Back to Roots and Canals!!!

It’s almost the last week of May and the much dreaded Agni Natchathiram (Star of Fire) – the phase which is supposed to be the hottest in parts of India just got over. In India this time of the year usually apart from temperatures, the so called summer holidays also are at its peak. A season when these days most upper middle class folks and above head for the cooler parts of the planet and tick off their bucket lists. When some set on a discovery trail of exotic places within Incredible India – like the North East or Jammu & Kashmir. And when others settle for shorter junkets or IPL watching (abki baar yeh bus hai yaar 😁). But amidst all this, if there is one group living outside who religiously and faithfully return every year to their own Native place during summer vacation and make their vacation incredible, it must be the “Mallus” aka “Keralites”. And as we all know, there are more Keralites living outside than within Kerala itself 😁😁

During my growing up years while in school, our Annual summer vacation of 2 months was invariably spent going to “Native place” which was Kottayam in Kerala. (For a Tambrahm usually suffering from an Identity crisis of Epic proportion, Native place or in more technical terms – State of Domicile is Kerala but the State of Origin is Tamil Nadu 😁😁😁.  Wait a minute – Explaining this will call for a post by itself. Will let that pass for now😁).  And it was similar story for many of our folks too. Annual vacations were time for family convergence in Kerala and spending time together in grandparents’ house in a grand manner at minimum expense to the parents. But what is surprising is the zeal which Keralites show even today to spend the vacation time in their own “Naadu” (place) year after year.

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Unlike others, among Mallus, the conversation about vacations is not about – “Where are you going for vacation this year??” It’s more likely or certainly – “Eppala Naatilottu pogunne??” (“When” are you leaving for our state??) So religiously folks living outside plan their vacation (which essentially means timing the logging into IRCTC site with alacrity😁or grabbing the low cost airfare tickets during airline promos) every year to spend atleast 1 full month in their “Naadu”. It really doesn’t matter for them at all that the vacations end up being repetitive visiting the same place every year.

Even otherwise for a Malayali at heart – his Naadu comes first. Probably one would argue that for all people their homelands come first. But if you have been with Keralites even for a short while you will know what I mean. For Mallus meeting each other for the first time outside Kerala which usually starts with – “Naattil evadaya??” (Where from in Kerala??) usually quickly veers around all happenings back home including LDF, UDF, Mammooty, Mohanlal, Mazha (Rain), Pooram, Gelf,…,…😁😁 It’s almost like their heart and soul are firmly rooted back in Kerala while they physically continue to “exist” in their cities of work. Hence I guess the unflinching urge escape to their Native place – come the vacation time!

Talking of Mallu vacations, I know of many who even today, change to the more comfortable and airy – Mundu (Dhoti or Lungi for the uninitiated) the moment they step into their tharavadu (Family house) from the train/flight😁. Its Bye Bye for trousers, Jeans, shorts and the like for the rest of the vacation. And since summer vacation time usually coincides with marriage season, the one month vacation schedule is planned in such a way that one gets to “hit” minimum 3 sadyas 😁😁(Traditional Kerala feast). And apart from catching up with Amma (mom) and Achan (Dad) usually the vacation package includes spending time “with” Aaru (River), Ambalam (Temple), Ayurveda (these days a “Pizhichil session is a must) and even one’s favourite Aana (elephant)😁😁😁!! A Keralite’s passion for the Elephant is unparalleled in the world in terms of Human-Animal relationships😁. Take my word for it. A true Mallu will identify the name of the Elephant by just looking at the tail that too from a distance😁😁! (My Mallu friend just corrected me – that even by looking at the Aanappindi (Elephant’s excreta) a Mallu can say which elephant passed by😁😁😁)

And these days for the parents it is also a matter of gloating time to show off to their Gen Next Kids stuff which have now made Kerala God’s Own Country – Back waters, Kettu Vallam (house boats), Kathakali performances, Kalaripayattu sessions,… And all these in the form of pictures and videos find their way to so many walls all over the world – Facebook walls I mean😝

Apart from subjecting oneself to this “Naturopathy Detox”, I suspect the annual vacation time for most Mallus is also a time for “Stock taking”. As most of them still own large tracts of land back home where some kind of agricultural cultivation is happening the supervision of which has been outsourced, vacation time is also the time to check what’s happening. Check prices of commodities and decide between going for Kurumilagu (Black Pepper) or Kumbalanga (Ash gourd) in their lands. And review other Buy/Sell/Retain decisions and probably execute.

Ergo, for the Mallus, visiting their home land during vacation every year is a matter of going back to their Roots. And catching up with the Canals (Thodu). Still having doubts – try booking tickets to Kerala during vacation time!!!

P.S: Keralites wear their hearts on their sleeves. Hence even a reference to Somalia in the context of Kerala was after all not a good idea at all!!!

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The “NOTA” Conundrum!!!

The country now is in election mode. Well, almost perennially India suffers from election fever. If it’s not the Lok Sabha elections which come now a days once in 5 years (thankfully), we have state elections in the 30+ states usually in clusters every 6-9 months. Just when we came out of the Bihar election grip, we have presently 4 states namely Tamil Nadu, Kerala, West Bengal and Assam in the cusp of elections. Though sitting in Mumbai I am far off from the theatre of action, I can sense a common feeling atleast in 3 states one that is of despondency! Except for Assam, the despondency arises out of frustration of making a choice when there is actually none!  My reading is purely based on what I read, see, watch and deduct from the media. Thankfully apart from the mainstream media we also have the social media which provides additional insights.

In Tamil Nadu, since the demise of MGR in late eighties, people have been alternating between the two Dravidian parties – DMK and AIADMK. DMK was thrown out in the last state elections after public realized that they couldn’t keep pace with the complex family tree of its leader Karunanidhi. They opted for the simpler “2 leaves” only to realize that grass is greener on the other side. Though AIADMK started off well with the Amma branded social interventions, in the last 2/3 years Governance in Tamil Nadu has been Ram ke barose! Ace historian and author Ramachandra Guha once mentioned that Tamil Nadu had always a much disciplined bureaucracy which ensured efficient and smooth running of the Government. But this alone cannot substitute for executive vision and direction for the state. That too in today’s age of competitive federalism. Within India it is clearly a zero sum game. One state’s loss is certainly another’s gain.  With its leader medically not fit and the second rung leaders mentally not fit and only keen to beat their own set standards of sycophancy, the ruling party AIADMK has certainly failed its voters. The irony is, the other choice which people used to have namely the DMK – the situation is worse. An ailing leader in his 90’s who is unable to keep his house/family in order is hardly an inspiration for people who expect to put their state in order. Apart from these, there are 2/3 more fronts who are at best competing for the consolation prize! BJP has no local leadership to boast of, Captain’s party leads only in providing comic relief and PMK is at best a caste based outfit with limited reach. This is the first time I noticed in Tamil Nadu a sense of lack of interest among common people like Taxi drivers,… on the poll outcome!!! They only wish that whoever comes doesn’t rock the boat. So the expectations are quite timid.

West Bengal is another tale of irony. People there voted “in” Mamata who promised Poriborton by over throwing the Communists who had an iron clutch over the state for 30 odd years. 5 years hence, the only Poriborton seems to be the change in colour of paint in public buildings – from Red to Blue!!! Otherwise the Mamata led Trinamool Congress is another communist outfit with a Congress name! The state is struggling to attract industrial investments inspite of having an erudite industry friendly economist as Finance Minister. With this situation, the choice before the Bengalis is a tough one! Whether to give Mamata more time for bringing in Poriborton or to change themselves and go back to the Communist regime. The Communists who have smartly tied up with Congress in the state with a fervent hope that Arithmetic may help where Chemistry fails do not yet have a visible leader in the state. The idiom of “choosing between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea” doesn’t need any better example!  BJP which is the 3rd choice is an emerging force in WB. Still emerging.

In God’s Own Country, God only knows what will happen. A state which routinely toggles between the Congress led UDF and Communists led LDF by that logic has to turn “left” this time over. I feel that frankly in a state that is kept afloat by foreign inward remittances, the people don’t care who rules the state. So they just alternate between the Congress and the Left.  But with oil economies struggling with oil prices hitting new lows in the last 2 years, the remittances have also hit new lows. Irony died a dog’s death when Congress which is in an understanding with the Left in WB is fighting the same Left in Kerala!!! Is there a 3rd option? Here again BJP is an emerging option. But early days yet to give a shot at capturing power.

So under the circumstances, the best choice for the voters in all these state seem to be to press the “NOTA – None of the above” button to really communicate their unhappiness.  However even if the maximum number of votes cast is for NOTA, the candidate getting the most of the remaining votes would be declared winner. Just that there will be a clear message in terms of the voter’s resent of the parties in the fray. My guess is that people don’t want to profess helplessness by voting for NOTA. So, they opt for the best of the worst choices and finally get a party to rule them which they actually didn’t want.  Hence the conundrum that whether NOTA really helps!  Remember having NOTA as an option was touted to be one of much needed electoral reform to give the choice to the voter to express her anguish in case she was not happy with the candidates in the fray. But in reality it has turned out to be a lame choice. So I guess we need more than just having a NOTA button on the EVM that will ensure that the verdict reflects our true choices.  Probably a re-election if NOTA gets the maximum votes?? But for now in the election multiple choice question, NOTA is a Naught.

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Postscript: Today is Mother’s Day! That is just for rest of the world. In Tamil Nadu when Amma is in power it’s Mother’s Day 365 days of the year😜😜

Toon Courtesy: Surendra