Monday, December 20, 2010


Initially, I wanted to give this post the title MALLUS AND BONGS. Then I settled for the present one ‘cos I felt it’d invite more hits:-)

What provoked this post is an oft-repeated claim (which I heard today again) that mallus and bongs are very similar in many aspects. A couple of years back, a junior research scholar brought in this idea in her presentation at a seminar. I was sorely tempted to give my take on it during the discussion time but refrained, knowing that it was her maiden presentation, and negative reaction could dampen her spirits.

The basis for this claim is ridiculous, and is this: both people have rice for staple food, and are incurable fish eaters. The women of both states wear light coloured sari. Both states were pioneers in Marxism.

They were a few more points of similarity, which I don’t now remember, but they too were equally superficial and silly as the above mentioned ones.

My take on this is this. Mallus and bongs are as different as two people can possibly be, and neither is the looser on account of it. The two have nothing in common. Marxism in both states is the result not of similarity of the people but on account of certain cultural, political and social factors which are totally different in both states.

But what irritates me is the sense of pride with which this claim is made by mallus. Why should mallus take pride in these so-called similarities? Cant we be happy just being ourselves? Do we need a point of reference to prove our worth?

Some time back, a rather prominent mallu media person in an English channel was asked about her mallu origins. The emphasis with which she stated that her connection with Kerala is minimal as she was born and brought up elsewhere made me want to throw a rotten tomato at her.

What is so shameful about Kerala that we should be so ashamed of our roots? I find this common among mallus who grew up or live outside the state. I wonder if this is on account of them being trapped in the stereotypical images of kerala and its people that have been doing the rounds in the country for a long time.

In this context, I am reminded of that national integration video that was made in 1986 (or ’87 – I’m not sure), and played in doordarshan over and over again. All the states were represented by people or milieu that reflected development or sophistication of those states. When Kerala’s turn came, it was a lungi (only) clad mahout sitting on an elephant singing entey swaravum, ningaludey swaravum - - - - -. It used to make me immensely angry that this was the official image of kerala that was being propagated. Bengal was represented by a coated and booted Arun lal and some other celebrities in starched or raw silk kurtha stepping elegantly out of electric train in slow motion. In contrast, the mallu is projected as evolutionary dropout, not having progressed beyond the half naked phase and the pachydermal mode of transportation.

I think, as a people, we Keralites have a lot to be proud of. Let no one convince us otherwise.


  1. Somehow I feel the post ended abruptly and I am afraid I did not get the point here.
    I don’t think malayalis need to project their image; the statistics speaks for itself – better gender ratio, low infant mortality rate, better standard of living and ofcourse literacy rate. Those who care about Kerala knows what it is and I don’t think there is any need to compare Kerala with Bengal. If people prefer the lungi-clad mahout on the elephant, so be it (atleast that woo some tourists and brings in revenue), nothing to be ashamed of.

    BTW, the elephant clad mahout song is very nostalgic.

  2. I didn't get the point. On the one hand you seem to be saying that Keralites should be proud of being themselves. On the other hand you seem to be ashamed of the image of a lungi clad, elephent riding mahout. You seem to be ashamed of the image of half-clad lungi wearing mallu. This is what I see most males wearing in the countryside in India.

    It also defies my logic why a national integration should project a "progressed" view of states. To me, the elephant and mahout picture was a very unique take on the state. You seem to be equating progress with silk kurtas and electric trains. If all the states went by that equation it would have made for a very boring national integration movie.

    Why should you be so offended by a prominent media person emphasizing that she had only scant connections to Kerala? What is wrong with that if that was indeed true? Maybe she didn't want to set unreasonable expectations about her knowledge about Kerala. Why do you have to conclude that she was somehow ashamed of being associated with Kerala?

    You say that Keralites could be ashamed of being themselves because of "on account of them being trapped in the stereotypical images of kerala and its people that has been doing the rounds in the country for a long time". What I conclude is that you are ashamed of these stereotypical images as well. Could you shed some light the stereotypical images that you are ashamed of?

  3. @ srrejit thampi & dileep no i have nothing against lungi - but man of an elephant - is it a common sight in kerala? in my experience it is the rarest - why choose that to represent kerala?

    @ sreejith thampy - your statistics abt kerala - isn't that the reality of kerala - wouldnt it be more true to show those images than the rarest of rare practices in kerala?

    guess this is a poor post - the point i was trying to make(which aparently didnt come thru) is that malaayalee self esteem seems to b very low that they need to piggy ride on some other people to boost their confidence and ego. malayalees who live outside the state do everything in their power to conceal their origins.

    'This is what I see most males wearing in the countryside in India.'
    on elephants?
    kerala males wear lungi at home not only in the country side but also in cities -and abroad too. nothing wrong with that. but seeing that video, one is given the impression that people in kerala ride on elephants(what an luxury!) and keep the upper half of the body bared - and perhaps live in tree houses.
    is this true? isnt it so different from the reality? not that the crowded dirty cities of kerala are better than the pristine purity of the waters shown there -but shudnt we (not just kerala) break free of stereo types?

    'Could you shed some light the stereotypical images that you are ashamed of'
    i am not ashamed of stereotypes. i dont like taking the easy way out representing a place with stereotypes. we bypass truth when we do that.people who make such videos must do some resesrch

  4. You are right Marxism was an incidental happening due to some social and political similarities in Kerala and West Bengal. The pity is the ism has done its purpose and outlived its use , now it is a nuisance in both states. So we have still some commonness here.
    Another similarity is that we have a host of Red brigade here in kerala to scuttle anything and everything while in West Bengal it is a one ( woman ) army of Mamata Banerji.

    As for bare chested lungi clad mahout , what was so disgusting? If you look back, in ancient Kerala and until quite recent, men in Kerala seldom covered their upper torso.And if a person with Kerala ancestry, but born and brought up else where in India confesses the emotional or social distance with the state what is wrong. Are you advocating that we identify more with parochialism? In the USA people would say born in the south of USA or in the mid west etc, while here in India we identify as south Indian, north Indian, Keralite , Bihari and so on. Rotten Tomatoes are to be thrown at such thinking.

  5. @ anil kurup
    nothing disgusting about the bare chested mahout. the point i am making is kerala has moved on - why do we depend so heavily on the images from the past to represent the state now? the glory of the idyllic past is history - a new reality is very much alive - why do we shy away from it.
    '.And if a person with Kerala ancestry, but born and brought up else where in India confesses the emotional or social distance with the state what is wrong'
    emotional and social distance is different from revulsion for your roots. have'nt you come across this attitude? i'm surprised.
    rotten tomatoes. am ready for it if i deserve it :-)

  6. I did not speak about revulsion. And if someone expresses revulsion to ones roots that must be the offshoot of the conditioning parted by the parents.
    Could you suggest," the new reality", or something that could be aptly portrayed in lieu of the mahout and the pachyderm?

  7. Kochuthresiamma,

    You should probably not complain about an ancient 'Mile Sur mera tumhara'- the most recent update has all the Mallu celebrities one could possibly fit in, for approximately twice as long duration as the Bengali segment.See this version:
    (Of course, there is also too much of the Bacchan clan, but that is a different problem;)

  8. Have read an opinion of a non mallu/bong that majority of the good bloggers are Mallus and Bongs :) any truth?

    not sure if Marx is to blamed or given credit for the independant (more of a cynic?) views that Mallus and Bongs have in common... but I do agree with your views that there are many mallus who either deny their mallu roots or remain smug of the fact that they are different from the mallus who have lived entirely in Mallu land. Maybe a few Mallus in Kerala do remain fixed in their attitudes but one has to admit we have indeed moved ahead and much ahead too.
    It is also a fact that Mallus who are born and brought up outside Kerala do not like to marry a Mallu who has never been outside the state :) Have heard this personally so I can vouch for it! It maybe due to ignorance or as you said because they are being convinced of the same. Maybe they should remember the malayalam proverb..
    mangayulla mavile kalleriyathullu..

  9. Ma'am,

    I do understand where you are going with this post. About the embarrasment Mallus feel about their roots, I think it was common in the past but not so now.

    Let me take my own example to tell you how this would have come about. I was born in Kerala, and for a good part of my life, hadn't had much contact with people from other states or countries. My interactions had mostly been with Malayalam speaking people, and I was pretty ignorant about people from other states.

    The first time I was exposed to a non - Mallu crowd, I was struck by the low opinions this group seemd to have about mallus. Admittedley, this was not a very sophisticated or mature group (we were all teenagers then), and their low opinions seemed to stem from a condescension of the Mallu accent and their strange way of dressing. But they did succeed in convincing me that being Mallu wasn't something to be proud of. And yes, I went through a brief phase where I felt uncomfortable disclosing my Mallu heritage to people from other states.

    Thankfully, this phase was shortlived. As I grew up and my interactions with people other than Mallus increased, I realised I had nothing to be ashamed of. I could give these people a run for their money in most areas. And as far as accent and dressing went, I discovered by then that there were a gazillion accents and dressing styles in the world shaped by region/religion/culture, and to think one is better/worse than the other is just sheer ignorance. I think my exposure to people from other cultures was instrumental in this. If I remained cocooned in my own little world, it would be easy, even today, for other people to convince me about how inferior we are.

    My story, I think runs parallel to the evolution of Mallus in general. In the past, Mallus didn't have the opportunities that we do now to travel and interact with other cultures. And that made them insecure about themselves, and they felt like they always came off looking worse in any comparison. But today's Mallus are much more well travelled, wordly wise and sophisticated, and they are not going to take any insults lying down. And I don't mean this about people who live/travel outside Kerala. Even the mallus who reside in Kerala are much more aware of the world outside Kerala, thanks to the mass media and also the increasing non Mallu population that live on its soil. We are proud of who we are, and if others can't see it, well too bad for them.


  10. And the Mallu-Bong comparison, I think it is just one of those stereotypes that was established a long time back. There may or may not be some truth to it, but I don't think either Mallus or Bongs are particularly pleased/displeased by that comparison. It is just one of those things that will invariably pop into the conversation when a Mallu and a Bong meet, and there is nothing we can do about it but grin and bear it. :)


  11. This is a very interesting post and thanks for bringing out this and initiating such a lively discussion!
    I am an American. I lived in Chennai for two years sometime back. Now I live in US with my husband, who's incidently Keralite. I been visiting Kochi/Trivandrum every year past 5 years.

    I have heard this comparison before too. Your take on creating a self-esteem problem through comparing is an angle I haven't heard. When I heard this comparison I never understood it that way. I understood it as a reference point of commonality- as if you know a little about Bengalis.. well Keralites have some stuff in common. Being a 'foreigner' to India, some of these comparisons were helpful to me, but as you rightly point out (if I understand correctly), the next step is to look beyond these commonalities/stereotypes to real issues that are happening here and now.

    Anil makes a good point about how some cultural 'icons' and 'ideals' have outlived their time. People get afraid of change and cling on to the past, even if it no longer serves a good and forward-moving process today. Part of it is human nature and happens everywhere to some extent. But it's good to question, that means people are thinking about it- and as Gandhi said- change comes from within- you have to be the change you want to see in the world.

    Keep bringing out such topics. Helps me to learn more about the 'real India' beyond stereotypes!

  12. Mallus and Bongs do have one thing in common - Vanity.Bragging. Bongs brag about their intellectual superiority ( thanks to Tagore, Sen and all other Nobel guys) and Mallus brag about just anything, most of all how beautiful their state is ( when they are hardly doing anything to protect it) and that idiotic thing called literacy rate.

    I'd say Mallus and Bongs have one more common thing. Pretty girls with big dark eyes and tanned skin!

    Why bother about such minor issues? I always liked Bengalees. Satyajit Ray, Mrinal Sen, Aparna Sen, Sharmila Tagore, Madhabi Mukherjee...

    So, Ma'am, instead of getting peeved about Mallu identifying with Bong, why don't you look at the brighter side? That, for all our superciliousness towards the rest of Indians, we at least consider Bongs as our equals?

    Merry Christmas!

  13. DR. ANTONY has left a new comment on your post "MALAYALEES AND BENGALEES":

    It is really interesting to see how there are so many similarities in rituals, food and language between Malayalis, Tamilians and Bengalis. But then, how can we be ever similar?
    See, we can think different, no problem, we can be patriotic, good, and we can be proud of our culture and heritage( If we have anything left of it) ,better. But the best of all is to be “ India is my country, all Indians are my brothers and sisters” attitude.
    I am sure KT didn’t mean any insult to Lungi. I am a proud owner of many colorful lungis, but honestly I don’t wear them now, and I switched to plain mundus. The only advantage of lungis I have seen is that they need to be washed less frequently. I don’t wear the lungis outside home. Times have changed. And I don’t find a reason to justify exhibiting the typical Malayali as the lungi clad, half bare ones, because we don’t simply see them now.
    I understand Anil’s anger of disregarding the lungi. KT, you must read his blog on Lungi he had written once. That was one of the best blogs I had read in recent times. He was not angry with you. But he won’t tolerate any insult to lungi.
    Now cool down, and be good blogger friends.
    I can add a bit more from a conversation between Usha Uthup and singer Biju menon.
    “Biju :Ah, yes but what about the mosquitoes in Kochi?
    Usha: Oh, there is one place better ... Kolkata. There are a lot of similarities between Malayalis and Bengalis and mosquitoes are a common factor. In Kolkata if you go to rent a place and you are a Malayali they willingly give the place to you. They feel our ethics are the same”.

  14. As somebody who has lived outside of Kerala for 10 years (after my 12th)--here is my 2 cents.

    I am proud to say Im a Malayalee because I have seen the respect it evokes and the feeling of shared connections.

    However, I must admit I am a fan of the place rather; and not so much a fan of 'most' people. It might be highly partisan of me. But I ( and I know a lot who think similarly) find certain traits of our tribe vicious-- The unwanted inquisitiveness in neighbours affairs, holier than thou attitudes, Im always right syndrome and mostly the chauvinism and so called moral policing.

    I have had proud moments of showing off that Im a mallu. But I also have had moments where I have hung my head in shame.

    And honestly- having a lot of Bong friends- I do find we sometimes are similar in a lot of ways. But I guess we could find similarity in any other states people as well if we look for it.

  15. nd as for the lungi, if I envy anything then it is this right of the Mallu men to come home and discard everything on them and tie this piece of cloth :)
    let them enjoy it as long as they can!

  16. :)

    Malayalis,to me,have great sense of pride and i comepletely agree with Balachnadran when he says " Mallus brag about just anything, most of all how beautiful their state is ( when they are hardly doing anything to protect it) and that idiotic thing called literacy rate. "

    Merry Christmas ...

  17. "I'd say Mallus and Bongs have one more common thing. Pretty girls with big dark eyes and tanned skin!

    I couldn't agree more. But then the average Bengali keeps a bored countenenance even amidst a bevy of such beauties. Compare this with the slobbering oglers we Mallus are. But then you have a point maa'm. What else explains the migrating gene of mallus ? Ask any bank manager working in one of those NRI infested branches. They will vouch for the superciliousness of our green card (or similar permits as the case might be) holding bretheren!!! Though Punjabis and Gujaratis also share the gene with us, they have a much higher self esteem and don't act haughty as we do.

  18. The article is thought-provoking. The author’s honesty and sincerity of purpose are transparent. So too are the comments from well-meaning ‘followers’. Yet I can’t help noticing the fact that every one is trying to say more or less the same thing from different angles, and it is also a case of losing sight of the woods for the trees.

    Every human being suffers from some kind of complexes arising from imbalances in interpersonal equations. This is true within the family, within the community, and among nations. In Kerala, the land of Sree Narayana Guru, his own people suffer from complexes vis-à-vis ‘upper caste’ Hindus in the state. Some Mallu Christians claim they are upper caste converts in their attempt at covering up their complexes; and the very same Christians look down upon other Christians with contempt.

    So, every one would like to show off, and every one likes to claim relationship with a neighbor perceived to be rich.

    Keralites in general had been isolated from the rest of India for long and, historically, they had had fewer opportunities for mixing with others and understanding them. Our education has been mostly in local language. And the Mallu community in general developed complexes vis-à-vis others as a community.

    Here the comparison with Bangos is relevant. I have come across Mallus who claim affinity, and even consanguinity with Bangos, assuming that it would give them some kind of ‘intellectual’ aura! There was a time, under the British Raj, when Bangos threw up top class intellectuals from amongst their aristocratic, landlord class; and soon word spread that what Bangos think today would be thought of by the rest of the country tomorrow. This kind of legend has no validity today, but such childhood hangovers persist.

    Mallus in Kerala often seem to want to show off before white tourists and pester them with their unsolicited attention and abrupt English out of the same kind of complexes.

    Things will change as Mallus become increasingly internationalized and financially stronger. In the meantime, blogs like this from Kochuthresiamma and other spirited people and their comments would help sensitize the people.

    So, my congratulations, Kochuthresiamma!

  19. For a change, I do not quite agree with you. Rather, I don't see the point of this post.

    Being a bong and having lived in Kerala for some time, I can safely say that the only common thing between Mallus and Bongs is that both communities consist of wonderful, good, bad, and atrocious people. It is not necessary to compare the two and neither needs the support of the other. And right now, both are being stewed in their own juice / juices.

    The superficial similarities like their love for fish, films, literature, and left politics that we sometimes talked about were more coffee table discussions than serious sociological discourse. I think we need not take them too seriously.

  20. I think I know who is to blame for all this confusion regarding similarities-> Salil Chowdhury

  21. @ sujatha
    yes, the over exposure of the bahan la. ugh! but then that's another issue like u said.
    thanks 4 the link

    @ simple
    'And yes, I went through a brief phase where I felt uncomfortable disclosing my Mallu heritage to people from other states.'
    you'll be surprised. this happens even now, for the same reasons.

  22. @ jennifer kumar
    long time.
    thanks for the visit.
    hope i havent thrown u off track in your project understandingn india. you must have noted that most of the blog visitors dont agree with me.

  23. @dr antony
    " thou shalt be called the children of God". :-)

    @ ursjina
    'But I ( and I know a lot who think similarly) find certain traits of our tribe vicious-- The unwanted inquisitiveness in neighbours affairs, holier than thou attitudes, Im always right syndrome and mostly the chauvinism and so called moral policing.'
    i think every tribal has this to say abt his/her tribe. but i do think malluus take the cake

    @ happy kitten
    long live the lungi :-)

    @ nimmi
    bragging is the surest indication of low self esteem

    @ balachandran v
    sorry sir. i dont think low self esteem is a minor issue.

  24. @ asok menath
    the migrating genes- the shortage of means of livelihood in kerala

    i agree fully with your comments. thanks

    @santhanu sinha chaudhary
    apparently, this is a badly done post. what i was getting at is: mallus who take pride in the similarities with others suffer from severe inferiority complex. in this post i wonder if , among other things, they believe the myth that kerala, despite what the eonomi indices say, has atally fallen on the wayside when it comes to cultural progress index.
    no, the similarity talk - not just coffee table talk. one hearts it in academic presentation often

  25. It is now my turn to say that my response to your post was shabby and unwarranted. If I do not quite get your point or anyone's point, I should have the humility to think about it and keep quiet. But instead, I wrote what I wrote. Can't take my words back, can only say sorry.

    Wish you a wonderful 2011.

    may you have a great year ahead,

    no need to apologise. citical comments are the most welcome ones.i love the honesty blogspace affords,

  27. [i]They were a few more points of similarity, which I don’t now remember, but they too were equally superficial and silly as the above mentioned ones.[/i]

    1. Football
    2. "Art" Films
    3. Stressing the 'O' in English, though on different contexts - Bongs usually do it on kOmpyuters (computers), kOnexan (connection), but rarely on "College" or "possible"



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