Kerala I don't hate you, but...

2 May 2014

I have a tortured relationship with one half of my gene pool. My father, as some of you may know, is a Malayali, and a Malayali quite well known because of his writing. I never really thought of Kerala as anywhere except where my other grandmother lived. A big house. The smell. Don't stand under a coconut tree or one might kill you. Fun fact: more people are killed by falling coconuts than in shark attacks. My little cousins--well, not so little anymore, but there. In Kerala, I read my aunt's Agatha Christie books, I lounge around and eat, they always bring home beef chilly fry when I'm visiting, I chat with my granny, I don't visit as often as I should, but still, Kerala was a very personal part of me. Half of my makeup. Distant from Delhi which was home, but wandering about Ernakulam, I saw my hair on a million people, I wore gold and white saris to weddings, I even lived in Trivandrum for two years when I was eight.

That Kerala was different from the public Kerala that emerged when my first book came out. The new Kerala did not like me at all. The new Kerala, the public Kerala that wanted to lay claim to me because of my last name thought I was a strumpet, a lady with loose morals. That Kerala was first puzzled and then extremely pissed off that I didn't speak Malayalam. The new Kerala doesn't like me, I don't think, and yet, and yet, they are loyal readers. Some of them hate me, and some of them are proud.

It's no secret that Kerala for all its equal sex ratio and literacy is quite conservative. Sandhya Menon on her blog ..and then, did an excellent post on this the other day.

A society that's arguably progressive, and educated, Kerala is a place where with this coexists a patriarchy that is, at an immediate glance, as surprising and confounding as it is deep rooted. In a state where communism (whatever its avatar today) thrives, where women work just as hard as men -- if not harder -- to sustain their families, the incongruity of the existence of male chauvinism and blatant patriarchy worries and fascinates me. If educated, financially independent women still struggle for justice, safety and equality, then what hope do those without the above-mentioned privileges have?

Menon struggles with the same things I think of, and in my case, I meet Malayalis who don't live in Kerala most often, and they're educated and professional and gentle and everything you aspire to be.

I bet a whole lot of women in Erna-flasher-central-kulam have seen their first erection right in the middle of a busy street on a dreary old work day.

I saw my first flasher in Connaught Place, but really, as a Delhi person, this is a bit pot calling the kettle black, so I'm not going to comment on this aspect. Just putting it out there. But there was one bit of the post that struck home, regarding a TV anchor called Ranjini Haridas.

She's a classic template for poking merciless fun at girls who decided to be "modern." Men hated her. But the women, ah, here was a fascinating story unfolding. Young women, ripe for rebellion and finding their wings, all over Kerala felt here was something they could point to in case of crisis. "If she can, I can." Haridas wore sleeveless clothes, body-con dresses, knee-length shifts, off the shoulder blouses, see-through ensembles, stuff that no anchor had worn on Malayalam T.V. hitherto; she did her hair experimenting with high glamour; she didn't shy away from adventurous make up; she wore exactly what her free little heart desired and she did it with confidence, not letting criticism of her clothing or her speech cramp her style in the least bit. Men kept hating, she kept working, laughing all the way to the bank in her designer high heels.

And:

To me, it says many things, this hatred from men in Kerala young and old, educated and not, married or single. The insults are almost always sexual in nature, the language is highly disrespectful, (apart from being abusive itself): the use of nee, the informal word for 'you' in Malayalam is the only way she's addressed. Her lack of hypocrisy is another source of anger. Unlike many women who care about their reputations, Haridas tends to live life rather candidly and if that threatens the Malayalee man, then so be it.  

The way I see it, the anger these men feel is directed at her being happily single even though she's ... gasp... nearly 35! Anger at her being unfazed by the barrage of biting criticism, at her completely normal way of behaving even on screen (she hugs, touches, gesticulates and uses her body freely that way you or I do). The anger is towards her success -- six years of calling her a whore and she's still the top rated, and possibly highest-paid, anchor in Kerala. The anger is towards her completely ignoring the very men that hate her; they just can't seem to get a rise out of her. But I think the thing that threatens them most is that she is an aspiration: she is what a lot of their daughters, sisters and wives would like to become. Glamorous, articulate, successful, confident, and assertive. Everything that these men don't want in their women, lest they get left behind; lest they get dragged to a police station for raising a hand; lest their women leave them after finding self-worth.
 The whole post is fucking brilliant. Read it.  

Meanwhile, I'll be here quietly trying to figure out my confused feelings for my fatherland.



 

9 confessing back:

  1. Know that there are people (men) who love your writing too, here in Kerala (ok, currently in BLR)
    :)

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  2. what about your other 50% state? AP... Keen to know the patriarchy index..Not hyderabad.. I mean AP, the state

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  3. ma'am its true for certain extend....being the part of "The God's Own Country" have met such living Gods and even "literate", who doesn't have any common sense...women are supporting men for his mischief towards her own daughter....all are interested to peep in to other's life, not bothering their own....what a state....

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  4. Thanks a lot for sharing the brilliant blog post by Sandhya Menon. It really opened my eyes about misogyny and patriarchy in Kerala. I spoke about it to a Keralite colleague and he (a feminist), wholeheartedly agreed that society in Kerala has a long way to go to improve in this regard.

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  5. There is this book named 'Kaazhchapadu' by the Malayali Film Star Mammooty(I don't if there is an English translation available, I am a Tamilian and I read a Tamil translation), where he describes how women are being disrespected by the Malayali population and goes on to say how Malayalis disrespect everyone but their one self! A must-read!

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  6. "I meet Malayalis who don't live in Kerala most often, and they're educated and professional and gentle and everything you aspire to be"

    Spot on analysis of a majority of Malayali men who are not in their comfort zone of their home state..I have come across many instances where the attitude of women change drastically towards me the moment they realize where I am from...thanks to the umpteen number of prototypes of malyalis that are flying all around .

    Heard a lot about your writing and visited here for the first time and got to say loved it , exceptional in your face writing style....

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  7. Does flashing only happen in ernakulam ? I got my first flasher in bangalore (that is after spending more than 20 yrs in ekm, i had just moved to bglr) ... Well, if IT was worth seeing, it wud have been fun ... hope these men wud realize theirs is not as big as they wish

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  8. Meenakshi, I love your thoughts, your humor and your fearless writing .... Go!


    Regards,
    Gayathri Prasanth

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  9. Its indeed a great article.ya its true,in Kerala women are being humiliated and disrespected.Society in Kerala has long way to go in this regard.But we should not forget that it is a place we can see the real empowerment of women and here we can see the good examples of ways to reduce the gap between capabilities of men and women.

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