Category Archives: Kerala

Thoughts from being at hometown for a month

Homecoming after many months greets you with numerous pleasant and unpleasant encounters… relatives with plastic smile and intrusive questions, friends for whom every celebration means more and more liquor, mom who thinks son should be fed 24×7, brother who thinks his brother is drinking too much these days coz his belly hs bloated up, nephew who thinks his uncle = punching bag, at church bumping into that old schoolmate whom you had a crush on and disappointed to see her carrying a baby now(:P) …countryside drives through paddy fields that makes you believe you are in heaven, and the highway drives makes you believe you are in hell…. kerala never ceases to surprise you….by the time you are ready to return you are stuffed with so much memories to cherish until the next homecoming.

Took a long break to be at hometown this Jan. Had to attend a conference and also co-ordinate for brother’s marriage. An inter-religious, inter-state, inter-language, inter-culture marriage comes with its own challenges and opportunities. Challenge to break the conventional prejudice notions of people and opportunity to welcome a wonderful yet different person to your family. Both turned out to be refreshingly smooth and successful.

Cant resist mentioning few of the random observations I could make while at home, Kerala.

  1. For a marriage function, people come to eat. Period.
  2. Only people who listen to a marriage mass at church are the co-priests and altar boys. Rest all are busy envying other’s outfits.
  3. In a party, majority prefer brandy to rum to whisky. I was told that it is coz it gives them a faster ‘kick’.
  4. After 3 pegs, brand matters and not taste. Fill local liquor in a scotch bottle and they will still thank you. 😛
  5. Smoking is no more preferred, especially amongst 20-30 age group
  6. Everyone has an opinion about everything. However it is limited to preaching and not practicing.
  7. Goons and taporis during school days have become more successful than class toppers. Seeing this trend on a regular basis now.
  8. Gulf is still the ‘chosen land’, even for the newly pass-out engineers
  9. Interactive digital class-boards have come in our small town and students are also given linux os to use along with windows.
  10. Seeing more parda clad kids on the roads. People becoming more conscious about their religious identity ?
  11. People have gradually started to stop looking ‘down’ at people who start own business instead of job.
  12. Perception of success is more valued than success itself.
  13. Some book stalls still survive by selling only malayalam books. People are actually buying them. Long live the language.
  14. More real estate deals = more disposable income in hand = more audi’s and bmw’s on roads… Merc is no more the ‘in’ thing.
  15. Going through the speed track in highways are their birthright, even if the car is going at 20 kph they wont budge to left
  16. To get a work done, bribe/tip before the work. It helps far better than giving it later. Anyway you will end up paying for sure.
  17. Somethings never change… like a standard unlimited lunch that is still available for Rs. 20 in most hotels.

so after 25 days, 2000+km of driving, 4 functions and 5 kg increase in body weight…am back in A’bad. This time it was totally worth it…..and the memories are so overwhelming… let me take use months to  miss it so much that I rush back at the next possible exit.

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Vararuchi and life philosophy

A random conversation with #nishkus and esp. @kuttyedathi today reminded me of Vararuchi and Parayi petta panthirukulam. It’s an old mythical story which always fascinated me. I think this is one of those intelligent stories which make you think beyond the superficial story layer.

Outline of story goes like this :

Vararuchi, one of the nine wise men of King Vikramaditya’s court married a girl from Paraya caste which is one of the lowest castes among the society of Kerala. They started a pilgrimage and on the way one-after-another, they had 12 children. Each time upon delivery, Vararuchi asked her if the baby had mouth. If she said ‘yes’, he would say, “If God has given mouth, it will feed his mouth too” and would ask her to leave the child there and then proceed. Grieved by these, when the 12th child was born, she lied and said the baby did not have a mouth, upon which he permitted her to take the child along. But when she was about to breast-feed it, the mouth was actually not there!! Vararuchi then consecrated the child on a hill, which is called “Vaayillaakkunnilappan”

The children left out in the forest were subsequently found, adopted and raised by families belonging to different communities, recognised one another as they grew up, and used to get-together at the illam (residence) of the eldest son, Mezhathol Agnihothri, on their father Vararuchi’s death anniversary (Sraadham) – so goes the story or myth. Each of these 12 tribes / families still exists in Kerala and they used to get-together too.

These twelve children are:

  1. Mezhathol Agnihothri (Brahmanan),
  2. Paakkanaar (Parayan, a very low caste),
  3. Rajakan (Dhobi),
  4. Naaraanathu Bhraanthan (Elayathu, a lower class Brahmanan),
  5. Kaarakkal Maatha (high caste Nair, only girl born to the couple),
  6. Akavoor Chaathan (Vysyan),
  7. Vaduthala Nair (Nair Soldier),
  8. Vallon (Thiruvalluvar of Tamil Nadu),
  9. Uppukottan (Muslim),
  10. Paananaar (Paanan, a very low caste of country musicians),
  11. Perumthachan (carpenter),
  12. Vaayillaakkunnilappan (deity)

Each of these 12 had very intriguing stories and trust me it will enthrall you like anything when you read through. My favorites are Paakkanar, Naaranathu Bhraanthan and Paananar.

It even inspired a very famous poem in malayalam:

" Panthrandu makkale pettoramme
Ninte makkalil njananu bhrandhan
Panthrandu rashiyum neettumamme
Ninte makkalil njanan anaadhan
Ente sirayil nuraykkum puzhukkalilla
Kannil Iravinte pashana thimiramilla "

There’s a very interesting history to Vararuchi’s marriage to the paraya girl and his leaving kids behind is also associated to it. Whether it seems justified or not, his reasons for justification remains sticky. ‘If god has given mouth, it will feed him too’ (Vaa keeriya bhagawan annam kodutholum). To me it doesn’t relate to the god part of it, but more to the confidence a person has on a human.

In this era of spoon feeding children with everything and finally helplessly watching those efforts go in drain…. i guess it is also pertinent to know that humans are capable of growing to their right ability, if at all there were given the freedom to do so.

Read more about Panthirukulam:

My tryst with faith : Part one

This is an attempt to record my own thought process on faith at this point of my life. Posting it as a blog to get some more clarity from you, readers.

In the matter of faith, I always used to be in extremes. Upto 18 years, I never even had an iota of doubt about the existence of the omnipresent. Yes, there were conflicts in my mind, there were things which I never got answer for, but it was all after taking that one point as ‘implied’. As any church going christian I also used to have a rosary on my neck and I always kissed it, prayed to Mother Mary before embarking on any important work.

There used to be time when I used to attend church holy masses on a daily basis and then one day (around 11 years) I joined the Altar boys at church. I used to believe, I was amongst the chosen ones and always did each work trusted upon me with due diligence and care. Always when the part in the holy mass came, where it says ‘Now let your prayers raise upto God’ , I used to think of the most important ‘needs’ (read prayers here) exactly at that minute imagining that those would actually raise upto God at that point in time. I was blind, totally succumbed to faith. I had so much belief in them. Never ever it crossed in my mind that there could be a chance of God being non-existent. It was next to impossible in my little mind. Being an altar boy made me closer to Bible. I easily covered a major part of new testament in those days and I found those narrations very vivid and interesting. During those days, dad also brought home colored books of Mahabharatha, Ramayana and Eliad. Got so hooked into those, that I read them over and over again. Now when I look back, I remember to having found striking similarities in the stories and narrations in between all these books. But somehow I never took them seriously and brushed aside as mere coincidences. Imagine the surprise I had when I saw those striking similarities being explained by Zeitgeist after so many years.

Unlike many other states in India, Kerala is a place where religions co-exist with harmony, literally. People dont stay in separate places based on their religious identity, neither there is any kind of discrimination based on that. May be that’s why for about 18 years, I was blissfully ignorant about the whole issue of religions. Living in Delhi for few years and then in Ahmedabad for past 3 years, make me realize every passing day that am different here. Yea, there is no direct discrimination but it is not like how I used to feel back in Kerala.

This ignorance or purposeful carelessness about religions came crumbling to ground after attending a Jesus Youth retreat (my first and only retreat). It was a new experience and to say the least it was nice. I remember it so clearly coz on that fateful day Tsunami struck Kerala taking many lives. The very next day I got to hear many first hand testimonials from people who had miraculous escapes from clutches of death. Everyone praising God’s plans and his secret selections. (wish there were some of the dead too, so that we could hear the other side of story :P). Same day I was given the option to attend a ‘Grace counselling’ (meeting with a divine person). He was a man in his late 40’s who sat with a ‘divine’ look in his face. Without me uttering a single word, he narrated my entire family history, some of my personal problems (which I never shared) and asked me to open random pages to read random passages which he claimed would contain answers to my problems. To my surprise, some of them actually were bang on. I was impressed. But it didnt last long. I narrated my interests in sitting inside old temples (just coz I love the peacefulness out there), how I visited Guruvayoor temple twice and totally loved the experience.At Kerala, my home is near to a temple. For 19 years, I woke up in the morning listening to ‘Gayatri Mantra’. I got used to it so much so that, waking up without hearing it used to make me restless. I just love it. But he was not amused hearing it. He told me not to visit temple again because 1) Temple is for Hindus and not for christians. (sad but true in Kerala as non-hindus are not allowed inside) 2) The salvation is only through Christ, need not enquire it anywhere else. I ignored 1st point, but got stuck with second. Hence I asked him, what about my best friend who is a hindu, does it mean, he would never get salvation ? I was being very naive, but he was smart. According to him, my best friend will find Jesus one day and attain salvation. To be frank I found it BullShit. It sounded bizarre to me.

I knew he was bluffing, so I left that day itself and had the same conversation with my uncle (who is a priest, a theologist and an amazing human being). He cleared my doubts saying, those are just tricks by so called ‘retreat mongers’ and never heed to it. Those are just 1 amongst thousands, and ignoring them is important.

That struck a chord with me, I started getting doubts about, Why so much confusion amongst authorities in religions ? Why so many different teachings ? Why so many conflicting interpretations ? Why people ‘market’ religion ? and finally the million dollar question, Is there a God or is it too a man-made concept ?

I left it there. Was too busy with my college that I hardly did any soul searching. But it had an impact on me. I started taking my religious life lightly. Missing a sunday mass was no more over-burdening. I was slowly moving away from being religious, still being spiritual. As someone said, was realizing that ‘Religion is a bureaucracy between man and god which I didnt need’. It took me years to actually understand that ‘Religions are driven by clear economical & political motives and there is no place for God in them’.

These thoughts were cemented by 3 types of speeches I got to encounter.

1) During my brief stint in Kochi, I used to live in some interior streets in dark pockets out there. My very first face-off with fanaticism started from there. Every friday evening a ‘mullah’ used to come and address the muslim brethren in that area, in the name of giving spiritual discourse. But it was more of spiritual bashing of other religions and less to do with God. Though people were very sensitive & careful about such ‘mullahs’ and never invited them again, but this used to continue still.

2) After a stand off between government and church in Kerala on some educational institute issue, every sunday masses in our locality were used as a platform to propagate church’s stupid, illogical and insensitive ideologies to cover up their misproportions of funds. They were literally using their religious strength to muster and play vote bank politics. I got to face fanaticism from a different perspective.

3) Third was my daily encounters with various shades of fanaticism in Gujarat. Problem here is that it is taken for granted. Nobody really cares if Modi or someone from RSS makes a speech filled with inflammatory words. Religion is so ingrained to people’s minds here that literally anybody can play with it and political parties just make use of it, be it BJP or Congress.

Inspite of losing confidence in religions, I continued praying. For me prayers were never a burden and I found solace in them after I was told that prayers are not about asking for your needs, but to have a conversation with God. That was the end of praying for ‘getting more marks in exam’ or ‘asking for a car as gift’ type prayers. Though it was more of a monologue with god and never a dialogue, I believed that one day heaven will open up and god will talk to me. (Oh yea, i actually thought 😀 ). Life went on without me crediting or debiting any of the happenings in my life with God. She remained as a ‘feel-good’ concept in my mind and I never bothered to tinker with it.

It stayed dormant in my mind and I took it in its stride. Coming to Ahmedabad made it active. Not because there is such a dis-harmony between religions exist here, but it made me think about why such an incident took place in an otherwise fantabulous place. Ahmedabad is truly one of the best places I’ve lived in my life and that is mostly to do with the people who resides here. They are smart, cooperative and very receptive to people from outside (unlike many other states). Yet 2002 riots happened here. For me its a matter of concern, and I wanted some convincing answers. Am not getting into those right now, as that is not topic of discussion today.

After coming here 2 things happened in my life. 1) I started reading more of OSHO (one of the most mis-interpreted genius in last century) compilations. 2) I happened to watch Zeitgeist. Both changed my view points forever and my perspectives became more wider. From being very religious to being only spiritual and then to stay as agnostic, it took many years.

Will share my experiences after that, in coming posts.

Dowry: A social evil to be abolished in Kerala

If you look at the development index and Literacy rate of Kerala, it is one the most advanced states in India. Rich with natural resources and expatriate income keralites are also wealthy enough, despite the lack of industries operating there. You will hardly hear about someone who died of starvation in Kerala, compared to the situation in states like UP and Bihar.

Also despite the huge numbers of hindus, christians and muslims in the state, there is a strong sense of communal harmony which exists there. So naturally for outsiders Kerala model is something which could be emulated. No doubt this is possible, provided some of the ancient social evils which still exists in this place are abolished. This post is about one such social evil. Dowry.

History

The word dowry comes from the word ‘Dower’ which means a gift being given by Bride’s family to Groom. Dowry is an ancient system which was practiced widely in Europe and Asia even during BC period. The objective of dowry was to provide the groom a means of sustenance to take care of bride properly. So in simple terms dowry is a post paid bribe paid to Groom, not to harm the bride. Over a period of time, this entire theme got manipulated according to religious doctrines and as a result it became a tool for male dominance and female exploitation. It even was given a legal status, by depriving women from having a share in ancestral property.

Scenario in Kerala

Now lets look at how dowry is being practiced in Kerala. Dowry is not merely a sum in Kerala. It is a symbol of status, a valuation done according to your educational qualifications and wealth accrued, a symbol of showing bride’s wealth…it has many dimensions and the educated lot is prudent enough to give more and more ‘logical’ justifications to the same.

According to an exhaustive study conducted by an NGO called Jananeethi Dowry in Kerala is being offered by many ways such and the majority being:

  • Liquid cash
  • Property (house or land)
  • Ornaments (mostly Gold)
  • Vehicle
  • Fixed deposits

According to Dowry Prohibition Act of 1961,

"Any person who gives, takes or abets dowry is punishable with imprisonment of not less than five years and fine which shall not be less than 15,000 rupees or the value of the dowry, whichever is more."

Mere demand for dowry is punishable in India and a person demanding dowry can get imprisonment of six months to two years and a fine of up to 10,000 rupees. Any agreement between the parties involved is void under the act.

Now you might be wondering despite all these laws, how dowry is being practiced in Kerala. This is being done through Marriage arrangers or ‘Broker’s as they are belovedly called. Majority of marriages in state are being fixed by these brokers. So neither the Groom’s side demand dowry directly, nor the bride’s side offer dowry directly. There are fixed market rate for the grooms and until the bride’s side agrees to it informally, brokers wont finalize the marriage.

For eg: Currently an MBBS doctor can fetch anywhere between 25-50 lacs rupees of dowry where as an engineer goes for 10-20 lacs on an average. (Only God knws hw this figures are reached, but in simple terms they denotes the amount spent on grooms education and the social security he provides to bride based on that)

Similarly if the bride is beautiful, educated and has a job then the dowry rate could also go down (as they can milk her income after she is married)

** this figures are indicative. Heard that as MBBS seats are expensive now, there are cases where groom demanded more than a crore rupees as dowry.

Repercussions of Dowry act are beyond imagination. As dowry prevails even in the lowest strata of society, mostly the entire earnings of a family is being spent as dowry. This even leads to girl child abortions, as people consider having a girl child as an additional burden. In many cases elder brother marry to get dowry so that he can pay it as dowry for her sister’s marriage. This is a vicious cycle and I wonder how people still practice it without giving any serious thought. During 90’s, there were a series of news stories on ‘Kitchen gas cylinder blasts’  and subsequent death of the bride in the family. Most of them were the acts of those grooms, due to the unpaid dowry amounts promised by Bride’s family. Read this to know more about atrocities committed on women in the name of dowry.

Now let us see the most common justifications given by educated class for giving dowry: (source: jananeethi study)

  • It is bride’s share in parental property
  • To setup a life of their own
  • As rightful expenditure for getting such a good alliance
  • To follow tradition

As mentioned, the most used reason for giving dowry is ‘It is bride’s share in parental property’. Now let us examine the hollowness of this claim. Imagine a women being given Rs. 20 lac in 2009 as dowry. As of now, by giving this amount ‘parents’ have paid off the share of property to her and she is not eligible to ask for any share in the property after her parents death. Now consider that on the year of her marriage, parents were around 50 years old. Looking at average life expectancy, they die by the age of 70. This means, after this 20 years their property will be divided to children, which has now been appreciated by atleast 100 times (5% appreciation per year, nt looking at compounded). So when the ancestral property is finally divided in the year of 2029, it might amount to several crores of rupees and it would entirely goto the sons (they do have a rightful sharem as mostly parents are being taken care of by sons, especially younger son). But this also makes that 20 lacs given to daughter as dowry in 2009 so miniscule compared to present value of property. A never ending fight and legal battle thus begin.

Am not sure how well I could articulate this, but practically this happens in almost every family in Kerala and is the root cause of enemity between siblings. (I can vouch for this as Ive seen this personally in my relatives).

So looking at these scenarios, does this prevailing dowry system provide any advantage to anyone involved ? It is mere money circulation without benefiting anyone in long term.

How can this be abolished ?

I believe Dowry cant be removed completely from society by using Law enforcement. We need another Rajarammohan Roy to abolish this social evil. Currently, religious leaders are the capable lot to enforce this. Most in the affluent class still practice dowry just to get along with the existing societal systems. No one has the courage to stand up against it. Because, by doing so they end up delaying their daughter’s marriage, as none would agree to marry her without dowry. So a combination of strict governmental laws and religious doctrines preventing giving or accepting dowry is the best way to eliminate this social evil. Am optimistic about this, seeing amazing initiatives like this.

Interesting fact is not all states in India are under dowry clutches. For eg: In most Gujarat communities, giving or accepting dowry is considered humiliating. May be we could also take some clues from them.

I purposefully didnt discuss many other supporting factors which fuel this dowry system, thinking I might just go overboard.

Would love to see your personal experiences and takes on Dowry in Kerala.

To know more, Download this amazing study report by Jananeethi on Dowry in Kerala.