“Kerala Kerala, Quite Contrary”

Kerala Kerala, Quite Contrary

Book title: Kerala Kerala, Quite Contrary
Shinie Antony
Rupa & Co.

When I received the copy of “Kerala Kerala, Quite Contrary“, the first story I read was written by Vinod Joseph, my friend and author of the much-talked-about “Hitchhiker”. What I generally see in the writings about Kerala by the people of Malayali descend who stays outside Kerala, is that they are always critical of Kerala. But Vinod’s short stories never go judgmental but observant. Whether it’s the “Stories from Simhapara” or the one in this book, “A matter of faith“, you can see a slice of Kerala and honesty in his writings. His story in this book, “A Matter of Faith“, tells about the growing Charismatic phenomena among Kerala Christians and it’s a good read.

The book, edited by Shinie Antony, is an anthology. There are 26 pieces in this book which describes Kerala through the individuals’ point of view – through stories, essays, excerpts from books and interviews. A few of these individual view points lack to see Kerala in it’s truest spirit, probably because most of the authors are outside observers who come to Kerala for an annual visit to their ancestral houses.

Take D Vijayamohan’s essay for example. His whole piece turns out to be an anti-Communist tirade. Even though he rightly points out at the old and idiotic stands of Kerala Communists like the one against Computers, he see evil only in the Communists and squarely blames them for the State’s problems. He never mentions anything about the successive Congress governments who are equally responsible. And he also has not seen what Communism (not the present-day Communism) has contributed to the social thread of Kerala. But we are not to be surprised because he is Malayala Manorama’s Delhi bureau chief.

But there are other interesting articles. “The Strange Sisters of Mannarkkad” by William Dalrymple, for example. It talks about how Goddess Bhagavathy and Virgin Mary co-exist in the village of Mannarkkad and Christians and Hindus pray to each others’ Gods. A rarity of religious beliefs which can most probably be seen only in Kerala. The other interesting reads include Satchithandan’s piece on evolution of literature in Kerala, Rtd. DGP Hormis Tharakan’s memoir, a history of Anglo-Indian community in Kerala, a speech transcript of Shahi Tharoor on development etc.

Artist Yusuf Arakkal in his piece complains about the Malayali’s lack of ability to appreciate art. What he fails to understand is that, from an audience/appreciator part, the appetite for Art – especially modern art – generally comes along with money. In a crowded place like Kerala (or India for that matter), where people strive hard to feed off their families well than themselves, art comes secondary or the last thing in their lives. They don’t have time to study or appreciate art and it’s different forms. People in America or France can, perhaps. So it is obvious of artists to migrate to other countries or other cities of India where their art will be appreciated and bought off for some grand bucks. The majority of people in Kerala do not have that luxury so Yusuf will have to excuse. It is changing though, as the number of richest people increase (or rather, the rich becomes more richer) in the cities of India. So Yusuf can stay there and sell off copies of his paintings (which he probably means by “appreciating art”) for thousands or lakhs of rupees, but his complaint is not so valid back at home, given the constraints. And it is not a Malayali phenomena but an Indian phenomena generally.

Musician Rama Varma has a piece on music in Kerala that writes about Sopaana Sangetham, which is originated in Kerala to the present-day musical reality shows. There was nothing more than a sentence about Kerala’s folk music tradition though. He also explains Karnataka Sangeetham doesn’t mean “music from Karnataka” but “Karna-Ataka-Sangeetham” which means “Music pleasant to the ears”.

Another interesting piece is by Cardinal Varkey Vithayathil who openly says, “I would also like to explode the myth – that Syrian Christians in Kerala were originally Brahmin converts. I doubt there were Brahmins in the first century in the Malabar Coast.” This comes as a blow to the caste-Christians (mostly Syrian Christians of Kerala) who proudly claims to have Brahminical ancestry.

Overall, this book is a good read for both Malayalis and non-Malayalis and I would say it is also a slice of India that this tiny state decorates in it’s southern end.