Discovering Kerala

Radhakanta Barik

It's an amazing experience in traveling in Western Ghats in train through miles of jungle and tunnels. I am going to God's own earth who have rejected totally Hindutva as they disrespect God.

A framework for politics
After coming to Kerala, I feel that Prof Bipan chandra is right that Communists and Congress can play politics according to the rules of the game as Indian democracy requires not the Hindutva forces as they do not believe in a dialogue and discussion. For them there is no difference between illegality and legality. They fix a standard for themselves which is unethical but not for them. Coming from Kannur to Pyannur in a bus one found that small groups are sitting in the tea stalls over a discussion on politics. Tea and politics do not go together in Hindutva style of politics. In UP roadside tea stalls are closed. Fear is haunting the faces of people in UP.

As T S Eliot says that life is a series of tea cups does not fit any more in India. Eliot was a conservative but one can discuss with the conservatives as they respect differences but not fascists.

 A Malayali carries multiple identities like anyone in India. But he or she understands essence of their culture. Religious identity is a critical dimension but not over determining. The most popular actor from Malayalam films is Maamootty. He has acted in some Hindi films. The most popular film is Ambedkar. He understands Sanskriti aesthetics by articulating nine Rasas in his various postures of his body. He has a command over Western aesthetics which is a critical dimension of his acting style. He is a Muslim and Malayali. He has conceptualized essence of a multi religious society of Kerala. Nondiscrimination is the basis of Kerala society where trust among these religious groups creating a special bond. He declares that he has never been discriminated by any other religious groups. Values of nondiscrimination are core social values of Kerala society. This is the striking feature of an active civil society. Political democracy is pyramidic structure based an active civil society.

 Social Structure: changes happened because of reforms and education
Namboodirpad went to Delhi by train as a young man and got flabbergasted by seeing in the platforms 'Hindu pani Muslim pani' being sold. In his autobiography he writes that in Kerala it is not happening. There are many identities in Kerala but trust among them is there. The rich and vibrant social capital makes Kerala a unique one. Active social capital is a functional at the local level to national level. This reflects in making them participatory at cultural level to panchayat level. Planning at panchayat level is possible only because of this active social capital. Political democracy is a reflection of the active social capital in Kerala. Some years back the government of Kerala decided to allocate more resources to the panchayats. These institutions can create their planning at the grass roots level.

Answering a question by a scholar from Bangalore regarding the caste discrimination in Kerala, I replied that there are social anxieties among castes, no caste discrimination. One may find this aspect in one of the films by Adoor Gopalakrishnan. Those who migrate to Middle East belong to skilled labor of backwards and earn more by creating anxieties in upper castes. The upper caste man desires that his sisters should marry these people with high income. It is a lyrical story explains the caste anxieties of each social group. In conducting an interview for the selection of lectures one feels that one caste did not have representation for which we were reminded which made us selecting someone from that caste. Anxieties are there but no discrimination. The way flood of Kerala managed as a disaster explains the nondiscriminatory approach of administration towards flood affected people. In recent cyclone the caste issue came up sharply in Puri district of Odisha explains the caste discrimination is there at the level of social structure.  It reflected in management of disaster in Puri District of Odisha.

EMS Namboodirpad, was one of the   founders of socialist movement in India. He joined Congress Socialist Party and later founded the communist movement. He was a scholar who had a deep insight into the social processes of India. His works I used in explaining politics of Bihar. In my book Land and Caste politics of Bihar there's a similarity and difference with Kerala where being a caste leader of a community does not explain much as what is the end result. EMS was a part of the Brahmins but the progressives within the caste took up women issues on which there was a split. He carried the progressives with him who joined the communist. Sahajananda Saraswati, as a progressive leader couldn't create a split within Bhumiar caste on women right which resulted in keeping a caste conservative.

Inter religion trust
Religion is a system of ideas which is changing on regular basis. New ideas bring a new thinking. Kerala experiences shared space with Islam and Christianity. Hinduism has enriched with exchange of ideas with two great religions. Islamic idea of giving something to poor as zakat has enriched Hinduism. Christianity showing love and respect for neighbors has been accepted by Hinduism. Today Hinduism in Kerala looks as a modern religion based on love and respect for others. Eid is being celebrated by all like onam and sharing biriyani with meat. Christmas cake has turned into a common cake of everybody. On the shared space all three religions have created values of tolerance and peace and prosperity of Kerala. Where ever you work come back to God's own earth for burying their dead bodies here by allowing their souls to merge with the soul of Kerala.

Literature and Culture
Let's examine the strength of Kerala society. O V. Vijayan's The Saga of Dharmapuri sees it in 1950s. A child is entering into school with his or her caste. A school turns into the most shared space in the society. This gives a foundation to the most imagined community of world. In a small town Pyannur people are discussing the novel Bhima: the lone warrior by M T Vasudevan Nair and in the book stall Palaghat people are demanding the books which carry ideas not food or caste or religion that brings out immense strength of Kerala society.

I see three plays in house full that is K N  Panicker's Karnabhasaan  where Mohanlal is acting as Karna standing for giving something to society, Kathakali version of Othello from Sanskrit to English have shown Malayalam forms the society gets reimagined every day in art, theatre, films and wearing a lungi. This is the strength of the Kerala a living society.

Kerala being the most imagined community has forcibly entered into our class rooms. Any scholar is doing research and teaching needs to refer to Kerala as a model of development. Politics has given priority to development of people: in domains of education, nutrition and health. They have been able to handle these projects effectively. Human capital is well developed. They have created a demand for them in global market. Equitable distribution of resources is the basis of this model. It started with land distribution to schools and hospitals have taken human security. In my class room I refer to it as Cuba of India. .

 A malayali has a cosmology which is different from other parts of India. Anything he or she does with sincerity. Be 108 story building in Dubai to spending eight years in learning Kathakali before giving the first  performance. They spend more time in writing a novel. They spend years for planning a film which maintains a distinct style. His wearing lungi keeps a distance from other parts of South. His religious outlook is highly Catholic where mystic outlook is derived from the Arabian sea. His eating style remains a different including beef, fish with kela vegetables mixed with coconut. As a cultural community has never experienced hunger as there's no word for famine in Malayalam. He or she has an oceanic heart where soul is very enlightened like Milton. Such cosmology gives them strength for which the external forces cannot easily enter into their world. Hindutva is an anathema to their cosmology.

Kerala reinvented itself through education. Learning of Malayalam and English created confidence and strength. Metropolis of India created a demand for their knowledge. They moved to different cities of India as good stenographers. Their sons and daughters created space for themselves in every field. Their demand in politics was no less. Nehru and VK Krishna Menon created the most enlightened government of India. Policy of Nonalignment becomes a foundation of modern India. Confidence in Malayalam brought EMS to JNU in speaking Marxism to them in 1970s.Today they have carved out for themselves in global market. They never brought conflict between tradition and modernity. They carried tradition to modernity. The most experimental plays are written in Malayalam. Alienation in urban life gets reflected in their stories. A short story writer Mukundan found the alienated metropolitan people in Delhi. A rape being taken here where people are walking without intervention. Myth behind Onam gets interpreted in stories poems and plays. The legend of King Mahabali is the most popular and the most fascinating of all legends behind Onam. Onam celebrates the visit of King Mahabali to the state of Kerala every year. ... The story goes that the beautiful state of Kerala was once ruled by an Asura (demon) king, Mahabali. Let us celebrate a modern Malayali community in global society carrying his lungi and suit together. A modern woman carrying sari by wearing salwar kamij.

Kerala has a rich tradition of telling a story with mimicry. This tradition has got emboldened in modern times. Writers, artists, painters, film makers are the unrecognized legislators. They tell a story in such a manner which touches the raw nerves of the community. If one moves around one finds no body does manual work be cleaning the garden or planting a tree. They depend for outside labour for doing these works. There is a Malayalam film which talks a story basing on a theme. Father, a retired person desires to spend time in gardening but educated children are strict with father that he can't work in the garden. Father moves to the garden in night while children are sleeping. This is a critical comment on a society which disrespects manual labor. Bread labour is the basis of creating a happy society.

 Kerala has produced cartoonists who are outstanding people. In their culture, there is a sense of humour. They look at everything differently where they present those things before the public in a palatable manner like a meal combining non veg to veg. They make their meal sweet without adding sugar to it. The same way they speak and write with a touch of humor. They have produced the best cartoonists who tell a story which creates ripples of laughter in readers' minds and faces. A cartoonist could produce a journal ' Shankar's weekly founded by K Shankar Pillai which provided political commentary on politics of Nehru's time. Nehru laughed at those cartoons and told him to make more cartoons critical of him. He became a friend of Nehru. He built a children's dolls museum in Delhi which draws thousands of children every day. He founded Children’s Book Trust which draws a large number of children to this library in Delhi.  Abu Abraham another cartoonist who brought a form of dialogue between a big powerful one with a small man on the street. His cartoons were sharp on Indira Gandhi's emergency. Once he felt bitter with Delhi crowd decided to return back to Kerala. In today's politics some leading cartoonists belong to Kerala. Sheer merit pushed them to national scene.

On making Eid Mubarak to my Muslim friends and shared by all makes Kerala a unique one. Kerala society lives in the class rooms of schools. Education and enlightenment released creativities of people. Construction of Kerala identity has taken two hundred years. Each community created a leader to challenge the authority of caste hegemony of feudal authority. It's Dalits led a movement against Nayar landlords in the middle of19th century resulted in reconciliation with the mediation of king of Cochin. Dalit leader allowed being a member of the king's council. Nayars protested against the caste authority. Reforms from within and without brought new changes in the society. It is the educated leaders of each community turn into political leaders and joined national movement. Movement coupled with social reforms has created a moral basis of the new identity based on equality and justice. They relook at their myths and reinterpret those to suit these ideals. Before Indian Constitution framed these ideals got transformed into social values have penetrated into social body of Kerala. Articulation of these ideas gets expressed on cultural plane and political plane. Constitutional democracy allows their new identity to flower on its branches.

The leading Story writer in Malayalam literature Basheer writes a story during 1950s that a young person is supposed to meet his would be wife while going to her village, he sees two young women are doing open defecation on the roadside. He sees her in her house and questions her about open defecation. She feels ashamed. Shaming of people doing open defecation creates fear in the minds of people. This reflects on the roads of Kerala that there is no cow dung or loitering cows or no spitting of pan by people. Sanitation turns into a popular movement in Kerala in1960s. This is the only program of Modi Sarkar has gone to every corner of India, This program has a Gandhi's tag. Kerala has done successfully. The solid waste management is much better in Kannur because of involvement of municipalities and panchayats. People of Kerala understood the performance of Modi government. On the basis of performance, they have rejected Modi.

 Logic of political development
Logic of class politics in Kerala shows the nature of social development. Landlords of Kerala behaved differently from the North. Landlords of North organized themselves into a political platform to oppose the concessions to the kisans and dalits. The picture in Kerala is different that landlords give concessions whenever kisans and Dalits put forth their demands. As many of them are educated and respect those who go to schools by helping them financially. This creates a new bond between kisans dalits and Nair Namboodiri landlords. This bond helps in implementation of land reforms and opening schools. Politics of land reforms and education creates a stable and peace-loving people of Kerala. In a discussion with the local people one realized the importance of Gandhi and his influence over the local elite of Kannur. They turned to Gandhi but Gandhi never confined to them. He learned from Narayan Guru a well-known social reformer that dialectic relationship between reforms and revolution needs to be kept. Gandhi never forgot the basics of politics. Mobilisation of caste and class needs to be maintained. Leaders from various castes and classes joined Gandhi. This broadened the social and political movement in Kerala. Namboodirpad raised the question of reforms in his caste. He joined the radical groups of Brahmin caste who took up social issues like women and intercaste relationship which made his caste leaders angry. In politics it is Gandhian framework helps kisan movement. Left and liberals have a constant dialogue. Here Gandhian values are sustained by both left and Congress. This was raised by Namboodirpad before his death that left were Gandhians as they maintain a life of simplicity and austerity.

Joint family System
Joint family is the sub structure of social structure of Kerala. Yes everyone is working somewhere from Delhi to Oman but meet in the marriage dinner. They bring their children and grandchildren with them who start understanding of the importance of brother, sister, cousins who meet here. They have food veg to non-veg on the table in a buffet which symbolizes their family relationship and Malayali culinary. The way they meet with smiles in their faces accept a new relationship on the basis of equality. No discrimination on the basis of gender or senior- junior. Age of grandmother is being mentioned in their discussions who lives in a village as the symbolic trustee of the social capital. They are away from hullabaloo of a big city to a small town to reinvigorate the joint family structure. I remember reading of a joint family system in A K Gopalan's autobiography where he mentions that a family of eighty members where a child might sleep without food. Today's joint family system accepts the basis of nucleus family for taking care of children’s' food and education and health. Let us celebrate structure of joint family system without ignoring the importance of nucleus family.

Ten years back a Professor friend working in the central university of Pondicherry suggested his son not to go for marriage with a girl from Bihar. They used to study together but his high caste parents were obstinate not to go for an inter cultural marriage. Culture of Kerala has undergone transformation by bringing many things new by enriching their own culture. Public imagination has got enlarged which allows intercaste inter religion marriages to happen. My student got married with a Bihari girl from Jharkhand in Kannur which explains the openness of Malayali culture. Marriage ceremony got solemnized in front of relatives and friends. Social change has happened in an incremental manner. All their relatives were sharing joys and happiness. Function has been organized in a time bound and rational manner. Priests reciting shloks and holding the function in a simple and solemn mood. Human group has adapted to new rituals by keeping the core of ceremony. Marriage brings bond of two souls and two families. Society needs to accommodate the new relationship without creating problems. That's what is happening on social stage.

Dialogic logic of Civilisation
We welcome this incremental change to Malayali culture. Why do people of Kerala reject the Hindutva, here confluence of many religions like Punjab has created spiritual infrastructure which cannot be easily challenged as founder of Hinduism Shankarachary believes in a dialogue, he goes to Bihar to continue his dialogue with thinkers, where he is supposed to fail which encourages him to learn more. Founders of Christianity and Islam come here for dialogues. Dialogic logic is the basis of Malayali civilization. Only man who comes to Kerala requests for a piece of land from the king Mahabali without a dialogue crushes him, in whose memory they celebrate the day as foundation of Kerala to remind him to come here to have a dialogue with them. After another man comes here Gandhi to have a dialogue with priests that to show him any ancient text which allows the practice of Untouchability. They are unable to show Gandhi any text. They admit Gandhi into Malayalam cosmology. Namboodirpad carries the tradition of a dialogue. Only man who comes here to impose something without a dialogue is Modi in the case of Sabarimal.

With spread of education as Willis Durant pleads for continuity of a civilization is happening here. Any public Library one visits finds space is being shared with many, this is encouraging today. I have seen a tea maker in Port Blair sells tea in the early morning whenever he has free time, he reads a novel. Forty years back we went to an island of A & N where a single Malayali was living happily with classics in his self. Enrichment of civilization is a continued activity happening Kerala. This is the biggest fort like Kannur fort against all these forces of darkness.

Their contribution to Public Administration
From Nehru's time to Manmohan Singh's time some of the key administrators and diplomats belong to Kerala. V P Menon is worth mentioning as no narrative of India’s unification is complete without acknowledging the contributions of V.P. ... In modern Indian history, the duo of Patel and Menon commands respect even today.  Who played an important role in integration of States into Indian Union? In the Shadow of the Sardar by Menon explains his negotiating capacity. K M Panikar played a role in history of diplomacy in post Independent India. In Delhi, a person who revolutionised public transportation by providing the metro system. The Delhi Metro is a rapid transit system serving Delhi and its satellite cities of Gurgaon, Noida, .... as the managing director. Dr. E. Sreedharan is worth mentioning here. What is the strength of these administrators? In public administration, it is competence and building the team spirit among juniors and negotiating with the political executive and maintaining a high level of integrity are important administrative values help the completion of the project. It was debated during UPA time there were eight civil servants holding key posts in the media. A leading sociologist T K Oommen said, they have competence and integrity without any ulterior motives proved these people as assets.

Economic growth or quantum of happiness
How to look at Kerala society in terms of economic growth or in terms of quantum of happiness. While seeing the 108-story building in Dubai whose engineering and architectural activities were in the hands of Malayali technocrats. Workers are from Kerala. One pays ten Dubai dollars to see such a magnificent structure. But there is no such structure in Kerala. But there is a Baker's model for construction of house with mud and sand. This is an improved version of their vernacular model. These houses provide enough space for keeping agricultural goods and a comfortable place for their living. These houses are aesthetically designed. Yes Kerala needs to be looked in terms of quantum of happiness. Best school and good hospital and good stadiums for sports facilities in every small town. In the morning one sees children are running to be good sports persons. Kerala has the best football team in India which is able to compete with others. Every town has a good library. People meet in Coffee house to discuss and debate. A class ten student discussing the sustainable public transport system expresses their active citizenship at early stage.

They lead a life of joys and happiness sharing with others without discrimination turns Kerala as a number one State in terms of happiness can be compared with Bhutan. As Walter Freeman a friend speaks of health facilities in Kerala: Two things are outstanding in Keralam medical facilities and transportation even U S lag behind Keralam in these two sectors but suburban train from Kottayam to Tiruvanthapuram. This brings the end of a story on Kerala: God’s own Earth and a discovery made by me in my recent journey to the most beautiful place going by boat in the backwater surrounded by villages and coconut trees through sun rays falling over the Arabian Sea creating a memorable evening to be remembered by all.

Prof Radhakanta Barik, retired as Professor, Indian Institute of Public Administration, New Delhi

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Jul 5, 2019

Prof Radhakanta Barik

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