Amity & Enmity

I was traveling to Calicut and Palakkad for holidays last year, the trip was via Singapore airlines and there was (at that time) no Singapore – Calicut connection. So we went to Cochin, reaching there after a long trans-pacific flight just around midnight. My brother in law was there to receive us and we had decided to take the road route from Cochin to Calicut. It was an eventful trip. The road taken was via Kodungallur and I was lost in historic thoughts as we crossed the terrain, for I had been reading heavily on Muziris and the Moplah riots some days back. I pointed out one of the first mosques of Kerala from the 9th century (gifted by the Perumal to Malik ibn Dinar) to my sleepy BIL, he was not too keen to see all this in the middle of his slumber and I could see my wife & second son smiling. They know that I can be a bit crazy with history. As we traveled on, the otherwise empty road seemed full of people. There were a number of Moplahs on the road, and most were dressed very traditionally, white dhoti, white full sleeved shirts and some even wearing a white turban. It looked like some Moulavi congregation was going on past midnight at every mosque.

We asked the driver what was going on. He was not very happy as well. He, a Muslim himself, explained that the Islamic activism in Malabar was increasing much to his disgust and that it was becoming a very irritating even to him. He explained that on that particular evening, a man who had been imprisoned in Coimbatore was being released and that the Moplah populace was probably planning his reception. It was a bit disconcerting. We were stopped three or four times by cops on the roads and asked for identity and starting & destination details and they seemed pretty suspicious about all vehicles traversing the road. I was starting to wonder what was happening to my mater land. This was indeed strange, but then, I consoled myself, well, ‘It is 2AM, so this security is probably for the good’. On the way we stopped at a thattukada, had porotta and omelets enduring heavy mosquito bites, during the process, the Chikenguinya fever risk notwithstanding. Without any further problems, we reached Calicut in the wee hours of the morning.

That vacation was short but eventful. I spent a good amount of time hunting for books and wandering around. I went often to the Mathrubhumi book stall, TBS, DC books and all the other shops and my collection was slowly getting updated. Remote places like the Vallothol Vidyapeetam were checked out for new releases, but nothing new was forthcoming. 2nd hand book shops around the stadium were visited after a swig of Benadryl and while that did not help much, for I ended up feeling drowsy though avoiding allergic attacks (Old book dust does create a problem for me, you see – not a good thing for history enthusiasts). I was wandering along, dhoti clad, with an umbrella at hand, wading through the congested traffic, listening to abuses heaped on the Japanese (they had aided a water supply scheme and the ensuing work had ripped open whole roads across town creating such confusion & chaos, net result people started to abuse the Japanese who had in the first place provided money to help them – but that is how we are…what to do!!).

I am a dhoti person in Kerala and Calicut used to have a number of dhoti clad guys, but nowadays, it has given way to very westernized clothing and I was starting to look like the ‘odd one out’ wearing a dhoti. Walking between the two wheelers and cars and buses, I walked down the Mavoor road towards the Palayam bus stand. It was a definition for a messy commotion out there with the over-bridge project in full swing, or so it appeared. I saw a long queue next to the Balu’s saloon and for a moment wondered if haircuts or my old barber Balu were indeed so popular. Then I saw a couple of women in the queue. It turned out to be the line at the nearby Distilleries Corp shop – people were waiting in line, patiently (everywhere else they fight or argue) for their turn to buy a bottle or two of booze. Ah! Well, that’s Kerala for you…

And you see the subtle differences, people wearing double dhoti’s (Hindus) with the ‘kara’ (border) to the right, the Muslims wearing single dhotis without a kara and to the left ( I still wonder why) and some Tamil merchants wearing silk & tere-cotton varieties (usually dipped in aquamarine blue and looking more blue than white due to the enthusiasm of the Tamil dhobi) with bright red & green borders.

There was one more place to go. And so I decided to visit another book shop, towards the end of the stadium, the very same stadium where AR Rahman and his troupe performed recently. It was an Islamic book stall. I entered the store and as I knew what I was generally looking for, strode upto the proprietor and asked him if they had any books on Moplah history. He looked up at me with surprise, taking his eyes off the computer screen he was intently studying. With one glance, he decided that I was not ‘one of them’ and started to figure out what my possible purpose was. I repeated that I wanted to see any books he had on the history of Moplah’s of Malabar. He replied stating that he had one or two popular titles, but that such books were rare.

I asked him if he had any books written by PA Syed Mohammed. He was taken aback by my question. He asked me, you know him? I said, I know of him (his daughter is a good friend actually). Out of the corner of my eyes, I saw two other people in the dark interior of the shop studying me intently. The man at the counter was confused, wondering what a ‘Menon like’ chap was asking these questions for. I explained that I was trying to find some matter to work on for my Malabar studies. He was eventually satisfied and escorted me upstairs to see other books that were not too popular. In those dark nooks, I found a couple of fascinating books, one written by PA Syed Mohammed and another written by Prof Bahaudiin, who was also my principal at the Engineering college. Until that moment I had never heard of Prof Bahauddin’s history interests.

As I clutched these valuable books and stood at the counter to pay the bill, the two guys who had been studying my activities came up to me. I was a little perturbed, they were traditionally clad, turban and all though looking pretty humble. One of them came to me and said, ‘Mone, valare sandoshamundu, thanks. (We are very happy, young man – thanks)’. That was all he said and I guess that was all he needed to say, also his eyes were brimming with tears. I understood, for all this man needed was ‘some understanding and acceptance of their community’, in these troubled times, so to speak. They probably saw it in me and simply thanked me. After he had finished, the other person came and did the same, formally shaking my hands. I was touched, and I left with a troubled heart.

As I trudged back through the back lanes, homeward bound, I remembered of the many thousand years when the two communities had led their lives in joint pursuit of happiness, development and as partners in trade. When had it started to break up and why? On one hand I could see the car driver shameful about his community and their radical activities and on the other hand the learned men happy to see somebody bothering to study their cultures & history. I decided to study a bit of what had transpired, how this friendship broke up and how the two communities drifted apart, though maintaining a reasonably amicable relationship. That will follow in the next part.

I swung by the Juice mash near the post office and had a nice ‘nannari’ sherbet, which took me back to my college days and continued on in the sweltering heat & humidity. The clouds were darkening. It would be better to finish up and head for home, for my MIL was making ghee rice & chicken curry for dinner.

Later the next day I found yet another book, this one on Kerala Jews, written by another ex-professor of mine, Prof Jussay. It was all in all a couple of fine days and I was happy.

As I was summing all this, I remembered my wife telling me about old times in Calicut – If a person is sick for a long time (even a Hindu) a Moplah Thangal was summoned to ‘uthify’ (blow) & ward off the bad luck or ill omens. They had great healing powers, spiritual & ancestral, so I heard. Would a Hindu family think of doing something like this today? I doubt it.

Pics


Overbridge work at Mavoor road – Pic courtesy The Hindu
Calicut Street – Unknown poster Thanks


This is Part 1 of a two part series

Comments

mangad said…
Fantastic, Maddy. Looking forward to the second part.

VG.
mangad said…
Maddy,

http://www.hinduonnet.com/thehindu/fr/2007/03/02/stories/2007030201010300.htm

They mention here that they were planning on digitizing the "ola" manuscripts. Has this been done, and if so, are they available to the public?

Thanks, VG.
Anonymous said…
The first honest write up on the place!!

"Then I saw a couple of women in the queue. It turned out to be the line at the nearby Distilleries Corp shoppeople were waiting in line, patiently (everywhere else they fight or argue) for their turn to buy a bottle or two of booze." Very true!!!!!.

Wow! Pity you did not take a picture and post it here. :-)

"I am a dhoti person in Kerala and Calicut used to have a number of dhoti clad guys, but nowadays, it has given way to very westernized clothing and I was starting to look like the ‘odd one out’ wearing a dhoti." True again!! Feel the same everytime I am there.

"It would be better to finish up and head for home, for my MIL was making ghee rice & chicken curry for dinner." I know how good one feels to have such MIL. I am lucky too.

Thanks for your honesty. Look forward to many more from your finger tips.

You have values in life.
Rada said…
Great Post!

Waiting eagerly for Part 2.
harimohan said…
Maddy that is exactly what a holiday should be !
divisive forces like the mentioned released person are supported by politicians for short term gains this is the bane of our nation .
hope you end the second part with a dhoti clad foto of yourself
I have read a part of it and then there is is a call. Such an interesting post and I am leaving it half read. Shall come back.
Jo said…
Good post Maddy.

I remember an incident from nearby Thriprayar in Thrissur. I and my brother went there to take wood to make furniture for my newly built house about one and a half years ago. The owners of the "thadi" mill were Muslims. And I had a little conversation with one of their billing people, a Muslim. He told me, "when XXX's (owner, a young man and very hard working) father was here, nobody dared to come pass the gates of this house. Those NDF folks, they have a strong hold amongst our youngsters these days. I remember when they came here for contributions, our "mootthaappa" (grand father) sent them away, telling them that Islam did not need such organizations to protect them. Even to this day, they wouldn't come here to with their propaganda".

What does it show? The ordinary Muslim still have their tolerant ethos. Unfortunately it is the minority extremist Muslims' voice that we get to hear in the mainstream media. The majority Muslim talks against NDF and such organizatsions (go through the issues of Mathrubhumi weekly every week to find articles of Hameed Chennamangaloor, KEN Kunjahamammad etc) but the media is interested in projecting only the minority extremist views like NDF, or Popular Front, or Madani.

And to those people who think that extremists would help in the times of need, they are WRONG. Be it Hindu, Christian or Muslim. The religious authority is interested only in gaining power and not interested in securing the lives of common people. Look at Gujarat 2002 for example. The Hindus and Muslims who have sacrificed their lives for no faults of theirs have done so by the orders for the supreme class. While the high-class, high-caste among the both secured their lives, the ordinary and poor people lost their lives in riots.

They think they will be protected by the religious supremos. But they were wrong. The religious supremos didn't care a thing about the ordinary people. So it is high time that Hindus, Christians and Muslims realize the fact that at a time of crisis, it is not their religious leaders but the people like themselves from other religion would come to their rescue.

I remember an incident from my childhood, when a "saathwikan" kind of school founder agreed me to give education in an English medium school (with the recommendation of the nuns of my LP school because I scored top in that Malayalam medium school) that he founded while his son, a Catholic priest, denied me admission because my family was not able to pay the donation. We were Catholics too, but we had no money in that time.

So be it RSS, NDF or any Catholic organization, they don't give a damn about ordinary people (I see that I get respect now, because I work in the IT industry, that too in an American company now). They are only bothered about their powers. So hell with the folks of NDF, RSS, VHP, or any such Catholic priests - let us the humans, regardless of religions, gather together and fight against such forces who use their hunger for power and abuse our sentiments for their own good.
Wow, nicely done.

Your posts have always been interesting and thought-provoking, but this one had a good dose of humor as well. :-) I was giggling reading the lines about the book dust and the Japanese. And laughing imagining you in a veshti with an umbrella.

Coming from a Keralite heritage, I have always told people in the US with pride about how the three communities live amicably there - Keralites first, everything else second. It was very troubling to read the details of the extremism that is taking root there.

Really liked Mo's comment as well.
Wonderful post Maddy! I relished it to the last and eagerly await the next one. in late 50's and early 60's I used to wander around historic places near Trichur. I used to be the only guy wearing a full pant. Small children and boys of my age used to tease me. Even in 1964 there were no tailors in Trichur to stitch trousers (full length) then I got some one who was an Ooty returned and experienced.

I was also moved to learn about your book shop experience "Mone, valare sandoshamundu".

Kindly also share the contents of the book on Jews which you have procured.
Maddy said…
Thanks for all the wonderful comments. Nobody is happier than the writer when he gets meaningful and thought provoking responses. I am working on the part 2 for it is a little bit more serious and should have it up soon.

VG - Thanks a lot, The digitizing of the Granthavaris I guess is complete. Some parts have been released in a book form thanks to great efforts pioneered by our Dr NM Nampoothiri. The books are not released, but I did get a couple of earlier works on these Granthavaris.

Thanks Rada, Anonymous and Hari..

As you will see in Part 2, while divisive political and extremist forces are at play, there are very specific reasons why Calicut is different. That is the crux of the matter in Part 2.

Anonymous - Most of the people say that I have 'pazhanjan' values, which are out of tune with today..

Thanks PNS - I will be writing in Historic alleys about the Jews of Malabar. Actually I should say Jews of Cochin, but for the fact that Cranganore where they originally lived was part of the Zamorin's domain.
Maddy said…
Jo - You are so right, in every sentence of yours.

While I will not focus on the small class that is misguided, for it is any kind of focus or coverage that they get which makes them bolder & bigger, I will say that in general comparison, we have a very different situation. This is what I willc over in Part 2 and the reasons are quite interesting.

Youth will always be misguided, because they are young, malleable, excitable, eager and impulsive. I think the problem is the chnage in teh education system.

Start from Kintergarten to graduation. I remember we used to get large doses of lectures on moral values, great people and society and so on. Ok it sounded boring, but it went in and found a nook somewhere amongst the grey matter.

Today from KG, kids are cramming standard text in leaving no space for original thought or values. In this moral vacuum, steps in a great extremist orator and you know what happens.

History always recorded manipulators, they are still there and they will always be there, for they know one thing that they can find and manipulate a certain kind of individual. These are the kind of things that education should focus to strengthen, not just conduct lucrative coaching classes to take the percentages from 98 to 99.5
Maddy said…
Hey BPSK..

Thanks man.. First of all, I will add the Dhoti photo in this blog, because, the second one is going to take a different tone.

You should hear the choice abuses directed at the Japs. Now imagine if your two wheeler goes into a one meter ditch and you are faced with a 3000Rs repair job..You wont blame yourself for the careless driving, but you will blame the road, the government and now the Japanese.

And BPSK, don't lose heart..while things do look like going south, you will see that in reality it is holding up pretty well, for a reason...
Anonymous said…
Thank you for your return response. You look regal in Mundu!

In my experience, kids of today are groomed by most parents and educational institutions alike to believe that what matters is to be the winner at the end of the day. These modern day educators forget circumstance/s will change but moral values, class and strength of character never will, if instilled from childhood. These are the building blocks of a fair (nearly!! – since it is impossible to eradicate evil altogether!!) and enlightened society upon which the future rests and has to continue.Manipulative minds should be crushed before they breed. Unfortunately, easier said than done since they are in the majority today :-)

Glad that you are not one of “most people”. The feedback that you get is testimony to that.

The test of any man's character is how he takes praise--Anon.

And Maddy, your humble responses handle it with class.
sundar said…
Maddy

Neatly written post. Would like to read the 2nd part....

I have never been to Calicut and this history thing is really intriguing....
flaashgordon said…
Good to read about ur holiday experiences, and awaiting the next part. Whenever I'm abroad and I talk about Kerala, i mention that here's one place where religious/ caste based differences are not as stark as other parts of India. But, as u have noted, sadly these things are changing for the worse- whereas one wouldve expected it to go in the other direction with more people getting educated , getting better media exposure etc

Really touching to read about your book shop experience where the guy said "Mone, valare santhoshamundu".
Balakrishnan.D said…
What you mention about being a minority when in a mundu outdoors unfortunately extends to all facets of life in Kerala. The nalukettu,manas,paddy fields are all slowly but surely disappearing into history.The concrete jungle is sweeping the Kerala landscape like never before.The only thing that still continues is the strikes and the Keralites love for the bottle.

Kerala is no longer God's own country,because God has already left Kerala.It is now God disowned country.
Anonymous said…
Very true Bala!

Feel sad, at the rapid deterioration of culture under the guise of progress.
Maddy said…
Thanks Anonymous, Thanks Bala..

Concrete and speed (in anything) are examples of costs of progress. But it is all good and bad, not just one or the other. It is this mixture that makes it worthwhile.

recently my son insisted I watch a movie called 'Wall E' about two robots. It was fascinating and showcases a world outside ours where the humans who have left earth live with everything, all good stuff, are cared by technology and grow into total imbeciles, who do not even have to bat an eyelid, with machines doing everything for them.

I guess all this diversity and imbalance helps also in balancing thought & beliefs!!
Indrani said…
I don't think I have learned so much about one single community till now. It is a learning experience each time I am here. I am actually trying to recollect if I have seen people of this community in Trivandrum. I am kind of dazed reading both in one go.
Sabeel said…
Maddy..
Enjoyed reading till the end...
I
I was very surprised to see you mentioning about Balu's saloon, which was my fav barber shop during my college days.. :)

Thanks for giving me a virtual walk through my campus life time's fav spots in calicut..Mavur road,TBS,DC books,Juice shop etc..

I have gone thru most of your posts..Good work..Keep writing.. and wishing you all the best..
Maddy said…
Thanks Indrani - They are the least understood of the lot, and are usually kept side by side with the other Muslims of India. They are different, is all i am trying to say.

Sabeel - I intend saying hello to all these places and Balus in two weeks time! !
Maddy I just read the posting about your trip from Kochi to Calicut.The politicians for the selfish gain has adopted the divide and gain.In my younger days I was in Tellicherry, a place totally different from what is today, a place the Hindus and Mophalas were neighbours and shared the life with closeness and love.Your postings are very nostalgic.
Nabeel said…
We asked the driver what was going on. He was not very happy as well. He, a Muslim himself, explained that the Islamic activism in Malabar was increasing much to his disgust and that it was becoming a very irritating even to him.
The attitude of the muslim driver is favoured by many good-hearted sections from other communities in Kerala. But at the heart of it, IMHO, this is more guided by prejudices and a line of caution/fear of what Islamic activism is at its core. Especially that its activities (this is not a single monolith- there are various streams, each with its own approach, but generally speaking) are against a multi-cultural society and harmonious co-existence amongst communities .
At its roots, the Islamic activism rising in Kerala is a religious reform movement, with most of it aiming first of all on personal character building in the community, freeing them of drugs, criminalism, corruption and goonda raj - all of which are grave evils to society itself. True practices of religion is often seen worldwide as a shield against such evils of society and same is the case of Islamic activism in Kerala.
IMHO Asserting an identity is in itself not a divisive factor, asserting a divisive identity of inferior/superior notions or assertion of identity in a confrontational manner is dangerous. While much blame for divisive developments in society have been targeted at Islamic activism, much of the roots lie elsewhere and often Islamic activism has worked towards building bonds between communities and discouraging people from religious confrontation.
One of the primary reasons for a rise of extremism amongst the community is the "insecurity" factor that rose post Babri in India. The incident itself, the riots that followed the incident, the rise of right-wing parties to the highest levels of power, the incidents of Gujarat etc and the various small and large riots across the country and in many cases the involvement/complicity of the police forces and the state machinery in many of these led to the rise of misguided "self-defence" ideologies within the community.
He explained that on that particular evening, a man who had been imprisoned in Coimbatore was being released and that the Moplah populace was probably planning his reception.
Incidents like above, where a handicapped man was kept in prison for nine years without bail at the prime of his life and finally let free (and now the whole cycle is set to repeat) cleared of all the false charges accused against him have also led to the rise of extremism. While his initial ideologies were not much accepted in the society or community in his prime days, his saga at Coimbatore prison generated a lot of sympathy (again for him a person, not what he stood for). All this happened in the backdrop of an India where people involved in much severe violence against the community, instead of being tried criminally, rose to the highest levels of power. Together, these mishandled issues themselves lead to the rise of confrontational identity assertions.
Nabeel said…
And you see the subtle differences, people wearing double dhoti’s (Hindus) with the ‘kara’ (border) to the right, the Muslims wearing single dhotis without a kara and to the left ( I still wonder why) .
I've never understood the reason for this, but I'm sure its cultural and has nothing with religious edicts. Some people say the Arabi-malayalam language is the Soul of the Malayali muslim (his language) expressed in his available medium of expression - Arabic (malayalam evolved its own script at a much later stage). Probably the left lungi is in this same way, his malayali essence combined with a statement of identity, developed during an era where religions while being exclusive statements of identities, were themselves bonds of trust and love between each other.
There was one more place to go. And so I decided to visit another book shop,.. an Islamic book stall.
Just FYI way back when this book stall published its first book in 1945 or so, it was the first to be published in standard malayalam, so that the communities' books could be read by the general public. For a long time, that barrier had distanced other communities from reading the ideas within the mappila community. This book stall in itself is the literary face of the Islamic activism in the community.
One of them came to me and said, ‘Mone, valare sandoshamundu, thanks. (We are very happy, young man – thanks)’. That was all he said and I guess that was all he needed to say, also his eyes were brimming with tears. I understood, for all this man needed was ‘some understanding and acceptance of their community’, in these troubled times, so to speak.
Very touching to read.
As I trudged back through the back lanes, homeward bound, I remembered of the many thousand years when the two communities had led their lives in joint pursuit of happiness, development and as partners in trade. When had it started to break up and why?
This is one of my areas of focus in my study.Will publish it as I proceed forward.
Nabeel said…
As I was summing all this, I remembered my wife telling me about old times in Calicut – If a person is sick for a long time (even a Hindu) a Moplah Thangal was summoned to ‘uthify’ (blow) & ward off the bad luck or ill omens.
I've read that during the Reconquista the Portuguese ordered to bring all the Moor's books to the street and lit them in bonfire. What they did not burn though, was the medical books of the Moors, coz they were the most advanced of the time and could be useful for them. Its quite possible that in its beginnings, this Thangal treatment might have been legitimate medical treatment by learned scholars, but in the course of its time, these Thangal families themselves went into the backyards of education and ended up with such superstitious practices.
divisive forces like the mentioned released person are supported by politicians for short term gains this is the bane of our nation .
The views of this person should not have been a reason to do injustice to him as a person. Nobody opposes his punishment if he's proven to have done a wrong. But mistreatment of an innocent man leads rise to discontentment which in turn leads to extremist activities, especially when this same insistence of judicial conviction is not practiced when it comes to those incidents that happened before the case that he'd been booked for - like the Babri demolition, the Mumbai riots, the Coimbatore riots etc.
when they came here for contributions, our "mootthaappa" (grand father) sent them away, telling them that Islam did not need such organizations to protect them. Even to this day, they wouldn't come here to with their propaganda".
The hold of NDF and other powers rise when there's uncertainty and insecurity. When the society is normal, and the law of the land shows its strength, they won't find a reason for their existence and such forces will disintegrate on their own.
And to those people who think that extremists would help in the times of need, they are WRONG...it is high time that Hindus, Christians and Muslims realize the fact that at a time of crisis, it is not their religious leaders but the people like themselves from other religion would come to their rescue.
Very true.The most vocal people against the Gujarat genocide came from outside the Muslim community and is in itself a statement of the ideological strength and commitment of the Indian public to communal harmony and coexistence.
Today from KG, kids are cramming standard text in leaving no space for original thought or values. In this moral vacuum, steps in a great extremist orator and you know what happens. These are the kind of things that education should focus to strengthen, not just conduct lucrative coaching classes to take the percentages from 98 to 99.5
Fully agree to this hundred percent. I strongly believe its this lack of knowledge of the common history we all share that leads to this confrontational and divisive identity politics. Had the long history of the centuries of coexistence been deeply entrenched in the mind of the Malayali, he would not have fallen into suspicion about his neighbour from any new external source - be it orators, organizations, media or elsewhere. The history of each community should be taught to the younger generations highlighting the role of each in national integration. Its into this vacuum of ignorance about our great common past that the seeds of division and hatred find space.
You should hear the choice abuses directed at the Japs. Now imagine if your two wheeler goes into a one meter ditch and you are faced with a 3000Rs repair job..You wont blame yourself for the careless driving, but you will blame the road, the government and now the Japanese.
:) Much of this is coz the people think its all done by the Japanese coz its called Japan drinking water project !!!

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