Mechil Pullu as Jose Chettan explains…
This time am back with a story about something that we citizens of Idukki see every day. Yes it the “Mechil Pullu” that you often see in Whestern Ghats. At least for me these long grasses were just unwanted weeds that we hurt you when touched or rubbed when walking through them. It was our gardner “Jose chettan” who altogether gave us a very different perspective about these long grasses.
Ancestors of Idukki have their lot of stories about these “Mechil” Grasses, stories about how these long grasses helped them to cover up rooftops preventing them from rains, fogs and mist. Lot of the men here used to find a good source of income selling these Elephant grasses.
Long before tiled and concreted roof came into existence it was these Mechil Pullu that acted as roofs for the huts and houses here. “Meyunna Pullu” is “Mechil pullu” The grass you spread across the roof is what it literally means. The name literally comes from the local language of Malayalam. In olden days it was walls erected with Mud, bamboo shoots as roof frames and Mechil Pullu roof coverings. The “Mannan” tribal community had mud huts of the similar kind. These Elephant grasses were cut from the grasslands, sun dried, tied along as small bunches and were laid on roof tops, that how these roofs were built. It is only the top layer that is being changed every year, rest of the bunch still remains there for a long time.
It used to be a celebration for the local men to change the top layer before the monsoon. Everybody used to join the work of getting the roofs top layers changes, even people from the neighborhood used to join irrespective caste and religion. The celebrations was as equal to the king of celebration that we have today for marriages. These mud huts with elephant grass roofs were so cool and comfortable, which none of the modern houses of Idukki have. People say that is because all of these mud houses were so much merged with nature, that none of them had unnatural materials for their construction.
Cutting the grass is a seasonal job or an activity, the ranges from January till March of every year. In due course of time the rich of the land used to give orders for the grass, and local men used to get into the grasslands and cut these as per the required orders and these became seasonal jobs. A bunch is generally termed a “Kanni” say around twenty five years ago, a budle of these grass used to cost 50 paisa. A normal worker used to cut and sell an approximate of fifteen thousand grass bundles. It was a hectic as well as a dangerous task, says Josechettan. They used to overcome snakes and guars, the edges of these grasses were so sharp, when rubbed used to result in slight wounds that are unseen, these are identified when they have their evening bath. Most men used to opt of this work as the remuneration was more considering the risk and effort required to cut these grass with very basic knives and tools.
When the summer comes, these weed grasses get burnt of very fast as part of the forest fires. Once the monsoons are back after the summer, these grasslands shoots and grows at a very fast pace. Today the only consumer of “Mechil Pullu” would be the resorts that operate in Thekkady or say in Idukki district. Today, only “Mannan” Tribal community have the right or pass to get into the forest and cut these long Elephant grasses and a bunch would cost you ten rupees. Today these hatched roof houses are a just in old photographs and down in the memory lanes. Thanks a ton to Jose Chettan for sharing so much about this least bothered “Mechil Pullu” of Idukki.