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?