A Day Like Ever Before

Posted: September 7, 2014 in Provoked, Vagrant
Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Today I am supposed to be a real Malayali. Malayali is the linguistic title for the residents of Kerala, the southernmost state of India, a tourist hotspot with the assumed name of “God’s own country” (that name, I suspect is an exparte decision), a haven of monsoon forests where you can ride on the swings of heavy raindrops constituting an ethereal thread . It’s the national festival day today: the Onam day. (When I mean national read it as provincial because India itself is a conglomeration of a wide variety of ethnic and linguistic groups well within their geographical confines.  For me it’s a great incidence that India never have had the ill fate of falling on a military government for its upkeep. Our sister land in the immediate west is not so blessed that way.)  A quick google can reveal the exuberance of this remarkable festival to you:  all its colours, noise, folk performance and of course the flyers announcing you what you would probably miss if you miss Onam. In flesh and blood this translates as an amplification of all the inconveniences that a typical Malayali experience in his hometown every single day: conveyance, logistics, and rash drivers honking and raging like a musty tusker bull. Oldies, kids and those with kneejerks wait for a gap to relay them to the other side of the road. As you know, pedestrian crossing is a myth in this part of the world. Special outlets to sell the Onam paraphernalia mushroom up. Shopping carts loaded with greens, tubers, vermicelli, flakes, rice chips, garments, banana leaves to serve the food (not to mention the laminated paper variants if one is not too keen on going for the tongue edge of the banana leaves that tradition stipulates). There used to be a lot of folk games and village jamboree surrounding Onam yesteryears. But no more in that freestyle way, perhaps a local organisation would hold a fete or two with least spontaneity. Nevertheless they will hog the social media with all the mighty displays of their exploits, the paramount of which is the laying of the flower carpet, an intricate floral pattern made of flowers (or if you are cash-strung, stained sawdust or salt crystals would do). Of late so much attention is made to produce complicated and assymetric patterns that the simplicity of what was originally a space in one’s front yard bedecked with flowers which were available in the homestead and fields is entirely compromised. Instead they go for looks that kill, shipping flowers all the way from Bangalore or Tamilnadu just to pamper the irresistible ego of Kerala.

Kerala is a really wet country with all the monsoon loosing its grip over the low rise mountains sweetly enfolding the land. For a Malayali the word “vellam” means water and also its cousin-word on loan from Tamil, the language beyond the hills, “thanni.” So much is the priority that Malayali attaches to it that alcoholic liquours are also called “vellam/thanni”. Something from which one can never back off without feeling like fish out of water. A severely inebriated man who has lost all reserve and foothold is called in the slang as “paamb”, which means “snake/serpent”, because of the contortionist effects of alcohol. They are also called as “thaamara”, (the lotus) because they rise from water, where water takes its secondary meaning noted above. That may be a good name for the ones who can keep their cool, unflailing after all that reservoir of booze he wades in. Kerala has perfected the art of distilling home-grown liquours. There was a time when a village distiller would hide all the hooch in clay jars in the muddy ponds for seasoning and security and an opportunistic whistle blower who wants to bust him would call in the enforcers and spot the exact locations to stick a long pointed rod to bust the jars equally well. I, as a child, was not allowed to watch any of these boozehunting but have heard a lot in narration. Those days may come back. It is in his blood for a Malayali to be indomitable in spirit. You can never take away his ‘spirits’ from him, you take away the ethyl alcohol, he will guzzle methylated spirit and will celebrate the consequent hooch tragedy.  Perhaps the western media had found it very edifying that alcohol ban is being fast-tracked in Kerala, shutting down all the bars progressively culling the government owned booze outlets. You can never let Kerala run “dry”. It is no man’s secret that the temperance movement in Kerala has been largely animated by the Catholic Church and other Christian denominations which have a definitive say here. The losers in this race have taken up a very interesting rallying point : close down the Churches too, they use wine for the Services. Not entering into the legal, canonical, statistical and chemical standing of the sacramental wine, I find it very amusing that this proposition is raised at all. As is wont of Malayali, immense exchange of words ensued all over the social media, channel prime times and again as is wont of Malayali the chief participants of such “edifying discourses” would be the ones who have nothing to lose but their sheer imcompetence and ignorance, those moronic pachyderms. As a matter of fact, as is known to you all, Malayalis were the avante garde in showering abuses, four letter words, lecherous suggestions on Sharapova when she admitted her ignorance of the existence of Sachin Tendulkar. Malayali would be the first to come where he has no reason to be. Literally, they love showing the fig (google the etymology of sycophants), even when there are no takers.

My tribulation, and not just mine, is that I feel nothing upbeat about this day today. A misplaced taste or whatever! I had thought of blasting the Sunday pulpit with a jeremiad for the Malayalis today, including me. A last minute change of plans saw to it that I did not make it to the lectern. So I am here, picking petals and slicing them, with a bunch of brothers to lay the flower carpet. The brothers keep on working on the designs and when I could not bear the gravity of eyelids and left, they still had not laid down the chalk. The flowers had an antiquarian freshness in them. Some flowers do not wilt that soon by their nature, and about others, no worry, you can always doctor them.


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