A rebel by any other name

You have seen him before. A lost soul wandering the aisles of the last wedding reception you attended, searching desperately for a kindred spirit or the entrance to the sadya hall, whichever he finds first. Dollars to doughnuts (or Rupees to parippuvada) he will be attired in a monochromatic t shirt that reaches down to just above his knees & a pair of black jeans that’s torn at exactly the same anatomical location. He will have long hair that’s been highlighted in random places, and a beard, the shape and fullness of which depends on which side of puberty he is. He will speak to you only in monosyllables, unless the topic of conversation happens to be Marvel comics or neo liberal feminism. He is usually scornful of Mohanlal, rating him at best an average actor who was once passably good, and is very distrustful of any movie that was rated U/A by Indian Censor Board.
 
He is the guy who is introduced to Girija Aunty by his mom with a definite sense of trepidation – for she has to juggle the complex tasks of remembering if her son is currently ‘taking a break from work’ or ‘exploring his options’ and figuring out how to respond when Girija aunty waxes eloquently about how her son recently got promoted to project lead at Infosys. He is also the guy who regularly gets into trouble with his dad for the ‘Ganapathy on a Harley’ poster he has on his laptop cover.
 
Rebels or ‘Freakkans’ are however, not a new phenomenon. They have always been around; a few in every generation. Back in the 70’s in Kerala they were the hippies, those generation of long haired semi starved youths who wore dog ear collars and bell bottom pants. Their parents presumably found it hard to introduce them at wedding receptions too. In fact an entire generation of parents disapproved of them, leading that indomitable cartoonist Toms to create the loving rascal ‘Appi Hippi’. Appi Hippi was created to channel the frustration and embarrassment of all those parents into a single stereotypical hippy. He was the embodiment of irresponsibility and incompetence, a serial ‘no –gooder’ who would never, in the considered opinion of his elders and betters, amount to anything.
 
But no one focused on his abilities and talents – his passable guitar skills, his innate innocence and his charming and friendly character that would give the shirt off his back to help his friends. Appi Hippi was never a one dimensional character, but hardly anyone ever appreciated him fully. Except for Toms himself, and that’s probably why he always kept him around. Appi Hippi never grew old, never lost his hair, never grew fat, never settled into a decent government job and never lost his guitar.
 
And in the 21st century, he was born again as Russel Brand
 
But I suspect a lot of real life Appi’s grew up to do exactly that, and in that process lost all connection with a sense of who they used to be. Taking on the generational mantle of behaviour police, they started judging the new generation Appi’s, those who replaced bell bottomed pants with loose and torn jeans, those who replaced hand held transistors with iPods and those who replaced Beatles t-shirts with Limp Bizkit. The fierce urge to cling onto old ideals and deny anything that smells like change is troubling in older generation.
 
So what if his hair is long? I would kill to be able to grow long hair. Mine always frizzles out after 2 inches. So what if he has a Ganapathy on a Harley poster? I think that makes Ganapathy look really bad ass.

As if he wasn’t bad ass already

So what if he has taken some time off to consider his next move? If he isn’t living off of his parents’ money, I say all the power to him. We all need to stop and take a break from living too fast once in a while.

 
So what if he thinks Mohanlal is passé? Oh wait, sorry, that’s unforgiveable. No long haired scraggly bearded wet behind the ears loser is going to diss Mohanlal. Not on my watch. 

Security in the UK – or why hiring Brad Pitt is important

I haven’t posted anything new for quite a while now – a minor but tragic consequence of the fact that I basically uprooted my life and transplanted it in a different continent over the course of the last 6 months. A new job, new address, new time zones, new friends – they all tend to have a cumulative effect on the psyche which, when combined with the mental exhaustion of having to figure out which set of trains are late, cancelled or simply running on its own without a driver, can be overwhelming.
That and the fact that I was involved in a minor dust up of the rolled up sleeves and screwed up biceps variety.
I had a conflicting image of life in UK before I landed on the shores of the erstwhile Empire nearly 6 months ago. You see, on the one hand, I had this image of a prim & proper Victorian era England – that of the Sherlock Holmes and Dickens variety and on the other hand, a dark, hopeless underbelly in the form of Guy Ritchie’s movies and Simon Cowell’s smug grin. To me it seemed a contradiction that the same culture that gave rise to Shakespeare could also give birth to Gordon Ramsay. But then, c’est la vie, as Vinnie Jones might say.
The Good, The Badass and the Ugly. In that order
Anyway, I digress. The brawl. Upon afterthought, it was your normal garden variety knuckle dustup, in the sense that it did indeed occur in a garden. At the time of the incident I was sharing a flat in Burnham with a few guys and a girl. She was a beautiful French lady, and was currently single. Of course there was a fair amount of jostling amongst the other single guys in the pack for her attention. I tried to stay out of the rat race, not wishing to pile on to the confusion. However, a rather red blooded Irishman who was her neighbour in the flat and who considered himself the worthiest of the lot vying for her attention purely due to his proximity to her, somehow got it into his head that I was employing reverse psychology to differentiate myself from the others (by not paying the girl enough attention) so she would notice. The good Lord had seen fit, for reasons best known to Him, to supply this enterprising guy with more brawns than brain, and before you could say hors-d’oeuvre, things came to a head one fine December night.
It all happened in a single Act, spanning 3 scenes. I was due to fly out the next day back to Singapore, and was in the process of enjoying a quick meal in the small garden that was attached to the flat, when the curtains rose
Act 1 – Scene 1
Dramatis Personae
1. Yours truly, entering the garden front center, balancing a plate of pasta in one hand and a cup of tea in the other.
2. Aforementioned Irish man, seen already in the garden, head lolling to one side, gently muttering to himself. It was only much later into the proceeding that I learned this was not a common behavior amongst Irishmen, being confined to only those who are high on weed
3. Frenchwoman , entering garden far left, for a quick smoke before turning in
Yours truly – Pretty clear night huh?
Frenchwoman – Oui. You can see the moon very clearly. It’s beautiful.
Irishman – Two more pints for me, Andrew. (We never learned who Andrew was supposed to be)
Frenchwoman – What’s that?
Me – No clue. Why’s he looking at you queerly?
FW – It’s not me he’s looking at. It’s you.
Me – Ahh, so he is  (You see, due to the peculiar angle at which his head was set on his shoulders, it seemed to me that he was actually goggling at her, whereas in reality he was just staring at me)
IM – Two chickens for you eh? What do you think you are doing with her? (Here he definitely pointed his head at the Frenchwoman)
Me – Chicken? No this is just a veggie pasta
Frenchwoman – What do you mean by that? Are we going to start again? (Apparently, they had a small tiff the previous evening, but I had no way of knowing that then)
Me – Ahh, not the pasta then. Should I leave you two to it?
FW – No dear, that’s not needed at all. You enjoy your dinner. I don’t like it here anymore.
Exit FW, far left. Yours truly sets the pasta down for a quick chow. Irishman drools a little spitball down his chin. Scene 1 ends.
Act 1 – Scene 2
Yours truly – Seated garden centre, making short work of the pasta
IM – Seen walking in the general direction of the pasta
IM – Good pasta, eh?
Me – Mmph. Ishgood.
IM- I know what you are doing.
Me – ‘course you do. You are looking at it.
IM – You can’t have her.
Me – It doesn’t have a gender. Its tasty, but gender neutral.
IM – I’ll fucking break your arm.
Me – Ehh ?
IM – I said, I’ll fucking break your arm if you go near ‘er.
Me – Near who?
IM – I know what you are doing.
That didn’t look like it was going anywhere fruitful, and given the fact that he was once again giving me the head to the side baleful stare, I thought it better to vacate the premises. I rose and started walking back to the door. That was when things started to heat up properly. Just as I was reaching for the door-handle, the Irishman rolled up and placed a threatening hand on it.
IM – You’re not going anywhere.
Scene 2 ends
Act 1 Scene 3
Me – Found garden front center near door, frozen in place with a half empty plate of pasta in one hand
Irishman – Found same place, with malevolent intent
The IM took off his shirt for some strange reason. The charitable explanation was that he didn’t want his range of motion being limited, but it was hard to tell.
IM – You tell Andrew he can’t have his chicken.
Me – Of course, will that be all?
IM – I’ll break your hand
Me – Let’s table that discussion for another day
IM – You are a pussy
Me – Not a chicken?
IM – No. A pussy. Here, take that.
With that, he lunged towards me, with the vague intention of clapping me in a bear hug. I stepped out of the way. Not with any tactical plan of action in mind, but merely being a gentleman, I was anxious not to be an impediment in his path. In his fury, he lunged out with his hands as well as his body, reaching for and latching onto the pasta plate in his motion.
After his forward momentum wore off, he came to a halt about 2 meters in front of me , turned around, and was surprised to find an empty pasta plate in his hand, the remaining contents strewn liberally about the floor separating him from me.
IM – Why did you give me this?
Me – Errm, because it was good pasta?
IM – You tricked me. And her. Andrew said you would, you bastard.
Me – That pains me. Why did he say such a thing?
IM – Who?
Me – Andrew. Why would he say such a thing about me?
IM – Who’s Andrew?
Me – Ahh. Never mind.
IM (thinking about this for a minute, and coming to a conclusion) – I know what to do. I’ll break your arm.
With that, he lunged again, thrusting the plate in front of him. However, in his return flight, he neglected to sidestep a small knot of pasta which had spilled down during the forward leg of his journey, and went down face first, still holding the plate out in front of him. I reached out without thinking, and in a beautifully choreographed ballet of violence, he handed me the plate, avoided my outstretched arm, and crashed face first into the patio.
End of play

I was never much interested in taking security seriously, but now I’m thinking about it. The idiot was too high that night to tell his face apart from the patio floor, but I may yet run into another such character during my stay here, and the next time I don’t want to rely on my dietary choices to save me. If there is anything Guy Ritchie has taught me, it’s to cover my bases and hire a gypsy bodyguard.
I bet ya can box a little, can’t ya sir? Aye, you look like a boxer. 

Mallu sex education – or why an engineering degree is important

I have had occasion to mention elsewhere on this blog that in Kerala, marriages are often seen as a social contract granting permission to young couples to have sex. Much hoo-ha is made over couples of legal age having pre marital sex, which is a topic we won’t delve into right now. This is after all, meant to be a satirical blog – if I have aspirations of being taken seriously or involving myself in an adult discussion, I shall keep them to myself, thank you very much.
No, this post is actually a continuation of something I had written earlier, titled “Sex education in Kerala or: Reasons why Josukuttan had to marry Anumol in a hurry”. Unlike the previous one, this post does not seek to call out the hypocritical nature of mallu society, which expects its children to grow up sheltered from reality and then suddenly demand sexual awakening and responsibility to be acquired overnight post a ceremony and a sadya (insert beef fry/mutton biriyani based on religious tastes and personal preferences). More often than not, the rigidity of such cultural false expectations give rise to all sorts of sick things ranging from marital rape to false headaches (of the “ not now, I’ve got a headache” notoriety), not to mention desperate visits to the clinic to figure out which part/s of the human anatomy goes where in a normal intercourse.
Instead of tackling such complex and layered topics, each of which merits its own 2000 word article, this post simply seeks to chronicle three separate incidents from my life, which will hopefully shed some light on why I had to learn whatever I know about sex from my engineering college DC++ network. By extension, the logic will apply to most mallu families, for if my family prides itself on one thing, it is its tendency to regress to the mean.
Year 1995 – age 10
My dad picked out the Terminator from the local VHS library (remember those black tapes which used to collect fungus?) and brought it home triumphantly so he and I could watch it together. It was meant to be a father son bonding moment over visuals of humans being hunted mercilessly by a sentient robot from the future. It was also my first foreign language film. However, the proceedings quickly ground to a halt at the scene where Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese have mutually consensual intercourse, a critical and momentous plot twist that leads directly to the birth of the savior of all mankind, John Connor. At the first sight of Linda Hamilton’s nipples, my dad sprang into action, switching off the TV and announcing that this movie was not fit for kids and he would show me a cooler movie the next day. I was left a bit confused. I had never seen my dad move so fast before in my life. And I hadn’t exactly understood what was going on in the movie too.

This scene is where my dad went all Ninja

Year 2000 – age 15
My dad had come to pick me up from class and we were en route home when suddenly he stopped the Bajaj Chetak at a secluded ground about 200m behind our house. He asked me to get off and then kicked the scooter into stand. I momentarily suspended my thoughts about getting home quickly, taking a shower and curling up with a good book, and transferred all my attention to my dad. In a grave voice, he announced that he needed to tell me something. In a sudden, breathtaking moment of panic attack, I feared something had happened to my mom. I remember a sudden constriction inside my chest, which made it difficult for me to draw breath. 

“ I opened your table drawer today to fetch the dictionary” he began. I was confused. Did the dictionary fall on my mom? Webster’s encyclopedic dictionary is not the lightest of books to have fall on you out of nowhere. My dad saw the look of horror on my face, and mistaking it for guilt, soldiered on. “ And I saw the book you had kept hidden behind the dictionary”. Suddenly, things became clearer. A couple of days ago, a deviant friend had loaned me a slim volume, something that was known in our circles as the “little book”. Basically, it was a cheap edition of a porn booklet, with grainy images of actors doing the doo-doo in a variety of locations. I had hidden it temporarily in a place where I thought it would be safe – behind a humongous volume of Webster’s Encyclopedic dictionary. This was meant to be our master dictionary, to be turned to only when a family member was stumped by a word, which could not be resolved by smaller volumes of Oxford and Cambridge dictionaries, both of which were available in the house. Given the rarity with which it was ever touched, I assumed my slim book would be relatively safe behind it.  Only, I hadn’t accounted for the fact that my dad might suddenly get the urge to expand his vocabulary and go dig up the dictionary. So of course, in short order, he got the urge, reached into the recesses of my drawer, and picked out the bulky volume. And lo, out tumbled the evidence of my straying from the straight and narrow path.

It’s big. Very much so.
Ordinarily, a discovery like this would have mortified me beyond belief, but it came as such a welcome news compared to the more horrific scenario that my mind had conjured up that the accusation of being caught red handed handling sensitive material came instead as a relief. I even smiled a bit. This puzzled my father, who was expecting remorse and apology. “ You see, I can understand. I have been through your age too. I know there are…urges.” He took his time with the word urges, rolling it around in his mouth as if tasting it before pronouncing it bitter and gracefully spitting it out. “ But this is the time for you to focus on your studies. Return this book to whoever gave it to you, and we will speak no more about it. I haven’t told your mom about this”. With that, he clipped his helmet back on, and got on the scooter. I contritely rode pillion with him, realizing that I had just been given the talk, but was no more the wiser for having received it. Several questions floated around in my head. For instance, if he had had the urges back when he was my age, what had he done about them? On second thought, I decided I didn’t want to know the answer to that. Also, what did the reference to mom mean… was that a veiled threat? And most importantly, what was this dangerous word he was trying to look up in the holy grail of dictionaries?
Year 2013 – age 28
Fast forward to more than a decade later to the eve of another momentous day in my life; the day before my marriage. I was at home, chatting with my relatives who had all convened to render their best wishes and express their shocked surprise that the little toddler who used to walk around with snot all across his mouth had grown up suddenly and was getting married now. They agreed that they saw this sort of thing occurring all around them all the time, and most even admitted that it had happened to them once as well, but it still came as a surprise nevertheless.  
Anyhow, in the midst of all this surprised confusion, my dad called me into the garden. I followed him out of the house, and we walked silently some little distance. Once we were out of earshot, he assumed a grave expression and gazing far into the distance, cleared his throat and started to speak. “ Errm, mone (son)… appo, bhaviye kurichu alochichittundo  ? Alla achanariyam monu ithokke ariyamennu, ennalum onnu veruthe chodichatha”. I replied, “ Ariyam acha”. “ Ok, athu mathi”, he let out an audible sigh of relief. And then leaving me alone in the garden, marched back in double time.
For those who missed the nuanced father son exchange that just happened, here is the translation, and some additional notes supplied by Captain Subtext for easier understanding.
Errm, mone (son)… appo, bhaviye kurichu alochittundo  ?” – “ Have you thought about the future?”
C. Subtext – This is a catch-all question, intentionally vaguely designed to cover a range of subjects including career guidance, emotional maturity (or lack thereof) to maintain a family, savings, residential security, sex, family planning, where to send the grandkids to school etc. We need to see the context in order to refine the options further. Sandeep’s dad chose the very last day of his bachelorhood to ask him this question and therefore it could only mean that he was enquiring about the extent of his sexual education. Given that he knew that Sandeep knew that he knew that there was never much in the way of sexual education Sandeep could have gotten through any family approved sources , this question is tantalizingly nuanced and rich in its irony.
“Alla achanariyam monu ithokke ariyamennu, ennalum onnu veruthe chodichatha”. – “ I know that you are on top of these things, but still I felt the need to confirm that you are good to go.
C. Subtext – This seemingly innocuous statement is anything but. In a stroke of masterful genius, it not only absolves the dad of any parental sins of omission but also gently reinforces the memory of that book all those years ago, reminding Sandeep that he had had a chance to learn stuff the western way and there should literally be nothing more he, the dad, need teach him, the son. The question makes the big assumption that Sandeep would not ask any stupid/involved doubts at this eleventh hour.
“Ariyam acha” – “ I am fine dad”
C. Subtext – Sandeep meant to say, “ please, for the love of God, let us stop this awkward conversation right now. I mean, you can’t even look at me. You are talking to the banana leaf.”
“Athu mathi”, followed by audible sigh of relief – self explanatory.

This was the extent of my sex education. If it were not for DC++ I would have been one of those young guys queuing up in front of the clinic in a bid to understand what goes where. As is the case with most of my generation in Kerala, my engineering degree saved my sex life.

Shopping for bras in Kerala

Reams have been written about the urgent and inescapable need for reinforcing gender equality in society, especially in Kerala. Feminists, male apologists, male chauvinists and female school teachers have all expounded without mercy on the subject. While the domesticated kid generally tries to stay away from intellectually stimulating discussions of all nature (primarily due to lack of pertinent knowledge), this is one where I felt the need to make an exception. Not so much because I felt particularly full of expert knowledge on the subject matter but because I felt the need to air a grievance on the topic.

It has to do with shopping. To be specific, shopping with members of the opposite sex. To be even more specific, shopping with members of the opposite sex for unmentionables. Very embarrassing situation for guys to begin with, this exercise is made even more unbearable by the fact that a sort of gender bias applies uniformly in these situations, to the disadvantage of the male species.

Have you ever accompanied a girl on a shopping trip for bras? No? Haha, score one over you. 
But seriously, it’s not that great an experience. For while it’s perfectly all right for a girl to stride over purposefully to the male changing area with the express intention of scrutinizing a guy’s clothes, woe betide the hapless idiot who wanders over to the female changing section even by mistake. He is immediately struck dead in his tracks by a cacophony of indignant hisses and condescending stares from a variety of aunties, stalwarts of an era where interaction between the sexes was strictly regulated and monitored, with lapses in judgment punishable severely.

The segregation starts early on in childhood, with boys and girls seated separately in classrooms and in school buses. While such forced measures never quite stemmed basic human curiosity (games of “I show you mine you show me yours” still happened occasionally) it certainly put a veneer of cultural dis-respectability on the otherwise beautiful woodwork of healthy interaction between sexes.

Leading to inappropriate expressions of repressed sexuality, as humorously caricatured in the clip below from the classic Malayalam movie In Harihar Nagar. The guys are desperately trying to stalk a lady. 


Of course, the veneer has worn thin over the years, especially with society opening up more and more, but one venue where it still clings on strongly is the changing room of apparel stores. This was brought home rather painfully the last time I visited a Marks and Spencer store in the company of my better half in Kerala. While she flitted innocently in and out of the changing area to cast disapproving glances over my choice of pants, I was all but physically accosted out of the female changing rooms when I went to return the favor. The moment I crossed over some invisible moral line separating the male hoi polloi from the rarified atmosphere of the changing section, the cacophony of indignant h. and condescending s. erupted, creating a palpable sonic barrier.

Matters were not made any easier by the presence of these three barely clad mannequins right in front of the changing area. In an attempt to impart a finishing touch to the realistic nature of these plastic goddesses, the manufacturers had also installed nipples on all of their breasts. Not just that- for reasons best known to them, they had ensured that the afore mentioned appendages protruded rather obviously from beneath the sample undergarments the shop had provided them with. 



None of which would have been an issue, had I not been standing immediately to the left of these inanimate beauties as the cacophony erupted. I had fully intended to go see my wife, but, societal disapproval personified by an especially fierce looking aunty roughly half my size was barring my way. She had the loudest h. and s., and seemed to have taken it upon herself to protect delicate sensibilities from being offended that day by yours truly’s bid to see his wife.  It was a potent moment of truth. I felt the pull of a sense of righteous equality dragging me to the changing rooms, while the equally strong push of indignant morality stayed my feet. My wife, blissfully unaware of this epic battle of wills being waged not more than 10 feet away from her, continued shopping. Beads of perspiration rolled down my eyebrows, while the 4 feet bundle of indignant womanliness stood less than a meter from me, daring me mutely to take a step forward or peek a glance into the doorway through which my wife had just disappeared.

I sensed things had come to an impasse. The lady would not let me forward, and my own sense of soon to be injured manliness would not let me back down. In a bid to break this deadlock, I took a contemplative step sideways and promptly crashed into the mannequins, going down in a tangle of arms, legs and protruding nipples, to the accompaniment of a tremendous scream. The aunty, presented with the unique opportunity of helping a fellow human being escape some embarassment, had decided upon a secondary course of action and had let out a magnificent scream ,perhaps in vocal support to the recently violated mute nipples.

Long story short, I am not allowed to shop at Marks and Spencer until July 2017. My wife has promised to stop needling me about it by August of the same year. 

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
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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