Shyama Sundara Kera Kedara Bhoomi

Found this article in my drafts today. This was written almost a year ago. I hadn’t completed it then because I was jinxed with some kind of a writer’s block. On reading it now, I quite like what’s written here and I couldn’t resist sharing it on the blog. So here’s a hurriedly patched up post for your reading pleasure (or otherwise).

I am native to the little, narrow, bitter gourd shaped, southern state of India known as Kerala. Roughly 16 out of 22 years of my life were spent growing up in Dubai, UAE and not Kerala. I can speak the native language – Malayalam – fluently, I can read a little less fluently, and I’m better off not writing. I spend a minimum of one month every year in rural Kerala, in a remote corner of the little district called Pathanamthitta (good luck pronouncing that if you’re not Malayalee). From where I come, I don’t have to burn my pockets to see this:

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Kerala or കേരളം is forever nurtured by her foster parents, rain and sunshine. As a result, variety is in abundance here – mountains to the east and the Arabian sea to the west, forests of grand shades of green and brown you would’ve never imagined, winding rivers and even more winding roads, saints and false saints, crooks and cooks, potholes and assholes, handsome men and breathtakingly gorgeous women, wise men and women and some not-so-wise men and women, wild elephants and ants, coconuts and jack fruits. All in all, Keralam is rightly tagged by the tourist board of the state as “Daivathinte swantham naadu” or “God’s own country” in English. The translated phrase does little but capture the essence of the Malayalam version of the phrase. For starters, ‘naadu’ does not exactly translate to ‘country’. A more precise yet loose translation would be ‘home state/country’. With the limited lingual resources at my disposal, this is the best I can do. What I can tell you – perhaps, vaguely so – is that the word ‘naadu’ treasures every fond essence that the word ‘home’ may bring to one’s mind. There is perhaps no better way to describe this ‘naadu’. And here I am, typing away words that aren’t in my native tongue where three Malayalam words do the job perfectly well. But I have time and words to spare, so excuse me.

A.L. Basham in his book, “The Wonder That Was India” says:

“It has been said that the scale of natural phenomena in India, and her total dependence on the monsoon, have helped to form the character of her peoples….Many other civilizations, such as those of the Greeks, Romans and Chinese, had to contend with hard winters, which encouraged sturdiness and resource. India, on the other hand, was blessed by a bounteous Nature, who demanded little of man in return for sustenance, but in her terrible anger could not be appeased by any human effort. Hence, it has been suggested, the Indian character has tended to fatalism and quietism, accepting fortune and misfortune alike without complaint. How far this judgement is a fair one is very dubious. Though an element of quietism certainly existed in the ancient Indian attitude to life, as it does in India today, it was never approved by moralists. The great achievements of India and Ceylon – their immense irrigation works and splendid temples, and the long campaigns of their armies – do not suggest a devitalized people. If the climate had any effect on the Indian character, it was, we believe, to develop a love of ease and comfort, an addiction to the simple pleasures and luxuries so freely given by Nature – a tendency to which the impulse of self-denial and ascetism on the other hand, and occasional strenuous effort on the other, were natural reactions.”

While he talks of India in general in this passage, I can relate to the passage more specifically as a Keralite than as an Indian. Malayalees have definitely developed an addiction to the simple pleasures and luxuries given by nature, the roots of which are found so deep within each individual that you need to stay here for only about 2 months to strongly feel it. The 21st century might be here, but the natives haven’t given up their children-of-the-earth way of life and will not do so for years to come. They’ve found a way to go by, occasionally incorporating bits of the 20th century (those that couldn’t make it into the way of life on time) and some 21st century conveniences. Malayalees are a little thick skinned when it comes to making changes to their lifestyle. This is evident in the judgemental or curious stares at a newcomer or someone who doesn’t quite fit in. I’ve experienced this first-hand, mostly because of my – apparently – funny attire. The t-shirt, shorts and long hair combination for men hasn’t quite registered itself into the lifestyle here in my village. I get stared at like an attraction at a zoo and quite honestly, I enjoy the attention. To humour myself, I’ve successfully managed to return intense stares on a few occasions with a sly, lopsided smile.

Life in Kerala is shaped by a narrow perspective bound by space and time. Space being Kerala, her immediate neighbour (Tamil Nadu) and “gelf” (Middle Eastern Gulf countries). Malayalees have built themselves a whole new world out of this little space. Even those who are very much aware of and are a part of an outside world sometimes involuntarily live in the pleasant denial of the Malayalee perspective. I’m not stereotyping, though it may seem like that. This is just how it is. Being a Malayalee is an emotion. A fact which clearly reflects in the culture – especially noticeable through Malayalam cinema, literature and other art forms.

All this being said, you shouldn’t get me started on some of the qualities of the state that I’m not very proud of. I could probably go on forever, but today is not that day. Today is the day I carry my motherland in my heart and blow trumpets and horns. Why am I in love with Keralam today? I don’t have an answer to that. This is possibly coming from a place of gratitude. Gratitude for the gifts of nature that Keralam is blessed with. Gifts of nature that has humbled me. Gifts of nature that I will forever carry in my heart. Gifts of nature that inspired artists, artisans, philosophers, poets, writers, scientists, mathematicians and most importantly, my family.

I’ll leave you with a song that the people of Kerala strongly identify with. Even though it’s a song that was used in a promotional video for a TV channel, it has somehow evolved to become a state anthem of sorts. The name of the song roughly translates to “Deeply beautiful land of coconut palm trees and mountains


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