A new word has gained currency in Kochi now. HINDIKAAR, which takes my mind back to the few years i was in Mumbai where the average Mumbaiker referred to us from South India as Southies. The less literate or sensitive ones used, without any qualms, the term Madrassi to my face. A couple of times i reacted saying that there are four states to the south of the Vindhyas and Madras is only one of them. A thirty year old once even argued with me that there is no State in the South called Madras. I looked at her with celestial contempt and left the matter at that. Subsequently i learnt that, spurred on by my contempt, she took the trouble of finding out about the erstwhile Madras state!
Now we ‘southies’ are resorting to the same type of stereotyping. The influx of labourers from North India – from Bengal, Orissa and Bihar - had added a new dimension to the demography of Kochi, and the non-Dravidian language they speak has given rise to this tern HINDIKAAR – those who speak Hindi/those from the land where Hindi is spoken. In other words North Indians. Cheap sentiments, i admit, but i feel avenged :-)
As is common knowledge, the high daily wages in kerala coupled with the paucity of labour in the state and the backwardness of the north Indian states are responsible for this unprecedented inflow of this labour force into kerala. All sections of kerala have become bourgeoisie and the proletariat is imported. You go to hotels, construction sites, you find these Hindikaars. The electrical or plumbing contractors who come to your house have Hindikaars to assist them. You don’t find many in the carpentry field, though a week back, i found, one who came with them to do the polishing of wood items. They are excellent workers and have picked up Malayalam too – and slowly picking up the legendry kerala style of working. Manoj who comes to clean my garden is becoming more demanding. Earlier, he used to work from 9 to 5, sometimes even 6 with no major lunch break and happy with the tea and snacks i give him, so that he can finish the work in a day. This time he left half the work unfinished at the end of the first day. When i questioned him, in a rather light hearted manner (‘cos i knew this was bound to happen), he confirmed in his accented Malayalam what i had suspected.
“Gardeners (meaning malayalee workers) would take four days to finish this work”
“Next time you come, you work as you always did. I’ll pay you double’
“Satyam”, i confirmed. I wanted to repeat 'satyam' thrice like they do in movies, but refrained as it’d be too dramatic.
And Kerala has begun to mentally accommodate the inevitability of migrant workers here. The destination boards buses have now begun to include Hindi! How different from Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra! Is it that Keralites and practical first, and sons of the soil only after that?
However, there were a few news items the past few days which make me suspect that Kochi is going the Mumbai way. The exodus to the big (Kochi big? Maybe in terms of the wages) changed the demography of Mumbai, climaxing in growth of Tamil Underworld and extreme parochialism Rajthakeray & Shiv Sainik style. In Kochi recently, a migrant worker (Hindikaar) beat up a local man and the locals retaliated. Could such episodes lead to the rise of Dons offering protection for hafta to the Hindikaars? Can’t rule it out.
Soon the migrant workers will become a vote bank and that will change Kerala politics beyond recognition.
Slums may not appear the Mumbai way on account of the terrible shortage of land in kerala and highly vigilant public. But crime rate has already begun to climb, and the nature of crime too is getting to be ruthless on account of the anonymity offered by the migrant status and the easy escape route through trains.
The shape of things to come in Kerala is going to be largely dictated by the way Kochi grows into a big metro.