Wake up, pray, pray, go to bed, church every Sunday, rising through the ranks of Sunday school student to ultimately running the Sunday school, straight A’s, shit at sport, able to differentiate between ര, റ and ഴ (“ra”, “rra” and “zha”), pants sitting above my belly button, hair slicked to the side, speaking as fluently as someone from Kerala, teetotaler .
I was every Malayalee parent’s wet dream, aside from one slight problem, I was about 3 shades darker than a moonless night, the guy who turned the wet dream to a nightmare about BDSM, which questioned your integrity, because you really enjoyed it, and everyone says it’s not normal but you still secretly want more. I’m the unscrupulous Nightcrawler who would steal your daughter under the cover of darkness. And boy did people have to remind about my camouflage with the night sky, “mone, even though you’re dark you look good”, “mone, that colour doesn’t look good on people like you”, “mone, get out the sun you’re becoming black(er)”, “mone, why do you look like an African” (maybe because I live there). What’s with this obsession about colour…
Kerala – my real home, the place I should settle down in, my current house was just a temporary shelter on the journey of life – the Holy Grail that I should work towards, study what Malayalees value, marry a paavam Malayalee girl, be part of the upper middle class but never strive for anything more. Growing up it’s really all I wanted in life. And I had that overflowing cup of joy within my grasp until it was ripped away by the savages (friends, acquaintances and bottles – which replaced the cup – I met along the journey) Appa and Amma always told me to avoid.
You’d be justified in thinking I hate my mother’s land, but I really love the place: the laid back life; the infinite amount of trees to climb; the fresh air, fruits and cold water from a well; the pleasantness of strangers; the naturally beautiful girls; but mostly, the deep love everyone has for each other beyond the mild squabbles, it’s one of the few places in the world where Christians, Hindus and Muslims (and a handful of Jews) live in peace with each other.
Well, how did this almost Mallu poster boy become the NRI (read nari) he is? Like they say, curiosity killed the cat, and don’t dig too deep there’s nothing good at the bottom of the pit. With age came confidence (fuelled by a juvenile lack of self-awareness), a choice of a wider (less innocent) group of people to interact with, no filter in the conversations I was willing to have, and a more open mind of what I was willing to do.
My first taste of the dark side of Malayalee’ness was in adolescence when I got my hands on a copy of Kinnara Thumbikal (a “blue film” starring the goddess Shakeela). And what an eye opener it was, who knew porn was so rife in the virtuous land of Kerala. The one good thing that came out of it was that Malayalees don’t objectify women the way the West does, Google what Shakeela* looks like and you’ll understand.
Then there was more. Speaking to Mallu charakkus (Google it) about things other than my results in Physics and Maths. Talking to guys at a Christian conference in Kerala about our favourite pornstar and guys asking/telling me about how easy it is to have a one night stand overseas compared to Kerala (is it really that easy though? And how do these guys who’ve never left Kerala know?). Smoking a joint on a hotel rooftop in Cochin with guys I just met. Getting drunk on cheap coconut alcohol and talking to the local taxi drivers. Alcohol sales in Kerala have become more litigated, but according to one of the taxi drivers it’s easy enough to get hold of if you ask the right person, my favourite quote: “kallu vennegil kallu, pennu vennengil pennu”. NRI guys studying in Kerala telling me about how they make money by being escorts to stay at home “Gulf Aunties” – husband working, wife jerking (literally jerking young guys in this case). Learning the most offensive Malayalam word is not grass, but actually “thayoli”.
Well what was the point of this whole ramble? Maybe I’m really not a NRI (read nari) but just another Malayalee boy, trying to find himself amongst all the rules and regulations for being a good Malayalee boy, living a few thousand miles from his real home. And maybe Kerala is not a virtuous Holy Grail, but just another place with real people living in it. -Varkeychan**
*Image is of Shakeela, albeit super edited.
**This is most definitely the guest writer’s real name.