KNOW THE KERALITES
Keralites, the Malayalam speaking natives of Kerala, India, are unique as expatriates go. You can find one almost anywhere in the world where skilled or unskilled manpower is hired. Coming from the best educated state in India, Malayalis, as known to their countrymen, are trained to work as doctors, nurses, engineers, accountants, teachers, bankers, clerks, cooks, plumbers, electricians; the list is virtually endless. Kerala being a very secular state, a Mallu, as he is known to netizens, can be a Hindu, Christian or Moslem. Christianity and Islam reached Kerala and were well rooted long before they became prevalent in many current strongholds.
One will find thousands of Keralites working as doctors or nurses in UK, Ireland, US, Australia or Canada. If all of them, from any imaginable trade, went home one fine morning from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Oman or any states in the UAE, these countries would grind to an administrative and functional standstill. You find Malayalis sailing the seven seas as captains, engineers, first mates and able bodied seamen. Third or fourth generation Keralites can be found well established in Malaysia and Singapore. The top scientists who recently landed India’s unmanned vehicle on Moon were almost entirely from Kerala.
Unlike the regular immigrant or the transplanted asylum seeker, a Keralite never really loses his roots. He sticks on to his language and customs many generations down the line. His heart is ever close to his festivals, harvests and monsoons back home. Seldom cutting his ties with old pals and relatives, if possible, he will always retain a small home somewhere in his homeland and visit often.
To have an idea of the expatriate Keralite’s contribution to his state’s economy, do note that 1.85 million non-resident Keralites sent home remittances to the tune of over 6150 million US dollars during 2007.
ENTERTAINING THE EXPATRIATE KERALITE
While he is living and working away from home, a Keralite yearns for his home, food, songs, dances and festivals. So if there are half a dozen Keralite families living abroad within fifty square miles, there is sure to be a Malayali Association with its get-togethers and cultural functions.
When quicker travel and information technology made the world smaller, the tour companies and the entertainment industry in India saw the opportunities in catering to the great Malayali nostalgia, by taking the Keralite culture abroad. It began with reputed artists and organisers staging high quality events at decent venues. Almost always these programmes were held to keen audiences, thanks to the Malayali’s homesickness.
I have personally known some honest, genuine organisers of Keralite cultural events. Whenever a purely aesthetic evening is held, with classical dancers and musicians, they just about break even or run at a loss. These losses are often covered at a later stage by subscriptions from generous members. The high cost of venues, payments for top artists, stage equipments, transport, food and boarding leave little towards profits.
Now comes the entertainment circus that makes a neat pile of money. The worst case scenario involves shipping a hastily assembled assortment of available singers, dancers, comedians and out of work movie stars to a stage in Dubai, California, Melbourne, Vancouver or any of the dozens of similar venues. A programme chief, (back home, he may be a third assistant to a B grade movie director) will knock together about three hours of skits, stand-up comedy, mimicry, light music and the modern obscenity called cinematic dance. Impressive venues will be booked and high priced tickets will be sold well in advance. The programmes presented subsequently on stage would have had no more than a couple of quick rehearsals to back them. The skits and jokes would be stale. The same out of work actresses will feature in classical dance, burlesque and folkdance. To add to the misery, these ‘Grand Gala Events’ are digitally recorded to be shown later on TV channels as fillers and to be sold cheap to the lower end market back home.
A large entourage of hangers-on usually accompany such teams. Many will have little to do with the show itself. Political henchmen, wheeler-dealers and movie extras attach themselves to these monkey troops. You can expect to find specialists for fixing export-import licences, arranging education abroad, visa trading and discreet prostitution. Hustle is the name of the game. Most clips of the Paris Hilton variety featuring both budding and washed out female Malloo artists that are currently doing their rounds on the internet owe their origins to these freak shows. The exploits of these camp following hookers have earned hard working and respectable Kerala girls a bad name abroad, giving out the idea that Malayali women are ‘easy’.
On the plus side, if you were ever trapped into sitting through one such show, you have seen them all. On the minus side, the Great Malayali Nostalgia ensures that these charlatans will put up their tents year after year around the world, degrading true Keralite culture and traditions. The average expatriate Malayali will pay a week’s wages to have anything that even vaguely resembles home, however unfortunate the results may be.
FOR A CLUE
If it is features the likes of K J Yesudas, K S Chithra and a troupe from Kerala Kalamandalam with Mohiniyattom, Kathakali and Panchavadyam it would be a memorable evening. Stay clear, if it is a mimicry team from Kochi with half a dozen slapstick comedians, cinematic dancers and B Grade movie artists ready for ‘anything’.
Notes: (1) I apologise to the genuine organisations and artists from Kerala who sometimes succeed in staging an authentic cultural event abroad without the help of the barely legal hustlers. None of the comments here concern the dedicated artists. (2) A Keralite and a Malayali are one and the same. Kerala is the name of the small, green, south Indian state and Malayalam is the region’s spoken language. There is a new trend set by non-Indian writers and tourists to term a Malayali or anything from Kerala as ‘Keralan’, which is resented by the native. It would be as improper and offensive as calling an Englishman ‘Englandian’ or an Italian ‘Italish’. I hope you get the point. (3) Kathakali Artist- Picture courtesy rediff.com