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”.
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.
Erstwhile police officer Sathyan romancing his lady. Totally romantic
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.