Happy birthday Keralam – there is no place like home


November 1 is the birthday of my home state of Keralam – a place we lovingly call God’s own country.

I was born and raised in Trivandrum , the capital of Keralam . And to me – there isn’t a place more beautiful than Kerala on this planet . I am generally quite happy with my life with very few regrets , but the one thing that I hold myself as an abject failure is my (perceived) inability to make a decent livelihood while staying in Kerala . For record – It’s where I want to spend most of my retired life .

In school – Malayalam was my favorite subject . Its a language spoken only by Keralites , which in the grand scheme of things is not that big a population . Yet the quality of literature is astonishing . I don’t have the literary abilities of Changampuzha – but I have the same romantic notions of the language that he did . I am fairly sure the poet was rather high on alchohol and/or drugs as he penned these lines and most of his work in general 🙂

I have a pretty good collection of Malayalam books with me . Every year, I pick a few and read them again – it’s fascinating how much more enjoyment I get reading them again as my own life experiences become more varied with time .

I have often wondered why something that has failed the world over like communism found roots in Kerala . The novels and dramas of the time give me a good idea of how the movement gained prominence and became deep rooted in our psyche .

More than the “serious” stuff – it is the sattire and humor that has stayed with me . “Sanjayan” is on my all time favorite list when it comes to stuff that makes me laugh out loud and think deeply at the same time . Those essays are a league apart – and have definitely influenced how I view society.

That said , the king of sharp wit , humor and sattire was Kunjan Nambiar . He used fairly simple language and the context of stories in Hindu holy books – and generations of Malayalam readers have been his fans . I am sure that will continue for many more generations – his brand is timeless . I use his parts of his poems – usually translated to English – in many a situation where a little humor could help calm down someone at work .

Like these words that Hanuman used to calm down a pretty worked up Bheeman http://youtu.be/_OU04lw1dpM

Not that it helped – Bheeman was not convinced and explained what I think of as “the original definition of Catch 22 ” . In Bheeman’s view , Hanuman ought to be killed for being such a nuisance . But killing such an old defenseless guy will give a bad name in society for someone like Bheema . On other hand if he is not killed – Hanuman will continue to irritate Bheeman with his wise cracks . Quite the dilemma 🙂 http://youtu.be/Vm2KxptrmDI

There were some serious philosophers too that impressed me . The one that comes rushing to mind is Ramanujan Exhuthachan who penned the Malayalam version of Ramayanam , in a very creative way . It is as if it was narrated by a beautiful little bird . Here is a snippet on the folly of chasing material benefits as explained by Raman to Lakshmanan . http://youtu.be/iDAM3vIe-kM

Enough with the language itself – what else comes to mind ? Of course the food ! Whatever the research says about carbs being bad – I hold “Sadya” as the ultimate balanced feast a man could eat . How many dishes can hold its own against a classic biriyani ? And is there a dessert more delicious than palpayasam ?

IMG_0272.JPG

IMG_0590.JPG

IMG_0298.JPG

IMG_0479.JPG

Kerala was the original spice capital of the planet . Vasco de Gama found his way there to trade spices . It did not end well for Kerala , but the western culinary world got a real good blessing in the process . Many of my friends love Indian food already – but they base that opinion on the chicken tikka masala served in Indian restaurants. For the record – that is not authentic Indian food , and we don’t cook that stuff at home. How I wish there were a lot more Kerala restaurants in US and Europe . It’s my dream – a dream shared almost by every non resident Mallu – to start a chain of restaurants in US that serve Kerala cuisine exclusively some day.

Kerala has a lot of good things going – almost 100% literacy , highest ratio of women to men in the country , great universities ( my grand dad , dad and me went to the same university ) , lowest corruption in India and so on . It also has some deep rooted problems – like the extreme activism by unions that has completely killed off most industry . Irony is that while mallus love to join any random strike in Kerala – I used to pray for strikes while in college – they are completely happy to work hard once outside Kerala . So while Kerala has no industry to claim fame , it can boast of a lot of inflow of money from ex-pats .

There are plenty of missed opportunities too . It is naturally beautiful – plenty of greenery , beaches , great architecture etc . However , while it has improved a little , Tourism as an industry is still largely an amateur game . Kerala doesn’t value private sector all that much . People mostly sit back and expect government to solve all problems .

Another harsh reality is that public hygiene is constantly coming down . The state badly needs infrastructure for things like garbage disposal – and the citizens need a culture of not littering . Again – it’s a problem that can be solved if public and private sector comes together . But that is against the grain for our culture – we do expect government to solve it .

Despite occasional problems – religious harmony is pretty good in Kerala compared to many other places I know of . Hindus , Muslims and Christians live peacefully there . Right in palayam – roughly the downtown area of Trivandrum – there is a big mosque , a big church and a temple all next to each other . The Hindu temple practically is next door to a fish and meat market . I went to a Hindu primary school , a catholic high school , a Muslim engineering college and a government run business school . I have never had a problem with another religion in Kerala – and I hope it stays that way for ever .

I think I have rambled way too much on this – totally got carried away with all the nostalgia . Hopefully I will be there in Trivandrum in couple of weeks for a short visit

Advertisements

8 thoughts on “Happy birthday Keralam – there is no place like home

  1. As a visitor to Kerala 7 years ago I was struck with its beauty, food and also the unique experience of tolerance for “the other” and a special sense of inclusion. In fact I wrote about that in my personal blog here: http://grannimari.blogspot.com/2008/01/chendamangalam-my-kind-of-shangri-la.html back in 2007-8 . It is very interesting to see your birthplace through your eyes, rather than through mine, a casual “tourist”. If you find a place here in the states that really captures the amazing cuisine, do let me know 😉 . I hope other nation/states also adopt the behavior of acceptance and respect I believe I found there.

    Like

  2. You wrote “…failed the world over like communism found roots in Kerala.” I got really intrigues by this thought. I have observed and explored this ideology (being born and brought up in Bulgaria in the ’80s myself) from Eastern Europe through Vietnam and Cuba and I’m curious to know what exactly you have meant when you wrote that. Thanks.

    Like

    • Bulgaria had free elections after a long time in 1990 I think – and changed the name of the country as well as removed the communist logo from the flag. My home state even today has a very active communist party who get elected to power in almost every other election. The central idea of centralized planning was tried in India too – and it failed. Leninist ideology – as executed in Kerala – meant that all private ownership was opposed. As labor became more important than anything else – activist unions made sure they went on strike at the drop of the hat. And what that resulted was that the state stopped having any kind of manufacturing.

      At least in Kerala today – there is not much of oppressed labor. The communist party’s world view was roughly to take money from rich and give it to the poor in a centralized way. After the initial success, All it really helped was in creating a lot of violence and unrest . The idea of equality by making everyone poor, rather than helping the poor become richer stopped finding favor with common people.

      There was a good reason for communism to start in Kerala. There was plenty of abuse by rich against poor workers back in the day. The trouble is they never changed their philosophy after that.

      Like

      • Thanks, Vijay, really interesting. I sense you’re not hugely in favor of the system these days in Kerala. I pesonally was impressed with the high literacy rate- maybe a good side effect of how things developed in Kerala.

        Like

  3. The nostalgia that it brings to every Mallu is phenomenal I only wish that religious extremism does not get tolerated why should the so called ‘Arsha bharata’ people get into such things as moral policing et al why does a newly wed couple need to carry their marriage license or for that matter any young or old people have to explain to others why they are together .The education that we all are proud of has that caused this? The ultimate that I cannot stand nowadays is the complete liquor ban which essentially sends all the tourism business we need to Goa and Srlanka.It is a pity if our state becomes the most repressive state ?

    Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s