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Introducing Mamasa

There is an amazing sense of satisfaction when you can cross an item that has been on your To-Do list for over a year. This weekend, I finally uploaded the website: a chronicle of my paternal family. The most daunting aspect of this proves was the task of entering the complete “ Mamasa Family Tree ” into a family tree program to make a soft-copy version of my paternal family tree. The most painstaking effort of this process was to translate and enter the entire family tree (1211 members over seven generations) into an online database. This process along took me about 6 months, which really made me appreciate the efforts of those who actually collected and created this family tree in the first place in the pre-email era.

For those who are not part of my family: Mamasa is an acronym for Ma dangarli Ma ha Sa bha: the once in 4 year gathering of all the extended members of the Madangarli family. This website was in the works for a long time. My first draft of it was in 1999, infact the first website I created while learning the rudiments of HTML. From initial conception to being a functional website, it was a long and laborious process. However, during this entire process, I learnt a lot of things:

Writing about the history of the family tree was an interesting revelation of how prevalent cultures of the times shape our existing family circle. We started the family tree with my great-great grandfather. During that time, among Namboodiri’s ( the community that my father’s family belongs to) only the eldest son (and all the daughters) would marry into a Namboodiri family. The younger sons would form alliances with non-Namboodiri families, thus creating a layer of separation between the rest of the family and his new family. Therefore when I began to review my relationships with my cousins, it was interesting to note that amongst the 1000 odd members, the people I knew and interacted with were the descendants of the eldest sons in each generation. The younger sons’ progeny were obviously non-namboodiris and therefore the “uthna-baithna” with them was decreased.

It was a fun-way to study how names were in fashion. The earliest generation had a generous sprinkling of “Nangelis” and”Nangayyas” (popular female names), for the next generation were the Savithri’s and Sreedevi’s were in style following on to the Geetha’s and Bhadra’s ending with Ramya’s and Kavya’s of today’s generation. Similarly Parameshwaran and Vasudevan are the most common male names sprinkled generously over the 7 generations. It seems that our family has a propensity for names starting with “Shri”: Shrinath, Shriraag, Shrijit, Shrikant, Shriraj etc. It was an extremely interesting analysis to figure out how different generations have affinities to different names.

The confounding factor was the sheer number of families that are intertwined in this family web. Most family tree software programs are customized to the European/American family trees and are difficult to adapt to the strange family circumstances that are part of the Indian or more specifically the Kerala family structure. Here, matriarchal and patriarchal family structures intermingle such that it is a monumental task to figure out family names and hierarchy. Depending on the fact whether one person married into a matriarchal or patriarchal family, their family names would be different.

It is going to be another enormous effort to keep updating this family tree, adding new branches as families become larger and settle around the globe. Hopefully publishing this family tree online helps in continually watering it and watching it grow.

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