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Sunday, January 11, 2009

In pursuit of the average Malayalee

The Coat of Arms of the state of Kerala
This is the coat of arms of the state of Kerala. According to Wikipedia, and I should already know this but I don't, "

"The State emblem of Kerala symbolizes 2 elephants guarding the State and national insignias. The state emblem is a derivative of Royal Coat of Arms of Kingdom of Travancore. The elephant denotes the supremacy and power and the state has the largest number of captivated elephants. The central part of the emblem carries Sree Padmanabha's Shanku (Right Swelled Shell). Sree Padmanabha's Shanku was one of the most iconic emblems found throughout Kerala's history and was the official insignia of Sree Ananthapadmanabha Swamy- the National diety and emperor of Erstwhile Travancore. The crest is adorned by 1000 petaled lotus over which India's national emblem-Sarnath Lion Capital is found. Beneath the sheath, its inscribed as 'Tmasoma Jyothirgamaya' in Sanskrit inscribed in Devanagari script, which translates to 'May light dispell darkness'. This was the official wordings of erstwhile Travancore Government."

The only reason I've used this image in this post is because I felt it necessary to use something other than a coconut tree, or the backwaters, or any other image that we have been made to be familiar with thinking of brand "Kerala". However, like I said in an earlier post, this is only the tip of the iceberg. And sure, we can say this about any country, state, or city in the world, but allow me to offer you an inside look into the strange qualities of the people here when it comes to bringing their own land down. What do I mean, well, I wouldn't go on calling it God's Own Country for much longer. Oh, before I forget, this is what is the epitome of brand Kerala. The moniker "God's Own Country", I mean.

Coming back to the search for the average Malayalee, it's been a sort of life's ambition for me to be able to identify myself in this manner. However, I barely speak Malayalam, and I can't read and write it. This puts me at a serious disadvantage to begin with. To make matters worse, I haven't really lived here for very long, and visiting your relatives on holidays doesn't give you that much needed insight into the heart and soul of the Malayalee. So, with an interestingly objective view of this, I've observed the behaviour of most Malayalees I know, and I've come up with a rough sketch; one that doesn't take into account the major differences of religion, caste, or even the Travancore-Malabar divide.

The average Malayalee is hardworking and enterprising. He knows his way around business and he has a firm idea of how to get to where he wants. These are commendable characteristics that have enabled him to leave his home behind and almost effortlessly set up new bases in previously unheard of nations. In my own family, for example, my grandfathers on both sides of the family have some connection to foreign lands; my father's father worked in what was then Indo-China, and my mother's father had two brothers who worked in the oil fields of Iran, or Persia as they used to call it. That's two generations ago! Since then, it's been a constant outflow of people to "Gulf countries" as they are commonly known; nations in the Middle East, for those of you non-Malayalee readers. But that's not all. I've met Malayalees everywhere I've been to, be it Thimpnhu, Bhutan or Honolulu, Hawaii! And that's truly a testament to their resilience no matter where they find themselves! I guess adaptability is another strong suite of the average Malayalee, and as you can see, the characteristics that I have mentioned are all very much needed for life away from home. But it is the life at home situation that I would like to draw your attention to.

Back in his home state, the average Malayalee becomes a die-hard politico-junkie, joining one of the many political parties in the state, and depending on the degree of his involvement, willing to give his life in the name of all that's ideological. Parents worry about whether or not they're children will succumb to the killings and revenge-killings that seem to be a mainstay in today's frontline politics of Kerala. A report in today's Indian Express, titled "Unemployment may lead to lawlessness, says [Chief Justice of India]," is a good indication of the problem that already plagues this state in some measure. To quote from the article, "[Chief Justice of India, Justice K. G. Balakrishnan] said that the population profile shows that Kerala had a large population aged between 25 and 40. He said if the youngsters were facing lack of sufficient employment opportunities it could lead to law and order problems in the state." But my question is, what happens to hardworking and adaptable when the Malayalee remains in Kerala? I can think of many places in the world that would kill for a literate, educated labor pool that was bulging in the mid-20's to early-40's age range. But not us, apparently. A shame, really.

I'd like to explore the causes of this problem, but quite frankly, I don't know where to begin. Using myself, my non-Malayaleeness as an example, I've always tried to work as hard as possible, and until October of last year, it was outside of Kerala. Having finally found a job in Kerala, I'm shocked! The attitude of most people here is rather lackadaisical when it comes to work, and I can feel myself being infected by this poison. It's terrible, and I honestly wonder what next. If anyone has any potential answers about why such a problem exists, even before we begin examining solutions, please let me know. Please leave a comment. I'd still like to one day be able to say, "This is Kerala." Lord knows it doesn't take a whole lot to change an "is" to a "was".
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