Thursday, May 22, 2008

Kennedy in Kerala

This ttle might sound strange, but the Kennedys have a close and long lasting connection with Kerala. John Kennedy and his wife Jacqueline dominated the imagination of this state in the sixties. As the first catholic president of the US, he was a rage in the catholic community of Kerala. I was in the primary school when John Kennedy became the president of the US. Those were the days when the only news media available were the newspaper and the radio. I do not remember the excitement in my house when he beat Nixon – but I clearly remember the aftermath. The elders at home talked about the famous debate which turned things around for the young democrat. In the typical Malayalee style, men made dramatic declarations with matching gestures about Nixon’s discomfiture when Kennedy doled out his punch lines (all figments of imagination, I’m sure-there was no U tube or small screen in those days).
I think it was Kennedy’s ascent to the White House which prompted my father to subscribe to the Life and Time magazines. Even as a child I used to be fascinated by this handsome couple. Though I understood nothing, I faithfully looked everyday at the pictures that came out in the magazine –and preserved them till the eighties (all were lost when we relocated - or I would have had a collector's stuff now)
I remember the Cuban crisis. My sister was in the US at that time, and I still remember my mother telling me to get down on my knees and pray that Khrushchev calls back his fleet instead of defying Kennedy’s blockade! God hears children’s prayers, she told me. I remember the celebrations when the Russian premier allowed his better sense to prevail. Kennedy’s victory was like a personal victory for all at home-which included me ( Today I have different notions of who the villain and who the hero were).
I remember the day he was assassinated. Everybody seemed shell shocked. I was in the 5th std then and the school declared 2 days holiday!!! It was a catholic school. I don’t think it was officially declared but we had no classes. When I went to school after two days, I found my class teacher (a nun) in a state of shock. She was talking in terms of canonizing John F. Kennedy!! Thanks to the poor reach of media in those days, Kennedy’s bohemian ways were unknown to my part of the world. I remember the seamstress Cicily thathi (she was a storehouse of knowledge asking with tears in her eyes “what’s the motivation for Kennedy’s widow to remain alive now?” I still remember the stunned, numb expression on her face when Jacqueline remarried. She couldn’t get over it for days – and she and the rest of the household passed on that resentment to me.
Kennedy is a common name in Kuttanaad, the catholic stronghold in Kerala. I don’t know if, with the priggish Nazrani sense of morality(, these name bearers are embarrassed by their name.
The story goes that in the mid eighties, Jackie traveled incognito in Kerala. As she took a boat ride through Kuttanaad, she was shocked to have been recognized by almost everyone who saw her!
Again, when she flew down to Trivandrum and took a pre-paid taxi to the hotel where she had booked, the car driver told her he’ll step on it so tat she can catch at least the last part of the Kennedy serial that was being aired by Doordarshan!!
A coincidence. A couple of days back, Father Teddy, my colleague came home to pay us a visit. In the course of the casual conversation, I told him that Teddy is an unusual name in Kerala. He told me he was named after the last of the Kennedy brothers! Hardly were the words out when the news item came scrolling on the TV screen that Edward Kennedy was taken ill!


  1. I've been a Keralite for over two and a half decades now, and I must say I've never personally come across the Kennedy obsession, and certainly not to the extend you have mentioned here.

    On the other hand, I have never been the shining example of general knowledge mastero, and hold worse credentials as an observer of life around me... So maybe these things slipped by me...

    It's easy to slip things by me, for sure. If you had told me these tales a few years ago, my response would have been limited to "Err... Kennedy who???"...

  2. @hammy
    were u around in the sixties? :-)

  3. :D of course not... I'm a 1981 model.

    I wasn't there in the 40's either, but I know something or the other about the Independence struggle.

    I'm just saying... I've never heard anything about these.

  4. a good one that, hammy:-)
    independence struggle got into history texts.this did not. not of historical significance-more of a cultural fact which lives on the memory of people - - -

  5. My mother was made to pray for Kennedy she recalls. And she remembers the hysteria when he became president. The church bells tolled in her village and during mass his name proclaimed proudly! :p When he died a pall of gloom fell over the village and jeeps went around announcing his death! A lot of baby girls in my family were named Jacqueline and we have our share of Teddy's too. :)

    And none of the older generation in my family know of his philandering ways! :)

  6. @ silverine
    thanks. hammy was begining to make me believe i have an overactive imagination :-)

  7. @kochu:
    Apparently not. Apparently, I have a very low radar antennae, and I never picked up the Kennedy upheaval.

    On retrospect, that's not surprising. I was always the absent minded one in the family... and my General Knowledge hardly ever tallied with the average threshold.

    But in any case, thanks for bringing this up. I have to admit, it's an interesting bit of trivia. Maybe the next time I go home... which should be next week, I shall try it out with my own set of older generation family members...

    I'll try passing comments about the late JFK and see how they react. Should be entertaining, at the least...

  8. Hey I read the same article in Indian express Hyderabad edition:-)
    You write for Indian express?

  9. @ the layman
    a friend who read my blog suggested i send it to some paper. I followed her advice after revising it using from info i got from my blog visitors

  10. Thats so cool..nice to know!:-)
    I had read the blog and when I saw the same article got a lil surprised..Anyways that was very inspiring.

  11. silverline's comment made me lol.
    and vow ! i didn't know kerala's infatuation with the kennedy's.

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