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‘I am a Malayali’

The Malayali presents a ubiquitous blend that lends generously for caricature. Photo: Thulasi Kakkat  

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Yohan Chacko shares his thoughts on his people on the occasion of Onam.

The Malayali evokes many an image when thought of, thanks to clichéd portrayals that one comes across in the movies and print. Coming from a state that has the unique distinction of being the first in the world to freely elect a Communist government and the first in the country to declare 100 per cent literacy, the Malayali presents a ubiquitous blend that lends generously for caricature. To most what comes to mind is a coconut oil eating, curly haired, lungi-clad, highly-educated Marxist who loves his fish as much as he loves his alcohol. Just like everything in Nature, the precept of the Malayali has changed over the decades, however some things remain constant. When I embarked on writing this piece, I asked some of my non-Malayali friends to give me words that they thought fit the word ‘Malayali’. The ones that caught my interest were Greenery, Education, Language, Water and Onam.

Nature has provided for the Malayali’s needs in abundance. Verdant rolling hills, lush fertile plains, rivers that run through the year and beaches that dot an entire state border bear testament to that fact. The language of the Malayali rolls over his tongue like a bag of marbles in a bowl of gelatin but is sweet to the ear. In fact communication in Kerala has evolved to such an extent that it is quite possible for two Malayalis to have an entire conversation without saying a single word. Hand gestures, posturing and monosyllabic grunts have found its way into the day-to-day Malayalam lexicon. With the advent of the British Raj, the Malayali was forced to make peace with a foreign language that came along its shores. It was taught like the mother tongue without any change in intonation, enunciation or punctuation which is why the Malayali speaks English like Malayalam.

History tells us that unlike other states of India, Kerala saw little of wars and was blessed with kings who allowed the fine arts to flourish alongside overseas trade. One aspect of the fine arts that has developed greatly is the ability to make others laugh. Humour comes naturally to a Malayali. A review of Malayalam comedy forms from stand-up to films reveals the intellectual nature of this rib-tickling humour. A few keystrokes and one can find a veritable hoard of ‘mallu-jokes’. On a recent search I came across a wonderful sketch on YouTube called ‘Sab Malayalee Hai’. The protagonist explains in heavily-accented ‘mallu’ Hindi how famous people in the world from Barack Obama to ‘Hussain’ Bolt are Malayalis. Continuing in a humorous vein I decided to look at Malayali stereotypes and see how many I could come up with.

The Malayali man at home is the king of the jungle. He roars incessantly, sometimes pointlessly while the female of the species does all the work. His long sentences are prefixed with ‘Edi’. He struts proudly, and is fond of the thickness of his moustache. He is a social animal and loves his siesta. The Malayali woman at home is the lioness. Protective of her young she secretly dreams about how much dowry her son will get her once he has settled in the ‘Gelf’. There are two types of Malayalis in office. One who is conscious about the English he speaks and thereby remains silent in most discussions and the other who is the exact opposite. This Malayali will partake in discussions enthusiastically completely oblivious of his peculiar accent. Both these types however have one thing in common. They belong to the same gang that seems to mysteriously form in any office that employs more than three Malayalis.

A Malayali in college knows not the meaning of extremes and I shall not elaborate further on that. Slick hair, combed back like a Roman helmet. The coolest gadgets and the coolest bikes are all part of his arsenal. Despite this outward show of macho-ness he gets tongue tied and all wobbly in the presence of a beautiful classmate.

The ‘Gelf’ Malayali has evolved through time. From RayBan wearing and ‘two-in-one’ toting he now brings down perfumes, chocolates and Scotch whisky, the standard returning-home-on-a-holiday gifts. He longs to return to his hometown so that he can trade his pants for a lungi or kailee but after a month of being at home he yearns to go back.

The foreign Malayali (read western) flaunts his over-enunciated English at every given opportunity. His gifts are usually Nike T-shirts and Reebok shoes. He too will shed his pants for a lungi/kailee the moment he hits God’s own country.

The kids of the foreign Malayali speak flawless English and a peculiar English-accented Malayalam that has earned them the title of ‘Pseudo mallu’. They can’t for the life of them understand why they have to remember the names of all the appachens, ammachis, appapens, and kochammas every time they visit their ancestral home. And quake when they are asked questions in Malayalam by all of the above-mentioned members of the extended family. The ammachi is a portrait of innocence in this world of evolving English. She is universally loved and will always ask you if you remember her. She can’t get her head around the most basic of technological marvels and is firmly against all this ‘jenk food’. She will hug you when you arrive and sniff in your ear when you have to say goodbye.

And finally the drunk Malayali. He is facing extinction in his own State but until then let us cast him also in this essay. Tying and retying his lungi, each time a notch higher lets you know how many pegs he has downed by the level of the knot. At the pinnacle of intoxication the knot will be placed one palm’s width below his armpit almost like a girl wearing a towel on her way to the river for a bath. And they will sing. And sing and sing. For the amount of coaxing they would otherwise need to get on a dance floor, the drunk Malayali will put Shakira to shame.

Despite the funny quirks in the Genus malayali there are also noble traits setting him apart from other Indians. He holds himself in high esteem. He has an overdeveloped sense of cleanliness and his civic sense is unparalleled. He is hard working when he is not ‘hardly working’ and is a consummate survivor, a trustworthy friend and a go-to person when the chips are down. I am a Malayali.

(The writer is a city-based dentist whose song ‘I Am Malayali’ went viral online. )

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Printable version | Sep 19, 2017 4:33:58 PM | http://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/yohan-chacko-shares-his-thoughts-on-his-people-on-the-occasion-of-onam/article6383361.ece