Wednesday, March 18, 2009

The Return of the Natives - Are You Ready, Kerala?

The reverse flow has begun. The NRIs who kept Kerala going through the ‘Money Order Economy’ are returning in hordes/hoards to Kerala.

Is Kerala ready for them? The Government is offering rehabilitation packages. But how effective they will be, time alone can tell.

But one thing is certain. Kerala will be hit below the belt with the return of these people who buttressed for decades a comparatively non-income generating state. These Non resident Indians slogged it out in the Middle East, Europe, Africa and the USA to sustain a lazy and arrogant people back home. Now, Kerala will not take kindly to their return. And, these people cannot be rehabilitated unless the proverbial Kerala mindset undergoes a sea change, and a climate is created for investing money in business in Kerala

This brings to my mind an incident I witnessed in 1986, while traveling from Trivandrum to Changanasserry in a bus.

The bus stopped in some place after Kottarkara, and a well dressed man in his early forties alighted. I had the window seat and so I had a good view of the gripping drama which unfolded outside.

Apparently, the passenger was employed in the Gulf and had come home for a vacation. He had boarded the bus from the Trivandrum airport. As he got down, the kili unloaded his suitcases from the top of the bus, and left them in the waiting shed. In the meanwhile, the man had hailed a cab and was about to load the suitcases into the cab when a group of head load workers (hereafter will be referred to as attimaris) circled him. The man very politely said that he didn’t need anyone’s help to put those suitcases into the cab. The attimaris became aggressive. Some raised their voices. Others began to get abusive with the taxi driver, threatening dire consequences if he transported the passenger.
“How much”, the passenger asked. Still polite.
“RS. 200” (it was in the eighties, mind you).
The passenger smiled and said, “Come on, brother, you must be joking”. He then offered to give them some money for a cup of tea for each of them.
The attimariwallas became nasty. They laughed raucously; their language and body language changed

“Let’s see if you leave this spot without giving us what we asked”, one of them challenged in the most belligerent, offensive hateful manner.
Another man put his hands on the suitcases.
And then something happened which stunned us.
All on a sudden, without any warning whatsoever, a great transformation came over the passenger. From a polite, peace loving soft-spoken man trying to arrive at a compromise with the attimariwallas , he metamorphosed into a raging bull!
“Take your hands off my box”, he thundered.
Believe it or not, the attimarywalla jerked his hands away as though the suitcases were white hot.
“I slog it out in the desert sun for days and months”, he continued, unstoppable by now, “and you guys cooling your heels here want a share of what I made with my sweat, eh?”(Literal translation)
Then, he unbuttoned the sleeves of his shirt and pushed them up his arms, clenched his fist and said, loud and clear in a deadly calm flat voice.
“Come. Who wants 200 hundred rupees? Come and take what I have to give”, he said.

I couldn’t believe what I saw. The attimaris moved back in a group, looked at each other. Then one of them looked at the cab driver and said, “Go on, take him to whichever hell he wants to go to”. Then looking at his fellow headload workers, he said”Let’s not waste time on these good for nothing people”, and they walked off.

Our bus left the stop at this point. The driver, conductor and the passengers were eagerly waiting to see how this drama would end, and I must say that all were happy with the ending.

As the journey continued, I remembered a report which had come in the Malayala Manorama a few days earlier.

A foreign tourist landed in Kochin airport. As luggage, he had only a back pack and a sophisticated video camera with its accessories. The attimaris surrounded him as he came out of the restricted area and told him that as head load workers, it was their right to carry the video camera as it was a fairly big piece of baggage. A fellow passenger, whom the foreigner approached for an explanation of their demands, explained to him the practice of attimary.

The visitor thanked him and walked back to the airport, bought a ticket for the next flight out of Kochin - to Goa.

A Manorama reporter met him at the Goa airport and asked him what made him come to Goa.

“There is no Atti Mary (sounded like attic without the last k sound and Mary, the name) in Goa”, he said.

Things haven't changed in Kerala still. The situation is as bad if not worse.

Now, back to the return of the diasporic population of Kerala, the situation is grim not only for them, but also for the state. Predictions are very disturbing. The most pessimistic prophets of doom see the state plunging headlong into the worst economic abyss with inflation, unemployment, crime rate and suicide rate reaching an all time high. With the elections in the offing, these issues are non-issues to leaders and political parties who, by now, should already have set afoot policies to preempt the projected alarming fallout of global meltdown.

But then, it is too much to expect from our netas a feeling of an urgent need to address these issues. What does it matter to them if the state economy crumbles like a pack of cards? Or trauma grips people across the classes? Or men, women, children succumb in despair to the tribulations of a failed economy?

With political support, unionized labour, Associations of officers and clerical unions in the public sector will continue to agitate for their pound of flesh, totally impervious to the fact that they are highly privileged with an all time high salary, perks and job security in times when retrenchment across the globe is casting dark shadows of uncertainty and insecurity across God’s own country. And what does it matter to our callous netas if this state and its people go to the dogs?


  1. Definitely the reverse exodus will impact the state economy in a harsh way. However trying to be op-timistic I hope this is an opportunity for people in the state to change mindset, understand ground reali-ties and think constructively…This is ripe time for people to realize many social evils like dowry and militant labour unionism which have been in a sort of way ‘accepted’ so far by the typical malayalee psyche should not be encouraged anymore...It’s a chance to bring in a socio-political change, but which requires good leaders and participation from the public as well…The average gulf malayalee is now very well aware of the though process which these union people have…But this time when they try to eke out a living using the hard earned savings ,they may not be as forgiving as the 1980 gulf returnees…its sooner the better the lazy folks sitting idle without any work in the mukku’s realize that!!
    I am trying to be optimistic here and hoping this crisis has a positive effect on the people as well.

  2. Kochu...Thanks for sharing these stories. What a drama to see on the road sides. People really have no shame!

  3. I enjoyed reading this - as an NRI since the last 20 plus yrs, I agree fully having been through most scenes described. reminded me of the sathyan anthikad mohanlal movie 'varavelpu'.

  4. What you have written is a regular picture of what happens in Kerala. Once I had a fight with a Railway coolie because he wanted to carry my luggage even after I refused and then he started showering abusive language and well! I gave him back. These things keep happening. Socialism supported unemployed idiots!

  5. 1. Strategic and networking prominence of Kerala would ensure that land remains precious. When the NRRs sell land, the Mafias would buy it all up.

    2. Thailand-tourism would overcome Kerala as the easiest option. Social norms would undergo change.

    3. Bureaucratic corruption would endure. The vulnerabilty of the New Poor would be fully exploited. Politics and religion would remain the safest professions. Some of the deprived might take to violence. Crime and State brutality would soar.

    4. We might not go back to manual labour till the last paisa is spent, though. The smart ones among the NRRs would not come to Kerala at all; they would land in other States.

    5. Education sector would suffer. Private investors in Education would resort to total dilution of quality to survive.

    6. It would be similar to the Declines that we have seen earlier - similar to that of the Namboodiris and Nairs.

  6. Some people do not recognize the truth unless it slaps them right across their face. Even then there are some who wouldn’t realize what hit them. They mistake it for everything else but the fact. Such is the case of Keralities.

    Malayalees pride themselves as people with extra brain cells (some of them call themselves “people who live with brains”). They are proud of the fact that they are street smart and educated enough to withstand and sustain themselves in any society around the world. Most importantly they are proud of the fact that they alone know the philosophy of living respectably. Respect is very important for an average Malayalee. He might be living in a broken down shed and his children’s almost dying of hunger but he would never take a job that does not respect him in his state (Kerala). This is very important for him; he can toil under the harshest weather amidst a desert for 12-16 hours a day in a foreign land but he simple refuses to hold and perform an 8 hour job in his land.

    “Why?” the foolish non-Kerlaities (those people who do not live with their brains) who read this will think. Well folks to you we say, “to us our rights are important than our rice. We are people with self-respect. We simply will not bow down our heads and toil on other’s terms in our mother state. In Kerala it shall be our way or the highway, airway or whatever. We are born as free men in our land and that’s how we will remain here. We shall be free of all responsibility and job commitments here. When we work here (IF we decide to work here) it shall be completely on our terms including the wages, the hours and other facilities and provisions. If any variation to this RIGHT occurs we shall revolt and gain our rights even if it means losing our source of job.” This might be hard for a majority of you to understand, but then this was never meant to be easy. This is known as philosophy (sidantham), and you have to attend a lot of class studies held by our esteemed long beard brothers for it to make any sense to you. Or you could join our politics (any party would do) to learn it the easier way.

    Since the pathetic people around the world including Kerala’s neighbouring states are less educated and mostly non-graduates and non-technical, Malayalees can continue with their peculiar way of thinking. But now things have changed to a different situation. Years back Kerala reached almost cent percent literacy even when other states struggled to reach 10 percent. Armoured with that superior position Keralites ensured that their natural resource remained unadulterated by denying the emergence of any industry and thereby any source of mass employment. They had the double incentive of ensuring their self-respect remains intact at home. All this they achieved while adultering the natural environment and resources of other states and countries and getting paid for the same. How better can life be? So the situation was Kerala had education but no job generators while others had job source but no education. But now Kerala remains the same while others have both job opportunities as well as education. To make matters worst in spite of doing nothing worthwhile at home but talk and listen, Kerala’s natural resource has depleted to a point where drinking water is turning out to be a luxury. So the current situation is no job opportunity, no natural resource to support her full population when they come back and an education that is of no use since it cannot be practiced or utilized.

    But the greatest worry for Kerala is how to support its “brainy” leaders and philosophers once its steady flow of foreign income ceases. Maybe she will fight the lazy non-sharing “center” to support her in this matter of great importance.

    While Kerala has been careful in kicking out all foreign influence out of the state and making life hell to those (both foreign and local) who tried to brave the weather and create jobs on her land; she never imagined the effect when other people emulated her in this act. Kerala will not under any circumstance allow foreigners to benefit from exploitation of her land. But malayalees can go around the world and benefit from staying and working (aka exploiting in Malayalam) in foreign land. Kerala paved the way and changed the name of her capital to suit her tongue and were quite happy to see others do the same. But now it seems that they are also changing everything else to a point where they only tolerate local people. This is totally ridiculous and unacceptable. How dare they copy us cent percent?

    Well for every problem there is a solution. Once all her lechers and parasites come back home, Kerala shall regroup to start the emergence of a renaissance. And then she shall dispatch batches of idealists to educate the fellow country men on the principles and laws of rights. Kerala shall once again visit that golden age of no worry and responsibility. Where beedi and empty tea shall be her staple diet where other peoples home shall be our free dwelling place, where we shall test the physical endurance of our body to withstand the worst assault that the capitalists and religious fanatics shall deal us and where we shall sow our seeds in the mind and bodies of those who sympathies and empathize with us, where eventually they will have to deal only with us rather than their lack of freedom.
    Oh how good the future looks to once again go back to those struggling days where the onus is on us to lead the people to absolute freedom.

    So rest assured dear blogger we ARE ready. The question is whether they are (the non-Keralites, the non-brainers, and pathetic people unaware of their rights)

  7. Aren't you missing the wood? What is that 'proverbial mindset' of the Keralites? These rapacious porters typify that? A less than convincing argument. People in Chennai complain of destitutes who are willing to throw under your wheels to swindle something out of you. In almost every city you hear about hold-ups. A shop-keeper in Bangalore told me how he had to pay 'hijadas' regularly to keep troubles away. The people coming back -aren't them hailing from Kerala itself? The attimaris of Kerala has become an urban legend because they are too ready to insult the gentry. In every place the gentry live in fear of the dregs of the society. I would be a hypocrite if I say I love these people. I hate them heartily. Still, you have to give them that, these lawless gangs serve the society in their own way. It is they who come first very often when somebody meets with a mishap.
    I failed to understand the expression "returning in hoards". You mean 'herds'?

  8. @ calicutter
    i guess it is your north kerala experience which makes you so indulgent towards the aggressive attitude oforganised labour. i hear people are very different north of trichur.
    also, if u, like me, have had to transfer residence every three years,u 'll understand better. the very thought of dealing with the attimary sends our bp shooting up.we have loaded and unloaded several times in other states- no hassles, believe me-
    'fear of the dregs of the society' - oh come on sir. the dregs? well you can call them that if dregs call the shots. by the way, no dregs in kerala society.
    'I hate them heartily'
    i dont. everybody has rights. it's only when one forgets the other has rights that things become difficult. the organised labour believes only in their rights, notthat of the others. that's what makes it very difficult to start any venture in kerala. if you are willing to throw your hardearned money to avoid friction, then life can be cool in kerala. unfortunately, i dont or didnt belong to that category.but i have come around of late. it's a losing battle to get your money's worth in this state.
    "Hoards" - from hoards of invaders. the choice of the word is deliberate- on account of its associative value too. invasion + treasure(latter as in archeology) - the accumulatd & hidden(cos they r NRIs) wealth of kerala coming back like an invasion-
    @ others
    shall address your views in a couple of days-will be travelling

  9. Immediate effect?
    1 . Fall in real estate price, this will be in addition to the global slump.
    2. Increase in crimes, political parties are sure to gain, few more 'RAKTHA SAKHIKAL' in their kitty.
    3. For the time being building fancier bunglaws will take a retreat, glitzy marriages will be lesser in numbers.
    4. Common man has to continue his fight for his life, will pack to some other place where there are opportunities, to continue the cliche of finding a Nair Tea Shop beyond the 9 planets.
    5. I remember the scenario back in 91, when hordes were evacuated from middle east on account of Gulf war. The economic/social fallout then was almost similar to what is written here. But have we learned any thing from then as a society? Answer would be a big NO, but poor common man has to be resilient to continue his life :(

  10. If Kerala north of Thrissur falls apart from the picture, half the chunk is gone and the image fails. Maybe, I shouldn't heckle you about that. We can't but be indulgent towards our own picture, no matter how flawed it is.


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