The Malayalees in Pakistan

Earlier I had written about the Anglo Indians who were the remnants of the British rule in India. There were some Luso Indians (Parangi’s) in Cochin, Bombay, Goa and North Malabar after the Portuguese left and there were of course the descendants of the Islamic rulers in Lucknow, Delhi and Hyderbad. There existed during this time a dominant minority group of Arab (Aden & Gulf origin) Muslims who integrated into the diasporas of Malabar, but this article relates to the minority group of Mappilas of Kerala.. The early Arab settlers married locally the offspring were the forbearers of the Moplah community.

This is about the Malabari community who left India after the Mappila revolt in 1921 and went to Pakistan. Some may also recall my previous mention of the roaring Betel leaf trade between Tirur near Kozhikode and Pakistan. Due to the deep cultural divides in Malabar after 1921 Mappila revolt and the subsequent partitioning of Pakistan a sizeable number of Malayali Muslims moved to Karachi (others moved to Ceylon, Malaysia, Burma and Indonesia). It was a ‘hijrat’ for them or migration under pressure of existence. They felt alienated in the Malabar community and felt that Pakistan was the answer.

As Congress distanced itself from the Moplas and the British went after the rebellion with vigor, the Moplas left the national political scene and retired to communal politics. The Muslim league in 1930’s was in support of the formation of Pakistan after the death of the ‘Khilafat movement’ and promoted even a ‘Moplasthan’ in Malabar by 1947 (Kaleidoscopic Ethnicity - Prema A. Kurien, pg 51). The claim was based on their Arab heritage and difference from other communities of Malabar. Subsequently the government acceded to the formation of a separate district for this purpose, namely Malappuram.

They soon settled down in traditionally familiar business such as timber, tea shops or hotels, textiles, import-export & biscuit factories at Karachi. However most realized that this was not the answer to their isolation. The weather, the culture, the food, the clash of communities (Shia Vs Sunni, North vs South) and the foreign ambience was too much for many. Some returned quickly and assimilated. Some got Pakistani passports and became Pakistanis, but then they realized that the green passport left them culturally stranded in Karachi. Neither did the Pakistani’s become fond of the ‘mujahir’s’ not did the Moplah’s feel wanted. They could not regain Indian citizenship without extreme struggle.

The interesting part was that unlike migration from other communities, the moplah migration differed in the sense that it was mainly able bodied male members of the family who migrated leaving behind their wives and children back in Kerala. Thus they managed to retain their cultural and linguistic identity, but at the same time acquired loneliness and even more frustration.

The story of one such person was beautifully enacted by Mohanlal (as Valiyadathu Moosa) in the Malayalam film ‘Pardesi’ (foreigner). While the movie dwelled on the plight of an elderly few who were nomadic and were treated as nation-less people, the focus of the movie was on the feelings of being unwanted and their desire to spend old age and to die in their motherland. Chased mercilessly by the police of both sides, they were forced to take cruel decisions. In the movie ‘Moosa’ is stranded as a worker in Karachi during the partition (btw he had not gone there due to the revolts of 1921, but to find gainful employment) – a popular metropolis for job seekers. Apparently some 3,000 Malayali’s were stranded in Karachi when the partition came.

An article in the Dawn newspaper reported that Karachi’s Muslim Malabari colony is located in Mojahir camp in Karachi. Today they are well-known hoteliers, fast food and paan shop owners. Malabari cuisine is known for its masala dosa, banana-sag, coconut-kari, hot spices, small-fish fry, daal chawal and a delicious variety of vegetable dishes, which have added to Karachi’s culinary scene. Many Malabaris have married into other Muslim communities of Pakistan, and do not wear their traditional dress of a dhoti and bush-coat with a piece of white cloth on the shoulder. “Our daughters are married to Memons and other peaceful communities. Many Sindhi men and women have married Malabaris,” says Shafi Malabari. Today, barely 6,000 remain, and most of them have lost their Malayalee identity. Most of the early Keralites started to make a living by brewing and selling tea to shopkeepers. The enterprising people they were, within four to five years they had set up four or five hotels. They also did business in betel leaves.

Strangely the house goat kept for its milk is termed a Malabari species goat in Pakistan!

The Bajaur district of the Afghan Pakistan border has a village called Kerala near Chagha Serai! The brutal massacre at Kerala was one reason for strong tribal & Afghanistan’s anti Soviet sentiment.

Razi a Pakistani says - Back in my days in Karachi we used to frequent this place called Bombay Paradise on Jehangir Road. Basically (it was an) a Malabari restaurant with awesome Chai with Paratha. We used to go there a lot when playing night cricket tournaments. Rumor was that that hotel had never shut down since it had opened.

Other References
From Kerala to Islamabad
The nowhere people – Rediff
Exiles in their homeland – Countercurrents
Malabar betel leaves in Pakistan

Keep it locked

When I saw this article in a Sunday's LA times issue some months back, I was amused, to say the least. Man….as they say in the USA, what is the world coming to? Moral virtue and moral policing is one thing, but personally this is a little too much if you ask me. Which made me think of Malabar as the Europeans saw it in the 15th century. Until the late 16th century men & women walked bare chested…Today one can’t imagine what will happen if somebody did that… Cost of development I guess…

So what is the news? In a bid to prevent any hanky-panky (officially called ‘full service’) between masseuses and their clients, several massage parlors in the hill resort town of Batu in Indonesia are insisting that the women wear padlocks across the zippers of their work pants. Look at the pictures, it is self explanatory.

Batu, 75 km south of Indonesia's second-biggest city, Surabaya, is a tourist destination popular for its cool climate, apples, hot springs and mountain scenery. Batu’s trailblazing example seems to have reached Jakarta with the Tourist Office of the city considering a similar rule. Made Karya says Jakarta massage parlors are divided into two groups, those that simply offer health massages, and those that offer extras, and the padlock idea is something that needs serious consideration to deal with the latter.

But the massage parlor owner who first introduced the locks told AFP he did so for the good of his workers. “You know well how naughty some clients can be," said Frangki Setiawan, owner of the Dogado massage parlor in Batu. "It is a move taken purely in the interest of the working safety of my staff. “Most of the town's 20 massage parlors have now adopted the practice after local police encouraged them to do so, Batu spokesman Hidayat told AFP.

It was great fun reading various responses though I could only sympathize with the suffering masseuses. One person said that this was a ‘kin-key’ idea. Another said that there would be a huge market in Indonesia for ‘skeleton keys’. A third said it is a better idea to find out when the locks are taken off. A feminist complained about women having to suffer for men’s hormone overdrives and that they should be the ones to be locked up. Others said that masseuse’s dentures will be the next to get sharpened and spiked gloves will also have to be worn. Yet another with local knowledge stated with absolute certainty that some minister owns this ‘new lock’ factory. Others suggested different methods of ‘skinning the cat’. Yet another said it was a case of a few bureaucrats who had too much time on their hands.

And one person said – when the customer comes in, make sure he is locked up, put manacles on his hands and feet. Let them off after the 20 minutes massage is completed…Wow!! They also suggested, lock up or manacle the hands of all those bribe accepting politicians. Or make sure that males get male masseuses and females get females…

A wise guy concluded that the problem with common sense in Indonesia is that it is not so common.

Meanwhile, chastity belt manufacturers must be ramping up options and creating new designs foreseeing a potentially large market in SE Asia. Those interested in understanding the modus operandi in these parlors, check this Indonesian bloggers humorous blog.

Now – don’t be surprised, people do use these (chastity belts) things. Some years back, a British woman wearing one of these ‘proper’ all covering belts (not a pant lock) triggered an airport alarm in Athens- Greece. According to the press report, the woman told police officers her husband had forced her to put on the belt to make sure she had no extra-marital affair during a brief visit to Greece. "The woman was allowed to fly on to London on the pilot's responsibility," Tzouvaras added.

However what you may not know is that it is a practice in Rajasthan. The Asian Human rights commission reports (this was in 2007) - A female passenger in a public bus was found bleeding from her thighs and the fellow passengers took her to hospital. At the hospital, the doctors who examined the lady found that she was wearing a chastity belt. The practice of forcing women to wear a chastity belt is so common in Rajasthan that a website hosting advertisements of Indian industries boasts various designs of chastity belts, even made from precious metals like silver and gold.

Ah! Well…such are the ways of the world…We mortals have really evolved in interesting ways…The creator must be having a chuckle at the expense of these expert locksmiths in Indonesia…

Pictures from the web – msnbc, la times,,

John Leyden, the poet

John Leyden, a Scott, was born to this world in 1775 at Denholm, some 50 miles south of Edinburgh to a shepherd family. From his early childhood, he was a voracious reader. As he started schooling, his reading continued, much beyond his years and one anecdote stands apart. As his school was 3 miles away, his father brought him an ass to ride. The little boy would not fearing ridicule from his classmates. However when he heard that the owner of the ass had a rare book in his possession, he agreed. Graduating to the University of Edinburgh, he studied Greek & Latin. A boy of bashful countenance, an ‘orrible accent, he was nevertheless brilliant in his studies. Later he studied math, logic, history, philosophy, rhetoric, divinity & church history. When he started public speaking he cut a sorry figure at first, with many laughing at his attempts. He persevered and said thus to his friend (something I will remember for a very long time for I myself have been on this path) who was in the same boat, as he was terrified of public speaking. Leyden said “I shall through constant practice at last be able to harangue, whilst you, through dread of the ridicule of a few boys, will let slip the opportunity of learning this art, and will continue the same diffident man through life”.

An interesting observation - Did you all know that in the 1790 time frame and even earlier, it was believed that Occult was secretly taught in venerable Oxford? And that an Oxford Scholar was synonymous with one skilled in magic or the black art? The reason I bring it up was due to the fact that after studies Leyden used to sit in the darkened church to study. Local people always associated the church as one that was haunted and with Leyden cooped up in the darkness of the hall, peering at his books, they suspected him of studying the occult. But they left him alone and he proceeded to learn to learn more languages, namely Hebrew & Arabic. Around this period, he announced his entry into the world of theology and his development of a deep interest in poetry. His forays proved even more interesting as he took up medicine as well. By 1798 he was licensed to preach, however proving to be a bad preacher with a harsh vocal tone and graceless delivery. Over the next three to four years, he had immersed himself in the literary world of poetry, editing and publishing.

Leyden having seen that his future was not with the clergy and not seeing any vacancies to apply to, considered touring deep into Africa, but his friends fearing his safety suggested that he try Asia instead. Accordingly a friend used his ‘influence’ and found that there was one opening coming up, an assistant surgeon in the EIC. Taking a crash course, Leyden excelled in the examination and obtained his diploma and an MD. It was Dec 1802. He was to join the ship Hindustan, India bound, when he suffered from severe stomach cramps and backed out. That was fortunate indeed for the ship hit a sand bank and many people were killed. Later in the ‘Hugh Inglis’ sailing out in April 1803, Leyden set out for Madras. Reaching there 5 months later, he joined the General Hospital, and after spending some time in Madras, he picked up Tamil.

It was at this time (1798) that the Tipu Sultan war was ending at Mysore, and Leyden was sent on a survey to Mysore & the ghats. For a while he was ill and after recuperation, he was allowed to visit the sea coast factories of the EIC in Chirakkal Malabar (1805). Finally he found a land to his liking, both the countryside and the inhabitants, as he reported. The scenery of the Coorg hills reminded him of Scotland and the sight of the confident Malabar natives (he now compares the proud Malayali & Coorgi to cringing Hindoo’s elsewhere). He writes that he was astonished when the Subedar at Coorg came up to him and confidentially shook his hand with gusto, not having experienced this elsewhere in India. He lived in Malabar for 4 months and in that time traveled around the whole of Kerala. During this period he picked up basic Sanskrit and around Sept 1805 he left for Malaysia and after a year there, returned to Calcutta. All through this period he suffered ill health, but by 1809 he is OK again.

Leyden did have difficulties in mastering Sanskrit due to the lack of good teachers (and the caste system which prohibited him being taught the scriptures) and even tried to pass himself off as the son of a Swami (somewhat like the Roman Brahmin). In1811 he is deputed to Java for the British conquest of the said state. While there he visits a room in the Batavian Dutch archives and comes out violently ill with fever. Three days later, he was dead, aged 36 proficient in some 45 (some mention 34) languages but leaving behind only his collection of poems.

This poem of his is considered a masterpiece. In it, he recalls his plight in those far away shores, after seeing a gold coin in Malabar. I was fascinated by the poem, and the understanding of the situation having been an expatriate for all of 22 years now. Few acclaimed works by the British mention Malabar, this being one that I can think of.

To quote Cambridge History - His poetry is a simple expression of the emotions which all Anglo-Indians (the British in India – not Eurasians) experience at some time—pride in the military achievements of our race, loathing at the darker aspects of Indian superstition and the exile’s longing for home. His Ode to an Indian Gold Coin deserves a place in every Anglo-Indian anthology of verse as an expression of this last emotion.

Ode to an Indian Gold Coin – Dr John Leyden (1755-1811)

Written at Chirakkal – Cannanore

Slave of the dark and dirty mine!
What vanity has brought thee here?
How can I love to see thee shine
so bright, whom I have bought so dear?

The tent-ropes flapping lone I hear
for twilight-converse, arm in arm;
The jackal's shriek bursts on mine ear
when mirth and music wont to charm.

By Cherical's dark wandering streams,
where cane-tufts shadow all the wild.
Sweet visions haunt my waking dreams
of Teviot lov'd while still a child,
Of castled rocks stupendous pil'd
by Esk or Eden's classic wave.
Where loves of youth and friendships smil'd,
uncurs'd by thee, vile yellow slave !

Fade, day-dreams sweet, from memory fade!
the perish'd bliss of youth's first prime.
That once so bright on fancy play'd
revives no more in after-time,
Far from my sacred natal clime,
I haste to an untimely grave ;
The daring thoughts that soar'd sublime
Are sunk in ocean's southern wave.

Slave of the mine! thy yellow light
Gleams baleful as the tomb-fire drear —
A gentle vision comes by night
my lonely widow'd heart to cheer;
Her eyes are dim with many a tear
that once were guiding stars to mine:
Her fond heart throbs with many a fear
I cannot bear to see thee shine.

For thee, for thee, vile yellow slave,
I left a heart that lov'd me true I
I cross'd the tedious ocean-wave,
to roam in climes unkind and new.
The cold wind of the stranger blew
chill on my wither'd heart: the grave
Dark and untimely met my view
and all for thee, vile yellow slave!

Ha ! com'st thou now so late to mock
A wanderer's banish'd heart forlorn,
Now that his frame the lightning shock
of sun-rays tipt with death has borne?
From love, from friendship, country,
torn, to memory's fond regrets the prey,
Vile slave, thy yellow dross I scorn
go, mix thee with thy kindred clay!

Written by Dr Leydon, a Scottish doctor, who went to Malabar in search of a fortune. He had all of 40 Sterling Pounds when he started his ventures…

The poetical remains of Dr John Leyden – Rev James Morton

Pic – Borrowed from the web thanks

Tulip Mania

This story starts with one of the many versions of the famous Persian legend of the handsome stone cutter named Farhad who was stricken with love for the princess of the land, named Shirin. Shirin chances upon him one day and decides that she likes him too. The king who loved his daughter could not refuse outright her request for marriage with Farhad, but instead puts the lad to an impossible task, to dig a 40 mile channel through the mountains. The young man toiled for long and reached midway, alarming the king who now understands that Farhad may succeed. So the King sends a plausible message to Farhad that Shirin is dead, and Farhad hearing this is overwrought with grief and kills himself. The story is beautifully translated here. What happens to Shirin is told differently in the two versions with Shirin killing herself in one and in the second, a prince called Khusru marrying her.

It is said that from each droplet of the dying Farhad’s blood, a scarlet tulip sprang up, making the flower an historic symbol of perfect love. Now with this background, let us go to the Turkey of the 14th century where Tulips were revered and cultivated. By the 14th century it was the most-prized flower of the Ottoman sultans. The letters which made up its name in Arabic (The tulip, ‘lale’ in Arabic script, is written with the letters ‘lâm’, ‘aleph’ and ‘he’) are the same as those that made up the name of Allah. Another reason mentioned is that when the glorious tulip is in full bloom, this beauty in due modesty bows its head before God. Note here that in ancient Turkey, the Tulip bloom had to be clear without blemishes. Later in this article you will see how the disfiguring of a Tulip raised its value.

People who have gone to Amsterdam or for that matter the Kuekenhof gardens there will know a bit about Tulips and many of course believe it is a native of Netherlands. It is not, it is actually native to Asia and Turkey. In the East, the tulips cultivation was started over a thousand years ago. It grew wild in Persia and near Kabul, the Mogul king Baber counted thirty three different species. When Suleiman the magnificent of Turkey embarked on his campaigns in the 16th century, his royal armor was embossed with a single tulip, 9” inches long. The shape that we see today was because the Turks bred them long and narrow from the ancient bowl shaped wild tulip. The botanical name for tulips, Tulipa, is derived from the Turkish word "tulbend" or "turban" worn around the fez, which the flower resembles. Iranians and Turks call the flower Lale (h).

The Ottomans introduced Tulips to Europe some time in the 16th century. Now Netherlands of course is a choice destination for emigrating Turks (Netherlands is actually an alternate destination to Germany. Germany is to Turks as Dubai is to Malayalees). The first record of Tulips in Holland is from 1562, where the first merchant to receive them had the bulbs roasted and eaten, under the impression that they were Turkish onions.

Chalres Iecluse a botanist planted the first bulbs, gifted to him by the Ottoman ambassador. It rapidly became popular and was coveted as a status symbol; much like pepper from Malabar in earlier centuries around Europe. The Dutch eventually went crazy over the flower and the prices climbed. Could a mere tulip bulb be worth $76,000? It can only be so if people are willing to pay that much for it and they were! All this may sound preposterous, but this is exactly what happened in Holland in the 1630’s.

By 1635, a sale of 40 bulbs for 100,000 florins (Guilders) was recorded. By way of comparison, a ton of butter cost around 100 florins and a skilled laborer could at the same time earn 150 florins a year. People were purchasing bulbs at higher and higher prices, intending to re-sell them for a profit. However, such a scheme could not last unless someone was ultimately willing to pay such high prices and take possession of the bulbs.

Why did the prices climb? It was all due to a virus that went wild!! After a time, the single color tulips contracted a non-fatal virus known as mosaic, which didn't kill the tulip population but altered them causing "flames" of color to appear upon the petals. The color patterns came in a wide variety, increasing the rarity of an already unique flower and this was termed ‘breaking’.

Trevor sykes the popular journalist, in his beautiful after dinner speech explains - A bulb which produced a single-colored bloom one year could get streaked the next and there was no way of predicting when or how this would happen. Dutch breeders tried to induce breaking by binding half a normal bulb with a half-bulb that had broken, which later research proved to be the most effective way of transmitting the virus. Rosen tulips were one of the most highly prized varieties and the most highly prized of them all was the Semper Augustus (See picture). By 1624 there were no more than a dozen Semper Augustus in existence. It was so rare that very few were traded, but it became a benchmark which dragged up the prices of all other tulips.

But in 1633, we have the first recorded instance of tulips being used as money, when a house in the town of Hoorn changed hands for three bulbs. Tulip trading happened in taverns, mostly in Haarlem, where the participants were quite frequently drunk. And sometimes the taverns doubled as brothels, which would seem about the perfect ambience for an unregulated derivatives market.

During the period 1634-1637, people abandoned jobs, businesses, wives, homes and lovers to become tulip growers. Stories are often told of how one person paid with twelve acres of land while still another gave a new carriage and twelve horses. The mania became fanaticism. A certain man who had paid for a bulb its weight in gold upon hearing that a cobbler possessed the same variety bought the cobbler’s for 15,000 florin and right before the cobblers eyes crushed the bulb he had just purchased beneath his foot to ensure that now he was the only person who possessed that particular variety. And as if that were not enough he then informed the cobbler that he would have been willing to pay ten times as much for the particular bulb. Upon hearing this, the cobbler became so depressed that he went up to his loft and hung himself from the beam.

The zenith came early in the 1636 winter, at an auction to benefit seven orphans whose only asset was 70 fine tulips left by their father. One tulip bulb, a rare Violetten Admirael van Enkhuizen bulb that was about to split in two, sold for 5,200 guilders, the all-time record. All told, the flowers brought in nearly 53,000 guilders.

By February 1637, tulip traders could no longer find new buyers willing to pay increasingly inflated prices for their bulbs. As this realization set in, the demand for tulips collapsed, and prices plummeted—the speculative bubble burst. The mania and its economic reasons & impact are still being studied by experts and vague (so it seems, to me) explanations have been provided. But naturally the persons in the finance industry do not think much about it or they would have learned from the Tulip mania!! Today many economic schemes (like the ones you hear of in USA today) are equated to it. Probably the real estate crash today & the dotcom crash of the 90’s in California could be comparable in some way.

While all this mayhem was taking place in Netherlands, what was the scene in Turkey?
John Mandaville says - But although tulips were still special in Turkey, in the 17th century they were certainly not considered something to throw one's fortune away on, as the foolish foreigners had. Not, that is, until the early 1700's, when what had happened in Amsterdam 100 years earlier occurred again in Istanbul, the tulip madness.

Tulips played an interesting role in Turkish history. The period in Turkish history 1718-1730 is called the "Tulip Era", under the reign of Sultan Ahmed III. This period signified as an era of peace and enjoyment was a time when tulips became an important style of life within the arts, folklore and daily life. Many embroidery and textile clothing handmade by women, carpets, tiles, miniatures etc. had tulip designs or shapes and large tulip gardens around the Golden Horn were sponsored and frequented by the rich elite.

Tulips defined nobility and privilege, both in terms of goods and leisure time. Tulip prices began to rise in the last decades of the seventeenth century and peaked in 1726-1727 before state intervention. This reflected the demand for the inflated value of the rare bulbs and escalating demands for flowers in the elite’s palaces and gardens. Books were written on how to grow Tulips.

An eighteenth century manuscript notes that the Sheik Mohammed Lalizare, official tulip grower of S Ahmed (1703-1730) counted 1,323 varieties. The standards set forth by the head gardener to Sultan Ahmed III specified that “the petals should look like a dagger or a needle. If the tulip has not these petal characters, it is a cheap flower. The tulip with the needle is the better of the two; if it has both needle point and dagger shape it is priceless.”

Mandaville continues in his article in the SARAMCO world magazine - These Tulip books fueled the fire and the tulip craze spread, with all the accompanying wheeling and dealing that one might expect. It was Amsterdam of 1637 all over again. And as in Amsterdam, the government finally had to step in to cool off the market. In 1726 the head of the palace flower gardens, our friend Lalezari, was ordered to call a general meeting of all city tulip dealers. At that meeting he announced that price controls were to be established and enforced. Each dealer was to list all of his varieties. Lalezari would set a price for each and that price was to be maintained in the market. Violations would be punished by confiscation of stock and the exile of the offending merchant. Orders to that effect went out from the city courts. The price freeze worked; at least, speculation died out.

The Tulip Era was brought to an end after the Patrona Halil (An Albanian bath attendant) revolt in 1730, ending with the dethroning of the Sultan. The rioters burned down the Tulip gardens all over the city. Soon Sultan Mahmut took over, executed Halil and banned Albanians in the city bath’s!!

Today, over nine billion flower bulbs are produced each year in Holland, and about 7 billion of them are exported, for an export value of three quarters of a billion dollars. According to the Netherlands Flower Bulb Information Center, the USA is the biggest importer of Dutch bulbs, and in a recent year, $130,000,000 worth of Dutch bulbs (at wholesale) were imported by US traders.

Through the oceans and lands, one set of those Tulip flowers in a pot reached America recently and found their way into our house on Valentines Day, Feb 14th 2009. The pictures you see are of those flowers….

Tulip trivia

-The ancient Turks used to brew a love potion from tulips
-The French became obsessed with the Tulip during the reign of Louis XIV, when women tucked Tulips into their underwear. The more expensive the tulip, the more important the woman!
-Tulips are related to the onion and are edible. The flower petals can be used in salads or to make wine, and the bulbs can be sliced and fried. In Japan they make a type of flour from tulips.
-Tulips are the only flower that continues to grow in the vase after being cut up to 3".
-There is no such thing as the very rare Black Tulip; they are actually very dark purple. Other than that Tulips come in virtually every color including green!
-The Tulip breaking virus, is a rare case of somebody coveting an infected or diseased living object!!
-The Semper Augustus exists no more, but can be found only in paintings.
-Red tulips denote an irresistible love, while yellow tulips indicate a hopeless, desperate love with no chance of reconciliation, so be careful of which you wear or present.

For further reading

Trevor Sykes - Australian finance journalist’s speech
Business week article
SARAMCO article
Investopedia article
Australian video
Turkish baths – See my earlier blog
From the beloved – Turkish airlines article.