I had a dream some years back. A strange dream it was. Why I should have dreamt of Brutus and Mark Anthony, I haven’t the vaguest idea. I had’nt thought of them/spoken of them around that time. Yet I dreamt about them.
I do not remember what Brutus had said. But I do remember seeing Brutus standing tall a erect, in the fatigues of a Roman soldier, earnestness and sincerity writ large on his face, speaking in a rather stiff, baritone voice with no dramatic intonation whatsoever. The blue shirt, green shirt, red shirt head load workers of Kerala who were listening to him were moved to tears, and quite unembarrassed about it.
The only words of Brutus that i recall is the oath he administered to the assembly, which the huge crowd of head load workers, with their right arms stretched out, repeated after him with a thunderous resonance. Here’s the oath:
WE THE HEAD LOAD WORKERS OF KERALA SHALL HITHERTO EARN OUR SALARY. WE SHALL NOT CLAIM NOKUCOOLIE. WE SHALL NOT OVERCHARGE FOR THE WORK WE DO. WE SHALL NOT USE ABUSIVE LANGUAGE.WE SHALL NOT THRUST OUR SERVICE ON PEOPLE. WE SHALL AMEND OUR BODY LANGUAGE. WE SHALL LEND DIGNITY TO OUR LABOUR BY PUTTING OUR HEART AND SOUL INTO OUR WORK AND PASSIONATELY ABIDING BY THE WORK ETHICS SPELT OUT BY OUR LEADER BRUTUS AND BY OUR COMMITMENT TO THE NEW AGENDA.
Wiping their eyes with the red thorthu on their shoulder they sat down and waited for the next speaker. In walked Mark Anthony. There was something wrong with the way he looked. I remember thinking in my dream, “hey, this guy is a fraud’. His face was exactly like Richard Burton’s – light eyed, light complexioned and receding forehead. That was OK. But he wore a shirt the front portion of which had two colours. On the left of the placket was red and on the right, blue. The sleeves were green and they were rolled up half way up the biceps. The red thorthu was on his head in the form of a cocky turban. He wore an atrocious lungi folded over well above the knee and tied over his ribs. Some striped inner wear almost reaching his knees was peeping out cheekily.
He walked in with a slovenly gait, a beedi smoking from his fingers. The crowd greeted him with boos, but quite unfazed, he walked up to the mike, put his right elbow on the lectern, took a deep drag on the beedi and blew the smoke in circles and watched them as the circles dispersed and disappeared into the air. The boos died down and the crowd too watched the circles forming and then becoming ill defined and disappearing.
Soon silence fell. Mark Anthony threw away the beedi and looked at the crowd with one end of his lips lifted in a crooked, scornful smirk.
‘So’, he said, ‘comrades, you are giving up your rights, eh?’
Silence greeted him.
‘Eh, eh eh?’ We went on without raising his voice too much.
‘You fickle minded fools’, he roared abruptly, making the audience sit up with a start. ‘You traitors’, he continued roaring.’ You have betrayed the blood, sweat and tears of generations of thinkers and leaders who laid down their lives, suffered torture at the hands of brutal police toeing the line of the bourgeoisie, to win you the rights to earn a living without working. And now you stupid proletariat, you want to work?’
‘You want to work? You want to live by the sweat of your brows? You want to earn you salary? Then GET OUT OF KERALA. YES’ he roared ‘GET OUT OF KERALA’
'Your leaders first struggled and fought, then pressurised all governments to wrest the sacred right to earn a fat sum without moving your little finger, and now you want to throw that right away? Ugh, ugh, ugh?’ He snorted into the mike.
‘No comrade, no’, shouted the audience.’ No’.
‘And what is this new agenda? New goal that Brutus put into your silly heads? Increase production? Whatever for? Why should you care about the size of the cake so long as you are assured by your unions that you get your share of the cake, EVEN IF THERE IS NO CAKE. Where in the world are there workers who get every month without fail their share of a nonexistent wealth ?’
‘Nowhere, nowhere., yelled the crowd.
‘Yes, nowhere in this world. Remember, nowhere. Only in Kerala. That's why it is called God’s own country. We earn without sweating. Don’t you know “thou shall live by the sweat of your brows" is God’s curse on Adam when the latter was driven out of Paradise where they did not have to work? Work is a curse. A punishment. Your leaders redeemed that lost paradise where man could eat, drink and be merry without working. That’s the paradise which God made for Adam and Eve. Your leaders have outsmarted governments, why even God himself to create a paradise for you here in Kerala, and now you want to throw it away? You want to throw it away, ugh?’
‘No, No’, they yelled.
‘Down with the traitor Brutus’, someone yelled.
‘And’, thundered Mark Anthony, ‘if Brutus has put the idea in your minds that the absence of generation of wealth in this paradise will throw cockroach in your Kanji (literal translation of Malayalam idiom meaning ‘deprive you of your livelihood’), let me tell you this. With more than 2 million malayali NRI’s slogging it out outside India, we the labour class will never starve.’
‘Long live money order economy’, yelled Mark Anthony waving the read thorthu which he had ripped off his head with flourish.
LONG LIVE MONEY ORDER ECONOMY, shouted the crowd
I woke up with a start at the sound of the alarm clock. It was early morning. I had to board Madras Mail at 6.15 am after cooking breakfast for the family and packing lunch for my husband and two children. I dragged myself out of the bed thinking ruefully “Why wasn’t I born a head load worker?”