One of the earliest quiz questions that I learnt is this:
Q. Where was the first democratically elected communist government in the world?
A. In Kerala - in 1957- with EMS as Chief Minister.
I must have been 4 or 5 when I learnt this by rote. It didn’t make any sense to me then. But it made me feel proud to be a Keralite. Even my brother who first put this question to me looked and sounded proud tho’ democracy made no sense to him too then.
But Communism did. We didn’t know who the communists were. But we knew they were bad people. They didn’t believe in God. So they had no sense of right or wrong. They were brutal people. They would kill without hesitation. They stuck terror in the hearts of people I moved and lived with.
I learnt to loathe and fear the sickle and the hammer.
I vaguely remember the VIMOCHANA SAMARAM ie the freedom struggle. To a Keralite, Vimochana Samaram meant the efforts to overthrow the democratically elected communist government of Kerala. My house was a coordinating centre for the activities in that part of the town. Priests and nuns were frequent visitors. So it felt like a sacred activity. It was like a crusade.
It was in those days that I first heard the term 'lathi charge'. I still remember the day when my peace loving sibling got caught in one of those lathi charges and came running into the house breathless. There was a lot of commotion in the house. Mother was anxious. We children were afraid. I was angry too and told the old helper lady who used to sleep in my room how exactly I would chop the communist policemen into pieces. Yes, you should do that. she said. I’ll help you to pickle them. Later we will serve them to their wives, she concluded. Much later, when I was much older, I learnt that she always cast her vote in favour of the communists!
I vaguely remember a large demonstration during the Vimochana Samaram. I was four or so. We children –siblings, cousins – were packed into a car which moved with the demonstration. All of us had small congress flags with us which we waved and waved. That is when I picked up the slogan-angamaliyil kalleriyil etc
It took me many many years to get out of those early notions about communism. I have my own independent views of it now. I now understand the undercurrents and politics of Vimochana samaram.
And I also understand the significance of that quiz I mentioned at the outset. For I have seen that Communism and Democracy make strange bedfellows.
No wonder it took more than a century after the birth of Marxism for this marriage to take place.
And when it did, it happened in that the state of Kerala, a state which has always remained an enigma to social scientists.