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.
Overbridge work at Mavoor road – Pic courtesy The Hindu
Calicut Street – Unknown poster Thanks
This is Part 1 of a two part series