This compilation of essays and fiction, some by very well-known writers and a few by rather unknown persons (not regular writers) makes for very entertaining reading, specially for those who have been to Kerala and are familiar with its geography — “a landscape lush and green, an eco disaster in the making”, its politics — “multiple hues, multiple parties, taking the same talk?”; its history — “the traditional, the indigenous, do we keep what is imported?” and its society — “fresh blood needed, or an old age home?”
The editor describes Kerala as a land mass which has “seething mobs and paddy fields and movie posters of moustached men and bus-stops and student unions and coconut-oiled kuli-medachil wet plaints and angry slogans and moody monsoon and buses called Jo-Mol and Benny-Mon, morphed in my mind into the virginal mullu — the trembling thorn cowering from the ilas, the silly slutty leaves with their martyr ‘comblex’…many a development scheme jumped to its death in the so-called spikes of the state. Therein lies the state’s real tragedy, for there’s nothing more fatal than the preserving of ‘innocence’ against all odds or the process of growth.”
Susan Visvanathan, professor at JNU, describes her visit to her ancestral home in Kerala and her old and new relations, going nostalgic on the way.
William Dalrymple talks of the strange sisters of Mannarkad — Goddess Bhagvati and her sister Virgin Mary, both of whom are worshipped by the Hindus and the Christians alike because it is said that “if you want your prayers answered, you must pray at both the temple and the church. So, many people make prayers in both. They say that if you light a lamp at the temple, that light also can be seen flickering in the church, and vice-versa. The two are really one.”
K Satchidanandan talks of the growth of literature in Kerala before the 20th century when “caste, sub-caste, landlordism and royalty were considered ordained by nature, fate or God. The city could hardly be distinguished from the village and the machine from the school. The ‘literary’ in the period was dominated by the sacred and the mythical, the popular articulations of everyday life existing as a parallel stream dubbed ‘folk poetry’” and in the present individual writers have taken “radical avant-garde stances” and the “polyphonic textuality of the new literature is possibly a product of this multi-dimensional engagement with a hydra-headed reality.”
D Vijayamohan, Delhi bureau chief of Malayala Manorama, expresses serious apprehensions on Kerala lagging behind other states and about the bargaining power of the Malayalis in the Central Government as they seem unable to get schemes approved and grants cleared. He asks, “You can blame the political leadership for that. You can blame the administration for that. But the million-dollar question is— will Kerala change?”
Shashi Tharoor, columnist, novelist and former Under-Secretary at the UN from 2002-07, regrets that Kerala has been left behind in the race for growth and transformation in India, “despite its liberality, its pluralism, its literacy, its empowerment of women, its openness to the world.” Tharoor quotes a Malayali businessman who says, “Keralites are far too conscious of their rights and not enough of their duties…It’s impossible to get any work done by a Keralite labour force— and then there are those unions.” Tharoor, however, is optimistic that Kerala will succeed as it is open to ideas and interests, “unafraid of the prowess or the products of outside world, wedded to the democratic pluralism that is our civilisation’s greatest strength and determined to liberate and fulfil the creative energies of its people.”
On reading this book one finds that two Kerala and two Keralites exist, both volubly at loggerheads with each other.
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