This morning I must have received at least 5 greetings in my inbox. All from fellow Mallus wishing me on Kerala Piravi, November 1st, the day of the formation of the linguistic state of Kerala. They all carried beautiful hauntingly nostalgic, sunny, images of God’s Own Country, especially so for a person far away on the freezing shores of USA. ( As I write this, the temperature outside reads 6 degrees C ).
And this being the Golden Jubilee Year, everyone seems extra jubilant. I can imagine what the scene looks like once you cross the border over from Tamil Nadu into Kerala at Parassala. Malayali Mangas, wafting by in traditional Mundum Neriyathum or Kerala sarees, men all,sober looking in jubbas ans mundus… Celebrating fifty years of a glorious state.
Today is the day most of the Indian states, under the constitution were formed, thanks to the massive efforts of the Iron Man of India, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel. Most of them were craved out linguistically and someone had done a whole load of difficult Math and Geography to get the demarcation all in order. Okay that was just a background filler in history.
And back to the present, as I go through those greetings, I am at a loss as to what to feel. I don’t know whether to be happy or sad, to celebrate or not to celebrate. It is the same every year. After all, I belong to Kanyakumari District, the southernmost tip of the Indian Mainland and the piece of land Kerala exchanged with Tamil Nadu in favour of Palghat district. To me, it is a day of angst, stemming from the confusion of a Kanyakumari Mallu who neither belongs here nor there. It’s a quandary of sorts. What do I celebrate/mourn? A loss of identity/gain of a pluralistic culture?
Now for a bit of history once again, for the benefit of those unfamiliar with the place. Until quite recently, -50 years is not such a long time in history, especially Indian history-, till 1956 to be precise, this piece of land was part of Kerala or rather the erstwhile Travancore kingdom. In fact, the capital of Travancore before it was shifted to the more centrally situated Thiruvananthapuram, used to be Padmanabhapuram. A beautiful palace still maintained by the Kerala Government bears testimony to this.
Kanyakumari (hereafter when I say that it refers to the whole district and not just the tip of India where the three seas meet) has a population of both Malayalis and Tamils and it used to be rather equally balanced, with maybe a little more on the Tamil side. After independence, came the time for state formation and the majority Tamils under the dynamic leadership of Marshall Nesamony wanted to join ‘Mother Tamil Nadu’ while the Malayalis of course wanted to go with Kerala. I hear there were a lot of riots and protests and so on and so forth and finally fortune favoured Tamil Nadu. So come November 1st 1951, and Kerala was formed, and Kanyakumari was made part of Tamil Nadu. Honestly, we don’t really have any complaints, I am just airing my thoughts, and I don’t want anyone to mistake my intentions. These are just musings and I DO NOT want any separatist fires lit.
Now on to why we wonder if this is cause for sadness or joy. After all, this is the day Kerala gave us away to be eternally branded Pandis, however good our Mallu credentials are, in favour of Palghat. First of all, no one likes being given up. It is such a lonesome unwanted feeling. So how would you feel if Kerala gave you up to gain Palghat? Like somehow they were better than us? Well, that hurts. And what hurts more is that the politicians of the state which ‘magnanimously’ accepted us went around mouthing inanities such as ‘nellai engal ellai; kumari engalukku thollai” literally meaning, Nellai (thirunelveli) is our border and kumari(kanyakumari) is just a bother. Hmph! Well, happily they don’t say that any more.
Anyway, Tamil Nadu seems to have realized that a district which can boast of 100% literacy, has such a rich culture, and contributes so much to the exchequer through rubber, spices, seafood, rare minerals etc etc. (our wealth is boundless, I name just few) couldn’t be such a bother after all.
So there we are, clubbed ignominiously along with all other ‘maru nadan’ mallus (expatriates). However, we differ from all those other Mallu communities outside Kerala. We did not come from Kerala and settle here. We BELONG here. Our roots are still where they were put down originally, as opposed to uprooted and re-rooted. ( This point I borrow from a speech once made by a genius of the Malayalam Film world, the ‘unimitated inimitable’, Jagathy Sreekumar, at the anniversary celebration of Mithram, a Mallu Organization.) In other words, we are a native community. Only geographical borders can be altered. It’s harder to alter cultural ones.
For someone like me, born years after the states were formed, the so-called ‘struggles’ and significance of the separation do not really matter; they are all just part of history. I think we would rather think of ourselves as being able to belong to two worlds ‘have the best of both worlds’ so to speak. So I am just going on to extol the virtues of kanyakumari, my own little paradise this side of heaven.
Case in point. Kerala might have given us away, but they, well atleast the capital Thiruvananthapuram is so totally dependent on Kanyakumari for their day to day life, they wouldn’t exist without us. Say, we guys decided to tell you one fine day,” Ah, we don’t feel like doing any driving today, we are on a break, so none of our lorries are going to bring you any stuff today,” YIKES! Scary thought huh? Life would pretty much come to a stand still.
Not a single marriage would take place that day. No flowers, no banana leaves, no bananas, no vegetables, no lemons, no rice, no pappadams, etc etc. Why even God would miss us. Where do you think all those lotus flowers and jasmine and tube rose garlands adorning Sri Padmanabhan and Aattukaal Amma and others that side of the border come from? In fact, if a loaded lorry doesn’t cross the Kuzhithura bridge, the whole of Chalai the bustling, crazy marketplace of Trivandrum would resemble a ghost town. Ah, do I detect a twinge of regret?
My husband and I have this argument every other day. He conveniently chooses to forget that though settled in Trivandrum, his native place lies on the other side of the border.
And Tamil Nadu, where would you be without the income from our spices and rubbers and the rare minerals filling up your coffers? We single-handedly raised the bar on education in Tamil Nadu, simply because we are 100% LITERATE! Now which other of your districts has that distinction? Or for that matter, a commendable ratio of men and women. We do not practice female infanticide. Never mind that it took years before the Govt, finally realized that the 100% literate district did deserve a professional college.
Significant industries haven’t yet come up here of course, but I don’t think we need to complain about that. Thanks to that, we breathe purer air. However, I do not understand why two major establishments, the ISRO center in Mahendragiri and the Koodankulam Atomic Power Station officially belong to neighbouring Thirunelveli district, though the bulk of them lies in Kanyakumari. You do the math. I DO NOT want to go in there.
Another sore point is that, when I was in school, we Mallu kids had no opportunity to learn our language. There was just one school in Nagercoil, which taught Malayalam as a second language and well, all of us did not go to that school. Some of us went elsewhere. Nevertheless, you know what, I have no regrets. I consider it a blessing in disguise because, that helped me start a lifelong love affair with one of the most beautiful and ancient languages in the world.
Yes, I am proud to say that I learnt Tamil as my second language for 15 years. I stuck to it even when at a later stage I could have opted for something more fancy like French. In addition to the exotic aura, the French kids could score higher too. But my conscience wouldn’t let me give up good old Tamil.
So when it comes to my own mother tongue, I am home schooled. Like I said, the best of both worlds, I now know both languages fluently. And you know what the best thing is? I speak much better Tamil than most Tamils, well, maybe with a faint Mallu accent. Some words give me away. I always say dosha. Never dosa. I remember sending my 9th standard class into peals of laughter when I answered ‘pashu’ for some question in the Tamil grammar class instead of ‘pasu’. Ah, well, some words give me away.
So what? I can actually say azhagu, pazham, mazhai and Tamizh as they are supposed to sound, thanks to the fact that I am a Mallu. So, before I get tarred and feathered as a Mallu bigot, raise your hands, all you Tamils who can actually pronounce ‘zha’ without a struggle? Or even say it at all. You know the letter ‘zha’ is the beauty of Tamil. ‘Thamizhukku zha azhaku’. And it takes a Mallu to make you see that. So there!
Therefore, Kanyakumari-ites of the world, unite. We have nothing to lose. We have an identity of our own. Never mind if the Proper Mallu calls you a Pandi. Never mind if neither the ‘true’ Mallu or Tamil refuses to accept your own brand of Talayalam. Our place is a happy melting pot of both the beautiful cultures. We are an ‘avial’ of our own, a rich blend of the essences of both Kerala and Tamil Nadu. We can celebrate both Pongal and Onam.
And you others, just don’t make the mistake of asking us Mallus where we came from before we settled in Kanyakumari. We bristle at that question. We belong here. We are children of this soil. And we can all go on and celebrate Kerala Piravi or Union with Mother Tamil Nadu or whatever. We shall not mourn a loss of identity, not suffer the angst of the neither here nor there syndrome. Instead, we shall celebrate a happy union of cultures, of being able to easily belong in both places. After all, isn’t that the true essence of being Indian? Celebrating our wonderful diversities as one unified nation? Let’s raise our glasses to both states. After all two toasts are better than one, and it is no small matter to be able to lay claim to both Kambar and Ezhuthachan, to Vallathol and Thiruvalluvar. To B Jeyamohan!!!
If nothing else, we shall at least celebrate the fact that we do not have to wake up every morning wondering if there is a hartal that day or not. We do not have to land at a railway station or airport praying that the autos and taxis are running that day. We do not have to have a bandh just because Pluto got chucked out of the solar system. That, if you ask me dear friends, is the best thing that happened to us Mallus of Kanyakumari District.