather reached a place called Keezhillam, a small village. He went to a local farmer asking him for a plot to set up a hut in return for his labor. That man told him to put his hut on a hillside covered with thorny bushes. Nothing else grow there. Except for the bushes, the place was home for mongoose ( in the native language Malayalam, mongoose is called Keeri and the bush is called Kade). Since he lived, he came to be known “Keerikadan. ( tr: mongoose bush”). Thus our family name became Keerikadan or Keerikattil and so forth. By the time,I was born, we were using Keerikatte. There are many families in that part of the world with this name or its variations.
When I came to the US and got my residency (Green Card),I had the option to change my name. Considering the length of the name, and the difficulty many of my friends had to pronounce it properly,I considered changing it. Then I felt that it will be a dishonor to my ancestors who risked ( though it was a stupid act and I do not condone what they did) so much because they cared for his sister and concerned for her well-being. I am proud of my name and decided to be the “man of mongoose bush”
Coming back to my motivation to create this website and write about my life is simple. I will be telling you how I became committed to economic and social development of the poor and down-trodden. How I ended up in the US with two dollars in my pocket and how I worked my way through, to get a Masters and Doctorate from the University of Pittsburgh? I did a lot of non-profit work and worked as a community organizer, economic development planner and established and ran a charitable foundation for many years. Of late I have been an educational consultant and has been working on developing collaborative educational projects between Indian and the US institutions. Unlike many who came to America and became rich, my chosen path have not made me rich or famous. You could call me a dreamer. My hope is that I can be helpful to others and do the best I can.