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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.

160 Comments add one

  1. Varghese says:

    Hi:
    Thank you for your kind advice. I am not ready yet to push it. After I have completed a few more blogs, we can talk.
    Thanks,
    Keerikatte

  2. Sobha says:

    Interesting story – and so interesting to know the history behind one’s family.

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  6. Narayan Pisharoty says:

    My experiences of USA were different from Keerikatte’s. Mainly because I thought I knew about the USA as I had read TIME magazine for 6-8 years before I landed up. The image of life and people in USA and reality were of-course widely different in some ways.This lead me to be cynical, and it took many experiences to get my head straightened. For today’s post I will narrate something that happened towards latter part of my 3 years stay. We had a 3 bedroom apartment in Oakland area of Pittsburgh and had a senior studying Physics as our roommate for a semester. This guy was quite smart but had just come from Vietnam war and had to attend school to graduate.
    HE WOULD WATCH ULTRA RIGHT NEWS COMMENTATORS AND I WOULD WATCH LEFT OF CENTER COMMENTATORS. We widely differed in our perceptions but were always good friends. He promised that before he Graduated and left he would cure me of my “American Dilemma”. This he did. As narrated hereafter.
    Friend: Narayan come sit down I have a solution for your problem.
    I have a magic wand and you have to answer what I may ask.
    Me: Shoot.
    Friend: You guys in India do not have (1970), wall to wall carpeting in homes, and no Air Conditioning.
    Me: No sir..
    Friend: OK I wave my wand and now you guys have it.
    Me: Thank you Lord and Master.
    Friend: You guys back in India do not have Colour TVs (back in 1970s)
    and I wave me wand , and presto u have colour TVs in India.
    Me: Thank u sir !!!
    Friend: Now I am doing a cruel thing and sending u back to India.
    Me: Alright Massa…
    Friend: Now tell me Narayan how much TV will you watch?
    Me: Not Much. TV is a medium of entertainment for masses and the programming will be for the median population. What is entertainment for them may not be the same for me.
    Friend: Why, why are you different ?
    Me: Don’t want to sound superior, but we have 400 million villagers in India !!
    Friend: Narayan, that is your problem. You do not accept that in USA we have 230 million villagers.
    Not SAID: And these US jokers do have wall to wall carpeting ,AC’s, Gas guzzling cars……………

    • Varghese says:

      Thanks,Narayan.
      I had been working on developing a whole set of companions sites and I did not get time to post nay new blogs. However, I will be doing so soon.
      Keerikatte

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    • Varghese says:

      Dear Krishnamoorthy:
      Sorry for the delay in responding to you. I have been traveling and hence, have not posted any new blogs. I hope to do so. Once again, thank you for your encouraging comments. Please tell friends to look this site up once in a while. Also, visit my other site:www.indiawelcomesu.com. You may want to see it and use that site.
      Thanks,
      Keerikatte

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      Thank you. I have been traveling and hence, negligent writing any new blogs. I will post one this week. Please pass the information of this site to friends. Again,
      Thanks
      Keeriktte

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    • Varghese says:

      Thanks, Sarina. Your words are encouraging. I will be posting anew blog this week.Last several eeks I have been away and did not write. But, I will try to write often. Please share the news about this site to friends.Thanks again,
      Keerikatte

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      Hi Leandro:
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      Again thank you,
      Keerikatte

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      Hi Dawn: Thanks for your kind words. I have just posted another Post y a few days ago. Hereafter, I will be posting blogs rather frequently. Also visit: wwww.indiawelcomesu.com, a companion site I am developing as part of a social network. Take a look at it if you get time and let friends know about my work
      Thanks,
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    • Varghese says:

      Hi Jaime:
      Thank you for your observations. I am looking into it. I will also watch your website. We are just getting started and over time, Hope to improve our performance.
      Thanks again,
      Keerikatte

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      Thanks for your comment. The content was done in “Word” i am surprised that you had print problem.I will look into it. Anew blog will be out in a few days.
      Thanks,
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    • Varghese says:

      Thanks for the kind words. We used Word Press theme and modified it by a webdesigner in India. It was not very expensive and any one wnat help in this regards, contaus:keerikatte@gmail.com
      Thanks,
      Keerikatte

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    • Varghese says:

      Dear Marty:
      I wish I knew how to advise you. I am happy, but I am not an expert on it and I do not think I can write about it. Try live everyday happily, thinking that it is a new day and good Lord has blessed u.
      Thanks,
      Keerikatte

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  44. Hey there this is kind of off comments but I was wondering if blogs use WYSIWYG editors or if you have to manually code with HTML. I’m starting a blog soon but have no coding know-how so I wanted to get advice from someone with experience. Any help would be enormously appreciated!

    • Varghese says:

      Hi:
      I did not have experience when I started. The best thing you can do is to get get a book on blogging, or one of the for Dummies book which will give a lot of insight. Then, look up Word Press.org and you can put your bolog with out HTML. Again, you my use a web host or go for Word Press.com and get it posted in on their sites.
      That is my advice.
      Keerikatte

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    • Varghese says:

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      Share the info with friends,
      Thnaks,
      Keerikatte

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      Thanks. Share the info with friends, if you can. Please see our companion sites such as:www.indiawelcomesu.com,www.dreamingofindia.net and others.Thanks,
      Keerikatte

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      Thanks for your encouraging words. I was not sure if your e-mail address is real. So, if you like contact me:vkeerikatte@gmail.com
      Thanks,
      Keerikatte

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      Thanks, Keerikatte

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    • Varghese says:

      I am not sure why you have the problem? I have not heard of it before. Will look into it. The site was not designed with smartphone compatibility. That could be the issue.
      Thanks for visiting.
      Keerikatte

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