A sliver of land nestled between the Arabian sea and the western ghats. We should probably have been one of the many islands that make up the Indonesian archipelago when Gondwanaland broke away to form the various land masses including the continent of Australia. The land decided otherwise. This natural seclusion and a climatic system (tropical rain forest) that is so very different from the rest of India also drives home the point that Kerala is a geographical aberration in the sub-continent of India.
Keralam, land of coconut (derived from the Malayalam word Kera) remains a wonder in the eyes of many. Far from being rejected and not taken seriously because of the seclusion, Kerala has played a very important role in shaping the history, traditions, art, cinema and politics of India. A role that is very disproportionate to its actual numbers akin to a feather weight going against a heavy weight boxer and winning through knockout! Adi Sankara, Madhava (mathematician), Cherman Perumal, KR Narayanan, Deven Nair (former president of Singapore), MG Ramachandran (former CM of Tamil Nadu), Sri Narayana Guru, Rev. Kuriakose Elias Chavara, George Sudarshan, MS Valiyathan, Yesudas etc to name a few are these feather weights.
We are the first true internationalists of India. With only 3 gaps in the western ghats (Wayand, Palakkad and Nagercoil) connecting us to mainland India, we used the sea as the route for our expansion of Malluism! Think local, act global was a mantra coined by Malayalees long before it became a fashion. We launched the first satellite channel exclusively for Malayalees and named it Asianet! If any of the small kingdoms in the Middle East were to suddenly decide to become democratic I can guarantee you that the next Presidents name will most probably be Sivankutty Bin Parameswaran Al Malabari, Sabumon Bin Thomas Al Malabari or Kunjalikutty Bin Aboobacker Al Malabari.
They say, get 2 Malayalees and you have 2 political parties. I disagree, that number is not right, they are jealous! The truth is get 2 Malayalees and you have 3 political parties. 2 of those parties will have a completely opposite ideological basis which they would have no compunctions of shoving down the throat of the other should one come to power by some miracle on their own. The third party(s) is the one that is pragmatic, bi-partisan and let’s get things done together kind of thingy which contains the members of the other 2 parties. Yeah, go figure! Even we haven’t been able to figure it out yet! We just call it UDF and LDF!
We don’t see the dichotomy in our ideological moorings and the sheer absurdity and irony of sitting in the Middle East and other countries and singing praises about kings and rulers in whose land there is no democracy, human rights, courts, rampant racism, women rights etc etc while bad mouthing and disparaging democratically elected governments elsewhere. I remember a meeting called by the local panchayat president of my village during the second Gulf War. He went on to roundly chastise George Bush referring to him as that “Chekkkan” (little boy) for his imperialistic tendencies. His term of endearment for Saddam Hussein was “Saddam Sir”. He wanted to know why Bush has not responded to any of the questions raised by him during his previous speeches? He put Bush on notice stating that he will ask the denizens of our village (21 of them still working in Basra) to run a non-cooperation movement against the imperialistic Americans. His conviction that he was entitled to an answer from the US President and his call for a non-cooperation movement would not only be heeded by the people desperately trying to come back to India but would bring the imperialistic monster on its knees was as strong as his belief that Karl Marx is God!
We are also amazing at finding ways to blame others for our travails. I remember walking in around 7.30 pm some years back into the house of my uncle. 6’2 inches tall, former fauji living in retirement in a palatial house. His wife was suffering from cancer and he was the only care giver and a really good one from what I could see and hear… since it was dark and I had parked the car outside, they did not realize they had a visitor till I actually walked into the house. The scene there was one straight out of an art house movie. The former fauji who used to berate all and every for wasting time watching soap operas was heaving and sobbing with copious streams of tears coming down his eyes! His wife was looking at him with a kind of sad, how low have you fallen look! The other emotions that seemed to come and go in an instant on her face included pain, incredulity, fear, pity, loathing and overall resignation! Freeze that scene in your mind!!
Fighting to gain composure, my uncle excuses himself to go to the bathroom. My aunt (God bless her soul) obviously embarrassed turns around and tells me, “Babumone, see what Oomman Chandy (The former CM of Kerala) has done to your uncle, ever since he shut the bars, this man just sits at home watches serials and cries!” Laugh or cry was not an emotion that I could act on given the situation, but that line had to be the excuse of the century! That too from a lady who till then held that her husband was being made into an alcoholic because of the Governments policies. For those of you curious to know which serial it was and what scene sent the former fauji into so much pain; it was Stree and the antagonist had just been diagnosed for the nth time with cancer. FYI, the serial was running in its 6th year and also holds the record for having a character that continued to be pregnant with the same baby for the entire duration!!
We pride ourselves on our communist/socialist/left/for the under dog moorings but at the time are open to all streams of thought. When C. Rajagopalachari (the first Indian Governor General of India) started the Swatantra Party (conservative right wing), Kerala was the state that gave him 2 lakh party members but not a single vote! We are transgender friendly and have amazing social development indicators but rape, fraud, idiocy, political murders, state involvement in everything from building bathrooms to expecting ministers to come home and deliver sops are what drives our mind set. A simple example is of people build houses on top of storm water drain knowing very well it is a storm water drain. Gets washed away the next monsoon and expect the Government to foot the bill to rebuild at the same location!
We arguably make the best films in India and boast of Mamooty and Mohan Lal (no elaboration needed) but also provided space to Silk Smitha, Shakeela and so many more. Our movies in the 80s explored sexuality from both the male and female perspectives in ways that would put Hollywood to shame. Today we debate whether the heroine should have paid more attention to the bra strap peeking out under her blouse! From exploring female sexual emancipation and dominant traits not just in cinema but also in popular literature by the likes of Basheer, MT and Malayatoor we have moved to heroes that think it is completely ok to be misogynistic.
Argentina and Brazil; our brothers from another mother in the case of football. I don’t think there are any other people anywhere in the world that has completely co-opted another nations team into their collective sports psyche as we have. We cry, we smile and erupt in raptures with them. Heart breaks, divorces, alcoholism etc have been laid at the door step of an Argentinian or Brazilian loss! Do we allow our children to follow a career in football? Hell no….Thats too much to ask for, not done! Messi, Neymar, Dybala, Coutinho can do so, but not our children…..Oh and one more thing, we really don’t care if no Brazilian or Argentinian can even recognize us on the world map, we like you and we will continue to send Bobby Chemmanur as our goodwill ambassador!
We welcome migrant labor from all over India because of our false sense of self-esteem and complete lack of dignity of labor. The very same people have no qualms whatsoever in doing manual labor in inhuman conditions anywhere outside of Kerala especially the Middle East. We look on the folks from Tamil Nadu, West Bengal and Odisha in the same way the Arabs treat Malabaris (us), a tolerance tinged with condescension. We have even devised a social strata among the Middle East expatriates where the ones who live in Kuwait look down on the ones in Dubai and the Dubai folks patronize the ones in Oman. Hypocrisy is our middle name and hell yeah we are proud of it!
Not too long back, a temple/church/mosque festival was well just that….a local festival where everyone took part. Religion was not the main determinant of who took part. Everyone did as it was viewed as a reflection of the culture, heritage and tradition of the place and a religious prism was non existent. Today, well…..religions compete! But we still manage to have a good time….MH, beef and parotta help even today to ensure that the kindred spirits come together to celebrate. We love our beef and yes it is an emotion! As to the question why? Our answer is that cow fart (methane) contributes the most to global warming and we are very environment conscious. Yeah, it will take a while for you all to understand that.
So what makes us tick? It is a strange mix of contradictory, hypocritical self indulgence and a dichotomous though stream with oodles of superiority complex and a strange conviction that what we do is always right!
We ideally should have been an independent nation named the Democratic Republic of Kerala, but in reality will be the equivalent of Cuba in the Indian Ocean. We will title our rulers as Castro or Leader depending on whether it is UDF or LDF. We would have happily laughed at all the other countries including India and I can guarantee, one of us would have become the UN Secretary General and no it is not Shashi Tharoor. Alway punching above our weight, THE Malayalee Da!