Leave a comment  Back
High & dry in Kerala


High & dry in Kerala
Kerala, in time and in a series of painful, regrettable, politically motivated steps, will soon become a dry state. What are the implications? Numerous and heart-breaking.

The dry state means that the VHS tape recording of the house-warming ceremony of a middle class NRI Malayali’s humble Thrissur villa will no longer start with a long, lingering, close-up shot of a bottle of Peter Scot whisky. The bottle sits on a rickety rented steel table, waiting for the lunch service to start. In the background you can hear the sound of the neighbour uncle shouting because he stood too close to the ceremonial milk boiling, and his beard caught on fire. (True story.)

The video camera just hangs there, gently focusing in and out on the bottle, the work of one Woody Allen of Wadakkancheri. Why did the idiots at the photo studio choose this clip to start the video? Nobody knows. This has now become the least viewed of all the numerous VHS tapes to which the family has delegated the role of collective memory. The Leni Riefenstahl-like shot of the whisky bottle is bad enough. But Peter Scot? How depressingly pre-liberalisation?

The dry state means that the youngest married male in the family will no longer have anything to do during the planning stages of family functions. Traditionally his role was to arrange for ‘entertainment’ in the most discreet and economical way possible. He cannot be trusted to do anything — transport, decoration, lighting, catering, invitations — else because, according to the strict hierarchies of Kerala society, the recently married male youth is only marginally more intelligent and reliable than a bowl of Gobi 65.

What about the unmarried Malayali man, you ask? He is expected to spend money on one international phone call — no more — made through an illegal telephone network, convey his wishes on the auspicious occasion, and then carefully communicate UAE Exchange Centre money transfer code.

“Thomas! Joby is on the phone!”

“Which Joby?”

“Joby in Kuwait!”

“Which Joby in Kuwait?”

“ Nammade Joby in Kuwait who works in defence!”

“Which Joby in Kuwait who works in defence?”

“Joby in Kuwait who works in defence who brought that Cutty Sark bottle last year?”

“WHY DIDN’T YOU TELL ME BEFORE? GIVE ME THE PHONE IMMEDIATELY! BLOODY NONSENSE WASTING EVERYBODY’S TIME!”

The dry state means that no special functions will be held ‘upstairs’ for VIP guests. This means that when one’s father-in-law arrives at the Thrissur home of one’s father, one’s father does not immediately say: “Mr Kapoor! Welcome, Welcome! Mr. Kapoor, would you like to come upstairs for…”

And then one’s father holds his fingers a few centimetres apart to signify “small”. One’s father-in-law then idly wonders whether he should not have beheaded errant Malayali boy in Noida’s wilderness many years ago and handed only daughter to highly eligible agricultural tycoon from Ambala.

The dry state means that poor Annie aunty will no longer have to make a ‘dry’ — oh the irony — version of her fish moily, buffalo coconut curry, and chicken roast for the purposes of ‘touchings’ for the VIP group assembled upstairs.

A dry Kerala means that hard-working, enterprising Malayalis coming home from foreign trips will now be forced to maximise the complimentary drinks service onboard Gulf Air, Etihad Airlines and Air India. Of course, this will lead to tremendous unpleasantness on the flight:

“Aunty, do you have any Heineken?”

“Yes.”

“My father would like two cans.”

“What is your father’s name?”

“Umm… err… my father’s name is… err… P.T. Usha…kumaran. P.T. Ushakumaran.”

“CAPTAIN JAYACHANDRAN, FOR THE LAST TIME I AM TELLING YOU. PLEASE TAKE OFF THAT STUPID POKEMON JACKET AND ARGENTINA CAP AND GO BACK TO THE COCKPIT. YOU HAVE TO LAND THE PLANE IN FIFTEEN MINUTES.”

A dry state will also undoubtedly lead to the death of many local varieties of arts, music, theatre and dance. Temple and church festivals, in particular, will lose much of their sheen if the faithful are no longer allowed to participate in an appropriate state of devotion.

Before dry state:

“Da Biju! Are you seeing this!”

“What? I can’t hear you!

I am looking at the elephant!

Look at the elephant!”

“Biju! Listen to me!

Look at that elephant!”

“Da keep quiet.

I am trying to look at the elephant!”

“Fine Bjiu. Later don’t tell me that I didn’t show you the elephant.”

“Maashe, can we talk about this

after I see the elephants?”

After dry state:

“What is this?”

“I don’t know.

Some kind of elephant display.”

“But they are not doing anything. What is the point of this?”

“We are supposed to just stand and look at the elephants I think. It says here in the schedule. Elephant display. 4:15 to 6:15 PM.”

“Why? Did we come for this last year?”

“Every year for the last 17 years.”

“What is that horrible music?”

“That band is playing…

Gupt songs.”

“Gupt??!!! This is a useless festival.”

“It used to be fun.”

“Now they are playing

‘Gore Gore Mukhde Pe Kaala Kaala Chashma’.”

“You want to stand right next to the fireworks display and hope for an accident?”

“100 per cent.”

But none of these is the most disturbing implication of a Kerala with prohibition. No. That is the inevitable impact it will have on the life of Kerala’s most important culinary delicacy: the Kerala Porotta.

The Kerala Porotta is the outcome of centuries of culinary development, cultural intermingling and social exploration. It is that rare Indian bread: something that is delicious by itself, delectable hot, lip-smacking cold, and capable of accompanying almost any ‘touchings’ item. A sliver of flaky porotta can convey a spoonful of kadala curry to the mouth with the same aplomb that it can transport scrambled eggs, chicken manchurian, fish amritsari or even leftover sambhar .

And every Malayali knows that the best Kerala Porottas always exist cheek by jowl with the shadiest liquor establishment. This is why for generations my family has consumed steaming towers of fresh porottas from the exceedingly shady Solar Bar, even as shiny new NRI-funded, semi-hygienic, family restaurants have opened in the vicinity. Because, the best Kerala Porottas can only really exist if in a close symbiotic relationship with a badly-lit, poorly-cleaned room full of plywood furniture, melting ice, sweaty men and crumbling posters of long-dead film actors on the walls.

And yet, here we are ruining the natural ecosystem of one of the most iconic elements of Malayali identity.

I ask you then, is prohibition in Kerala worth it? Let us all set aside the political and social implications, and introspect as we find new jobs in Coimbatore.


Courtesy:  Sidin Vadukut, The Hindu