Society

From Finland with love

Kerala is not new to Mikko Zenger, a Finnish writer who savours the land, its people, culture and cuisine. He has been coming to India since 1977 and after exploring the North, it is Kerala and Kochi that has become home to him. The teacher of South Asian political studies from Helsinki who has co-authored a book – India, the Big Power of Controversies (1998) is currently working on his second book which he says is betwixt fiction and non-fiction. He terms it ‘faction’, stories based around facts and goes on to add the spice. “Let me call it faction dosa, facts with lots of masala.”

Not disclosing its title, at this stage, but with the subtitle- Meetings with Indians- the book has four characters that tell the India story.

Mikko is fascinated by the country’s multiculturalism and finds Kerala to be its epitome. “Kerala in a positive sense is a cocktail of cultures,” he says.

A day in Kochi for Mikko begins with a 10 kilometre walk in Fort Kochi and Mattancherry. It is his newsgathering time when he meets several people and gathers their views and makes lasting friendships.

As explanation he cites the examples of some of the people he meets regularly on his walks.

The American Jew who left America protesting against the murder of John Lennon and moved to Europe where he married a Malayali and now lives in Fort Kochi, of the erudite feminist who was denied entry into the Indian defence, the philosopher who breakfasts at Sri Krishna Café daily and one who gave him books on Marx and Freud. The book has two male and two female characters who narrate the story of India, a lady professor who tells the unofficial story while a business consultant, from the new brave India, tells the unfolding story of Incredible India. But it is the character from Kerala, a Christian-born man who converts to Islam and sells statues of Hindu deities that is the metaphor of the State’s harmonious multiculturalism. “Kerala is the kind of original idea of India, the unity in diversity,” he says.

Being a political analyst Mikko’s interest in India began when he met a person from Lahore in Sweden. After that he says there was no turning back as far as his interest in the country went. From the JP movement to the current political situation Mikko is a political watch dog observing and analysing India’s changing story. Tweaking Amartya Sen’s The Argumentative Indian he finds South India to be more argumentative and more mature.

About the North he feels that the culture of respect born out of fear is an intangible sensibility that comes in the way of peoples’ confidence. It is visible as political and cultural baggage. As example he says that the West remains a reference point for India despite the country getting ahead in all areas- economically and socially.

“I am a big India fan but a critical one, not like a fan of Rajnikant, Mohanlal or Mammooty,” he says displaying his familiarity with the country’s culture. “If you love somebody then it is natural that you will be critical,” he says about his love for the country.

Mikko’s travels and meetings with people in India and especially Kerala have been vast and colourful. Says the 63-year-old that EMS grew very interested in the interview with him after Mikko disclosed that he lives in Helsinki in the house where Lenin lived in 1910.

His meetings with Uthradam Thirunal Marthanda Varma and some of the current Kerala ministers too are interesting stories he narrates with flourish.

On one of his visits, when he lived in Vaikom, Mikko bought two cows, inspired by his friend with whom he lived there. The Indian way of life has become his way too. He moves around easily and has become a familiar face in Mattancherry.

And as his time to go back to Helsinki nears he says, “I am crying now because I have to go and then I will begin counting days when I return for the Biennale.” Mikko’s book is scheduled for completion in December.


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Printable version | Jul 29, 2021 11:44:31 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/metroplus/society/finnish-indophile-and-political-thinker-mikko-zenger-on-keralas-multiculturalism/article8280610.ece

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