Do you know the kind of mental and social and physical trauma it is to be an immigrant Malayali? Its hell. Dante had nothing on this one. See, us Mals, the second we step back into coconut-land, we all go a little pseudo and decide to become flawless replicas of the denizens of our respective marunaadus. (Marunaadan Malayalis are out-of-Kerala Mallu people. Hence, making the marunaadu, the place outside Kerala where you were born or now live in and never want to leave from.)
When in Kerala, I turn it into a malayalam-speaking, slawar-wearing, gold-wearing (this is a big deal for me. I bloody hate gold. How I’m going to wear the tonne of gold all mallu brides are expected to wear on the day of their weddings is beyond me, but I apparently have to!) and elders-respecting person. I only do it because my paternal grandmother doesn’t bother saying hello, she just closely examines the chain I’m wearing instead and deems it appropriate that I’m in her vicinity. Sometimes, she sends me things to eat via my dad. Sometimes I “borrow” her nose pin to re-model and wear at some later date. Sometimes she’s the one waiting outside my father’s home in Kannambra so we can all hurry up and eat the Onasadya. Sometimes she’s the one yelling and screaming at my father for reasons I don’t understand. Sometimes I don’t like her. Sometimes I do. She’s my grandmother, I barely have a relationship with her, what little that remains, I’d like to keep in place.
I couldn’t meet muthashi (my paternal grandmother) this time. I was in Guruvayoor for my friend’s wedding. I think I need to make a trip to Kerala every once in a while without the pressure of having to visit family. It makes me appreciate the place a little bit more than usual. KErala is a place I cannot relate to unfortunately. I apologise to all the gori mems and saabs who think Kerala, and by extension, India, is all the shit, but try being mallu and living in a place where every man thinks he’s entitled to be a lech with you. Where every woman thinks wearing gold is about the best thing you can do with your time. Where your having a social life outside of family even evincing interest in such activity is an open invitation to everyone to rape you, and in less extreme cases, pass some form of derisive moral commentary. Where being a woman is a good thing only if you are an idol in a temple or the queen mother. I cannot imagine spending any length of time in Kerala, unless I’m there for a wedding, on a houseboat in the backwaters or taking a vacation with at least one more awkward-malayalam-speaking person.
So, we’ve established that I don’t fancy Kerala. But this is where I step in, again, to contradict myself.
I love being Mal, only not in Kerala. Outside Kerala, us Mals are very nice and very interesting people. We make Medimix Soap. We are known to make some of the best roadside tea in the country. We have the shortest wedding ceremonies. (under 10 minutes, even with all the drama, promise! When I get married, I will put a proper frame-by-frame post that will chronicle everything.) We also speak in the best non-Kerala Malayalam with each other irrespective of who else is in the conversation. We think our film comedy tracks are the best in the country. (Most of our movies are better than what shit Bollywood churns out. Don’t believe me? Watch Manichirtathaazhu and Bhool Bhulaiyya back-to-back, you’ll get it.)
I’m now going to drag this post to the direction that I first intended it to go, a short review of my most recent trip to my home state.
I’m 26 in November and single. Which translates into only one thing. My parents are failures! They have failed to secure a good marriage alliance for me. (yeah. That.) However, some other parents, or their kids, have been more successful and have managed to find ways to become socially acceptable at the advanced age of 26+. Case in point my friend Ash. She was one of the prettiest girls in school and one of my closest friends too. Over the years, our relationship went from typical school-girl BFF type to a more mature friendship which I greatly value and appreciate. I spend a lot of time sending out a note of thanks to the powers that be for women like her who are part of my life.
*edited (on Oct 8) to add photos. May as well...
Ash got lucky and fell in love with a boy who is, incidentally, from the same caste as her. (I am also same caste and while taking photographs, her dad silently tells me he's looking out for eligible boys for me...) There was no scope for objection from anyone really. And that is how they got married. For some vague reason her family wanted her to get married in Guruvayoor. Why they would do that is beyond me. Guruvayoor is a pilgrimage spot. People get married there if they’ve taken a vow that they want to. Some families bring their babies there for their first meal (or the chor-oonu). Some families bring their little children there on Saraswati Pooja, when the child is made to write one alphabet on a plate of rice as a signifier for the beginning of the learning process. Weddings in Guruvayoor are a little messy and crowded. The dress code is strict, women cannot wear salwars to the temple (although, I’ve been told that this rule has changed) and men have to wear only mundus, no shirts. Not only that, on some days there are more than 100 weddings that happen at the mandapam and there have been a few, and very far between, reports of instances where the brides and grooms got mixed up in the melee. (Some director made a movie of this in the early 90s I think.) All that aside, when Ash announced that her wedding was going to be in Guruvayoor, I had already booked my tickets!
When you travel from Chennai to Kerala, you must know that you need to book your tickets at least three months in advance to get confirmed tickets. The South Indian Railways has apparently not thought far ahead enough to create more trains to cater to this traffic, but then again, in a country with more than a billion people, that would be certifiably insane on many, many levels.
The three days from October 1 to October 3 were good fun. From the resort we stayed in to my friend’s hyperventilation when the mehendi was badly done and the fact that she was not ready on time to our last-minute dance at the mehendi party (we’d rehearsed since 9am that morning ok, so not last-minute :P). But then, this trip turned around a little bit on me. My mother and aunt’s tickets were not confirmed and they were stuck in Chennai trying ti figure out a way to come here. Being Mal, a trip to Guruvayoor is a must-do. Every chance we get or don’t, we’ve planned a trip to come see Guruvayoorappan. But I think him and my mother and aunt are having some kind of misunderstanding! He refused to let them have a peaceful trip to his place. They took a train that got them to Shoranur (about an hour away from Guruvayoor) at 2.15am on the morning of the 3rd. On the 3rd, after the wedding, we took a bus back. The bus boarded at Thrishur and we waited for almost four hours for the bus in a very shady part of town on the highway. The bus itself was leaky, had no seat numbers and did not make a single loo stop or dinner stop. The people travelling on that bus were cranky and we got to Chennai later than we should have…
One thing that did come out of it, my mother and aunt both said they’ll never forget Ash’s wedding for a while!
My only regret, my friend Poornima was MIA from the proceedings. Her, Ash and me were the school bus gang and we’ve been super close since forever. The three of us should be at each other’s weddings... (As of Oct 7 morning, Poori tells me she had good reason. I hope she did. I'm sad enough that the great trio is getting disbanded...)
In other blog-related updates
I’m stuck! The Unbearable Lightness of Being is not moving forward. I am, however, reading Kafka on the Shore and pretty fast. That just might be the next book review in the series…