The Malayalees in Pakistan - Maddy's Ramblings

Mar 27, 2009

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


Nikhil Narayanan said...

I feel like doing more research after reading this.

Have read on the Mujahids(?) Mallus of Karachi and one of those guys who writes in Malayala Manorama at times.

Anyways, good read.


Nikhil Narayanan said...

Links for you

Pakistan Constituent Assembly (1947-1954). Legislature, Tamil Nadu (India). Legislature. Legislative Council - 1953
Debates. Official Report
says d)whether it is a fact that the Karachi University charges fees ranging quota for bringing out a daily in Malayalam from Karachi
(From a Google Books search )
So, there should have been a considerable population.Wish I could get in touch with someone who is still there, would be interesting.


Ajith said...

Paradesi is a very touching movie indeed. Its so sad that partition has left its scars even in far flung villages from the border.

P.N. Subramanian said...

It was quite interesting to learn about migtration of Malayalees to Pakistan.

harimohan said...

once again maddy you delve into your speciality of picking out gems from Kerala history ,it was so intresting and absorbing so were the links . tks

Maddy said...

Nikhil - thanks, just a quick note of clarification. the term for these malayalis is Mujahir meaning refugees (in this case - from India). Mujahid is the lot who conduct Jihad, a completely different meaning. these old men are not Muhajids.

Nikhil Narayanan said...

Thanks.I thought it is the same(name wise) and that some take up jiad.
Mea culpa.


Kamini said...

This is a fascinating piece, and thanks for the additional links, as I too am sufficiently intrigued to want to read and learn more about this.
You have a very interesting blog here - I have lots of catching up to do.


Very nice, informative and interesting post. The Malayalis stranded at Karachi - how terrible it would have been for them never to be able to see the land of their birth.


good blog sir but your cricket is unfair.

Happy Kitten said...

a reminder from History..

did watch the movie and felt sad..

maybe a better assimilation would solve a few problems?

I heard one contester (BJP) for the upcoming LS election comment that it is their hope that Pakistan is re-joined with India..

an absurd thought?


Anonymous said...

Hi Maddy,

Got it! :)

I was quite surprised to know that there are Keralites in Pakistan as well.The piece was quite an inspiration in the sense that when it comes to survival, everything else becomes survival.Showed you blog piece to some of my Keralite colleagues as well and it caught them by surprise as well.

Just curious, but how did u know about their existence?


Maddy said...

Indu ..

i forgot to reply you..

i had heard about a relation of my friend who had moved during 1921. also I saw the movie Pardesi

Maddy said...

ah HK..

that is a tough one to reply..
It was one country - the rift is too wide at the moment and the politicians too childish.

A cousin uncle (typical mallu term) used to work for the British Indian railways in Karachi, they fled the partition..

but it was worse in Germany & they reunited ..who knows?

Maddy said...

thanks Raji & Kamini...

Indu said...

Hi Maddy,

I always love a tidbit like know the kinds where you go to a remote corner of a jaded country and discover something beautiful and with a past.I had read your piece sometime back and yesterday en route to Dubai from Abu Dhabi i asked my Paki driver about this and he was quite casual about it...telling me about Mallus and how they married and settled whipping up a whole new tradition by means of cuisine, language(slang), etc...

And he went on to laud praises about the Mallu hospitality and how they always insist on tea and stuff, which took me slightly by surprise(considering that i seriously thought Indian hospitality was waning except for the heaps of English on the Incredible India ad boards)...

But yes, the man looked impressed and it does make for a great story... :)

Good one there !!!

Maddy said...

thanks indu..

i am surprised your driver knew.. from what i have heard, only the karachi walahs know about these muhahirs..the lahori's hardly know or care.

tea is always the link..i saw your blog about the tea shop and that reminded me of a blog i wrote about the mallu tea shops...

Indu said...

Hey, looks like both of us chanced upon the same tea shop...;) though mine was next to an elephant kraal...I thoroughly enjoyed your detailed descriptions of the scene inside a tea shop...

My driver is from Peshawar...and yes, he did say he had lots of Mallu friends and most of them kept coming form the plains...our dialogue was mostly in bits of Urdu and Hindi so that was all i could gather...but he sounded like they are well settled and accepted there.

I checked with one of my colleagues who is from Lahore(and i would assume from the more well-to-do communities) and she had not heard of the Mallu lot and thought i was fibbing...When i showed her your piece...she was very very surprised:):):)

Of course, she went on to comment, " U Mallus, i tell u...will survive anywhere" ...something i would never tire of hearing!!!

Maddy said...

ah - we mallu's can live anywhere and everywhere, but complain a lot. here we say - oh! how good it is in kerala. In kerala we say - oruthanum ee nattil gunam pidikkathilla..

ah! that's life...

btw - do u know a Mini Sujith in KT? she is my wife's friend.

Indu said...

True...the grass is always greener on the other side.....;) Irony is that we dnt even really crave for the other is just our inner mirage fooling us all over again.... ;)

Am quite new to KT Maddy...two months....just getting to know she with the editorial section?

Thomas Joseph said...

Infct I have relatives settled ther in Pak.Thy wr prt of Indian army force but hppnd to settle ther during partition..

Maddy said...

Thanks Thomas..
their insight would be wonderful indeed..maybe you can ask them!!

thomas joseph said...

hi maddy
I dont hv any contcts ...1950's time:)She is my grandmother's sis..
went ther for higher studies(Punjb Unvrsty),dad/bro ws there in militry dats why she gone ther 4 studies)gt married to a major and gt retired as Medicl advisor to the pak gvnt..
nd she's still alive in Pak.

Maddy said...

wow! what a story she would have, to recount, if she got a chance, someday!!

T.Thomas Mundappally said...

It is Late mrs Pinda is any of her siblings knows that she belongs to a Syrisan Chistian Family of Travancore and was aFreedom fitghter. Her sister Mrs thankamma Malik was a in WArda with Mahadma gandi and was Awarded By Indian govt; Vididya Sharan shukla Award For the Hindi Pracharak.She was the HinDi Pracharak Saba Principal Of TVM. She was the Translater to Mrs Indirira Gandhi 's Public addresses in Kerala in 1960's.
Her Father late Mr. Makkattath Varghese was a vetr'n in Travacore during the FReedom Movement and was lost his properties as it was given to the Public Ghathering For Freedom Movement.

Hackills said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
AnilKumar said...

HI Maddy,
Iam really fascinated with thiss piece...It would be really nice if we can talk to some mallu in Pak...


Shahir said...


I am aware of 2-3 families from Malabar who are Pakistanis as they are from my hometown (Kannur,Kerala). Infact my parents told me most of them had been in Pakistan during British rule on employment and due to partition and paperwork difficulties they had to get Paki passport in order to come in to India post 47. Infact one of the person in his 70s though a Paki citizen has been living retired life for more than a decade in India but has yet to get Indian citizenship. Its a very intresting piece of history and the generation that lived through it are in their final lap of life, hope some1 can record their experiences

yawn said...

Hi Maddy,
My name is Anu Prabhakar and I work for a newspaper in Mumbai. I am currently writing an article on Pakistanis in Kerala (a done topic I know, but not too many people from other parts of the country know about this). I was wondering whether you would personally know of such a case? I look forward to your reply.

Anees K A said...

Muhajir is derived from the word "Hijrat" which means "migragration

Maddy said...

thanks anees..
that's right..
thanks yawn..
no clues about that, i have read about it here & there though...
thanks shahir and anilkumar
no i do not know any individuals..

Sound Designer said...

It was very interesting to know about janab B.M.Kutty and his life.I had heard on one of my trip to kerala about a Mr Shahul Hamid who was ex Editor of Dawn newspaper he happened to be uncle of my uncle s friend and migrated to Pakistan post migration from Kerala butdidnt keep connection back home,would like to know about it.Mallus rock.great article Maddy.