I grew up in a small town called Palai in Kerala. Famous for its black pepper and migratory people who spread to Malabar in north Kerala, and notorious for the knife our elder generation carried in their belts all the time for God only knows what, it has mostly conservative Catholics.
You don't see the old town anymore. Someone who has not gone back for some time will definitely get lost in the new surroundings. Even the weather seems to have changed. Tall new buildings now block the old skyline back-dropped against the Western Ghats.
Social changes are even more interesting. If it was land and crops that could not grow proportionately with the size of Catholic families that made our elder generations set out north, the aftermath of the Communist resurgence resulting in lesser job opportunities pushed our generation across the seas.
One of the grotesque pictures engraved in my mind is the tumultuous demonstration of the Communists at my aunt's tea factory. Momentary wins for the cadre party brought that business to a shambles. It took years and years before I noticed the incident did really make a mark on my mind. With vengeance I read the Das Capital and Communist Manifesto. I was able to talk for hours on Dialectical Materialism and Proletariat Dictatorship. I had access to the libraries of the sakhavs [comrades].
Once I was saturated with the Red Ideology, I read its gory side through Alexander Solzhenitzyn. Ivan Denisovich took permanent shelter in my mind for a long, long time. Instead of waiting for Utopia in my dirty clothes, dirtier cloth bag, Bulganin beard, thick-framed square spectacles and sad-looking face (signature of the self-acclaimed Kerala intellectual), I jumped on my lifeboat and crossed over.
Gates of prosperity opened in front of me. For a while, the sudden intoxication of success made me look away from self and hop between bar chairs and pool tables in the Prairies as well as the Rockies.
But sometime, somewhere, somehow, nascent energy spun me in the right direction. I got myself back. Being pushed too far by peer pressure to the verge of taking my right palm and placing it on the left chest might have done the trick.
Enslaved by a system where personal freedom is a blockade for family ties based on unconditional love, it is not difficult to say the Road Ahead had rose petals only for a while and it led Ivan to the same old camp. Chasing the Dream made of highly inflammable, utterly flimsy and zero percent eco-friendly substances to live in a place where official warnings admonish you on going out due to the pollution does not fit well in the resume of any rational animal. Having lost most of the prime time of youth, it is quite difficult to abandon the freedom of choice of 10 slightly poisonous, invariably polluted and genetically engineered bananas for just one pure and natural one with no choice at all. In pursuit of something, which is somewhere between the Gross National Happiness of Bhutan and Gross National Product of any First World Country, the race horse seems to have lost the right eye and right direction.
Trying to find a middle ground between fidels and infidels, wondering how I would explain 'Thou Shall not Kill' to my two-year-old makes me gaze into the horizon just like the hero in any old award-winning Malayalam movie. If uttering the word 'peace' jeopardises your box seat in the patriot's gallery, how will I explain using the Freedom of Speech that peace is good? When aftermaths of covert operations, which are essential in the raja dharma as explained in Kautilya's Arthashastra, gets flashed across the TV screens in family rooms during prime time newscasts interestingly coinciding with the time of the traditional evening prayer, how will I explain the separation of the Church from the State and ask him to give Caeser Caeser's share and God God's share?
When the Diaspora's kids who can be classified as Indians only by DNA make a living by tarnishing the image of their parent's country through journalistic overtures, and overly skewed facts, it reminds me of the Battle of Buxar and Mir Jaffar. Though listening to Hotel California on a daily basis does not give you the necessary thrust to achieve escape velocity, it helps you a lot to resist from complaining.
Finally, reading the news about the glorified elevation of Adult ADD as a psycho-traumatic condition gives you the hope to wait for an over-the-counter medication for nostalgia. Maybe it is chronic nostalgia that made me sit in a land where Biblical messages are mostly ridiculed, if not misinterpreted, and open the Mahabharata. I found myself speechless by the verses I saw:
Bhagyavandham prasooya yedha
Ma shooram ma chaha panditham.
Kunti Devi is blessing Panchali, the expectant mother:
Neither you do deliver a warrior
Nor an intellectual
But do deliver a fortunate one.
That is very much true in my case. Or maybe I am not the kind of a person who is contended with having one shoe just because I happened to meet a man with no legs.
Or like my close friend, who discards all my arguments, says: "Cry, baby, cry
'coz you are a crybaby."
Illustration: Lynette Menezes