The Tower of Babel
Unknown Flemish Master – 1587- Tower of Babel (Kurpflzisches Mueseum, Heidelberg)

These are terms and images that came to my mind reading the previous piece. Certainly several of these are dated and no more en vogue. May be they were just terms used by my contemporaries. But 1990 not being very far from 1989, some of you will connect –  I am sure about that.

Kazhakootam : The centre of the universe that incidentally doubled as the point of intersection of prime meridien and equator. A place where time stands frozen the day you graduate. Considering everything else was down hill from there, there is good reason to suspect it was atop Everest too. Did someone mention Greenwich, geography, Einstein etc? So enamoured were the Central Asians by this spot that a warrior tribe called Cossacks and a country is named after it!

Headma/ Quarterma : The cadets surely missed their mommies, hence the suffix ‘ster’ were conveniently knocked off by Kazhaks and these chieftains were endearingly addressed so. As in ‘the Princi told Headma to call the Quarterma ‘. Inspired, Javed Akhtar immortalised this on silver screen with the now famous dialogue ‘mera paas ma hein‘ in Deewar (1975).

You don’t believe me, do you?

Sambhavam : Strictly translated it would read a ‘phenomenon’,  but at school in the late 80’s it could dextrously allude to a person, a movie or even an incident. Just that it had to be out of the ordinary and provide excitement disproportinate to its face value. For eg; ‘So-and-so Cadet of Class X is a Sambhavam, or So-and-so movie is a Sambhavam‘ and so on.

Paattakkaran:  The hub of the Axis of Evil. Enemy Number One of the sons of soil. A marauder of inherited wealth that was legitimately ours. Maintainer of a private army against whom every Kazhak was honour bound to fight and thereby deny him the use of own land for nefarious purposes. It is also believed that these denial efforts were the real inspiration behind   Comrade Sergei Gorshkov‘s “Sea denial strategy” of the USSR Navy in the Cold War.

Paattam: The unholy copper plate that mandated rights to the above mentioned marauder. Legitimised plunder, and not even remotely linked to Shri Thanupillai Sir’s place of birth.

Private Khakis: Polyester mix khakis that the sartorially inclined chose to wear ( to whom the ubiquitous run-of the-mill school issue cotton variety khakis were infradig. Usually with obliging parents employed in the Gelf.)

Paara : Strictly a simple machine that efficiently dehusked coconut in Kerala. Unaware of the prestigious regiment in our beloved army in the 1980s it was just a term of endearment ( as them being from the Parachute Regiment) for the two odd Army Jawan Instructors attached with the school NCC.

Bunk : No, not where one sleeps on submarine/ship/train, but the act of emancipating oneself from the shackles of school preferably at night to stroll along the characterless NH 47/watch a movie/patronise a thattukada /seek blessings from presiding deity during temple festivities. Definitely illegal. You but had to do it to be ‘in’. 

Read a delightful article on bunking  here.

Thattukada : A nocturnal highway eatery consisting of a cart/petromax/stove and some frugal utensils that caught the imagination of the Kazhak. Like monsoon spread in 1980s from south to north Kerala, some served dunlop dosas submerged in liberally watered coconut chutney and the ones with Michelin stars served Beef that rivaled the House of Stroganoff.

Ammummakkada. Possible inspiration for Kishore Biyani, Carrefour, and Sam Walton. A Start up kiosk by an entrepreneurial grandmom at the strategic eastern corner of school estate.

Safely outside school jurisdiction, yet close enough to connect with clientele. She also dabbled as an agony aunt to many a Kazhak. Love lorn cadets got a beedi free –  the legend goes.

Read a delightful article on Ammumma here.

Shyamala : Again, not a village lass, but a cordon blu deli right across the Kazhakkuttom bustop. Served wafer thin beef chilly for a Fiver, the bourgeoisie could upgrade to chicken chilly for a Tenner, and wash down the spices with the just reappeared Coke devoid of the current Plachimada guilt. The ‘haves’ could also order a sweet savory of Dilkush. Legend has it that Queen Marie Antoinette whilst on a visit to school famously said to our Princi “Cest la vie, ente ponnu saare so what if there is no dal and chapatis, give them porotta, beef chilly and dilkush from Shyamala sil vous plait mon amour”

Katori. Not a Japanese war vessel but the contraption which housed the customary yellow liquid labelled dal and sambar for commoners. As one rose in rank be to a School/House captain or his crony, the liquid was upgraded to an oily gravy wherein pork/beef/chicken chunks gently bobbed and said hello to the privileged and sayanora to the rest.

Dhobi ghat : Just like south of France or Sochi , a place to unwind when sick of the urbane and erudite school environs. Thomas Cook usually arranged a visit to the piggery enroute for free. Aamir Khan has even named a movie after this lovely locale recently.

Chanthavila : Urbs prima in indis. The one-bus-hamlet that owed it to us for our  place in the sun. It also epitomised everything rustic to the Kazhak from language to style ( the source of every single ‘enthirappi‘ that falls from a cadet’s lips) . Fount of grace and Trivandramese just as Stratford-upon-avon is to English.

Vetturoad : The offically designated alighting point to our universe. Also housed the Single plex Srikala – 70mm.

Chirayankil : The convenient alighting point for smart alecs if they arrived by rail and wanted to be the first in school post vacation, and desired the last bed in the dorm. It would be the furthest away from Housemaster and the prefect.

Trivandrum Central:  The place to alight on the southward migration if you wanted to see a movie legitimately and breathe that last whiff of freedom, and didn’t bother about that last bed.

Outpass : A piece of paper duly stamped ‘Liberty, Equality and Trivandrum city‘ !

Messduty: An occasion for the hoi polloi to usurp the aforesaid katoris of the privileged class.

Trunk :  A place where memories of home (such as the odd polythene bag that wrapped the  lunch send by Amma for your train journey post vacation, to school, a faded Ernakulam city edition news paper) rested as you restlessly ran the term. Sadly deposited in that dark room between bathrooms. Happily taken back when it was time to go home.   A part of us was always in that trunk, locked and in darkness.

Twin tunnels of Kottayam. Momentary periods of darkness and reason interspersed with light where one could scream the heck out anonymously irrespective of age. More on the lines of , God said ‘Let there be darkness…but oops I didn’t ask them to shout!’. (And finally Kottayam fellows will alight and rest can stretch and sleep! Happy holidays)

Parasuram Express: Sad when its engine was in the South. Happy when engine in the North. On second thoughts,  it also depends which class you belonged to, at school.

Indian Coffe House, Thiruvanathapuram
Pix Credit : The Indian Road Romeo

Twenty Rupees : Two rupees one way to Trivandrum (Rs 4/-). Two movies that cost ten Rupees, Rs 5 a piece. Cold dosa at Indian Coffee House or a beef chilly porotta pack from Shyamala for the rest. Bliss.

Tuckout : A retrospectively ridiculous style statement that told the world ‘I don’t care‘ or j’arrive. A defiant act of letting your vest or shirt lie outside the waistband of the trouser/shorts. Sacrilege within the tribe !

Sandals: Ditto.

Pyjamas/Mosquito netting : Irritating routine utilities meant for   the ‘boys’.

le’ Lungi. Six feet of Versace that separated the Men from the boys. Even applied to ‘Andhra’ and ‘Bihar’ boys.

Serving boys : No surprises. They just served. Not to be confused with Kerala boys, Bihar boys and Andhra boys. Transported aforesaid Katoris, Bigger Katoras of Rice and Daal etc to feed the masses at table. Later, one heard of whipping boys.

Silvergrey: The strange and surreal color of the sneeze-inducing woollen pair of socks, worn closest to the equator.

Dhobiclothes: A session in the  studyhall which reminded one of an auction house. “Two shorts -white, kerchief – hand-white-3, Shirt-khaki-2, Towel-bathing-1 !” went the screaming, with a desperate piping in between that sounded like “Sir, I can’t find my Briefs-white -3-Tantex !

Rollcall : A mechanism where one had to count no of heads (or count no of hands and divide by two). Exercised as a deterrent by the House master to sabotage the bunk bid. The aim could be innocuous as Dhobi clothes too..

Parapet :  A Trojan door in dorm to check out incognito at night. Legend has it that it even inspired Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed to leave through the rear door to avoid the papparazzi.

Pazham : Anyone who didn’t fit the ‘tribal’ definitions of a Kazhak. A sensitive fellow, a wet blanket and bloody damp squib. Overall utility to tribe – nil !  Oru imminibalya shoonyam. An omnibus title. A Kazhak’s daughter chips in to say that the right angrezi equivalent is ‘dork‘.

The Chinese Writing InstrumentHero pen : A Chinese writing instrument that distinguished the the ‘haves’ from ‘have-nots’ in that universe much before Deng Xiao Peng signalled left , turned right and made everything from China cheap, unfashionable and available to proletariats of developing countries.

After ! : A Kazhak war cry, which when psychoanalysed indicated, “Look comrade, I am After You in that damn queue ! Better remember this and stand by  me if any controversy erupts” Used as a verb, noun,adjective etc, at the barber shop, clothing store, NCC Supplies store, the bathroom, at the only working tap, the only clean loo, etc. Closest equivalent one ever heard later is Kto pasli in Russian or “who’s last?”. Communities used to queuing develop cryptic calls such as these.

One day plant : Branches of crotons and such garden plants which were implanted few hours before the Annual House Cleanliness Competition judges acme around for inspection, for a feel good factor and a near terrific landscape. Cadets have a great green thumb and we have SUPW too as a core subject !

Prasad House. Center of Kazhakootam – therefore center of universe and everything else. Best House ever ! Oh, Yeah !

1989 : The year a bunch of folks flew out of their universe at Kazhakootam to kiss the world and greet the aliens. Yes, it is heard some Wall in Berlin or Brandenburg Gate or some thing broke down somewhere that year, which will be again fixed by Prasad Juniors – get my drift?

Related : Deciphering the Sainik Lexicon | Part One

28 Responses

  1. MH,

    Remember that SHivaji was the “Cockhouse” and winner of almost all the trophies in 89. A futile effort for redemption by a Prasadian !!


    1. Dear Sabu,
      Was getting a little worried about the “studied silence” by “others” with respect to Prasad being the center of the Universe all this while.

      Thank God the knives are out 🙂

      ..Regards, a weary Ashokian 😛

    2. heres my late reply to dear sabus woes…
      iam sure my dear class mate knows …
      about an old saying which goes
      that nightingales dont win prizes in poultry shows!

  2. Just Out and Out brilliant. “MH” Outdoing himself and proving that all those years on a submarine haven’t made him an amnesiac mermaid chaser!! Prasad house did have Vijaykumar in residence. That made it the centre of the earth in terms of mass; but not the centre of Kazhakuttam. That would have to be Mahadeva theatre on a Sunday afternoon.

    1. When Lord Parasuram threw the now famous axe from Kasargod, it first hit the spot where Prasad is today! Thereafter bounced and fell on Vivekanada rock…ask Vijayakumar for details!

      1. Chinks of that axe fell off due to what we today called collateral damage.. out sprang three houses..the also-rans named house Ashoka (full of shoka), House Nehru (who?), Shivaji….the asli one is Prasad and it will always be!

  3. Da,

    Missed out on..
    “Mosquito Net”… used for dumping all….

    “Kakhi Socks”… rarely seing water

    “Socks Ball”…. some of us were experts.

    May be some of our mates may help u add more.. Able will be the best encyclopedia..

  4. Great stuff Rajesh!!!You can see few more nice ones in our ’83 Batch magzine “SANGAMAM-2008” compiled my my Batchmate, Dr Krshina kishore,Asianet (US News)fame.Why not share this with Ramesh Babu for some good leads for his book???Excellent presentation.It just couldn’t have been better!!!Yeh Dil Maange More.

    1. Dear Sir,

      Cdr Rajesh’s article was a follow-up to Dr Krishna Kishore’s article, which was also published here with his permission. You could checkout the same here ..

      Biju/Admin Desk/kazhaks90

    2. Vasu Sir,

      KK s piece inspired me to type this out!

      Missed u at the getogether here at Vizag. I guess you were Innsbruck or Lausanne or some Swiss town then!

      Will send a link to Babu sir.


  5. Dear MH,

    …was that Shyamala….or Shaafi’s.? ……anyway who cares as long as the stuff was good

    I dont know whether you know Uncle Tan (near Vetturoad) a.k.a KV Tan..a.k.a. K Vai Kuntan with his tales of Singapore and lemonades for stitching your Private….Khakhis.

    Also of the Post Office and the tailor better known for something else than his stitching skills

    Interesting write up there….opened the nostalgia floodgates as usual.


    1. If its Prashant of 1988 batch…Shyamala was just about blossoming then!
      Shaafi was in the pre fastfood era!

      Shyamala was in the league of tvm fastfoods at ‘kajakkooottam’ rates!

    2. I know Tan and I’ve had my share of lemonades!

      I’ve also had a gurunathanthirugnanasambandam…becoming dam in my squadron in 1990!

  6. Awesome writing, MH 🙂 Bollocks memory gets a sweet nudge, and some of those missing pieces in the mind’s jigsaw makes a comeback. The “Cossacks” allusion has remained ever since that Sholokhov’s epic “And Quiet flows the Don”, borrowed from the school library. A heart-wringing novel, It still remains a dream to buy the 4 part book for a personal collection since copies are difficult to come by at normal prices. Thx for this piece.

    1. Ive read Don .. in Malayalam, Soni…

      Must meet up. I like the way you write very much. I couldnt get past Adiga in my last outing.

      Cook John , Smuggler Salim, Unni Sir…. so many more wo leaves an imprint.

      looks like picture abhi bhi bakki hein!

      1. Another Don fan, that’s a reunion! Thx for the kind words about the writing part. Adiga has his way of saying things, and let us leave him at that 🙂 A lot of characters from SSKZM have now come alive through this website and, have to admit, there is no greater way of celebrating a common bond than reliving those memories, fleshed out with class the way it is done here.

  7. Trunk : A place where memories of home (such as the odd polythene bag that wrapped the lunch send by Amma for your train journey post vacation, to school, a faded Ernakulam city edition news paper) rested as you restlessly ran the term. Sadly deposited in that dark room between bathrooms. Happily taken back when it was time to go home. A part of us was always in that trunk, locked and in darkness.”- So painfully true. Every single term is a familiar book mark from Kazhak. Thanks for reminding us once gain. Superlike 😀 .. Thanks MH..

    1. I never ever wanted to part with my trunk…Kazakian.

      Even today all the letters that parents and i wrote to each other rests at

      They speak volumes. And even the sight of the bus to Parur used to make me feel sad. Even as I sighted it when bunking and seemingly enjoying! MH

  8. nice one, i enjoyed reading 🙂 esp the clothes from dhobi part :))

    The Russian Кто последний? is actually a very widely used term, kind of a “formal greeting” i would say, when you approach a queue :)) Mandatory part of queuing etiquette 🙂

    1. Thanks Marina..never imagined a Russian will actually read it. I heard it at a barber shop in Severodvinsk and remembered school’s etiquette of ‘after’

      Thank you for the correction. Will remember that!


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