At the outset, let me claim I have nothing against mallus. Though I am a Tam, I have mallu sensibilities coursing through my veins… I lived in Kerala for 23 years of my life and continue to go back there every year. I can read, write and speak the language reasonably well, better than my mother tongue. And I do have a lot of fondness for aviyal, tapioca chips, idiappams, flying kaapi and Mohan Lal (not necessarily in the same order!).
But when I first came to the Gulf, I was not prepared for the deluge of Malayalis entering my life. The phrase ‘feeling at home’ got an entirely new meaning. For if you asked a Malayali, where he is from, he’d never say, India but Kerala! How patriotic! Whoever I met turned out to be a Malayali – from the shopkeeper downstairs, to the park attendants to the LPG cylinder supplier to the husband’s colleague – were all Malayalis. And the Indian Social Club had a Malayalam wing and a Kerala wing! Anything to beat that?
And my first ever workplace was straight out of a Malayalam film. Where the editor, protagonists, antagonists, the Marketing guys and even the office peons were all Malayali. Now it was a question of what brand of Malayalam fitted in best. At the end of seven years in said organisation, my Malayalam had no traces of its roots. It had now developed Kannur, Kozhikode, Tiruvalla and Trivandrum influences.
How you are perceived is also equally important. The non- Malayalis call the Malayalis ‘Malbari’. They secretly despised their industriousness and enterprising nature and ‘stick-together-like-Fevicol’ spirit. But familiarity as the popular saying goes, can also breed contempt. For me over time, the ‘you from Kerala, I am also from Kerala’ and the routine ice-breaker, ‘Malayali aano? (Are you a Malayali)’ bonding began to jar… I attempted a way out of the situation by saying, ‘Okay, I live in Kerala but am a Tamilian’. But that got them only more curious. ‘Ah! Palakkad!’ they would say with an all-knowing grin!’ And that’s when I beat the scene. I had absolutely no intentions of tracing my family roots to Tamil Nadu and Maharashtra to strangers. So if they thought I was one of their kind, I was… No arguments!
A photographer I know is fed up of his mallu status in town. He once went to a distinguished person’s house. Before the photo-shoot, he made small talk where he ‘revealed’ he was from Kerala. And voila, like Harry Potter says ‘Expecto Patronum’ and conjures a stag with his wand, said person conjures the cook from his kitchen and says, ‘My cook is also Malayali, now talk in Malayalam’. All my colleague could muster was ‘Ente Ammo!’ and wished he could beat a hasty retreat. Now, after many such incidents, he is a self-styled Mumbaikar! Last heard, he was practising, ‘Jai Maharashtra!’ with a vengeance!
Whatever said and done, the Gulf cannot be the ‘Gelf’ without the mallus. They are a part of the landscape and nothing can dislodge them from that status. This I learnt and learnt well, when a former Omani colleague when introduced broke into chaste Malayalam and said, “Enthondu vishesham? Sukham aano?” (coarsely translated into What’s news? Are you good?”)
If you can’t beat them, well, join ‘em!
P.S.: I love God’s Own Country and all Mallus are my brothers and sisters… so take this post in the humour you feel it deserves…