"Old order changeth yielding place to new And God fulfils himself in many ways Lest one good custom should corrupt the world…” These are words of advice by King Arthur to his knights (qv Passing of King Arthur by Tennyson). A doubt crept into my mind about its applicability after seeing ‘Atta-Kuttatta’ during my recent visit to Tulu Nadu. Atta and Kuttatta are essential parts of any traditional housing - small, big or manorial - in Tulu Nadu.
This year it was raining heavily from May through October especially in the Coastal area. Rooms are stuffy and humid with smell of fungus in and out – on walls and doors and clothes tucked in cupboards. Proliferation of fungus is harmful. It infects skin, leading to itches and rough skins. It is a problematic situation to deal with.
It is an upper loft or garret in a house below the roof (Tulu Lexicon, p.54). The roof is made of rafters (ಪಕ್ಕಾಸ್) with laths (ರೀಪು) covered by tiles. It is a designated storing place rather than for living. Thin and narrow wooden laths are used to cover the space in between two planks of ceiling, which is plastered with mud (in olden days) or cement to have flooring.
Size and fullness of ‘Atta’ with coconuts, rice and other agricultural produce is the sign of richness. It has given rise to a saying: ಆಟ್ಟ ತೂದು ಪೊದು ಪತ್ವೆರುಗೆ, ಕೂಟ ತೂದು ಬೆಲೆ ಕಟ್ಟುವೆರ್ಗೆ (Atta toodu podu patverge, koota toodu bele kattuverge). This means that “Matrimonial relationship is decided after mentally calculating the value of the things lying in an ‘Atta’ of the house in consideration. Likewise, selling or purchasing prices of wares are determined on the strength of visitors in a market-place.” This shows that wealth is measured on surveying the ‘Atta’ of a house.
There are childhood grandma stories. A story tells that a house thief, hiding in an ‘Atta’, catches himself by passing urine out of fear. There is another story. There used to be families of thieves, who teach stealing to their young ones right from childhood. This is a story of an uncle (named Govinda) and his nephew (Let us name him Gopala). They entered a rich house at night. Uncle tells his nephew to steal from below. Uncle climbed a ladder. Groping for things in the ‘Atta’, he dropped something with a thud. Householders woke up and caught Gopala, he being a novice. When questioned, he says: ‘ಎಂಕು ದಾಲ ಗೊತ್ತುಜ್ಜಿ, ಮಿತ್ತುಡು ಇತ್ತಿನ ಗೋವಿಂದಗೇ ಗೊತ್ತು’(Enku daala gottujji, mittudu ittina Govindage gottu). Translated it means, “I don’t know anything, Govinda above only knows”. ‘Govinda above’ is a pun. It means all-pervading God. However, householders got a clue that somebody could be at the attic (Atta) and caught the thief.
It means a small garret right above the fireplace (TL, P.830) below the roof with a smoke-vent or chimney. Kuttatta is made of laths, i.e. narrow strips of wood (or split bamboos), which are fastened over the rafters or beams, keeping open space for smoke to go up and emanate from the chimney.This being straight above the hearth, it is a warm place at all seasons. So this place is used to store food grains, pickles, packed ole-bella, etc. (Note: Jaggery = bella in circular shape made out of toddy, rimmed by a ring made out of dried palm-leaf (ole). This is the way of storing, adopted by our forefathers, in warm place for preservation of perishable things. It is worth emulating.
Old vs. New
Tennyson says, “Knowledge comes, but wisdom lingers”. Knowledge gained by forefathers is wisely perpetuated by their progenies. It is still visible in Tulu Nadu in small, medium and manor houses. The traditional agrarian society is steadily turning now towards industrialization. Rural areas are becoming urban areas. It is a trend to demolish ancestral houses (instead of renovation) and to construct terraced houses. Sagacity of our forefathers is thrown to winds. Ill-managed or faulty drainage system is giving rise to stink. Aesthetic considerations should blend health considerations perfectly. ‘Vastu’ considerations, preserving ‘positive energy’, were inherent in our old system. This we perceive in similarities in construction of houses in Tulu Nadu. These days ‘Vastu’ consultants make owners to alter their flats or houses even when builders profess adhering to Vastu Concepts in their Project advertisements.
We have no animadversion to the idea of development. The question is whether the development is a well-balanced commix of time-honoured old system and new ideas.
The boom of construction business in Tulu Nadu, in the wake of rapid urbanisation, has ignored some of the natural laws such as bulldozing of picturesque hills or reduction or blockage of natural drainage channels
Hope, our enlightened readers would not mistake the writer to be a man opposed to changes – a Neanderthal, fossil or an old school. The post was an outcome after seeing unhygienic conditions during my visits.
Tennyson was right in saying that change ensues on passing over of a man, a thing or a time-worn custom. Besides, there is a saying in Kannada:
“ಅಜ್ಜ ನೆಟ್ಟ ಆಲದ ಮರಕ್ಕೆ ನೇಣು ಹಾಕಿಕೊಳ್ಳಬಾರದು”.
(Ajja netta aalada marakke nenu hakikollabaradu)”.
Literally, it means: One should not hang himself on a banyan tree, planted by grandpa. That means: Ways and means change with passing over of time).
Hosabettu Vishwanath, Pune