Malabar Mail: Celebrating the spirit of the region

The smile and spirit of Malabar are so special

The unique culture of the region has fascinating tales from history enriched by feats in sports, arts, and education

Talking about Kozhikode the other day, a friend remarked: “The moment you land in this city, you begin feeling the warmth of the people’s friendliness.”

And, that is something you can say not just of Kozhikode; you come across friendly people eager to help you out all over Malabar.

The smile is as welcoming at Manjeri as it is at Thalassery. The eagerness to help a stranger at Vadakara is as obvious as it is at Kalpetta.

That doesn’t mean the rest of Kerala won’t smile, or is out to dupe you. You meet some of the nicest people in Thiruvananthapuram, though they may take a while to warm up to you. Neither could you claim everyone in Malabar is innocent and incapable of evil.

Yet, those who have lived in other parts of Kerala are likely to agree with what that person said at the beginning of this column. Take an authorikshaw ride in Kozhikode, and you will know.

Malabar is known for being nice to visitors all along. Little wonder the Arab traders, British administrators, and the Basel Missionaries all felt at home in places like Kozhikode and Thalassery (Vasco da Gama, who arrived in 1498, long before the British, may perhaps have had a different opinion, though).

The primary aim of the British may have been colonisation and that of the Basel Missionaries proselytisation, but there have been positive side-effects as well.

The Missionaries set up schools (not to mention the contribution made by Hermann Gundert to the Malayalam language), while the British played a major role in modernising society mainly through Western education and bringing in the fruit of the industrial civilisation.

The significant presence of the British at Thalassery — dating back to the 17th century — has had a long-lasting impact on the region, socially and culturally. Apart from educating the region — the natives were required to serve the ruler — they built the railway, helped the socially backward move upward and taught the locals how to bake cakes and play cricket.

Long before cricket became India’s favourite sport, Thalassery had fallen in love with this most intriguing of all games. One recalls watching a young boy in a raincoat listening to the ball-by-ball commentary of some cricket Test his pocket radio even as selling evening newspapers near the Thalassery bus stand on a wet, windy day.

Back in 2002, Thalassery had celebrated the town’s two-century-old history of cricket with a match between an Indian team led by K. Srikkanth and a Sri Lankan side captained by Arjuna Ranatunga.

Murkoth Ramunni, who was one of the most distinguished sons of Malabar and played multiple roles of a pilot,Indian Frontier Administrative Service officer, cricketer, and author, had told this writer about the “circumstantial evidences” proving that the sport was played in the town more than 200 years ago.

But when you speak of sport and Malabar, it is, of course, football that will come to mind before cricket. The craze for football in Kozhikode and Malappuram is perhaps unparalleled in the country. Where else will you see a Brazilian football fan selling fish at half the market rate on days his favourite team plays at the World Cup? Or players from Africa living in Malappuram for months to take part in the unique seven’s football tournaments?

If there is something Malabar loves something as much as the beautiful game, it is music. Not only has it produced some of Kerala’s most gifted musicians like M.S. Baburaj and K. Raghavan and invented a genre called Mappilapattu, it could also boast the most ardent of fans. It is also passionate about food and theatre.

Malabar surely knows how to celebrate life.

(MALABAR MAIL is a weekly column by The Hindu's correspondents that will reflect Malabar’s life and lifestyle)

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 9:32:15 PM |

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