Monday, November 12, 2012
The great Malayali paradox
A people who are both slaves and revolutionaries
In Benyamin's best-selling Malayalam novel Aadujeevitham, recently translated into English and published by Penguin as Goat Days, the protagonist is a poor young aspiring Malayali from Malabar who goes to the Gulf and is forced to live as a slave looking after goats in the desert. It is a depressing true-to-life narrative in first person.
Apart from its other qualities, the book is a dream-killer and reflects the sad truth. Once they get on a plane to the Gulf, the huge majority of Malayalis has to get set for a life of near-slavery with neither job security nor the riches that they are looking for. But they prefer that to joblessness in Kerala.
Mind you, the entire army of struggling Malayalis sends back remittances which form more than 22% of Kerala's GDP. Without those slaving in the Gulf desert, Kerala's many revolutions cannot be fought, nor can bandhs be enforced, nor factories shut down. That is the Kerala paradox.
For the average Malayali who grew up shouting slogans on the street, the life of abject slavery or remorseless, unregulated factory shifts that most of them lead in the Gulf countries is an unreal phase he has to go through. He knows while slaving in the desert or working as a mason building the Burj Khalifa, that he is a slave only momentarily. Permanence is the revolution he can create back home. In heart and soul he is the revolutionary, whether he is from Malabar or south Kerala.
So the average Malayali immigrant comes back home frequently on Air India Express, dons the revolutionary's garb for a while, joins the CPM or Muslim League rally, flexes his muscles, buys some gold for his long-forsaken wife. That is the revolutionary's vacation.
These are the spontaneous revolutionaries who held the Air India Express to ransom on October 19 at the Thiruvananthapuram airport. The plane had been diverted to Trivandrum due to bad weather, and the pilot could not take the diverted flight back to Kochi since her flying hours were over. But try telling that to the revolutionary Mallu, just taking his break from a life of slavery and hard life in the desert.
The Mallu revolutionary, however, has his funda straight. He wouldn't try this trick if an Emirates flight from Kochi to Dubai was diverted to Abu Dhabi. He knows the rules there. Nor would he have tried this bit of slogan shouting if the diverted Air India Express flight had landed in Sharjah.
Trivandrum, of course, is a different battlefield. Here is the centre of all revolutions - the Marxists' revolution, the daily dharnas, the picketing of the state secretariat by government workers, the street bullying of the Marxist goondas, the very theatre of the dictatorship of the proletariat. What better place to try a mock hijack than at Trivandrum airport? Here, the slaves make the rules.
The Gulf returnee had to flex his muscles after many months of living a miserable life as driver, mason, or waiter in a roadside eatery, all in desert regions where no labour rules apply. There, he is well-behaved; not a slogan uttered nor demands raised. But once he boards the highly subsidised Air India Express to go back home, that changes.
During his holiday, the Gulf-returned bully also tries other things. Two weeks ago, one of them walked into a newly opened KFC joint in Trivandrum, bought a chicken, then shouted that there was a live worm inside his fried chicken. He called the TV people, had his highly dubious claim aired on TV and had the KFC shut down, all in the course of one hour. In a Dubai KFC, he may have paid for a replacement.
So shutting down enterprises in Kerala is a full-time hobby. In that holy venture, all Mallus are united. After that shutting down, they go back to their Goat Days.
BY .....................Binoo K John
Works at NABARD for poor HH / was Research Affiliate at CDS, Tvm / was Visiting Faculty on microFinance for MBA students NMIMS, Mumbai.