Sex education in Kerala or: Reasons why Josukuttan had to marry Anumol in a hurry

Josukuttan and Anumol announced the birth of their first child, Jomol, recently on the last page of Malayala Manorama. The proud parents had married 7 months ago. Grandparents were not available for comment.

Parents in Kerala shy away from teaching their kids the ins and outs of sex (pun intended) until the day they are married, and then expect them to take rational and smart decisions about family planning from the first night onwards- typical of the Indian mentality of ignoring an issue until it becomes a problem and then ignoring it further in the hopes that it will go away or better yet, metamorphose into a healthy grandchild.
The issue starts from early childhood. Kids are segregated inside classrooms, with boys sitting on one side of the class and girls on the other. Intermingling is not encouraged, and teachers keep a strict eye out for ‘troublemakers’ who spend more than usual time in the company of the opposite sex. Parents are routinely informed of such shenanigans through back channels, and ‘appropriate actions’ are taken. It’s no wonder then that kids who actually manage to swing a date in school despite such draconian rules become instant celebrities. Josukuttan, who managed to pass a note to Anumol in class and thereby successfully secured a date to eat icecream at the same time in the crowded school canteen sitting on adjacent chairs was forevermore remembered by friends as that ‘vallatha pahayan’

“Vallatha Pahayan”
Teenage and puberty are often confusing and desperate periods for both the kids and the parents. While the kids try to come to terms with changing physiology, parents spend sleepless nights devising ever more inventive ways to curb youthful enthusiasm. CCTVs installed in homes and GPS trackers fitted to mobile phones are the 21st century replacements of the grandma who used to stay at home and the ‘nattukar’ who used to keep an eye on the kids for free in the hope of getting gossip fodder. The downside to over regulation of course, is that the kids in turn come up with ever more inventive ways to circumvent the obstacles – and often succeed. Josukuttan bought Anumol her first burner phone pre programmed with his number, to be kept switched off and hidden inside her school bag at all times except from 11:00 PM to 12:00 AM, when he would call from his own burner. Calls were to be made and accepted only from within the confines of the bathroom.
Then comes college, which is quite a different ball game altogether. Girls and boys are thrown into close contact (figuratively and sometimes, literally) for far more extended periods of time than ever before in their lives, with little or no parental / teacher supervision. Of course, this is just a generalization, there are many colleges in India that impose a variety of curfew measures – ranging from holistic dress code to depositing mobile phones at the security desk before entering (the only time I’ve ever had to do that was when I did an internship at the Indian Space Research Organization, but national security justified the measure then. I wonder whether whatsapp texts between college kids merit the same security restrictions). Even under such draconian regulations, contact thrives. Josukuttan managed to arrange several internships for himself and Anumol at far flung industrial locations, each one further than the previous.

After college, the fun starts in earnest. Kids who till then mostly lived under a benign version of house arrest are suddenly left to fend for themselves in an unknown land where everyone speaks Kannada and drinks sweetened sambhar. They are paid decently enough to work 40 hours a week, with weekends being 48 hours of paid vacation with no supervision. Guys and girls can (surprise, surprise) “stay over” at each other’s apartments. This happy state of affairs is often helped along by the fact that no house owner worth her salt would rent her apartment out to bachelors based on the excellent logic that one can never be sure what these young guys would get upto without the supervision of a strict mom or a loving wife. At any given point of time, she is sure, young Josukuttan would be watching porn on loud volume ,smoking up and setting fire to the kitchen simultaneously , while the illegal second tenant in the apartment plots bombing the nearby water tower.  So naturally, she refuses to rent her apartment out to Josukuttan, thus playing her small role in securing the nation’s safety. Devoid of a home, Josukuttan has all the more incentive to accept Anumol’s invitation to stay over until he finds a place for himself.

All these phases in a typical mallu kid’s life passes by under the strictest possible supervision of the parents, who although very concerned for their kids’ future, never take the time out to  describe the basic precautions and safety measures to be taken. A typical mallu dad can never broach the topic to his son without stumbling early on (I should know, I shared an entire 15 minute awkward silence with my dad on this topic, which formed the extent of my sex education) and a typical mallu mom’s advice to her daughter on family planning can be summed up in 6 words “Don’t start nothing, won’t be nothing”.
“Really?!”
However, these same parents then expect their kids to magically acquire all the pertinent knowledge immediately after their marriage, which in Kerala (as in most of India) is seen not only as a union of souls, but also an elaborate social contract between the couple and the rest of the society, allowing them to have sex in the privacy of their bedroom without being judged and condemned by neighbours. However, even this ceremony does not equip the bride and groom with any knowledge of safe practices, the unwritten rule being that if the kids have been brought up in “good households” by “responsible parents” they would somehow figure things out on their own. It’s no wonder then that curiosity often gets the better of kids when they are left alone. Hit or Miss is not exactly a reassuring method of family planning, before or after marriage. And yet that is exactly how couples learn in Kerala.
Josukuttan and Anumol were no exception. Although Anumol steadfastly refused to share Josukuttan’s bathroom towel in the fear that it might make her pregnant, Josukuttan did not miss.  Within 3 months of living together, Anumol found it necessary to call up her mom for expert guidance.  Immediately afterwards, Anumol’s grandma Sosamma had a heart attack, and her dad flew to Bangalore to meet Josukuttan. After a few hours of terse conversation, Josukuttan was left in no doubt as to the honourable course of action to take.  The engagement announcement preceded the wedding date by merely a day, and only immediate family was invited. All told, the entire coverup was quite professionally done. 

 Last I heard, Grandma Sosamma is recovering well.

Grandma Sosamma and moral policing

Kerala (my home state) has had a love hate relationship with romance since time immemorial. Policeman turned legendary actor Sathyan regularly praised female form and beauty in hit movie songs. Keralites carried him in their hearts forevermore. Unfortunately his successors in that illustrious service have not been as dignified as Sathyan – case in point being some stalwarts of Kerala police who blackmailed young couples travelling together by threatening to ‘expose’ them to their parents and media.
sathyan-and-ragini-in-nair-pidicha-pulivaal
Erstwhile police officer Sathyan romancing his lady. Totally romantic
images
Current police officers threatening a couple. Totally unromantic.
For those of my limited followers who still evince an interest in the Domesticated Kid and have not been blessed enough to have been born in India, here’s a very brief primer to the interesting concept of ‘moral policing’ as practiced here. Imagine you are out with your girlfriend for a romantic stroll along the Juhu beach. It’s 6 in the evening and the sun is setting slowly across the sea, gently bathing the world with its cool orange rays, the dying flickers of yet another glorious day. Aforementioned rays reach out and touch your beloved’s cheeks, embellishing their natural blush and making her appear even more beautiful. She tilts her head, looks you squarely in the eye and lets loose another one of her bewitching smiles, the kind that makes your heart suspend regular operations and go into a sort of frenzied drumbeat, a primitive signal to your brain that something needs to be done immediately to take advantage of the situation. Overcome by emotion, you lean in to kiss her cheeks, happy in the knowledge that she will reciprocate. Suddenly three determined looking individuals of dubious lineage pop up out of the background scenery and demand situational details – including your name, age, & marriage certificate. Failing to deliver these, you and your girlfriend shall be subjected to a visual search, interspersed with choice words and gestures. The purpose of said visual examination is to ascertain your marital status without the aid of documented proof. If your girlfriend is not wearing a saree or salwar suit with bindi and a dash of kumkum on her forehead, the circumstantial evidence is deemed conclusive and you are declared in violation of a perceived moral standard which is flexible and unwritten. These three knights of cultural propriety could very well be (and usually are) a high school dropout who is now an aspiring thief, a college dropout who is now an aspiring politician and a primary school dropout who is now an aspiring friend to the aspiring politician. Their lack of credentials does not matter. For a glorious 15 minutes, the shared inability to understand the difference between ‘morality’ and ‘police state’ unite them in a brilliance of obnoxiousness.
Even though it’s prevalent across India, moral policing in Kerala has a uniquely Malayali twist to it. It is perhaps the only bipartisan issue agreed upon by all the major political parties in Kerala. Additionally, while moral policing is usually practiced by fanatic right wing extremist males in the rest of India, it is a gender neutral, age irrelevant and politically agnostic cultural phenomenon in Kerala – practiced equally fervently by the right wing fanatic Sankarankutty (age 23) from Venjaramoodu  and the die-hard Congress member Sosamma (age 69 ) from the Kottayam Catholic community. Separated by a chasm of age, political beliefs and myriad geriatric diseases, they nevertheless come together on the one inviolable rule – no man and woman of marriageable age (18 as per Sankarankutty and 14 as per the venerable grandma) can be seen together for an extended period of time without the social fabric of the state being torn asunder and its naked vulnerability exposed.
A few more words to drive home this unique distinction of Kerala – for it is an important one. Grandma Sosamma was never appointed the guardian of Kerala’s cultural integrity. It’s a duty she has gladly taken on herself. Her motivation is purely selfless, and her reward nothing more tangible than emotional satisfaction. You can see her at weddings, commenting unfavorably on the backless blouse of the bride’s best friend. You can see her at funerals, tut-tuting sadly about the deceased’s son who was seen the previous week with a ‘strange’ girl at the local bus stop. You can hear her shrill voice amid the din of train compartments, complaining loudly about boys and girls travelling together without parental supervision. I too, have seen her – my wife and I ran into her quite recently at a restaurant. She subjected us to a visual search and found us wanting. My wife was not wearing kumkum and I had on a batman T shirt. Without missing a beat in her stride, she turned to my wife, a woman whom she had never before met in her life, and asked “Ivan ninne kettumodi koche” ?  (Literal translation – “Are you sure he’ll marry you eventually?”  Actual translation –  “ I know you think you are having a good time roaming around with him, but wait until something happens (wink, wink) and then he’ll leave you and go to the Gulf , get rich and get married, while you suffer through life as a single mom, the constant butt of societal ridicule. Are you sure you want such a life?)

 

Sathyan, the legendary “man’s man” of Kerala cinema might have given grandma Sosamma an earful, but I responded by breaking into helpless laughter, much to my wife’s chagrin.

How Kerala will learn to Stop Worrying and Love the Charayam

Babykuttan (age 34) was in a word, ambitious. From a relatively young age, he exhibited a single-minded focus and result oriented thinking. This exceptional commitment to the end goal combined with a steely determination helped him quickly rise up the ranks of his chosen profession. He aspired to be the best at what he did, and developed the necessary skills and experience slowly over several years and atop countless coconut trees. Hard work pays off. In a short span of 5 years, he was the best toddysmith ( thengukayattakkaran ) in Central Kerala and had the abs and hairy legs to show it. Coconut plantation owners from far and wide, driven to desperation due to lack of workers thanks to NREGS (National Rural Employment Guarantee scheme, India’s hairy brained laziness subsidy wherein laborers are promised a fixed daily wage irrespective of whether they work or not), flocked individually and in droves to Malappuram, his hometown, to beg and cajole him to come do the needful on their trees.  Some had, in the not too distant past, even offered to marry their firstborn daughters to him. All in all, he was at the peak, both literally and figuratively, of his profession. But amongst all this merriment, one thing continued to elude him – a chance at true entrepreneurship, an opportunity to give free reins to the hidden potential within him.

And then came the announcement. Kerala Government banned alcohol sales from over 300 bars in Kerala. Apocalypse could not have happened in a more terrible fashion. Well-bred alcoholics across the length and breadth of Kerala were shocked.  To put it even more mildly, they were devastated. The daily fix of rum or brandy, which the Kerala Beverages Corporation had hitherto promised them, stood cancelled at a moment’s notice.

Opportunity presents itself to true believers eventually. To Babykuttan it presented itself when he was at the pinnacle of his daily rounds. He wasted no time in heeding the call. He plucked his Micromax from within the folds of his lungi and made the call. Reception was excellent from atop the tallest coconut tree in the grove, the head of which he was gracing at that moment with his existence, hairy legs gripping the woody trunk.

” Mariakutty”, he croaked, his voice failing him with emotion. ” Take out the pots, pans and tubes. We are going into the Charayam business “

Picture taken from http://article.wn.com/view/2013/11/06/The_spirit_of_song_and_spice/
Does not give a fair representation of Babykuttan and Mariakutty- who are entirely the figments of my slightly tipsy imagination 
 



Of Mallu physiology, socio cultural history and the devious Mundu– or how I look thin by eating more

I dread going back home these days. While it’s always a pleasure to see the relatives and answer my dad’s questions on what I had done lately to prove I’d matured enough as a person for him to hand over the bike keys to me, there are other things that get me down. Specifically the comments some of the well-meaning relatives are apt to make re my girth. Most of these folks saw me last as a 15 year old kid, and appear to have pegged me at that age forever. So it is an understandable shock to them to see that I’ve long since broken out of that mold by eating bigger portions of beef fry and kappa. What’s not understandable, however,  is their regrettable need to inform me of the same in front of everyone.  “ Ahha, Deepumon onnu nannayittundu” . Don’t snicker hypocritically. Most mallu guys go through this phase in their lives.
Mallu girth through the Ages

Before Nehru
Over the years, I have realized that the problem is actually not that old. Kerala’s dysfunctional relationship with weight gains and losses began rather recently (in terms of the lifespan of an average Bonda in a Mallu tea stall). Specifically, from the late 1940s. Before independence, we as a nation state were very clear about our size choices. The rich who could afford to eat ate rather well and consequently looked like this
Whereas those whose responsibility it was to cook for them ate poorly and thus looked like this
After Nehru
But after independence, life became more complicated. For starters, Nehruvian socialist democracy trickled down to our small state too, bringing with it it’s core philosophy of Equal Suffering – Instead of the rich eating more and the poor eating less, everyone would now starve equally irrespective of caste, wealth or color. The homegrown Naxalite movement chipped in by cutting down everyone who disagreed.  This was also the time when Hollywood movies began to make inroads into Kerala, with young, handsome and more importantly, thin Fred Astaire, Humphrey Bogart and Marilyn Monroe capturing the attention of the youth. Influenced by these factors, the gastro cultural landscape of a young and vibrant Kerala shifted considerably, resulting in mallus who looked like these
Before Prithviraj  (the actor, not the Rajput)
“But wait. Does what’s written above me mean that Kerala changed overnight into a hotbed of young, lithe, sexy looking things?”
Errm, no. You see, with a staple diet of rice and coconut oil, we were always only one sadya away from plus size garments.  And it is here that a seemingly innocent and indeed, borderline irrelevant actor who had masked this horror thus far came to light – the quintessential Malayali garment “mundu”. Mallu guys have always worn this simple, one size fits all cloth in lieu of pants. Easy to wear and discard, this macho version of a sarong has been a constant in mallu guys’ life, lurking in the background.  While on the whole it looks pretty innocuous, its devilry lies in the fact that it is completely forgiving of increasing girth. Whereas an ordinary size 34 pant would creak and groan under the strain of a size 36 waist, eventually resisting all attempts to pull it up beyond the thighs, a mundu simply wraps itself around the abomination, shrouding all evidence of an overindulgent lifestyle beneath its forgiving folds.
Allowing Suresh Gopi to retain his Oomph and Vigour
But as the saying goes, the only constant in life is change. There were rebels in those times too. But they had a tough time holding onto their belief that exercise should be part of a healthy lifestyle
With the exception of Jayan, who exercised enough for both himself and his horse
After Prithviraj (again, the Actor )
But come the new millennium, things began to change. Taking inspiration from Hollywood as before, the average Mallu youth began to wear jeans and pants as a matter of course, and the mundu for the first time in its devious life found itself absent anything to wrap around. In a desperate attempt to fit into the new-fangled skinny jeans, kids across Kerala began eschewing rice in favor of whole grain cereal and air. Some went even further by actually daring to step into dark gyms. Results started to be seen.
The new lifestyle allowed Prithviraj to lose his baby fat, build a six pack and make a fool of himself in the Hindi movie Aiyyaa
It is no small wonder then that the aspirational mental template of an average mallu youth has been moulded into something of a cross between Paul Newman and Steve Buscemi.  And unfortunately, I do not fit that mould. Not anymore. I love my porotta-beef fry and am proud of it.  But constant criticism is wearisome, and there is really only one way to deal with it.
I have started wearing a mundu.

The significance of being an idiot

Waiting for acknowledgement of first love is a very challenging experience. You keep on hoping for a sign throughout the long drawn out drudgery of lectures, surreptitiously stealing glances at her in the vain belief that a simple return gaze from her means “yes”.  Expectations soar when her head turns around. Could it be that from amongst the sea of bored and hopelessly clueless visages staring up at the lectern, she is searching for yours, in a bid to confer meaning to your existence and ego by risking the professor’s wrath and smiling at you? Will she mouth the words you were wishing for?  Would those lips open slowly, a thin string of glistening saliva forming an ethereal bridge between them even as she parts them to mouth “Me too!” ?

Sunk in thoughts, you get pulled up to the nasty bite of reality in the form of an authority figure who interrupts this most significant moment of your 20 year old existence to ask you what Metcalfe law means. Naturally you don’t have the faintest idea, and go through the motions of confession and penitence. When you sit back down after forgiveness, your phone buzzes with the insistent tone of a sms. “You are an idiot :-)” the message reads. “Pay attention in class 🙂 ”.

The phrase says it all, and you sink back into your seat in reverie. Your brain happily suspends operations for the moment, curls up into a ball and goes into a comatose state.

“You are an idiot :-)” is way more definitive than “Me too”.


A day in the Blog of a Mallu guy. Circa 1970

Woke up at 5:00 today. Not out of choice, but out of necessity. Rosamma, my neighbor, goes for her math tuition in the morning, and 5:10 is when she walks past my window. I quickly brushed my teeth and threw cold water on my hair, hastily combing the kuruvikkoodu into place. One glance in passing is all one gets usually, and much must be made of the opportunity. #hairstyle #firstimpressions.
 
She didn’t come. Missed opportunity. Lost sleep. #facepalm. #selfpity #shemissedtuition?
 
Although it was quite early, mom seemed busy in the kitchen. The jackfruit tree in our garden had yielded an excellent specimen yesterday, and mom wanted to cook her legendary chakkappuzhukku before dad finished the fruit in a piecemeal fashion, so to speak .#mom’scooking  #greedydad
I got ready and rushed downstairs, grabbing two pieces of bread and some ghee from the kitchen on my way out. “Sit down and finish your breakfast properly” my mom called out to my receding figure. This is a regular spectacle at my house. It’s not that I usually don’t have the time to finish my breakfast before heading out. God knows I never attend the first lecture at college. But it’s far cooler to eat the makeshift sandwich while pedaling hard on the cycle. #lookmanohands #sandwichisbetterthanidli
 I flew down the kitchen stairs out into the garden and hopped onto my Hercules cycle. College is just a stone’s throw away from my house. But once you factor in a quick smoke at Abraham chettan’s paan shop and a peek at the Women’s TTC courtyard (Rosamma sometimes makes an appearance there), you tend to miss the first lecture. #MarlboroMan #Poovalan
 
Classes are usually a drag. One suffers through nevertheless. But the intercollege literary fest was coming up, and that was my Trojan horse, the intellectual vehicle which would smuggle me into the Women’s TTC castle.  This was the golden opportunity to meet Rosamma finally and let her know that I was in love. There was no real competition for me within my college for the essay writing competition, primarily because everyone else was into cricket. So it would be a breeze for me to get selected to represent the college for the fest. #greatexpectations #firstlove
Cycling back home took lesser time than usual, mainly because the chakkappuzhukku had smelled so great in the morning. I clambered up the stairs into the kitchen and sat down at the table. Mom had anticipated the hunger and had laid out some puzhukku.  Strangely though, she wasn’t waiting beside it. Instead, she was all dressed up and hurrying towards the front door, intent on going somewhere. “There is more near the stove if you want, “she called out as she turned to close the door. “ I’m going over to the neighbour’s place for an hour. It’s Rosamma’s pennukaanal today.  That little kid grew up so fast….”
 

 

The chakkapuzhukku no longer smelled good. #brokenheart #virahakamukan

 

 

For Whom the Toothbrush Tolls

It’s a family tradition instituted by my mother. Not because she was overly concerned about my dental hygiene, but because my father used to buy Close Up toothpaste by the factory carton every other month, and there would always be several tubes left over even after distributing liberally to neighbors, the Salvation Army and the occasional relative.

And so the habit grew. Every night, irrespective of pending deadlines or tiredness or bloody laziness, I would haul ass to the washroom, pick up my brush, force a small dollop of toothpaste onto the bristles (“across the brush head, mone, not along it”) and set about the good work, knowing all too well that after 7 hours of relative inactivity, I would have to wake up and do this all over again, just in a more terrible mood.



I have never questioned the need nor the good sense of this inherited tradition, not even when I pushed off to college and briefly considered substituting vodka for toothpaste (after all, ethanol is a disinfectant). In my mind, the very act of putting toothpaste to teeth absolved me of the health sins I had committed throughout the day, ranging from cokes to mints to the occasional sweet paan. At least until upon my first visit to the dentist I learnt that I had been carefully nursing 5 cavities in my teeth, in various early stages of development. Immediately upon being released from the chair, I called up my mom and complained that her lifelong habit had not helped me evade the dreadful vacuum.

Upon hearing which, she responded, “Perhaps, but see how white your teeth look in all your photos!”

That’s when the realization struck. It was never about the gums. 
My mother had anticipated the advent of Facebook and Instagram in the early 90s.  

Relative Discomfort

One of the perils of being a Malayali living and working abroad is that sooner or later, someone boards the nearest ‘Uru’ bound for California and swims ashore to wherever you happen to be staying. It’s inevitable. As far back in history as I can remember we Malayalis have been boarding ships, planes, autos and hiding in cargo holds to go to “foreign” lands.  The network is so widely established now that the average time elapsed before you reach Siberia and your aunt’s father in law’s neighbour’s son calls you up is roughly 24 hours. 
The tragedy is that the two relevant parties in this conversation – you and your aunt’s father in law’s neighbour’s son (henceforth to be referred to as Appunni) won’t have the slightest interest in talking to each other.  But goaded on by parental pressure, Appunni might call you up. In the absence of any mutual points of interest, the conversation might go something like this:
You: “Hello? “
Appunni: “Hello?”
You:” Hello?”
Appunni: “Errm…. Sandeep? I’m Appunni. Vineeta aunty gave me your number”
You: “Who?”
Appunni:” Vineeta aunty? From Kollam?”
You: “Ohh. Yes… Errm, nice. Are you here in Siberia? “
Appunni: “Yes, they asked me to call you “
You: “They would. So, how are you?”
Appunni:” I’m fine. How are you?”
You: “I’m fine too. Errm… so, you are from Kollam?”
………………………..
And so on it goes. Most of these conversations start from a vague feeling of discomfort and end in a distinct feeling of dislike. And it’s not Appunni’s fault. The poor guy most probably did not have any choice in the matter either.  Based on my personal experience of having fielded such calls in multiple cities across Asia, I’ve developed some tactics which may be of use to the average hapless Malayali.
1. Don’t pick up calls from unknown numbers. This has the added advantage of making sure that your boss cannot reach you on those days when you are out “sick”
2. If by a remote chance you pick up the call and it turns out to be Appunni, tell him it is that day of the year when your college alumni call you up to review the next year’s admission list. It doesn’t matter which college you are from so long as it’s not IIM Ahmedabad. Even Appunni might know that they don’t screen candidates for admission at IIM A.
3. If you don’t follow the above two steps and are forced to talk further, don’t fret. There’s still hope. Tell him you are talking from the All Siberia Malayali samajam annual convention and you are collecting for this year’s awards dinner.
4. If all else fails, there’s the tried and tested way to handle all Malayalis. Just use this script word for word
“ Ahh Appunni, sukhamalle ? Vineeta ammayi told me you would be calling. I’m a bit short on cash right now. She said she’d send some with you…”

There’s a reason why Dasan and Vijayan tried to reach Dubai without paying the full fare. 

Arranged Marriages in Kerala – Survival Tips

A junior from college called me up the other day.  During the hectic heydays of college, he and I had collaborated on a few competitions. In the same lackluster tone of voice in which he used to describe the latest mail from Dare2Compete.com, he announced that his parents were “looking”. “For what?” I asked. “They said they want a Nair girl. Menon girls apparently are quite headstrong” he continued, barely listening to me. “But I drew the line at Kerala Matrimony. I said I would post my own profile” . By then I had cottoned on to what was happening. “How long did they give you?” I asked, with a touch of college seniorly concern. After all, this poor chap had sponsored my Biriyani and chai after we won competitions.  “Within the year, they said”. “Hmm.” “Got any advice?” he asked, hopefully. I knew then why he had called me up. He had seen my earlier posts on navigating the big bad world of Mallu weddings.  Although I had covered attending others’ weddings (see The Quick and Dirty 5 Step Guide to attending Mallu weddings)  how to behave post your own wedding ( see The Quick and Dirty 5 Step guide to attending Mallu weddings for Married Couples ) and even a how to guide for females (see The Female Guide to attending Mallu weddings) I had never written anything on how to survive the process of arranged marriage. “I’ll let you know”, I said. And so I am.
Disclaimer – all the below rules assume you go through the traditional Mallu wedding festival . If you believe in love marriage and already have a boyfriend/girlfriend, stop reading further. Or maybe, read on. It might provide some laughs. And shame on you for belittling our culture. “Ithinaano ninne padikkan hostelil vittathu?” (“Did we send you off to hostel for this?”)
Rule No 1 – Create thine own profile
 
 
Short of finding your own life partner, this is the best favor you can do for yourself.  Parents, well-meaning though they might be, never quite get it right with profile creation on matrimony sites.  No one can blame them too. Which middle class father sits down at the brand new ASUS desktop with BSNL Internet connection (all bought for this purpose) and starts putting together a wedding profile meant to get a decently well behaved and reasonably intelligent guy with all male parts in working order for his Beenamol ?  More often than not, in a bid to conform to the unwritten rules of expectation management, he ends up posting stuff like this –
“Aristocratic, ancient and financially well off parents of a 25 year old well behaved white colored, tall, slim, homely Catholic girl (only child) of excellent character invite proposals from parents of 27 -30 year old handsome Catholic boys of clean character and excellent education. Boy must have a 6 figure salary and prospects of off site jobs”
It is quite possible that the hidden meaning of these seemingly innocuous words escaped you. Let me deconstruct:
Aristocratic, Ancient family– Our family roots date back to the year 52 AD when Saint Thomas brought Christianity to Kerala.  Along the way, some King remarked that one of our ancestors had a distant resemblance to his cousin.
Financially well off , only child – Beenamol will get everything after our death, including the white Maruti Alto parked in our frontyard and my 30 year Housing Loan from HDFC
White colored – Contrary to what you may have thought, this doesn’t mean that she suffers from the same affliction as Michael Jackson. This is just the Mallu way of saying that Beenamol is fair
Homely Catholic girl of excellent character – Beenamol believes in Jesus and Mary, does not have a current boyfriend, and is willing to stay at home and reproduce
Handsome Catholic boys of clean character and excellent education – Must be an engineer
6 figure salary and prospects of offsite jobs – Boy must be a software engineer who can take Beenamol to USA (and her mother as well, once Beenamol gives birth)
You can replace Catholic with Nair or Muslim, but the rest of the message will remain pretty much the same. Beenamol will be much better off writing down her requirements herself.
Rule No 2 – Meet thy choice thyself before thy relatives meet
Once you zero in on a few possible prospects, make sure you take the trouble to meet them by yourself first before the relatives do. Such an approach helps to avoid a lot of potential goofups
a) Photographic  Illusions – Anyone who has spent half an hour sprucing up a photo for Facebook profile picture knows about this. It is hard to conceal that double chin or that unwanted moustache when you meet up at Shenoy Junction CCD.
b) Over qualification Conundrum – All other factors being equal, it is not a bad thing to go for the guy/girl who has made it well in life. At least it shows they have drive, ambition and skills. But beware if your prospective choice cannot stop talking about his MBA degree from IIM Calcutta or her PhD thesis.  You don’t want to marry a degree.  Unless of course, the guy is working with Goldman Sachs as an advisor to fashion brands. Then the sacrifice makes sense.
c) Social Incompatibility– A friend recently told me a story about how a prospective groom kept asking her if she wanted a cock at a dinner date they had set up. After the first horrified refusal, she understood his benign intent, relented and allowed him to order the soft drink for her. They had a grand time at the date, and after a few months, said yes to each other. I’ll eat sadya at their wedding and take photos at the reception soon.  Moral of the story is, there will be some defects to the package you finally take on.  It is for you to decide if you want to live with them.  Or as in my friend’s case, decide to whack him on the head whenever he mispronounced the word.
Once the families get involved, you lose the chance to reject the choice if you don’t like it. Simple as that.
Rule No 3 – Thou shalt forgive and forget all faux pas the day the families meet for the first time
You have passed the first 2 gates successfully, and now have reached that all important date, when your parents and extended relatives meet for the first time. This is one of those four occasions (deaths in the family, marriage and will disclosure days being the other 3) when the extended families on both sides of a couple congregate at one point. Long lost relatives and forgotten cousins land up for this momentous occasion. Mob control is not a Malayali’s strong suit. Faced with a multitude of advice, admonishments and general aggravation, our default response is to go into denial. But into each life some sambhar must fall.
So, girls – ride this day out. Do not respond in kind to aunties who ask you gently when you will learn to wear the saree. Do not freak out when they ask you about your culinary skills. Do not go into brain freeze when they question you about family planning.
Guys – ride this day out. Do not ask Aunt Girija how her son is doing. Do not laugh nervously when random people ask you about your bank balance. Do not eat a lot. Do not burp.

 

Remember, the day will pass. The big thing to know at the end of all this exercise is if you two like each other well enough to suffer a life time of togetherness. And if the guy will finally get the memo and start pronouncing Coke correctly.

History of Nairs Part 2 – Czar Alexander the First’s Legacy

In the last installment of the History of Nairs in Singapore, we saw how a major disagreement with the British East India company over control of the Kannan Devan tea estates in Kerala led to an exodus of Nairs from Kerala southwards.  They left in huge timber ships (called ‘Patthemari’), often taking with them any and all valuables they could lay their hands on.  Records indicate that between 1780 and 1820, some 40 Patthemaris left Cochin harbour for Singapore. Of these, some perished in the seas. However, a great many did eventually make it to Singapore. Soon as a sizeable number of Nairs disembarked in Singapore, they banded together and laid the foundation of what would eventually become that great cosmopolitan community, that amazing melting pot of South East Asian cultures….. Little India.
 
The British, meanwhile, were growing restless.  With a hard won stronghold over Asia established via the diplomatic colonization of India, they naturally expected increased profits from business with the Orient, especially China. However, the Dutch ruled the seas, and their control of popular ports in and around South East Asia meant that the East India company ships were at the mercy of their European foes.
 
Raffles’ Travels
 
In 1818, a newly appointed Lt. Governor of the British colony at Bencoolen , Stamford Raffles, decided he knew the best way to end this state of affairs. He managed to persuade his boss, Lord Hastings, to fund an expedition to establish a new British port in the Archipelago. His carefully laid out plan hinged on getting a big ship and sailing around the Archipelago in the hopes of finding an as yet uninhabited island with a natural port. By sheer luck, he happened upon Singapore. But unknown to him, Nairs had already established Little India in Singapore with a well-structured government, a complicated caste system, matrilineal societies with the mandatory poor relatives, trade unions and last but not the least, Mathrubhumi newspaper.
 
Alexander the First’s Legacy – Hartals are not good
 
All this should have ensured that Nairs continued to assert dominance over Singapore when Raffles reached the island. However as luck would have it, the day Raffles landed in Singapore happened to coincide with a general Hartal called by the Nair trade union workers protesting against the allegedly biased coverage by Mathrubhumi of Russia’s Czar Alexander I’s petition for a Jewish state in Palestine. Finding the streets deserted, he proceeded to declare Singapore as a trading post for British East India company.  Thus it was that the next day when the tea stalls opened, the Nairs found their old nemesis, the British East India company, trying to tune in to the All India Radio.
 
As expected, this underhanded tactic was not met with approval by the Nairs, who promptly shut down all tea stalls and observed three days of civil unrest. 
Nairs expressing their disapproval
On the fourth day, Sir Raffles concluded a peace treaty with the Nairs, promising to eat kanji for the rest of his days if they would only leave “this bloody island” alone.
 

 

So started the second phase of the intertwined history of Nairs with the British and Singapore.  And this, my friends, is the reason why all Nairs hate the Czars. And why Sir Stamford Raffles drank kanji for the rest of his life.