The 80s in one of India’s finest cities, Bangalore, wasn’t easy for me as a child of two Malayalee immigrants. I hated that we stood out starkly among the rest, the natives and the other immigrants from elsewhere included. I was a vain kid to say the least, and keeping up with appearances was among the top most in my priorities then. I had lots of misgivings about my background. And try as I did, it was hard for me to conceal the huge gulf between ‘us’ and the rest. What with a nosey grandma sporting the traditional Syrian Christian attire, her all white dress of Chatta and Mundu with a pleated tail, three huge coconut trees in our small garden that loudly shouted ‘Malayalee’ to the arid Bangalore skies, endless number of Mundu clad UnGles, and AnDies with hair slicked in strong smelling coconut oil, visiting us from Kerala every so often, our odd furniture at home that never matched the drapes, our lunch boxes packed every other day with Puttu-Kadal and the like, and not to forget the most thwarting of all – the infamous lingual problems of pure Malayalees – I cringed every time my parents spoke in their thick accent to a neighbor or a friend of mine. All these and many more inane differences agonized my amorphous little mind, and at times I longed to miraculously disappear and be born again in a Sambar and Rice eating house hold.
My parents both, well educated and well read, worked decent jobs and tried hard to provide fairly for their four girls. Three of their own and one their niece, my cousin J. Oblivious of their youngest’s desperate woes, they persevered in their own ways to instill in their girls a pride for their heritage and an abiltiy to connect with their roots. And as a part of this agenda they made sure we spent every summer at our ancestral home in Kerala bonding with our extended family.
Of course this part I loved. What was not to love in that exotic paradise, where I swam all day in blissful abandon in those crystal clear streams, where there was only green everywhere and the other colors were forced to shy away, where my grandparents pampered me like I were the princess of Persia and the only the chores I had to do was eat and sleep. With countless cousins hovering around me there was no dearth for playmates and I loved the candid risky trips I took with them to the local cinema hall, that played Malayalam comedies but always ran a full house. The problem my ingenious adventurous cousins quickly solved by making us carry our own chairs to sit.
With all this fun, I wished dearly that the holidays days never end. But they always did. And, we had to go back to the city, my home, where I was transformed yet again into that silly Mallu spiting child.
And then I grew up. Growing up thankfully peeled off my false pretenses and without my jaundiced glasses I found diversity all around me. I realized that, in spite of all the eccentricities every culture was guilty of, its people couldn’t help but be proud of their ethnicity. Unfounded were my niggles as a child and I too eventually couldn’t help but embrace with pride, the Malayalee in me.
This post is for my little boy N, born to immigrant parents and growing up in a land were all dreams are said to come true. I hope in his quest for wanting to belong, he finds an identity that he can be proud of. Be it as an American, an Indian or as a Malayalee.
Kappa Puzhukku / Mashed Tapioca
Kappa (tapioca) and Meen (fish) curry or like a Malayalee would say it ‘kappa puzhukku end meen gurry’ is so [read more]
Meen Curry / Kerala Red Fish Curry
The distinguishing character of this spicy hot red curried fish is the smoky sourness rendered to the fish and the gravy from the kudampulli [read more]