Posts Tagged ‘kerala’

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 (more…)



Let me share something on the ways the films of my land are going. Dubbed after the Hollywood they call it the “Mollywood”(M for Malayalam), but believe me its not that great a wood, something like a bush. Malayalam film scenario was typically marked by the dearth of classic movies. There used to be a time when people used to dwell on very ordinary situations of life, but as a rule they religiously observed certain developmental aspects of the story. This gave rise to stereotypes in Malayalam films. Entertainers usually centered around the “megastars” (the normal ascension is something like star-supersta-superduperstar-….megastar).The adjectives are made by the most erudite members of the fans’ association sticking to each megastar. The fans’ association is not generally an intellectually oriented lot who takes art or literature seriously. They are available for the star to show his clout and to indulge in campaigns and exercises detrimental to any opposing faction. These megastars are not very many, to be exact just two. They won’t leave and the female actors once cast opposite to them decades before are either dead or happy with the roles of granny, but enriched by the rich elixir of youth, our protagonists still dance,ogle and shoot dialogues like a loose cannon. Characters are tailormade for them assuring that they will be almighty and their deviant behaviour should be treated as pedagogical and consequently as holy evils. These characters are preferably high class people flaunting an elitist accent and impossibly rich gadgets and tastes.

Surprisingly, these days certain iconoclasm is going on in Malayalam movies. People really love that change. There is irreverence for whatever was considered sacrosanct and we have started to shed the reservations. As a rule people advise each other that a megastarrer movie should not be watched unless there are a thousand feedbacks vouching for its worth. The indiscriminate fans are happy as long as the star is alive on stage and they can hardly give you any sound piece of advice.

The movie “Beautiful” I watched last year got me struck to two instances in the story line, though there are many of them. The protagonist is a quadriplegic nevertheless heir to a large fortune also shown as indulging in ogling and ribaldry. Once returning from the hospital in the night they miss a burglar fleeing from his home. The burglar was very adept in martial skills and high jumping and all sorts of acrobatic gestures. The face of our man was alight with admiration instead of the rage that should have naturally occurred there. That night he dreams of this burglar exhibiting his callisthenic and acrobatic skills. Perhaps that is the greatest possibility he could dream of given that he is bound to the other extreme, the immobility of the body.

He meets an amateur singer who is hired to perform for him every day at his bedside. They later become thick friends. The singer takes our man for a ride in the motorbike with a special carriage to hold him in place and parks the bike on the roadside with our man still on it before going to a shop. It rains, rains heavily. It should have been choking for our man strapped to the carriage. Choking indeed, but he relishes the globule of water wetting his face with a cherubic smile.

This attention to the depiction of life as it really is can perhaps save us from the pangs of the megastars doing superhuman fete even while being very much human. Let us burn those story lines…

Poster of Beautiful.2


ONAM SADYAThis is a sampling o f the traditional vegetarian cuisine of Kerala, done so elaborately on the Onam days. Onam, has its moorings in Hindu mythology, but with no attention to that Hindu hue all the households in Kerala celebrate these. The heart of the celebration is the Thiruvonam day. The caste differences in Kerala, once dictated that all the days of this celebration shall not be permitted to all. As you move up the echelon, more the days you can relish celebrating Onam and the lower classes had just one day marked for them. A popular adage in malayalam says that “Onam pirannaalum unni pirannaalum Koranu kumpilil thanne kanji” (Even when its onam or the birth of the landlord’s new born, the underdogs (typified in the proper name Koran) could only expect the old ways of their dinner; the gruel which is served in a cone of jackfruit leaf kept in place by a small pit. I personally do not know whether one sides Mahabali,the demon king who was stamped down to the netherworld by Vamana,the incarnation of Lord Vishnu or the latter himself. It is a problem of narratives and interpretations and subaltern views.

Octavio Paz commented that the Indian cuisine is synchronous, as the very many stuff served on the platter bound to be gulped almost together whereas the European cuisine is diachronous, that is why we speak of course dinners. Delicacies comes in a train.

The day before thiruvonam is called Uthradam. An idiom associated with this day is uthradapaachil(the rush in uthrada day) to mark the final rush people makes to the market to procure the goods for celebration. This hints at a day when wages were scanty and irregular, so the common lot had to wait till  the  eleventh hour to garner the resources.

As I was sent to Arunachal Pradesh to spent few months there, it was only a week ahead of Onam. It was going to be the first time Im going to miss Onam, so I thought. Surprisingly, I attended three Onam celebrations with the Malayali(Keralite) community in Seppa. I could never believe that there were so many of us in such a far flung place. At that time I had not come over the travel fatigue and the starangeness of the new environ. Somebody commented that even this considerable number of Malayali I am met with is far below than what it once used to be. My foot!

ps: the photograph is a sanpshot of what my sis evelyn prepared for her onam celebrations in sussex,london. The original meal had many more dishes(legend hooks it at 108) and is a delicate balance of the humours and flavours and rituals. All tastes except umami, of course.