Monday, April 11, 2011

Glimpses of the Devils Own Land - II

We Mallus are often a spineless lot, you know. Unlike our fellow-Dravidians, you will never find two Mallus conversing in Malayalam in, say, America. They would be the first ones to switch to an alien culture. We poke fun at the unsophisticated, often crude, folksy demeanor of our fellow country-men, like we get a kick out of certifying our own social conduct as different from theirs, and better. Perhaps, we're not entirely wrong. In fact, to a huge extent, we are right. But who says folksy isn't interesting.
Moving cities is no joke. Especially not if the city you are leaving happens to be where you have lived some 25 odd years of your life. Whether it has anything to do with the Southie-Northie divide, I cannot say for my parents, who had after considerable thought and debate decided to plunge and make the final move, and shift to Kerala, a place they always like calling home. There was no time for apprehensions and worries as the shifting and all the brouhaha that followed took up all their time, energy and money.

It will take a year to settle down and at least nine months to unpack, we often sighed. So there was no dearth of activity. The cherry on the cake of disorder was when my father fell ill and was admitted at the hospital nearby for about a month. Now here was an old man, having just bid adieu to his home of 35 years, that he always hated calling home; after 30 years of service to a government that he forever faithfully defended (even in the face of insult as my brother would often ask him, “You were in the ‘Intelligence’? How ironic!”), coming home, with a wife who was his biggest critic, and a cynic of a daughter; this old man had been deprived of a good night’s sleep for almost six months. And now he got a chance to get that sleep, only in the confines of the white walled, rotten phenyl-smelling room of a sort-of-upmarket hospital in his hometown. All this when he was still getting used to discarding his Arrow trousers for Mundus, shirts for, well, nothing! To make matters worse, Onam was around the corner, his first in his good old home. Everyone was racking their brains on how to make him feel better, for his absence was enough to dampen the festive spirit. No one really wanted to celebrate. And on the morning of Onam, while we young pretty ladies busied ourselves with the morning rituals, essentially the decking up of the house and ourselves, the elaborate breakfast, and the cutting and chopping preceding the even more elaborate lunch, in the midst of it all, we conveniently forgot about dear old daddy whose only company was his wife who was frantic, wondering how to stop her husband sulking when he wakes up.

Just as he opened his eyes that morning, and sighed deeply at the Onam he was missing, that he had looked forward to for over a year, he was greeted by a familiar smiling face. His childhood friend, also a cousin, had travelled 50kms across the city to greet him that morning. It was 'chaddi' buddies meeting after several years, true Bollywood style. What was touching was the friend’s simple act of concern. He chose to leave his slurpilicious ritual breakfast that morning, because all that mattered to him was his friend who could not share his breakfast with him.
It made me think. While I spent most of my energy on criticizing these irritatingly crude, hypocritical, conventional beings, and cursing my fate for having been born on one side and ending up on the wrong side of the planet, this one incident made me introspect a bit. We Mallus are a hypocritical lot, I admit. But we have a heart that goes out to those in pain. Simplicity comes to us naturally, and we value simple gestures. If gossip is our middle name, it also perchance reveals some genuine concern for a stranger. And rest assured that it comes from the heart and not always from a perpetually conspiring head. Mallus, I thought to myself that day. You can hate their ways. But you cannot hate them.

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