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The Art of Missing Home


It’s nostalgia time again. Yet another Onam and yet another year ‘celebrating’ it away from home. And yet another day of my inbox filled with images so idyllic, so bucolic, so pure. I doubt if I would be able to find the originals even back home.

What is it with the Malayali and nostalgia? For a clan that has never hesitated to go and put in roots all over the place (remember that chayakkada on the moon?), or think twice before bidding goodbye to the beautiful shores of home, it is surprising that this is often the ruling emotion.

Yes, don’t you think that it is highly odd that the average Malayali spends most of his life dreaming of the other shore? When he is home, he dreams of leaving for (usually) the ‘gelf’ or the US. Once he gets there, then the rest of his free time (and he probably gets a lot of it considering the fact that now he does not have to tie and retie his mundu/lungi/kaili… as the case may be…) now is spent reminiscing about what he left behind.

Is it an incurable case of the GO TOSS (greener on the other side syndrome)? Is it programmed into the Mallu gene that in order to fully enjoy his Malayaliness, he has to go abroad or at least far away from that strip of land stretching from Kanyakumari to Gokarnam (I stick to the traditional boundaries and you know why). Sort of like it being a pre-requisite that being a Malayali means having to leave your beautiful land behind. He woos the world to come visit God’s Own Country. But all he dreams of is to leave it behind. And once he does that, that’s when realization hits… that it really is God’s Own Country… so now its nostalgia time…

And all the ones who left, what do we do? We have an uncanny knack for seeking each other out. Often one look at a person is all it takes. Facial features? A tell-tale moustache? The shape of the thali/mangalsutra? A golden anklet peeping out under the hem of your skirt? (believe me, that has been an identifier on me so many times. Apparently only the mallu wears gold on her feet. Others are more respectful.) Or more obviously, a heavily accented remark that ‘simbly’ gives you away.

And once we seek ourselves out what do we do? What else but bond of course? Other communities have accused us of being a lot of things, most of them unpleasant I assure you, and chief among them is that we are clannish. Maybe we are. But then, aren’t we all? So that’s where the bonding comes in. we majorly bond over our food, our music, and our politics more than over anything else.

We drool thinking of our kappa and meen curry, our appam and stew, our beef ularthiyathu and poricha kozhi; karimeen fry and chemmeen chammanthi; our avial and theeyal, pulissery and erissery, kaalan and olan; our matta rice, our ada prathaman, and our chenda muriyan; our sukhiyan and vazhakkyappam. Ahhhh… by the time we are done with the reminiscing, the most resolute of us can do nothing but rush to the nearest Indian grocery store and buy every ‘Daily Delight’ and ‘Wynad’ product in sight. What would we do without them to sate our insatiable appetites for ‘home food’. Bless those souls! We are slightly mollified, but after all that there is still a slight feeling of incompleteness… ah the fish we get back home tastes so much fresher, and the nenthrapazham so much sweeter…

And then our music. Show me one malayali who does not taste ecstasy as the notes of ‘alliyambal’ come wafting by. Ahhh those old Malayalam hits. Pure ambrosia I tell you. I have already elaborated on the topic of old Malayalam songs here. So I am not going into that again. But let’s suffice it to say that if there is one topic that the naturally argumentative mallu would be in absolute agreement about, it is on the topic of our one and only Dasettan. I don’t think the proud malayali is prouder of anyone else than he is of Yesudas. That is one person he would not hesitate ever to call his own.

A while back I heard someone conducted a survey to find out the most popular/influential/well-liked Malayali is. They had on their lists Mohan Lal, Mammotty, VS Achuthanandan and others. It was a sign of monumental idiocy that Gana Gandharvan KJ Yesudhas was not on the list. If he had, then no doubt about it. He would have won it hands down, head and shoulders above the rest, in a landslide victory, to upset all upsets, a mother of all wins, so to say…(uh pardon the overflow of clichés. I tend to get carried away.)

My personal point of view is that when Dasettan sings ‘Hari Muraliravam…’ Earth herself stops midspin to listen. No two ways about it.

And I am pretty sure that every Mallu get together ends like ours does: marathon singing or anthakshari sessions extending into the wee hours of the morning. A nostalgic, heartfelt journey down memory lanes, all through old movie songs and KPAC Drama songs. Nothing else brings us closer like those old songs do. Discovering a fellow music lover, especially one who loves old songs is one of those wonderful “Ah!”moments that rank right up there with the best.

And then our politicians. Our Leaderji and Mon-ji Anthappan and Achumama. Love them or hate them; ignore them you cannot. Thanks to all those channels, and the wonderfully talented mimicry artists, our politicians give us so many hours of delightful laughter. And hats off to the ‘vitcims’ too. I don’t think this could happen in any other state in India. To not just make fun of the powers that be, and get away unharmed, but also to have them join in the laughter as well. That’s democracy for you. Having leaders big enough to laugh at themselves.

So that’s the Mallu for you. We wallow in delicious nostalgia, in remembrances of things past. And maybe that is why one of my sisters who has never lived anywhere other than in Nagercoil constantly wishes she could go away… live somewhere else, just so that she could savor that wonderful feeling of longing to go back home. Leave home so that she can long for home. Some paradox huh the mallu psyche? No wonder that punchline of Lalettan is one of our favorites. “Joli kittiyittu venam onnu leave-edukkan!” (Lemme just get a job, then I can take a day off!).

There goes Alakananda, weepy again.

5 responses »

  1. athe kallu shappinte karyam vittu seriya. enikku valya parichayam illatha karyamayathu kondane. yup, missed idiyappam and motta curry. mea culpa. how do you cram a whole feast into a mouthful.onnu shemi…
    pinne, pandu premalekhanam koduthu nalla parichayam ondalle?


  2. … dare u leave out the MALLU KALLU SHAAP CUISINE…….and by the way…karimeen polichadhu is infinitely superior to its fried cousin…and where is the idi appam ( in kollam the tangaserry anglos call it thunder cake…) amd motta curry….yes nothing is more malayali than carousing in a kallu shaap in the backwaters of kuttanad with friends while the radio tries to do justice to yesudas and his annu ninte aatmavu ninnodu manthrikum…amd then you nostalgically remember that paavadapraythil..pennu that you gave a love letter to enclosed in eric sehdala love story…


  3. pseudointellect,

    thank you!

    johnny johnny,

    poya! as for the chayakkada, will check with menon. 🙂


  4. … still waitin to see the mallu with the chayakadai on the chandran…madhavan menon of isro is in the race or what?


  5. This was a pleasure to read.
    Gelf =p



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