The affluent middle class Keralites are so materialistic that they are losing the very ethos that once defined them
I write this piece with a great deal of consternation and sadness over the fallen virtues of a State that has achieved many a milestone since it attained statehood on November 1, 1956.
Its notable achievements include a high literacy rate, a healthy sex ratio, its well-developed health and educational systems and its most important asset — a liberal tolerance for debates and an intellectual climate that fosters high thinking and public service. These were the general attributes of the State which people in Kerala would readily identify with especially in the glory years of the 70s and the 80s.
The situation now has taken a dramatic turn for the worst. The pluses have been nullified in Kerala as is the case in other States like Karnataka and especially since the advent of the LPG model (liberalisation, privatisation, and globalisation) in the 1990s. Kerala, especially its socio-economic fabric, has been altered beyond recognition. Idealism was very much part of society in Kerala as evinced during the SNDP movement, the Communist movement especially in the Kuttanad regions and the Adivasi movements, which gained a lot of social, political and intellectual space especially in colleges and in wider social debates among the middle class. It's my belief that the average middle class Keralite then was better informed and had a sense of belonging to his fellow people.
True, the Gulf boom and the scale of migration to different countries especially the Middle East might have brought changes that have led to this situation. But, of late, these changes are something that Malayalis as a whole should sit up and take notice. The affluent middle class Keralites are so materialistic and capital obsessed that they are losing the very ethos that once defined them.
Take, for example, the case of Thrissur, which is famous all over the world for its poorams and related aesthetics that have given it the status as the cultural capital of Kerala. This is hardly the truth now. Scratch the surface and you will find how it neatly fits into my description of what you might call a consumer capital. This, we must remember, is a small town, barely one-fourth the size of Coimbatore. The number of gold shops of leading jewellery brands is simply incredible. You have a particular lane in Thrissur which is aptly named the palace road that houses these mega jewellery and textile brands. Come Onam, Christmas and the New Year and what not, you see a rush that would put anyone in a state of quandary. The spending capacity of the average Keralite has increased by leaps and bounds. Property markets in and around Thrissur are only second behind Kochi. And all this not due to any inherent economic advantage but which is solely driven by consumption.
This has obviously deeply affected the social fabric of the State. People have become too narrow-minded. The single-point agenda of youngsters in life seems to make money and more money. Money is important but I believe it is a sad phenomenon that everything is measured in terms of capital and its accompanying power and prestige. This attitude has severely affected the State, especially in diverse fields of research, in the civil services and in areas where pay and perks compared to the IT industry are not so high.
One apt example is the recently concluded Asian games. The medal winners, especially women about whom Kerala can be justifiably proud of, came from humble backgrounds and from relative obscurity. Youngsters their age would be busy preparing for entrance exams to get admission into engineering and medical colleges. Most of them would confide at not being totally interested in what they are getting into, but due to societal pressure where not getting admission into professional courses is akin to being tagged a loser for the rest of his or her life. The likes of Preeja Sreedharan, Tintu Luka and others are rare breeds who have defied the prevalent socio-economic situation in Kerala in pursuing their dreams.
This is a far cry from some disgruntled engineering graduates whom I met in Thiruvananthapuram recently. They were totally dissatisfied with the jobs that they were doing in the IT sector. Kerala is truly and sadly on course as one of the biggest consumer capitals of the country. It is on the verge of being intellectually bankrupt because it has forgotten the core values.
(The writer can be
contacted at sajithsasidharan12@ gmail.com)