Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Glimpses of the Devils Own Land - I

I look at them and wonder, don’t they get bored?! If I had to live a routine where my morning, noon and evening chores made the story of my life, I am sure I won’t live long. Thinking out of the box comes to them rarely. And those who do are treated almost equivalent to pariahs — stay away from society.
I wanted to shake them a bit. But then, since I am living amongst them, I must follow suit to some extent, I tell myself. Like they say, when in Rome, do as the Romans do. But don’t turn into a Roman though. In five months of my stay in the devil’s own land, I got a glimpse of not just the beauty that nature has so generously, bountifully blessed this land, but also the pettiness that makes life so interesting for this 100% literate population where every second teenager is either an aspiring doctor or engineer (PC Thomas Zindabad).
Apart from the mandatory visit to the not-so-nearby temple every morning where mothers of bachelors and spinsters indulge in some match-making for their engineer and doctor sons and daughters, the only thing that excites them is gossip. What is happening in the neighbour’s family? Did they steal the coconuts from your tree? I thought that branch fell within your boundary. Oh the land has a share in his great grand uncle’s property! You must fight for your rights then! So what if his uncle’s daughter in law’s half brother is a High Court advocate? You must fight for your tree before you lose your coconuts!
I had had my fill of the neighbour’s gossip that day and decided to venture out with a few cousins, to the town. The intention was to explore some unexplored cuisine in the city, which eventually left me thoroughly dejected. These idly-dosa eating species leave their traditional-modern kitchens (built mostly to show off than to serve any utility), where dosa, idly and puttu kadala are the staple menu of the week, only to go to the town and eat dosa, idly and vada at the hotels and restaurants around. If experimenting is on the agenda, then a visit to the “Cool Bar” or “Ice Cream Parlour” is a must. If you are a Brahmin, you must not stop before a board that says “Non Veg Hotel, serves naadan beef curry and chicken stew with Aappam or Porotta”, for more than a minute without screwing your nose and saying “Aiyee”. It is a crime that might leave you with the slight threat of being ostracized from the family.
If shopping is on the agenda, then you must not return home without at least one of the national dress of Kerala — Not the sari, or the set mundu, but the nighty! When you go around the town, it is not just the lungi/folded-mundu men who brush past you seemingly unassumingly, that you would want to beat up for doing so, but also the women. Is it their nature to be dominating, I ask myself. It is not the sophistication that I am accustomed to in the city I was brought up in that forces me to think this way. Just basic human etiquette. Why is it so difficult to walk past someone without bumping into him to the extent of throwing him off his balance!
Some juice and ‘chikkan noodils’ down, I decide to turn back home. I realized that if you are not a rice person, then eating out for lunch will leave you disappointed, for you would be greeted by boards saying “Uunu Ready” at every hotel around, which is the traditional rice meal on the banana leaf. Do not mistake hotels for whatever you understand by the term in your city, for these are basically restaurants. If a night-stay is on your mind, then look for ‘Lodges’. The uniformity of the noon menu amazes me. It’s the same throughout Kerala and not a single Malayali has any complaints! Back at home, its time for the evening tea and ‘snakes’, which is basically 'chaya' (tea) and 'pappadavada' (can't translate this one!). I sigh to myself. Its not too bad, you know, if you want to know the difference between fact and fiction, between reality as it is, and the need to hide it and project a polished image before the world, between ‘nai roast and masala (dosa)’ and ‘noodils and gopi menjurian’, between the lungi clad coconut tree climbers and the sophisticated mundu clad neighbor keeping an eye on his coconut tree — you will find it all in this beautiful land. Green comes to them naturally, I guess. More on why I still like this land of Envy Green in the next post!

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