The essence of Malayaliness

Kerala is many things to many people. While it is "God’s own country" for some because of its scenic lushness, others think it an "embarrassment that encourages constant disorder in its politics and economy".

As author Shinie Antony writes in a new anthology, Kerala, Kerala, Quite Contrary there exist multiple Keralas, all volubly at loggerheads with each other — left or right? Tourism brochures or environmental quicksand? Poised for a global role or rambling rhetoric?

The book, compiled and edited by Antony, is a collection of fiction, non-fiction, memoirs and travelogues written by eminent thinkers and writers like Omchery, M. Mukundan, Susan Visvanathan, K. Satchidandan, Sarah Joseph, Shashi Tharoor, Paul Zacharia, Hormis Tharakan and William Dalrymple.

"The Malayali adapts to change, but sometimes adapts so much that he is unable to adapt back. He suffers severe pangs of guilt and spends the rest of his life atoning for any imagined rejection of his roots," says Antony.

While explaining the socio-cultural context of the new Kerala Antony says that the Gulf boom has plateaued.

"The Malayali is slowly taking stock of the world and wants to recreate this new world within Kerala’s walls. He is born to assimilate. So the Malayali is almost genetically programmed to adjust to new vistas as his employment, education and entertainment lie elsewhere."

The good news, according to her, is that the Malayali is everywhere and wherever he goes, he takes his state with him, making a Kerala out of the whole world.

Dwelling upon the popular myths about the Malayali community that attracted her to the book, Antony said two contributors in the book said Malayalis were hardworking only outside Kerala.

"This quest for the quintessential Malayali drew me to the book and to the people with definite views on Kerala," she said, adding: "The concept of Malayaliness is nebulous at best. The book explores how tangible is this concept."

In one of the essays, "Building Brand Kerala", Tharoor, a former UN under-secretary general, writes: "Despite all the strengths of Kerala — its liberality, its pluralism, its literacy, its empowerment of women, its openness to the world — its difficult to deny that the state has acquired a less than positive reputation as a place to invest."

He goes on to constructively list ways to build the state as a brand.

The book, published by Rupa & Co and priced at Rs 195, was released at the India International Centre (IIC) last week. The release of the book was followed by a discussion on "Will the real Kerala please stand up" featuring eminent panelists. — IANS