When one stays outside Kerala..which itself is a sign of being a Keralite..it is difficult to think of Kerala as an “another place” and difficult to pen your thoughts. But years of staying outside makes you look at Kerala in a different angle…things which we ignored like the weather column in the newspaper..suddenly strike us as unique distinguishing factors of Kerala.
The first sight that soothes me is the sight of greenery as the train swerves across the Tamil Nadu border..a distinct transformation from dry lands to lush green paddy fields…large gardens…coconut trees shading the palatial Kerala houses….while I agree that the beasts of urbanization, concretization and sheer apathy has diminished this scenic portrait in many parts of Kerala..perhaps the rate of decline is not as eye catching as in other metros of India. The Malayalee still prides himself on “larger than thou” houses surrounded by a large tract of greenery…a minimum of mangoes, jackfruits, coconuts and bananas to be produced from the now termed “organic gardens” (the backyard of every Keralite home).
And the most giggled, awed and taunted obsession of the Malayalee – coconut – that staple lifeline which runs through the breakfast chutney, finds its way to your hair for the “champi massage” of the North Indian ..then dives into every curry and dried vegetables for lunch…finally resurfaces in the chips that you munch with your “kerala tea” and rests itself before the assault commences the next day.
While I am on the topic of food, some mention of the culinary fest that reverberates in every part of Kerala is a must-do…the elaborate banana leaf sadhya that keeps you counting the dishes..the non-vegetarian dishes that are sought after (ban or no ban the Malayalee continues to dig into the meat of his choice).. the ubiquitous “puttu” (steamed white flour cakes) that can be combined with anything based on the adventure quotient of the eater (varying from banana to chicken curry) and of course the evenings with exotic sounding “banana fritters” (“pazham pori”) washed down with a cup of chai (the watery version served in glasses).
From food, one must move on necessary to clothes and culture… the cream coloured saree with the golden border brings out the ethnicity and beauty of any woman ..I can’t seem to ignore the “puttu” analogy – this saree/mundu version again can be fused into various avatars depending on the creativity and “boldness” of the designer.
The cultural fabric is probably the most vibrant and dynamic element of Kerala…one can sway to the cultural extravaganza of “Thrissur pooram” (the “mother of all temple festivals”) where music, drums, elephants and all things colourful come in unison to stimulate your senses…or one can feel the adrenaline of the snake boat race in the backwaters of Alapuzha or the martial arts display called Kalaripayatt…or simply be struck by the numerous ancient art forms that still strive and entertain the Malayalee..Kathakali, Koodiyattam to name a very few…and would you believe that Kerala had its own version of “stand-up” comedy years back ..Chakyarkooth? And while the ancient tradition still holds its ground..the entertainment of the “urban metroers” also has found its unique flavor here…the intelligent movies that give equal respect to the viewer..the rock scene fused with the folklore of Kerala and the love for melodies and literature that transcend the beats of Bollywood and chick lits!
Of course, there is the alcohol that unites every Malayalee regardless of class, caste and creed..the love of political debates and need to have a “view”..the urge to splurge your lifetime savings on a mountain of gold for a daughter’s wedding..all written and exaggerated by any and many!
Perhaps I enjoy the clichés as much as I sometimes get a little tired explaining that those clichés are to be taken with a pinch of salt..like the fascination with which a fellow North Indian passenger stared at the phulkas I ate on a train journey…she was astounded that a Keralite could make and eat phulkas for dinner..she sort of assumed I would pack my 15 course coconut oil feast along with my carry-on baggage for dinner!
One always ignores the incredulous capacity of a Malayalee to adapt and transform..the reason you find that Malayalee on the moon(to use an old phrase) is his ability to transform with equal ease from his “red flag” rebellion at home to the sweaty sincere employee of choice in every corner of the world! And with that change comes a generic in-born tolerance and “unaffectedness” towards matters that disturb, kill and affect humans elsewhere around the globe…the matters of religion, tradition, sex to name a few!
It isn’t an easy feat to summarize a state of diversity but when one looks at it from the lens of a of a non-resident Keralite..this is the array of views that the Kerala kaleidoscope offers …perhaps this too is a biased Malayalee version to be again taken with a large portion of salt!