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Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Legendary Verkot House in Calicut

We had occasion to mention about this house in Chalappuram in connection with various incidents in the history of freedom struggle, in which Chalappuram was in the forefront. In fact, ‘Chalappuram Congress Committee’ was even better known than KPCC. The house was the hotbed of all defiance and protest, conspiracy and sabotage.
A scion of the family Ms. Manjula had commented on her own remembrances of staying in the house as a child. This post is to stimulate such people to share their memories of anecdotes and experiences connected with the house, to help us build the story further.
Our reference to this house was in connection with the Bomb Case of 1942. But the house has a richer past. It was built in the 19th century by Bambalassery Kammaran Nair, (who was a sub judge under the British Indian Government) for his wife Lakshmikutty Amma. Raghava Kurup who had been mentioned in our earlier post was the grand son of Kammaran Nair and the son of Narayani Amma. The bombs manufactured under the able technical assistance of Dr. K B Menon, were hidden in a cupboard underneath the clothes in this house. The Police could not detect it, despite conducting a thorough search. Apparently, when the Police left, Raghava Kurup’s brother Sankunny Kurup carried the explosive stuff and dumped it the the Tali temple tank nearby!

Mahatma Gandhi had visited this house in 1927 when he was on a tour of Kerala to propagate khadi. A young and dashing Nehru had also come here and addressed the women volunteers of Balika Bharata Sangham, which functioned from Verkot. “I still remember listening to him in sheer admiration”, recalled Swarnakumari Menon, one of the young volunteers. Nehru also apparently carried pleasant memories of that meeting, for when he came to Calicut in 1956, he remembered his previous visit and insisted on dropping by at Verkot House.
The house was a prominent launch pad for freedom fighters (and young girl students, too, who followed the example of their male elders, as the following long extract would testify). The following extracts are being reproduced from a paper on women and freedom struggle in Malabar authored by Dr. T K Anandi and available here.

The Verkot House, Tali was the centre of action for women of Calicut. Protesting against the cruel treatment of the satyagrahis of Bombay, women gathered at Verkot house and planned a procession in the morning in the Calicut city. But by then, the District Magistrate gave notices under section 144 Cr. P., by which no procession or meetings were allowed, to Mrs. AV.Kuttimalu Amma, Miss. M. Karthyayani Amma, Mrs. K. Madhavan nair, Miss. K.E. Sarada, Smt. T. Narayani amma, Smt. P.G. Narayani Amma, Miss. E. Narayanikutty Amma, Mrs.T.V. Sundara Iyer and Mrs. Gracy Aaron and two or three men . But early in the morning they gathered in the Verkot house and conducted the procession, singing songs dressed in spotless khadi . Mrs. Narayani Amma and her elderly mother and other elderly women were present blessed the young girls to defy the law and court arrest.
The ladies when stepped out, were stopped by the Sub-divisional magistrate, but they were determined to march forward. “The Inspector tried to snatch away the tri-colour flag from the hands of Jayalakshmi the spirited daughter of Mr. T.V. Sundaram Iyer. But the fearless girl looking steadily at the Inspector and said “I will not part with this” The Inspector tried his hand on others also but every one
remained stiff. Full-throated and spirited shouts of jais reverberated in the air. Orders were then given to the police for the arrest of the women. The arrested women were M. Karthyayani amma, Smt. E. Narayanikutty Amma, Mrs. Gracy Aron, Smt. Kunhikkavu amma, Smt. T. Ammukutty Amma, and the school girl Jayalakshmi and among the thunderous cries among the thousands assembled to witness the scene. On reaching the jail Jayalakshmi was let off since she was minor. This was the first time that women courted arrest in Kerala in the cause of freedom movement.

Ms. Swarnakumari Menon, the daughter of Sri U Gopala Menon, who we quoted above, was one of the young volunteers. In the paper quoted above, she recounts her experience:

There was a Brahmin girl called Jayalakshmi. Her father was very active in Congress. See, all of us had somebody active in politics from the tarawad or house. That was the passport for us to enter. We were together. We had a Balika Bharatha Sangham. Jaya lakshmi was very active in it. We were all girls aged 10-14 years. There was a programme called “Prabhatha Bheri” Early morning we used to walk  through the streets taking a flag in hand and go in procession singing songs. We were some ten to fifteen girls. We sing Pora..Pora naalil naalil ….. and Jhanda Oonja Rahe hamara……. etc. and walk through the road in the early morning. Each day we were given some specific area. Say for example, Chalapuram. We cover all the streets of Chalappuram till afternoon. We also work for the “Harijan” fund. Carrying a small box in hand we collect money. People accepted all these very well. My father was arrested then. All people were with us. There was no other leader other than Gandhiji. No violence or terror at all. What we wanted was only freedom. That was the first and the only demand. As students our work was basically through the Balika Bharath Sangham. In fact, Indira Priyadarshini started this at Delhi. It was in 1930. Apart from students women also participated in abundance. Kunjikkavamma, Lakshmikutty amma etc. were the leaders here.
 There was a house which was a centre for this activity known as Verkot House. There was one Narayanai Amma who used to fix the route and direct us. We all meet here in the morning, and the flag and route etc. will be read. We collect the songs and flag and leave. By afternoon, we meet again at this house and disperse off. Jayalakshmi and her sister Kamalam also used to be with us throughout.
 Other than Verkot Narayani Amma, there was Kunjikkavamma, Mrs. Prabhu, Lakshmikuttyamma, etc. who were all very active and keen on getting freedom. Mrs. Prabhu has stayed with us. There used to be review at night regarding the Prabhathabheri. There are days when we sit throughout night discuss and write what happened during the day. We give one copy to the press in the morning. A sincere Bala Bharath Sangh-activist comes and takes the writings from our hand and distributes to houses. But one day a van came and arrested all of us. They did not say anything. But took all of us; but left us within minutes. We followed non-violence throughout. There was no shouting, beatings, killing. There was absolutely no violence.
The author points out that during 1931, at Verkot House, a Sangh was formed, with Mrs. Margaret Pavamani, as the President, Smt. Kunhikkavu Amma, as Vice president, Smt. A.V. Kuttimalu Amma as Treasurer and Smt. P.M. Kamalavathi and Smt. K. Kunhilakshmi Amma as Secretaries. Thus, this house at the southern edge of Samooham Road, (which connects Tali with Chalappuram), was the headquarters of not only Congressmen and extremist rebels, but of the women’s movement in Calicut.
Indeed, a House with a Story!

9 comments:

  1. Excellent compilation. Interesting reading. This information wasn't known to me although I'm born, bred and brought up in Calicut. Many thanks.

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  2. The History of Valluvanad also comments on the Verkott family.

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  3. A chapter of an old book is revisited- stimulating and also also worthy of emulation.

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  4. thanks, a very interesting narration on the activities of the women volunteers, provides a new insight.. the chalappuram congress story is something i had been planning to write on and this reminded me about it.

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  5. Thank you Ashish and Dr. Ravindran for your kind comments.

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  6. Rajendu - Thanks for pointing out the reference to Verkot House in your book 'Valluvanad Granthavari'.I find from the book that Verkot Panickers are referred to as one of the four Chaver Families of Valluvanad who would send fighters to Mamankam to challenge the Zamorin and his bodyguards. However, I understand that the Verkot family of Chalappuram are Kurups - it is possible that the original family came from Valluvanad and when they were separated from their Kalari, they assumed the title Kurup which also has connections with Kalari. Interestingly, there are several such Nair families in Valluvanad which shifted their allegiance to the Zamorins after his successful campaign against Valluvanad. Thanks once again for your comments.

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  7. Thank you, Maddy for your comments. Yes, Chalappuram Congress is a fascinating subject. It is the right wingers of the Congress who are dubbed ( almost derisively) as the Chalappuram Congress by the likes of EMS who were known as 'socialists'. This is probably the earliest emergence of groups in Kerala's Congress which today has become its bane. We look forward eagerly to your erudite study of Chalappuram Congress.

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  8. Hi...iam part of this family from my fathers side...proud of my lineage.have some very fond memories and tons of stories

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  9. Hi Anonymous.... But why hide your identity. As we wrote, there's a lot to be proud of being associated with that great family. Out with your stories, dear Anonymous!

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