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.
The whole post is fucking brilliant. Read it.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.
Meanwhile, I'll be here quietly trying to figure out my confused feelings for my fatherland.