A tall tale….

There are some unbelievable stories, this might one day be consigned to one of those collections. But then again, I have to tell it, for it is, if not remarkable, an interesting tale. I take you again, my friends, to the little village I hail from, nestling near the Western Ghats, where we still have only three or four shops, where we still have but one road passing through it going from Kunisseri to Kollengode, one school, one temple, one bank and a post office. Paddy fields stretch out to fill your gaze and both coconut and palm trees dot the gap between the ground and the sky. As you scan from left to right, you would see some of the smaller hills like Swamimala and Koormamala and farther yonder you can see the Nelliyampathy hills. Not much happens as you look, you see an odd bullock cart or a motor bike, and perhaps a heavily loaded lorry from Tamil Nadu. Sometimes you see an auto-rickshaw scurrying through, and nowadays you can even see Muraliettan’s bright yellow auto taxi, a covered contraption, which is the talk of the village. Traditional auto rickshaw’s which boasted of sharp bursts of wind on your face and activation of all of your joints as they traversed the 20Km distance between Pallavur and Palghat are in lesser demand it seems.

This story remains fresh in my mind, even though it took place a decade or more, back in time. It is not mentioned in the village these days, for many of the characters have passed away. I myself was vacationing in the village that July. In fact it involves my cousin who is always in the thick of things, as he puts it. He somehow gets wind of happenings in the village and reaches the location, always on the ready to ferret out the tiniest morsel of information. But when he later narrates the story to you, you can rest assured that he has added at least another 50% masala, and I am sure this was one such story.

The rains were delayed, the previous harvest had not been good and the weather was horribly humid. It was not a good idea to sit inside and so, we, the two of us, were sitting in the long wall beside the house, swatting mosquitos or as they say in the US, shooting breeze. Every now and then somebody would pass by and Mani, my cousin would shout out a greeting to him and a little chit-chat would ensue. You may wonder why I used the word shout, well, that is exactly how it is, since the old times, we had to communicate with the workers in distant fields and bellowing was the only way you could get your message across. All the farming folk of the village therefore had huge and booming, but raspy voices. Today you would see the mobile phone at work, but in those days, it was an almighty shouting match between two speakers across thousands of feet of open space. The only problem was that it got so ingrained into you that even if the person is just a few feet away from you, you cannot get the voice attenuated to city levels where people, according to Mani, only whisper.

A little boy was speeding through on his bicycle and the shouted question from Mani nearly unseated the boy, causing him to lose balance, but the bright little fella Krishnankutty managed to stop and wheeled back to answer the question about the wellbeing of his father. But what he said next was what got this story started.

Krishnankutty, the son of the local priest, mentioned that a couple of foreigners were seen near the temple, and that one of them was as tall as the coconut tree near Mudaliar’s house. He said, you know, that tree which has reddish coconuts - that tree, not the big one, that chenthengu. Mani pooh poohed him, saying no foreigner had ever been seen in Pallavur and told Krishnankutty to scram.

You don’t know Mani, he is not the type who would leave this tidbit to the proverbial dog. Within minutes he excused himself and went rushing to the source of the information, though he did not mention anything to me. He is like a bee, goes off in a straight line to the location, neither looking left or right, arms swinging furiously, the orange dhoti at half-mast. The dhoti which was once orange in color (signifying his support for a popular political party), now looked like a white dhoti which had been washed over and over again in the stagnant brown water from the fields.

I was summoned indoors in the meantime, as the TV had gone on the blink. You see, that is the problem if you are an electrical engineer. If something goes wrong, be it the power supply, the fan, the radio, the fridge or the phone, you are asked to take a look. The hardy people in our family would not dream of calling a repairman and paying him, when a qualified engineer was available at hand. So whenever I landed up at home, my uncle would be ready with a litany of complaints and would ceremoniously hand over a mini tool set which he would never give to anybody else (that ‘foreign’ kit was only to be handled by his engineer nephew). This time the TV was not working and I found out that the stabilizer had cut out due to very low voltage, and that was because the nearby rice mill was ‘on’. Mill Babu must have got a consignment of rice to polish, and that meant that our voltage dipped, till he finished his work. Since a cricket match was going on and everybody was frantic, I connected the TV direct as it could indeed handle a lower voltage. The match took up the rest of the evening.

When I met Mani the next day he had lots of news for me. In fact I had never seen him so worked up. But this time he had authentic information (according to him) since the protagonist of our story happened to be his customer. How so? Well, my cousin dabbles in life insurance policies and he had once sold a policy to Mohanettan, which is what our hero was called.

Mohanettan (actually he is much younger than me and Mani, but that is how he is known in our village) was Karvatte Raman’s son. Karavatte Raman used to run one of those old Ambassador taxi’s in our village for a long time, till both he had the car had to be retired. Every single person from reasonably well to do families of the village had gone someplace in that car. It had taken people to numerous marriages, temples, hill stations, honeymoons, hospitals and what not. People have died, and some have been given birth to, in that car. But one day the car just broke down and Raman could not afford to repair it. So it occupied a corner of his front yard, falling into further disrepair. Neighborhood kids could be seen playing hide and seek or doing imaginary driving in it and the owner Raman never recovered from the event.

Mohanettan was a strange guy actually. He passed his SSLC from Alathur and joined the Chittur College for his BA which he passed eventually, but not without difficulties. When he was in college he got involved in some political party like many a Kerala student and it was rumored that he was even put into a lock-up once and trashed by Krishnettan, the police constable at Chittur. Some rumors floated around those days that Krishnettan was actually a distant relative of driver Raman and that Raman got it done to teach the errant boy a lesson. I am not really sure about all this, because Mani told me these stories and one cannot really figure out how much and what portion is fact and what portion is fiction. Mohanettan had sworn revenge, but before he could do anything, Krishnettan was transferred to some remote place after getting caught for accepting a bribe.

Mohanettan, as mentioned, got his degree, but then that was not enough (just a low scoring BA degree was worthless) to get a job. Raman tried requesting anybody and everybody who got into his taxi to help get his son a job, but nothing worked out. My uncle tried as well, but Mohan was a little bit of a rebellious chap and never performed well in interviews. He could not tolerate an interviewer asking questions about some obscure freedom fighter when the interview was for the position of an office clerk. In addition, his countenance was always scowling and not friendly. So nothing worked out, for quite a long time.

As the car performance declined, Raman became more and more surly and took it out on Mohanettan. In the meantime, another complication arose as Mohanettan fell in love with a comely girl from the big and wealthy Aravancheri family. Really, one has to blame the temple for all these liaisons, because in Pallavur that is the only place where ‘boy can meet girl’. They met a few times in dark corners and out of people’s sight. For some strange reason, the two hit it off, but in filmy fashion the girl’s family soon got to know of it. I understood that it was my cousin Mani who actually went and leaked the information to them, though he denies it vehemently even now. As you see in numerous films, the girl was quickly married off to some idiot fellow in Bombay with great fanfare. I remember all this because I had attended that wedding and had a nice payasam - ada pradhaman. Mani was missing from the event and had excused himself, rumor has it that he was keeping a low profile as he felt Mohanettan was on the warpath.

Mohanettan soon sported the traditional beard which always sprouts with a vengeance on the faces of such lovelorn youth, grew his hair long (one less cut for the poor village barber) and was seen smoking pot or visiting Neeli’s house. Now don’t get that wrong, Neeli was not the ‘other’ type, she just supplied good toddy on the side which her husband got from the palm trees doting the field pathways. All this happened in quick succession, and Raman the driver fell severely ill, thence to be bedridden.

Mohanettan following a decent brainwave, decided to become a good man, shaved his beard, cut his hair and started looking again for a job, what with the cost of the medicines and all that. It took some effort, but he finally found a clerk’s job in Bombay. From what I know, he did not try to contact the girl who was also in Bombay, fortunately he let sleeping dogs lie, but he sure was one disturbed chap out there. The pittance he was earning was just sufficient to pay rent at the ‘chawl’ in Vikrohli, and the accommodations can at best be described as slum-like with a common toilet, five people in a room etc…. nevertheless he learned to live and work, and value the small earnings he made, a far cry from the carefree life he led at Pallavur. Mohan also learnt how to speak Hindi and English fluently. Mani and he did patch up and Mani, the clever salesman he was, managed to sell him an LIC policy, which they said would take care of not only his life, but also expenses related to any cancer & heart treatments.

Let me digress a bit now, for Mani has come and took me out of that reverie. He has news. It seems that not one but two foreigners had come in a big ‘benz’ car, escorted by the police. They looked like burly people and one of them was indeed a 6+ footer (the boy was right about his being as tall as that midget coconut tree). I am not too sure they came in a Mercedes, but people in our village have not seen all those fancy imported cars, so I will give that a pass, but for sure it was some big imported car, and that meant big and powerful people. Then he added the clincher, that the Benz had an escort full of police officers and a guy in a safari suit. They had come, and quietly went into Mohanettan’s house. After a while, they all came out and Mohanettan was seen meekly accompanying them. He also had a small airbag with his belongings. It looked like he was going somewhere with these foreigners. Nobody was smiling or laughing, and Mohan did look very nervous and upset, but he was not handcuffed.

You can imagine how irregular all this is for the people here. Well, I must admit I was also perturbed, and could not make head or tail of the events. We decided to go to the location together. I am supposed to know the world a little better as I lived overseas, or so they believed.

To reach the place is not so difficult, just a couple of furlongs walking distance (you may wonder what a furlong is – it is 200 ft in today’s terms, still a usage in our village, remnants of the British past and the FPS imperial system) just past Dubai Krishnan’s house. That house is quite lavish, right in the middle of the old thekke gramam’s row houses where pattars once lived, next to Krishna Iyer’s. Now they have all gone to Bombay or elsewhere and most houses are shuttered. Some have been renovated or rebuilt in modern fashion and the view they have of the temple pond is unsurpassed, especially in the mornings when a number of ladies are having their bath. Many a young fella would be up and peeping through those second floor windows hoping to catch a glimpse of what he is not allowed to gaze at. Past the grammam and just beyond is Raman’s house. We reached there and saw many others lounging around.

Oh! I forgot to tell you, Raman passed away a few years ago, dying with no one around. The remnants of the taxi are still there, but the house has been repaired and painted. Taking you back some years, his son Mohan could not come, for he was working overseas in Iraq. In fact he found a job in Baghdad during the late 80’s while at Bombay, not a great job or anything, but still well paying. That paid for the medical bills, kept his dad somewhat comfortable and once every two years Mohanettan would come on his month long vacation. What great stories he had, of life in Baghdad, trips to Basra, the casinos in the capital, the huge palaces and buildings and what not. He would bring a few bottles of imported booze and a couple of cartons of Dunhill cigarettes. He would have guests at home till the booze and smokes were finished and weeks later, it would be time for him to go back to the desert and to back breaking work. I met him once or twice and he would explain to me what he really did. He took care of air-conditioning systems, something he had learned while in Bombay. Not repair but just routine maintenance, cleaning and so on. His company did most of the work in Iraq’s palaces and other government buildings. The nature of work was such that he had access to many important homes and even the women’s quarters. He was very careful, very polite and very meticulous. Not once did he get into trouble or earn anything other than a good name and some petro dollars. And being somewhat good at languages, he mastered Arabic.

Good things don’t last, Saddam Hussein fell afoul of the West after he decided to conquer Kuwait. Mohan continued in Iraq even after others deserted Baghdad. The war which ensued was no good for anybody and like so many others, Mohanettan returned back home after the second one in 2003, impoverished and sad, but with many memories, some good and some bad. His last earnings was spent trying to get home and his trip back home was a harrowing tale by itself. He had no desire to look for another job immediately and he spent a year doing nothing but moping around and spending the last of his earnings. His friend’s circle dwindled and soon he was at his wits end. It was at this juncture that the foreigners visited him.

Mani was going from person to person trying to find out if somebody knew anything. Wild rumors were being farmed, like Mohan had done something wrong in Iraq involving the Americans and British, and so was in trouble. Some suspected theft and flight, others suspected sex and rape, and one or two suspected treason. But all this died down after a few days and Mohanettan was forgotten.

Ramans’s house remained locked, the rusted ruins of his old taxi were now not even used by the playing kids, for they had been warned that it would be a sure case for tetanus. The trees and plants grew wild and the place looked ramshackle. Mani was upset since Mohanettan’s LIC policy premium remittances had stopped and the local LIC manager was furious with him.

Pallavur continued to be the sleepy village it always was, and I was there for the following year’s vacation. The mystery was still not solved, but I had a few other important things to take care of, which took quite a few days. Meanwhile, Appu marar had passed away, the temple drums had been silenced, and soon enough all three of the drumming maestros had left us. I was seeing many new faces each time I went, the youngsters were all growing up and I even saw the girl Mohanettan had been after, the girl who had gone to Bombay. She had become rotund and was now a mother of two sniveling kids and I thought, fortune had been, for once, nice to Mohan.

But I was intrigued about that old tale and Mani kept on pestering me to help him find out what happened to Mohanettan. So I went with him to the Alathur police station where Mani had a friend – Police constable 463 Ramankutty. He introduced me to the SI, who was part of the team which had picked up Mohanettan two years ago. The SI agreed to talk over dinner and we all went to the Noorjehan hotel at Palghat. This SI was a nice fellow actually, though he did not really have much to say. He mentioned that a call had come from a ‘higher-up’ to escort two Americans and an officer from Delhi. That was all he was told, other than the fact that he should take them to Pallavur, to Mohanan’s house and after that to keep his mouth shut for a few months. Now that a couple of years had lapsed, the SI was not too worried about talking to me.

When I heard all this, I knew that something sinister was brewing, but the thought that intelligence agencies could be involved made me desist from making further enquiries. I cautioned Mani as well and we drifted on to other tasks after which I went back to Florida where I was working. In the middle of the year which passed, I heard from Mani that the LIC had started receiving premiums on Mohans’ policy and that late fees had been paid. So Mohan was indeed alive and safe, somewhere.

Like clockwork, I was home at the village the following year, again on the annual vacation. One day Mani came tearing in, with his dhoti almost falling off and looking in complete disarray. He announced that Mohanettan was back, that he had come in a Japanese car, a Toyota Corolla it seemed and had a North Indian wife and a son in tow. It seems they were redoing the house and would remain there for a month. He wanted me to accompany him to meet Mohan.

I was not averse to the idea, and so we trundled along the slushy path to Mohan’s house which was by now all spic and span. A little boy’s howling could be heard, perhaps he had been bitten by one of those zealous Pallavur mosquitoes and we heard a lady shush shushing in Hindi. We saw Mohan lounging on an easy chair and soon he had us seated while the lady was dispatched to make some tea. Things were going well, he said, he had got married to a Marwadi girl in Bombay, which was where he was working these days. In fact he had acquired a nice flat in Bandra. I was flabbergasted, how could he do all this in a couple of years? He was virtually impoverished two years back! He would not tell me, and just smiled. Sheepishly we walked back home, my thoughts spinning away with the suspense. How on earth? I thought.

The next day I went alone to meet Mohanettan. This time the meeting was different and Mohan was effusive and in a talkative mood. He explained that he was still upset with Mani for having messed up his love life and did not want to tell a story to somebody who would spread it all around with so much masala that it would be something else, altogether. But he told me…

Something he had overheard at the palace helped the US forces nab Saddam and others hiding in bunkers, during Operation Red Dawn. A small portion of the large bounty on his head, was paid to Mohan for his timely input. It took a while, but the amount was big enough for him to buy the Bandra house and with that he secured a job and started a family. I did not ask him for any further details nor did he profess any more by way of information. It was, as you will agree, none of my business.

Mohan never came back to the village after that, it was the last I heard of him. I got back home, mind at ease, only to see a super agitated Mani. He had hot news, it seems that a particularly well-endowed lady of the village had been seen by somebody in a compromising situation. He is off, to get more details…Ah! Well…
Note: This is a work of fiction and fertile imagination, for no such event occurred, nor does such a ‘Mohanettan’ exist.

It is just a tall tale.

A tall tale is a story with unbelievable elements, related as if it were true and factual. Some stories such as these are exaggerations of actual events, and tall tales are often told in a way that makes the narrator seem to have been a part of the story. They are supposedly humorous and good-natured, like this one hopefully is…


The Cynical Malayali

Most people would agree on this, that an average Malayali is somewhat cynical. Sometimes his pithy and sarcastic answers comes across a bit negatively and pessimistic, for example if it was raining, he would opine that the sun is unlikely to come out for a number of days as though you were in for big trouble (of what? Reduced vitamin D intake?). Once the sun comes out, he would grumble Oh! Finally the sun decided to pop his pompous head out, eh? More commonly, if a bus arrived on time, he would slight the driver for having some ulterior motive for the good deed such as a function at home or that the other drivers had decided not to use the road on that particular day and that was the only reason for the unusual event, not once agreeing to the conscientiousness of the driver. A Malayali hardly compliments another, and if at all he does, it is done in such a begrudging way that the impact is long lost before he finishes. And you may not realize it, I have also been told that we are horrible at accepting compliments, not doing it enthusiastically (to be frank, I am also part of that league) while in person.

The subtle sarcasm in their remarks, is only understood by another Malayali and that is why a dubbed or subtitled Malayalam film is never the same. Check out some Jagathi comedy scenes and you will all agree with me. Or for that matter, look at the audience’s faces in a Malayalam stage show. Shreya Ghoshal might be singing her heart off and I guarantee, every single viewer would be tingling inside, but their faces would be grumpy, wooden and totally opaque. I recall that Usha Uthup was one of the first to mention this, and she should know, being married to a Malayali, that getting applause for anything in Kerala is very difficult. So if she got some, she was contended.

I still laugh remembering Abraham’s Bangalore bred Kannadiga wife Anu. Abraham hailed from a sleepy village near Tiruvalla. Can you imagine the scene when they went home for their first vacation after marriage and his chirpy and bubbly wife rushed to the bare bodied, middle aged, dhoti clad Appachan and hugged him, shouting ‘Appacha, we are home’? The Appachan looked like lightning had struck him, with thunder pealing all around (idi vettiya mathiri) and with difficulty squirmed out of her embrace, only to throw a rotten look at Abraham. Anu would regale us with that story ever so often, accompanied by much guffawing and I could only share a grin with Abraham, understanding fully well his situation.

I recall often how it was when I went home after a year abroad and my dad would look up quizzically and ask sans emotion if the flight had for once, arrived on time. That was it. My mom would grumble that I had lost weight and after a few questions trudge off to the kitchen, her haven, to continue with her cooking. Just imagine the filmy (that’s what the cynical Malayali would say) situation when the son gets back for vacations in a Punjabi household. Puthar would be engulfed in embraces by all the eagerly waiting aunties, parathas would be on the stove, butter bubbling on them, the dad himself will arrive with a patialawala peg for the son, and balle balles would start. Can you imagine the situation if you went and embraced your dad, like Modi hugged Trump recently?

Some say Malayali’s are driven by reason, not by emotion. I am not sure, but perhaps it comes with knowledge or awareness, and the feeling that you are fully entitled to your opinion. Hype, spin, godmen, movie stars, all ingredients of much furor in other parts of India, even neighboring Tamil Nadu hardly elicit huge responses in Kerala. But one thing brings out a sarcastic response, that being politics of all sorts. The ruling party is never spared and no Malayali is satisfied with anything that is or that is not done for him by his own elected representative, the politician is usually a scumbag at best and good for nothing for the common Malayali.

I agree that things are a bit different these days and the much vaunted character is changing, with movie fans associations and so on, but sometime I feel like other Malayali’s that this business of movie fans associations is nothing but a sham. No chance a Malayali would make a temple for Nayantara, like they did in the neighboring state.

Was it because society promoted free thinking and logical thought or was it something that permeated from the old days where the Nambudiri was always a cynic? Did those Nambudiris on top of the caste pyramid, the only rich and educated of the medieval times, have a perpetual fear and distrust of the minions beneath them and as a result passed on a cynical trait to them? Or was it that the Malayali never trusted the British to take care of their interests and as a result imbibed the habit if cynicism?

Anyway the average Malayali became just that, a cynic. If he saw somebody dressed in a bright shirt, it was too loud. If he smoked a pipe the jealous fellow would decry it mentioning how arrogant it looked, though nobody had asked him and it was none of his business. If somebody came with a good looking lady in tow, he would be seen to highlight the good lady’s shortcomings. If he came in a flashy foreign car, he would grudgingly mention that all this foreign stuff was bound to fail with Indian conditions, and that nothing could beat a Maruti. If he himself purchased one in later life and was asked about it, he would say that he was forced to buy this stupid car as his beloved Maruti had become obsolete.

The definitions of Cynical is something to study - believing that people are motivated by self-interest; distrustful of human sincerity or integrity, doubtful as to whether something will happen or whether it is worthwhile, concerned only with one's own interests and typically disregarding accepted or appropriate standards in order to achieve them, contemptuous; mocking. Think back and you will agree that many of us, our friends and relatives would easily fit into this category. But then again George Bernard Shaw thought otherwise and I tend to agree, for he said "The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it."

The police and the politician usually bear the brunt of Malayali cynicism. Public servants, they claim are paid from their taxes and so owe their entire existence to the masses. If they are not selfless, and as you know most of them are not, they are usually the objects of all kinds of barbs. The police, well, the poor blokes suffer the biggest of the ridicule for their (in old times) stiff shorts, their pot bellies and apparent inefficiency. For the cynical Malayali all MNC’s exist only to rape the land and drain away their precious resources, but keeps silent about his son who works for one.

The cynical Malayali would berate the practice of spending tons of money on weddings, but would not like reduced opulence when his own daughter has to get married. You may have noted that most of us brethren are trapped in that facade of cynicism, which has crept on us like a habit. Look at a farmer in Palghat, even if he gets all the rain he wants, he will complain about the labor or the quality of the seeds or the fact that the fertilizer had got washed away. Perhaps it is all just a tough demeanor that he uses to mask his own inadequacies. Perhaps PKB Nayar was referring to his compatriots when he once wisely mentioned - The cynic will still scoff and berate research, long-run or short-run, as empty employment for the idle academic.

Krishna Menon was considered to be a cynic by most who met him and it is easy to understand why by looking at this typical retort when complimented by a well-meaning Englishwoman on the quality of his English. "My English, Madam," he said to the hapless lady "is better than yours. You merely picked it up: I learned it".

All that said, it might be interesting to take a deeper look at the word and the philosophy behind it.  Maybe that will help us understand how we are what we are! I wonder if any of you had a look at an article I wrote some time back on the connections between Utopia and Malabar. Take a look at that and the fact that the school of Cynicism which existed in ancient Greece actually defined Cynicism thus. For the Cynics, the purpose of life is to live in virtue, in agreement with nature. As reasoning creatures, people can gain happiness by rigorous training and by living in a way which is natural for themselves, rejecting conventional desires and lead a simple life free from all possessions.

What astonished me was that in those times, they equated Cynics to dogs and the word Cynic itself was derived from the word Kynos for dog! Why so? Was it an insult because Cynics abhorred convention?

It goes thus as described in Dudley’s History of cynicism, quoting Diognes- There are four reasons why the Cynics are so named. First because of the indifference of their way of life, for they make a cult of indifference and, like dogs, eat and make love in public, go barefoot, and sleep in tubs and at crossroads. The second reason is that the dog is a shameless animal, and they make a cult of shamelessness, not as being beneath modesty, but as superior to it. The third reason is that the dog is a good guard, and they guard the tenets of their philosophy. The fourth reason is that the dog is a discriminating animal which can distinguish between its friends and enemies. So do they recognize as friends those who are suited to philosophy, and receive them kindly, while those unfitted they drive away, like dogs, by barking at them.

Cynics rejected all conventions, whether of religion, manners, housing, dress, or decency, instead advocating the pursuit of virtue in accordance with a simple and idealistic way of life. I could opine here that cynicism crept into the early medieval Malabar society as early English missionary scholars well taught in Greek and Latin classics used these theories of cynicism to battle the ancient practices prevalent in old Malabar to bring about a change in what they felt were unacceptable to their own moral fabric. Others would say that the advent of leftist thought and rule in Kerala brought about these changes, but a cynic would soon shoot it down and say that the questioning nature was inborn, not taught.

Anyway, philosophers, as is typical of them, decided to redefine the term itself and today it means something else. They say that Modern cynicism is a distrust toward professed ethical and social values, especially when there are high expectations concerning society, institutions, and authorities that are unfulfilled. It can manifest itself as a result of frustration, disillusionment, and distrust perceived as owing to organizations, authorities, and other aspects of society.

Perhaps this makes sense, for you can see the three manifestations in modern Kerala, them being
frustration, disillusionment, and distrust and the end result of them all, a high incidence of suicides, alcoholism, divorces and what not, on the negative side. On the positive side, it brought about a torrent of creativity by way of great books, films and astute actors. Nevertheless, as they demurred ‘an active aspect of cynicism involves the desire to expose hypocrisy and to point out gaps between ideals and practices’ and that I agree is forever a part and parcel of all Malayali’s, though I must hasten to clarify, happens mostly when a Malayali meets others from his land or when he is in Kerala.

Ayn Rand once said this - When one discards ideals, the fact that a given policy (such as government controls) is evil, does not constitute a reason for rejecting it. On the contrary, such an estimate serves as an incentive to adopt and expand that policy: to a cynic’s mind, that which is evil, is potent and practical. Though I am a great fan of Rand’s fiction, I am not too sure I agree. It was while researching the Greek aspects that I read a psychoanalysts take on Cynicism. Jennifer Kunst wrote an article about the trait and how it kept people from going after goodness. She says

It is important to understand how fear and cynicism are related. Cynicism is related to fear because it offers the promise of protection, which is a deep human need. The way that it offers protection is simple: it promises to keep out the danger. The rules of cynicism are simple and straightforward: trust no one; don’t believe anything; close ranks; keep your guard up and your head down; keep your door locked and your weapons at the ready. Danger: do not enter. Because of its appeal as a protection from danger, cynicism has gained a lot of ground and respect in our culture today. Sometimes I think that it has even been promoted to virtue status. Cynical people are seen as smart, strong-minded, independent thinkers. Cynical people are viewed as realistic, scientific, and even cool… She warns - The cost of cynicism is great. It blocks change. It burns bridges. It builds walls. It undermines good will. It sinks compromise. It escalates conflict.

Hmm. Try telling that to the people you meet in Travancore, I still recall the typical fella in Trivandrum, working in the secretariat. Before he sets out, of course after completing most of his daily chores at home leisurely by around 10AM, despite the fact that he should be at his office desk by then, he would amble on to the Pazhavangadi Ganapati to offer his daily prayers and then catch a bus up to Statue and stroll in haughtily to his piled up and dusty dusk at 11AM or so, just in time for his well-earned tea break. Then he would launch forth into his cynical lectures to all and sundry around him on the state of the universe, the impact of American pressure on the third world, the dilution of Maoism in China, the sad state of Cuba, the writings of Paulo Coelho, the unnecessary promotion of Indian Cricket at the expense of the only game that should be regaled, that being football(soccer) and the glorious days when Victor Manjila stood firm at the goal post to pound away the opposing teams forays, the sad state of Malayalam cinema now promoting super stardom instead of John Abraham’s or Aravindan’s movies, the horrible political situation, the slow break down of the city’s electrical and water supply systems, the difficult state faced by the Malayali in the Gelf, the migration of so many young men to become singers in Kollywood and not to forget the fact that many a young girl was drifting away to Madras to become popular actresses in Tamil. His litany of worries if documented would rival the length of his Brahmin neighbor’s silk saree and would traverse the breadth of the Shankhumukham beach.

By then it would be time for lunch, and he would complain of the time when he could go to the MLA canteen and get a lunch for a pittance, while at the same time diving into a huge mound of rice with sambar and fish fry. That done, it was time for a nap, more practically a one eyed snooze as the ancient fans whirred above. Now I hope you can understand why others view the employees at the secretariat cynically.

But seriously, that is what makes my state so rich, the abundance of original character, these pithy and cynical retorts. At heart he does believe in his compact home and takes care of it and his children with all seriousness, he halfheartedly believes in god, though not taking religion seriously. He is mostly drifting back into memories of his childhood, of the fields and unspoilt life as a child, though not trying to relive it. And that is what makes these so called ‘Tempered Cynics’ excel in their fields, be it politics or otherwise, in many a remote part of the world and do well. Every once in a way something happens which is not to his agreement and he will come up with his quick and smart rejoinder. Maybe, as somebody once defined it, Kerala if full of scholarly cynicism, that is why the ruling party elected to power, changes after most elections. Who else would promote change like this, unless he is a scholarly cynic?

I have been rambling aimlessly, and now it is time to go, but before that I will once again retell a joke related to VK Krishna Menon and told by Kushwant Singh, who used to work for Menon and who hated Menon with such fervor.

VK Krishna Menon, onetime defense minister was a bachelor and hated people with large broods of children. In his early career as a barrister, a neighbor couple with three girls in tow called on him and suggested that he accompany them to the theater as they had an extra ticket. The six some waited for a bus and the first one had only room for four (no overloading). The second one came after five minutes and had only three vacancies and the third had two. So they decided to walk the distance instead of being late for the show.

Menon was tramping on the cobblestones, on the pavement, tuck tucking with his walking stick. The father already irritated at not getting the bus, remarked ‘Damn it Krishna, can’t you put a piece of rubber at the end of your stick?’

Pat came Menon’s reply “if you had put one at the end of yours, we would have got into a bus by now’

Have a good day, all my fellow cynics…………..