Luckily or unluckily for me, my name doesn’t suggest it. So anyone interacting with me for the first time, might at best guess that I am from the “Madrassi” part of the country, somewhere below the Vindhyas. But from most of my experience, people haven’t been able to figure out a more accurate location of my origins, not before a little deeper and consistent interaction with me or with me saying explicitly that I am a Keralite. I am a Malayali.
Once the cat is out of the bag, I know what is coming. Trust me, I do. I head to a restaurant with someone, and I do not order fish. I am prepared with the answer before the question comes. The question would be a paraphrased version of “Wait, aren’t you a Malayali? Why aren’t you eating fish?” When I order roti or naan instead of rice, I have to clarify again to someone who is doubtful, “I thought Malayalis were completely rice eating folk. My impression was that you eat rice for breakfast, lunch and dinner, with some coconut based curry.” Earlier on, I used to mouth a polite “No” to most of these questions, but of late I notice I’ve started to get sarcastic on my replies, “Haven’t you noticed I’ve been behaving peculiarly of late?” It is not like my family is a complete aberration of what is “known” as Malayali culture. Hell, no. But there are deviations within every individual, something that needs to be read along less to do with his culture or civilization and more, as an individualistic trait.
I am a big fan of dosas. I have a craving so big for dosas that most places I go, I end up searching for a South Indian restaurant. Okay, I’m letting you on something here. Rest of the country know it as dosa, but for a Keralite, it is dosha. Some of my keener friends have now picked up a talent for picking out someone from coconutty land by keeping their ears open to an uncommon pronounciation of some words, courtesy me. If your father/mother/uncle/aunt/nephew or cousins twice or thrice removed work in the “Gelf”, or keep talking unabated about oil wells and petroleum extraction like it happens in their backyard, you know you’re talking to someone from somewhere close to yours’ truly land.
I’ve had people tell me based on my Hindi that they thought I grew up outside Kerala. Apparently because they expect an accent when a Keralite speaks English or Hindi. I completely agree, I have seen very few Keralites, a very insignificant number in the generations senior to me, who do not sport that accent. One thing I am thankful is, not sounding sexist, for not being a girl. The stereotypes of Malayali girls, come to think of it, notch a grade higher than those associated with men. Be it about braided hair, their default expertise on cooking and a bunch of others which thankfully I am much lesser aware of than my counterparts from the opposite sex.
Don’t mistake me. I’ve been identified (aptly) with a lot of these stereotypes and I probably will continue to be. I’ve enjoyed most of it, and probably will continue to be. Just that after almost a decade of being stereotyped, it is tiring to be explanatory. But as I grow older (read more mature), I feel an increasing need to appreciate my heritage and thus, in the process, probably rectify some stereotypes that have transgressed from the domain of innocent jabs to Facebook memes and northwards. Although I have asked myself if I am trying to alienate myself from what is not uncommon among people from my home state, the answer to that would be no. I am a Keralite by birth and even though Kerala might never possibly be my karmabhoomi, I realize more often than not that I root for my Keralite brethren. Most often, I catch myself instantly interested if I hear someone around me speaking Malayalam when I am out of the state and try to gauge which part of the state they are from based on their accent (Oh yea, in case you didn’t know, you can figure out with a reasonable amount of certainty the region of the state a person belongs to on hearing the way he/she speaks Malayalam). The fact that I am passionate about my state and people speaking my mother tongue, by no stretch of imagination, is supposed to mean that I discriminate against people from outside the state. Totally not, in fact a lot of my friends don’t speak the same language as I do.
Some things are still unspeakably funny. Maybe rather than try and rectify them, I might be better off letting them stand. They have probably stood with my father’s generation, they are standing strong in my generation as well. Why I should I let my posterity not enjoy the humorous twists possible out of them? Like
- It is not skirt my friend. It is called mundu. Yes, that is a popular traditional form of dressing. Of course not, that is totally not a white lungi.
- Yes, we watch Rajinikanth movies. But he speaks Tamil, which is a different language. No, don’t even ask. The scripts are completely different. And every South Indian does as much of Rajinikanth-isms in real life as North Indians would do Salman Khan-isms on their way to work.
- Yes, coconut oil is probably the most widely used medium of cooking. Hell no, that doesn’t mean coconut curries and chutneys three times a day.
- Beef is eaten by Hindus. I might not be accurate with historical facts but I don’t think the reason Hindus eat beef would be that present day Hindus were converted from Christianity and Islamic beliefs.
- Booze. Aah, the all time favorite. My father says the only thing sober in my town post 6 PM on any day is the statue of Mahatma Gandhi in the town square. But yes, that one you are spot on. Probabilistic analysis says the likelihood of meeting a Mallu who doesn’t booze would be quite slim.
- No my friend, I do not know Kathakali. I enjoy Kathakali as much as Elton John or Pink Floyd would enjoy Carnatic music. Which is to say, probably not much.
Comprende? Hopefully, this video will help reinforce all the stereotypes you and I have about Malayalis!