Back in those days when my grandmother was a little girl, the people were under the rule of the kingdom. There were kings and queens, and these kings and queens ruled majestically in their provinces even though they were under the control of England . In the early 1900's my grandmother and her people belonged to the Travancore Maharaja Kingdom. Now this kingdom did not follow the patriarchal rule wherein the eldest son of the ruiling king ascends the throne. Instead they followed a kind of nephew succession (Maramakal vali) where the son of the ruling king's sister ascends the throne. Kinda odd don't you think that the kings children are not considered for the throne, makes you wonder how the prince's and princesses interacted with their cousins... would have been weird to hang out with your cousin knowing that one day he would inherit your father's kingdom, but that's the way it was then. Now if the ruling king had no sister than 2 or more young girls from neighbouring royal families were adopted and brought up in the palace as the kings sister, they were then married to worthy suitors when the time came. The eldest born nephew was then trained to take over the throne.
Now before my grandmother was born, King Moolam Thirunal was in charge and since he had no sisters, two princesses Lakshmi Bhai and Parvathi Bhai were adopted from a neighbouring province. Parvathi Bhai gave birth to two sons Balaramavarma and Marthandavarma.
Balaramavarma (seen in the picture) succeeded his (adopted) maternal uncle and became the last ruling King of Travancore. Balaramavarma took the name Sri Chithira Thirunal as he was born under that star sign, apparently there are 27 stars and the king has to take a stars name when he is sworn in. Anyway, life in the kingdom was relaxed and easy going, that's how my grandmother remembers it, the king was kind and just to his subjects. After India became independent in 1947, all the provinces and princely states were merged together and in 1971 the status of royal families as rulers was terminated, that was the end of the kingdom era. Maharaja Balaramavarma died in 1991 at the age of 78, the current title holder of the head of the Travancore royal family now rests on his younger brother Marthandavarma.
King Sri Chitra Tirunal Balaramavarma had a shrewd and cunning head minister called Sir C P Ramaswami Iyer. My grandmother recalls that this guy was a cruel toublemaker who did not take kindly to all the Christian institutions that were blossoming everywhere. The most famous hospital of that time, The Kottar Medical Hospital was run by a congregation of Catholic nuns. Now this CP Ramaswami fellow wanted to be in charge of the hospital, he wanted direct control of the sisters who were running it. You can imagine how absurd such a notion is, Catholic nuns function under a solidly well established congregation. They have a strict system of heirachy which is followed at all times without question, the Mother Superior (who is elected by a board of members) is in charge and she obviously did not entertain Ramaswami's whim. This enraged Ramaswami and he made things difficult for the nuns. Mother Superior retaliated by withdrawing her nuns from the hospital, this was a big blow to Ramaswami, without the sisters the hospital came to a standstill, finally seeing that he had no other option he relented.
Caste system was rampant in those days, when my grandmother was in school girls of the same caste would group together and have their lunch. Even at functions, people of the same caste were invited. If a high caste person was walking down the road, the low caste people were expected to blend into the shadows and wait till he passes on. This was a way of life then... people kinda accepted it. My grandmother was exceptionally good in Mathematics and she won a scholarship, she distributed banana with a little sugar among her friends, that was the kind of party they had then. Even at home, a watery rice porridge (kanji) was the staple food three times a day. Coffee was a rich man's drink, and available only in the shops. Bullock cart was the norm of transport those days, the cart used to have a nice straw mat and the bullocks would have loads of tiny bells on its neck and horns, they would jingle and jangle every step of the way. A wedding meal would consist of beaten flakes of rice (aval), mixed with jaggery, coconut and banana. It was a delicacy back then, now we eat this at home, and I personally think this dish is awesome. The wide leaf of the Palmyra tree was used as an umbrella back then. Money was either silver or brass coins and you could buy a lot with one coin.
I just thought it would be interesting to know how people lived back then, so when I was home recently I chatted with my grandma and took a peep into her basin of memories (dumbledore reference) she sure had a lot if interesting things to say.