Simply put the best of the journeys are the ones where you meet people. People with whom one can humanely identify and sometimes they do allow giving a sneak peak in their daily lives. At times me thinks that Indians have an amazing emotional quotient within themselves. A small train journey across the country, an afternoon bus ride, a casual conversation can lead an individual to unravel the most of his daily life to complete strangers like me. Meeting people can sometime change something within you, maybe it lets you loose the adamant inside you; maybe it leads to discovery of a world much bigger than one inhabits and many more such mysteries of life.
After graduating I had promised this to myself. Hell, if I ever make a film or not, whether I ever write a good story or not, whether I ever shoot a good picture or not, one thing that I would surely do and be honest with myself while doing that is – traveling and meeting people. Sometimes in the garb of film shoots, sometimes as a tourist, sometimes as a wanderer and sometimes till my pocket allows me to. To travel, to meet, to engage with people is an opportunity that a fiction writer would never let it go. It can give birth to his ‘characters’. Last month, my tryst in Kerala lead to meeting some such eccentric but everyday-life characters.
Warning: Some words are deliberately pronounced in the Mallu way.
A restaurant in Eddapally post 9 30 pm. Anyday of the week. A wiry man with a small bushy moustache, big eyes, semi-curly hair sitting outside the restaurant. Having a conversation in English in the Mallu land can lead to disastrous damage to the grammar and the sentence formation of an individual. The exchange would be sprinkled with amble amount of sign language thrown in and the most common words to be heard will be: OK, Esss (Yes) and Good. Infact, if it weren’t for the invention of the word ‘OK’, survival for a non-mallu in Kerala would be next to impossible.
Man at Restaurant (gets up with a smile): Ess…
Me: What for Dinner?
Man at Restaurant: Ok...
He stares at me for a while, as if the sooner I utter the food item name, the faster the dish will appear. He gives an expression that says: “Hukum karo mere aakaa…!” I didnt know what is available post 9 30pm, so I look around.
Me (Sign of opening a book): Menu??
The Man at Restaurant smiles and keeps smiling for reason he alone knows.
Man at Restaurant (suddenly realizing): Esss…Only Chicken, Beef, Feesh, Prawns and Rice…
Man at Restaurant: OK…Egg Rice??
Man at Restaurant: (some sign language, which I cant comprehend and I choose to ignore)
A little later he brings as much Rice in a plate that could be eaten by half of Gujarat. I look at him and from underneath his bushy moustache comes his irritating smile.
Me: So much?
Man at Restaurant: Rice. Good for brain…OK
Me: But half of this will go down drain…OK?
Man at Restaurant: No problemb…! Give to the Temble people.
He smiles again. I look towards the intimidating rice plate and eat it for a while. I needed a camera there, thought of capturing his unique smile, but I didn’t have a camera then.
On another instance, when the auto rickshaw driver didn’t know English or Hindi, I had to bargain for money through typing the digits on my mobile.
I type: 100
Auto Driver looks at the numbers: “Ille, Ille, Ille..”
I type: 120
Auto Driver looks at the numbers: “Ille, Ille, Ille..”
I type: 140
He looks at the numbers and smiles, starts the auto rickshaw and there we go.
Between him, and me there was only one word that we knew: “Allepey”. Which is where the auto driver was taking me from Muhamma. There again I didn’t have a camera, thus from the next day, I promised that come what may, I would have to keep a camera with me.
Below are the few characters I met subsequently, when I had a camera with me.
The lotterywallah. Perched outside a public place in a small town or hanging near the busy market would be this dreamseller. Just 10Rs for a ticket. Buy one in the morning and results will be out in the evening. The lottery is sponsored by the Royal king of Bhutan. The prize money, well it ranges from 2000 to a princely 5 lakhs. Needless to say, he attracts a lot of attention in the wee hours of morning. From shopkeepers to drunkards, from fisherwomen to housewives – all try their luck here. He has a bicycle for himself. Thus the mobile lotterywala goes to its patrons and not the other way round. To pass the good luck around, he himself puts vermillion on his head for Cod’s blessings.
The Pandit-Purohit of a local Polish Station
Fans of Maqbool will remember the incredible duo of Pandit-Purohit played by Om Puri and Naseeruddin Shah. Asked by their senior inspector to be on a duty on a movie set, their day was made. Free tea, free biscuid and free enderdainment. Since they are told in the morning that they would be going to a movie set, they come in their crisp uniforms and trimmed moustaches. They are permanently found near the beverages stall, as if the Producer told them:
‘Gendlemen the bar is open’
The one who lives, sings, eats and drinks in his naav (boat). One can easily locate Mr. Naavi during the sunrise and sunset times, as if the Department of meteorology sends him daily to note the sunrise and sunset timings at the backwaters. The arrival of Mr. Naavi is signaled with a murmur-like Malayalam song that he sings for himself. With his fishing gear inside his naav and a song on his lips, he appears to be in sync with nature. Looking at him, I remember Ernest Hemingway’s ‘The Old Man and the Sea’.
The Shop of the Town
Believe it or not, I haven’t seen alcohol being sold like this ever before. It’s as if after a major drought, the government has sent a water tanker to the town for its thirsty people. Patience, outside the alcohol shop gets a new definition in Kerala. There is amazing discipline when it comes to buying alcohol. The lungi brigade is always found in hundreds but always in a single queue. Some shops also have iron-made small pillars outside for the queue to remain straight, the way Bus stands are in Bombay. By the time the clock strikes 10 pm, one can see some of the men who were in the queue now lying on the footpath or sleeping completely inebriated, hardly knowing which part of the world they are until the harsh morning sun wakes them up. So the next time one fights the election from Kerala, you know how to lure the men there. One of my graduation colleagues who now lives in Aluva told me to catch up around 4 pm and I thought that’s quite an odd time to meet friends looking at the heat in Kerala. She later told me that post 6 pm, once the wiry, lungi-clad brigade start lining up at the alcohol shops; the scenario for a girl changes from bad to worse. For more click on this BBC article passed by a friend.
The Men and their Munds.
What is a Mallu without his Mund? Pass through a village and you would find the men in their small little groups staring at you. Maybe waiting for the next Rally, a Union Congregation, a Minister, a Road Show or a Film Hero to pass. By the way, if a Mallu finds himself besides a non-Mallu in the Mallu land than one topic that they both would invariably come across is Mohanlal. Whether you have seen his movies or not, the Mallu will have hundred and one things to say about his ‘Supersdaar’: The latest I heard is: Priyadarshan and Mohanalal are buying a new IPL team!
The Best Character I met in the Mallu land.
Rafey. But I call him Scientist. His story is long enough to be a separate entry on the blog.
P.S: My favourite thing in kerala for the whole month was: Chud Vellum before lunch. For non-mallus, please find it out for yourself. ☺
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