Monday, February 25, 2008

The Last of the Marunadans.

warning:heavy mallu flavoured post
"Every man is a foreigner, it just depends on where you are."

This is what Wolfgang quipped over lunch while I was telling about myself being in a country which till the other day was just, where a charlie chaplin look-alike came from . His remark reminded me how most people back home construe about desi people living abroad. Everyone gets to see only those pictures of beaming fellas with an Eiffel tower or London bridge in the backdrop. It is just that flimsy print which seems to connote the idea of a supposedly paradisal life of any NRI…Any NRI seemingly lives in a villa reminiscent of the visuals from “The Sound of Music” and dines the finest food picked straight from the Eden Gardens. I am not talking about Mittal’s or Kapoor’s, but of ordinary Kariachen’s and Susie aunty’s. …If the typical IT junta back home savors going to the best mall, the flashiest pubs and the chic eat outs…The same folks while abroad switch to Wal-Mart, Lidl or penny market, dines at Mc Donald’s or Burger king's (only if it was simply unavoidable) and would browse through nickel-and-dime brochures for shops having clearance sales…Agreed they are the extremely frugal types. But I have seen families settled here for decades, though not having the flashier of jobs (the so called computer people) doing the same. Every time this desi comes home with luggages of Lindt chocolate, premium scotch and perfumes with names like ‘Passion’ or ‘Exhilaration’, we forget that he probably haven’t even had bought these things for himself/herself. I am not saying staying abroad is bad or tragic, But still life is not as rosy as many of us think.

There is no dhobiwala who comes and collect your clothes nor any Pressing shop where you get your shirt ironed for a paltry 2 rupees and. there is no errand boy who collect groceries for you…Many such people who eke a living because of our laziness suddenly becomes worthy.

India is a land of opportunities, but still not enough for a billion people.
Many such professions don’t exist anymore in parts of the world where manual labor comes at a premium. I still remember being taken aback ,when I saw a 80 something landlady cleaning up her own home…She owns a couple of expensive flats here and is probably a millionaire as well…I don’t think it was coz she couldn’t afford one to clean up her modest house .It was the difference between us and the west…More than the color its our credence’s that differ…A westerner takes pride in being able to live independently however old he/she is , whereas we are tuned to believing that any person with white hair calls for help…Having a errand boy at home is equivalent to being slothful as they see it here. For most of us we think it is just creation of a new job or a noble way of sharing wealth to the needy or a new opportunity.

Being here in this country for sometime I have been lucky to be invited to several Indian homes or specifically malayalee homes...Unlike say in the United States; it is quite rare to find an Indian in Germany. and even rarer find a malayalee...As it happened once when a fellow malayalee saw me...he was like yelling at his wife…”eureka..eureka...One of ours...take out the”And the friendship with one family got me acquainted with the rare species of marunadan* malayalees in Germany. Almost like being given preferential treatment I was made to feel like part of the family of mallu Germans inspite of being a newbie. After every get together some one would even drop me back home. It was sad yet true that I have seen some of the best people of my own outside the state.

It also makes me sad at the predicament they are in. They might have come in the early 70’s with an ambition of making some quick money and then settle back home after a few years. But soon they had kids and they started going to school. By time they had made enough money the kids were in mid school and wouldn’t be able to accommodate to Indian systems. Now most of em own big farms and classy apartments back home. I almost pity at their dilemma considering that in spite of the sacrifices made to achieve these they are now almost a foreigner in their own natural land. When I ask these folks they say there aint anyone back home to go back to. Though that is just one of the reasons I assume.

I have noticed that usually when a person starts living in a new city be it Bangalore or Berlin, first you start to look at the place in the eyes of an outsider…begin comparing the place with your old place and feeling nostalgic about the good things of your old town. But over a couple of months you begin loving your new place and over a period of time start calling yourself a Bangalorean or a Berliner . It happened with me once when I was sort of passionately lecturing a French colleague when he said something wrong about Hamburg...later realizing that sub consciously I had begun getting used to the place . That is what happened to many settled Indians out here…Most of em didn’t plan to settle here in the first place.
And this happens not just with a place but also with cultural influences. Most of the marunadan malayalees crib about the anarchic attitudes of people back home…Here I liked the part of both the husband and wife standing on equal footings unlike typical households back home where the housewife is pushed within the boundaries of the kitchen. Discussions happen with everyone during getogethers…not like circle of men discussing Oomen Chandy or a circle of women discussing the elopement of Annamma with Kuttichayan(that happened in Sthree roksham btw).. These folks enjoy currywurst and make excellent cakes as much as they enjoying relishing kappa and meen curry…Inspite of being expariates they have a mini naadu of their own..

These people are last of a breed…People who settled abroad long time before globalization...long time before IT. long time before internet. They took the best of both the worlds. Keeping traditions alive (even though I think it is harsh on the kids to expect to retain the same ways as their parents follow) and adopting virtues of candor and dedicated workmanship.. Now when I see some articles about some Brit or German visiting Kerala…speaking Malayalam or wearing a mundu and the media showering praise and singing hallelujah over the sahippu...I say we have been doing that for a long long time…in countless countries...and on a much larger scale… :-)


Offbeat am reminded of anecdote which I heard of ammachi who came to Germany in the 80’s(wearing glorious chattayum mundum) ..It was spring time and while she was being driven home in a car she glanced outside the window and told her son who was driving ..”Eda…Babyee evidathe rubberil ella onnum illallooda..”
*marunadan = expatriate malayalees


freespirit said...

I couldnt agree more with your post. All that glamour n glitter attached to living abroad, good God, how far it is from being the truth for most ppl.

Coming off to the USA for studies was like my first trip outside d country. Living at the univ, far away n cut off from most of d world, our only entertainment and break from the monotonous univ 2 aptmnt, aptmnt 2 univ routine, is the mall trip on weekends :). All the exposure and indpt living thing is a positive for sure. But it simply aint a joke managing all of it urself! (Its a pain rather! :D).

And yeah, i m with you in that observation about how ppl here aint really bothered if they r old n retired, they go on with life like its never changed! On our univ shuttles all drivers are jolly good oldie aunties n are they a delight!

Dhanya said...

What a factual post.. It's very much true that we get used to a place and soon call it our own and the new lace becomes more "home" than our actual home.. I have also got some opportunities to visit some mallu families in germany. Mabe because the mallu population is very rare they all were quite warm and helping although they were seeing me for the first time and had no relation with me in any way.. Without these wonderful people out there I'm sure I wouldn't ve survived there..

Jiby said...

good one mathew. i really liked this post. the way malayalis went outside kerala looking for skilled and unskilled jobs with no idea of the lands they were headed to, rewrote kerala's history...the money they sent back ensured kerala could afford bandhs, hartals and lockouts.

a never-ending debate my friends have here is whether the generation that came here in the 70's or our generation has been better able to mix the best of west and east in getting on with life.

Neena Padayatty said...

A first hand report and quite from the heart.I've always been on the receiving end of the benevolence of my NRI relatives.Just realized we never see beyond the glossy wrappers of Hershey's chocolates,the pretty handbags or the bags of badam and pista.Infact the only time we think about them is when they announce their arrival and they are forgotten the minute they leave.Even their accounts of the hardships of life abroad seem unconvincing.Hats off to all of them!..Was reading your old posts;you've got a treasure trove here.Bravo!

Preetha Nair said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Preetha Nair said...

On a lighter note on such a serious topic...

herez a Glimpse of the Marunadan malayaale...

mathew said...

I know it is still tougher being a student who live on shoe string budgets..I like the way older people behave with youngsters…One of my colleague is a 62 year old uncle..But professionally he talks to me without any pretences of age..At times he uses more swear words in our office than anyone else..;-P

mm..when I worked in mysore I loved the laid back life of the city.I couldn’t imagine myself working in a metro city...But then it is all about get used to ..and like you said it maybe coz the scarcity of mallu population meant people were much closer to each other, unlike in the middle east or the states where it is commonplace to see mallus around..

Yes that will make for a interesting debate..Personally I feel they were the real migrants having had to adapt to new culture and language..Nowadays it is not really hard because people are used to seeing multi cultural work places..It is quite possible to live abroad without learning the local language..In early years most germans didn’t know English and now things are changing.

“...the money they sent back ensured kerala could afford bandhs, hartals and lockouts” that almost summarizes how arrogant we get at times..

Thanks for dropping by..
Ofcoz I too felt the same years ago..should admit that at times was very greedy of me to expect the foreign returnees to come with all gifts and stuff..It was quite hard to believe someone from the states saying that life is hard there..Nothing beats the pleasure of living in apna country..I cannot see myself settling down here inspite of the lucrative attractiveness..

I have seen these video.,..thanks a lot neways..
Absolute funny stuff..I found it funnier than most current Malayalam movies..
“Georgekutty uncle” is a class of his own! ;-P

Karthik said...

Great post. Intersting question as to whether the 70's migrants or the presenty migrants have taken the best of both cultures..Vwery very debatable...

silverine said...

"we have been doing that for a long long time…in countless countries...and on a much larger scale" Well we didn't have much choice in the matter like the sayippus :)

From accounts of relations abroad, I always thought that living abroad was prohibitively expensive. I remember my parents telling relatives not to spend money on foreign chocolates for us when they can buy Cadbury's here. But they liked to show off the foreign chocolates :p So I blame these NRI's for inculcating the craze for foreign stuff and thus creating a stress factor for themselves. Anyways, nowadays, stories of penny pinching while onsite are common :) I know ammachis who can teach someone going abroad for the first time, a thing or two in thrifty living :p

J said...

Mathew, I can talk of the converse situation here. We have colleagues from UK who enjoy Dubai because they get affordable or cheap labour here. All of them have full time maids/house help, live in villas and drive suv's - not to mention the dhobis and grocery delivery boys at the doorstep. But I can agree that they don't consider 60 plus is old at all!

eljo said...

This topic is close to my heart too. Like you said, I too think that we have less adjustments to make in comparison to the ealrier generations in foreign countries. For one, the east-west divide has reduced drastically. I also have the same grouse as you regarding families settled in foreign countries expecting their kids to be raised solely on Indian culture.

Jackfruit said...

Very true :) ... You should also watch Malayalam movie Arabikadha they have done quite a justice to this topic.

Anonymous said...

We need to be in solidarity with those strangers who suffer among us. What do you do and what would you like to do, or do you just don't even want to think of it? Participate in my poll at, and see how I would like to react myself.

The Black King said...

Wow... almost lived beside you in this post!

broca's area said...

well written!

Deepti said...

Very well written!! and people who live away from their own are more happy when they meet fellow malayalees i guess!!!

Mishmash ! said...

Mathew, you got me thinking! quite a solid note, I should say....yeah , this last breed who got settled abroad, before the outsourcing era, has "tried to" get the best of both the worlds...but how successfully is the question here..! and as u said, most of them have properties back home as well but the problem is they dont know for sure when they want to come back or if they want to come back at all....mainly coz of this "neither here nor there" status...even though they adapted quite well to the western systems, still they dont get a "belongingness" feel...still not able to be part of the society here....which is the saddening part....and the kids fall into the abcd category, as they say here...i have seen families where kids visit these marunadan parents annually....though its saddening , parents seems to have adapted themselves to the situation as they re helpless......Its really a sad situation but but these ppl need to be appreciated for all that compromise they have done!

Am sure u have watched "akkare kazhchakal" on youtube....a classic one, quite funny ....but got more deeper meaning...."colour poya corolla" drive cheythalum georgekutty-chaayan nattil varumbol, friend-nu black label vangi koduthirikkum... sheriyalle..? :)

mathew said...

@Karthik is a tough question..but must admit that condition were tougher then.

point noted ..but if you really notice most people would actually say.."dey..porathunnu vanittu verrum kayode vannu irrikunnu" is a taboo if you are comin empty handed from abroad..

ha..India and US is more or less the same now!!..tumbling dollar!!;-P

oh yeah..have seen that movie..sreenivasan showed his class in understanding the mallu psyche..

mathew said...

@black king
thank you.

thank you..and thanks for droppin by.

scarcity makes people appreciate things. :-)

that was a good summary.I guess these are questions which ponder you folks more than still employed desi!! ;-P
I have seen similar predicament which most desi's are go or not to go..!!but then the easier way is to go where the tide takes you.

btw that dialogue is quite funny..i have seen most episodes of it..think missed this one..i have seen the first 16 of them.and absolutely love it!!

anN-series said...

guess i arrived late to comment on this post...

"If the typical IT junta back home savors going to the best mall, the flashiest pubs and the chic eat outs…The same folks while abroad switch to Wal-Mart, Lidl or penny market, dines at Mc Donald’s or Burger king's and would browse through nickel-and-dime brochures for shops having clearance sales…"

this is exactly why i once said that quality of life is better in india than abroad.

after my first trip abroad i realised why relatives always brought sneakers and marsbar..that was the most economical thing to get and ppl back home liked sneakers too. no complaining because i also saw how difficult life is abroad...after the london exp i learnt to take the line 'dubai-il njangalkku bhayangara sugam aanu' from relatives with a pinch of salt!!

Cuckoo said...

I think your post smacks of reality! Indians specially believe in 'adjust maadi' and the human spirit can live in almost any condition happily! How do you think people still smile and live and love in a place like Siberia or Siachen? The other side of the pic is the urge to belong... no matter how authentic the German 'IChhhhh' is, it could never be 'namma ooru'!

Zee said... least translate the last line for the non mallu audience!

i have never really been abroad. 3 days to london, KL or bangkok don't count cause you go with a bunch of colleagues, shop and come back.

not have i ever lived outside delhi (2 yrs in a hostel in some remote location doesn't count either)

so dunno how it would feel if i were to ever move out or even adapt to a different city or lifestyle.....

really nice read ur blog...

Adorable Pancreas said...

The real NRI!

Mishmash ! said...

Mathayikuttee...veruthe polum njangale 'to go or not to go' status -l peduthalle...i'm still the wifey of a desi from an indian company :)))keralam ennu kettal chora thilakkum :))))) eppozhenkilum panithekkavunna puzha-yude theerathe veedum swapnam kandu njan jeevichotte ...:)))

Still Searching said...

Wow, this post rings so true for me!! My uncle and aunt also came here more than 25 years back, but the difference is that they have settled in quite well with the good American ways.. I am glad t see how they have adopted the good part of the West and kept the good part of India in them...

Btw, one may not have dhobis and ironing wallas here, but one has a dishwasher! That's a HUGE plus! :)

Priyankari said...

Nice post! :)

Anish Prasad said...

Nice post bro..echoed the sentiments of an overseas staying malayali..But then the "nalikerathine nattil enikkkoru " spirit is something that wouldn die down easily.
PS:Instead of people ready to iron your shirts, you might have well come across various"hot iron pressing units"(theppu pettikal as put by jagathi).

Annu said...

...its all very different here in DXB... actually under every building we have a grocery and laundry (just a phonecall away) and part-time maids are also easily available... since i've settled back nicely to these phone call groceries and laundries... i sometimes wonder how long will it take me to adjust to our small town back home as there we still dont have a theppuchettan or grocery who deliver goods at your door step... oh its all very very different here.. and i'm not sure whether its good or bad... about the gulf mallus showing off.. yeah they are actually showing off toooooooo much than the real life... a lot of families who have big villas back home, share their 2 bedroom apartments with another family... there is something called "Sharing" here... yeah I sometimes wonder how 2 families can live like that.. but its a very common occurance here.. and it breaks my heart whenever I see a gulf mallu doing his annual leave shoppin... that will be those rare times when his shopping cart is full.. and to think that all of us back home expect the gulf mallus to bring back gifts, its terrible after seeing the true colors... (I'm not talking about yousuf alis, alukkas, varkeys of gulf..)

mathew said...

Yes..i think back home we go for the best. And while here the saving mentality is more over powering.
For sneakers and mars were exotic chocolates however unworthy it is considered here.
I have new found respect for desi’s living abroad after coming here.

You have perfectly summed it up. We live with ‘adjust maadi’!!

@Zee was just a typical mallu Christian elderly way of saying..’there aint leaves in the rubber trees here’..not funny when translated types.. ;-P
I have never been Delhi..only think I know abt it is ‘dilli ki sardi’

@adorable pancreas

hahaha..great minds think alike!! ;-P

@Still searching
yes dish washer is a huge plus..:-)
But I am not exactly 100% satisfied with a dish washed plate..;-P
I have seen most of desi’s trying to retain traditions and more of us back home trying to shed it.

thank you.. ;-)

athe athe…I still cant shed even after 1.5 years..;-P
thanks for dropping by.

@Anu chechi
am assuming its Anu chechi.,-P
I think the picture in Middle East is altogether different. Now people more or less understand the truth abut life there. And ofcoz that movie Arabikatha might have made people aware of the harsh realities of life there. But the gap between India and the west is falling rapidly and lets hope the day comes soon when people would flock in our country for oppurtunites..

Pooja Na(i)rayan said...

Here after a long hiatus. Great post . It felt as if someone was echoing my words

Nanditha Prabhu said...

it was a nice post, mathew..
i have encountered many such indians who are stuck up in life... especially when it has come to choosing there life's abroad or back in india.. with time they tend to adapt to and adopt the ways of living abroad...making a life of their own.but when it comes to kids...its at times sad... when we see even the language fade out from their life's .and in the long run, kids are not able to relate to india as home like the parents do.
it also amazing to see the old who are independent.. we even see some elders with tubes in their mouths and with walking sticks , driving and coming to shop all by themselves.... don't you think it sad?
i also think you are lucky to find a circle of our own there...enjoy and make the best of your time...:)

mathew said...

nice to see you here after a long time too..

@Nanditha have got the gist of the post..that choice is tough isnt?
and yeah i consider myself lucky to be taken into the fold by this real NRI' feels like being cared for inspite of being strangers.. btw talking of old people tubes..i remember how shocked i was when i saw patients in hospital here having a smoke carry their IV tube, stand all the way to portico..almost was tempted to take a snap of that!! ;-P