I’m a malayalee. Every drop of my blood is Malayalee. I’m proud of being one. I don’t feel happy as I am expected to feel when people look at me and tell me I don’t look like a malayalee (the permanent red bangle I wear, I guess, is the reason for this comment).
I’ve never been able to figure out what’s wrong with the way a malayalee looks? What is so undesirable about the ‘mallu look’?
I once quarreled with a very senior colleague, slated to be the next Principal. Though she hails from Kasargod, she couldn’t speak Malayalam.
“I take special care not to speak or learn to speak Malayalam. I’m afraid it’d affect the way I speak English.”. !!??!
I was shocked. I was not used to people making such downright rude and insensitive remarks. I felt insulted, being a malayalee and an English lecturer, with the onerous duty of teaching the angrezi language as though it was the most valued creation of God.
So I was shocked that such a senior person could make such a remark. It was so much in bad taste. Before I could recover from the shock, she went a step further.
“Molly, the minute you open your mouth, I know you are a malayalee”
Young and inexperienced that I was, I exploded. And chose to be insulting.
“Why”, I demanded gritting my teeth. “Do malayalees have a specific type of mouth odour”
“I meant your English. You talk just like a malayalee”.
Then I said something I should not have, considering her seniority and my juniority. I’d have behaved differently today, but those were the days when I was young and foolish enough to believe that I didn’t have to take any bullshit lying down. And so I said:
“The minute you open your mouth Mrs. G---, everybody’d know you come from the heart of rural Karnataka”.
The pin drop silence in the staff room told me I’d made a terrible mistake. The subsequent days in the college were very difficult. When I was hauled up, even the term insubordination was used!
But wait a minute, this post was not to be about that episode. Guess it is still rankling in my mind and so surfaced at the slightest provocation!
Like I said earlier, I have never felt apologetic about being a Malayalee. But, I must confess, I have been terribly embarrassed about the way some of my ‘country cousins” behave outside the state.
In a particular organization in a giant metro where I worked for sometime, there were a couple of malayalees who antagonized all the other employees. One was a very senior person. He was an arrogant Mr. Know-all who held the rest of his colleagues in supreme contempt. The other person was a junior who was being groomed by the senior malayalee to follow his footsteps. The younger person was born and brought up outside the enlightened state of Kerala, and so, one would expect him to be uncomfortable with the typical aggressive mode of a pure breed. But no. The senior, who took him under his wing, did such a thorough job of indoctrination that the apprentice quite out heroded Herod!
My very first encounter with the senior made me feel uncomfortable. I was having a cup of tea in the canteen when he drew up a chair, sat down at my table and introduced himself as my country cousin. In a matter of five minutes, his voice dropped into a conspiratorial tone with the observation, “You know, Molly, these people here are so superficial”. I was at a loss to understand what he meant, but before the conversation ended, I caught on to what he was trying to say, though not in so many words. Our colleagues were not hard core Marxists!
Much as I hate to make such a remark, the fact remains that Marx has made such deep inroads into the malayalee soul, resulting in a deflection our thinking from the mainstream. This deviation is manifest in an intolerance of a high degree, blatant arrogance in our language, body language and the very thought process, and the absence of social graces. On top of all that, it has made us so judgmental. And we believe we are the last word on every issue under the sun.
We also believe we are way above the rest of creation. The Malayalam language has a great number of words which refer to the neighbouring states and its people in a highly derogatory manner.
Coming back to the two malayalee colleagues, I got tense every time there was a general body meeting of the employees. The two of them would take turns jumping up like belligerent jack-in-the-box and flinging objectionable (sometimes even personal) remarks and observations. The Chairperson and the rest of the colleagues never ever reacted. Initially, that surprised me. But soon I was told that these guys would go berserk if someone disagreed with them. “Better to keep out of the way of rabid dogs”, my friend who had been a witness to earlier disasters, told me.
When built-in corrective measures so necessary for the quality upkeep of an organization were discussed, the senior and his chela were unstoppable. “These are targeted at the two of us”, once the chela, on his feet, shouted. Yes, these guys suffered from persecution mania too. Every suggestion for streamlining the organization was misconstrued as a personal attack on them.
Once, again in the canteen, as I was having a cup of tea, the senior malayalee pulled up a chair and greeted me with that smile reserved only for malayalees. With great geniality which came quite naturally when he spoke to me, he tried to pick up a conversation. Somehow, without me quite realizing it, the conversation lead to the Left.
To my horror, I heard myself saying, “The leftists are the most undemocratic creatures on earth”. To date, I don’t know why I made that emphatic observation, or from where I got the courage to say that.
Our man’s face transformed. The grin became a near snarl. He plunged into a angry harangue on how the world goes round because of the left, the world has not plunged onto headlong disaster ‘cos of the Marxists, all pro people reforms have come from the Marxists bla bla bla - - .
When he stopped to gulp down some air and the tea that was going cold, I cut in. Taking a long breath I spoke rapidly:
“Listen sir, I work in the state of Kerala which is swarming with these so called saviours of mankind. The student body is infested with them. My university has these people crawling all over. You find them in the syllabus committee, examination committees, administrative offices – you name it. And with my very unpleasant experiences of having to rub shoulders with them, I emphatically repeat: the leftists are the most undemocratic creatures on earth.”
Then I got up and fled.
I avoided him like plague for a few weeks. Then one day, I ran into him. To my utter surprise, he was so sweet and pleasant and genial.
After all, I am a mallu, I thought. Perhaps he sees in me the potential to be developed into a cantankerous anti- estab!
Tell me, dear visitor. Am I prejudiced? Or wholly wrong?
Am I in the grip of the bourgeoisie mindset?