MIC deputy president G Palanivel told off Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad “to remember his own (Indian/Mamak) roots”.Read here for morePalanivel is referring to the fact that Mahathir’s forefathers are from South India in Kerala state. Mahathir was born and named as Mahathir s/o Iskandar Kutty@Mahathir Mohamed (read here). Mahathir’s father, (Iskandar Kutty) was a school teacher of Indian origin, specificallyMalayalee (people who speak Malayalam, not to be confused with Malay), having migrated from the southern state of Kerala, while his mother was a Malay.

Record numbers of people today are researching their family origins. The popular interest in genealogy – the recording of descendents from some ancestor – is Palakkad is rightfully known as the Gateway of Kerala, giving the rest of India access to the State. Its other name is Palghat was contributed by British Raj.
Kerala comes across as a paradox. The God’s Own Country has human development indices matching some of the most developed nations in the world. There are neither vast stretches of barren land nor clusters of villages. Basic health and education infrastructure are available even in remote areas that are accessible by public transport. A state where people discuss and debate post-Chavez Venezuela with as much passion as the fissures in the district unit of the Communist party or the prospects of the BJP in 2014
Dr Mahathir Mohamad, the patron of Perkasa, keeps on confirming and reconfirming his Umno colleague Nazri Abdul Aziz’s description of him as thefather of racism.  All the despicable, false and ridiculous racist utterances should not come as a surprise from the patron of Malaysia’s Ku Klux Klan.

This increasingly vile and shrill racist rhetoric strongly indicates that Mahathir is really worried that many Malays have wised up to the massive plundering of the country by Umno and hence are likely to vote for Pakatan Rakyat and bring it to power.

If this happens he and his other criminal cohorts would have to answer for their many crimes and could possibly end up in jail.

So Mahathir now is giving his very best racist performance, at which he is a known expert, to try and influence the Malays so that they would not desert Umno.
It’s a state where an average middle class family would consider it a shame if children were not postgraduates. A good guess would be that many bus drivers and conductors are graduates, if not postgraduates; so too many auto-rickshaw drivers and blue collar workers.

But the most startling aberration that comes in conflict with these feel-good parameters is what is popularly called hartal that has sadly become synonymous with Kerala’s lifestyle. Why a state that is populated with people qualified to think and act progressively should be subjected to intermittent periods of stasis in the form of non-productive and disruptive shutdowns is beyond comprehension.

While on a recent visit to North Parur, a small central Kerala municipality that lies between the commercial capital of Kochi and the cultural capital of Thrissur, I got to see how the possibility of hartal is factored into the daily calendar of every Keralite. Last Tuesday evening, news flashed on the local cable television channel and word spread on mobile phones that a local political leader had been attacked and in retaliation there would be a hartal the next day in the municipal limits.

The word hartal has such a disconcerting resonance that no one tries to find out who attacked whom or how serious the incident was. All the time and energy are channelled into undoing the damage the hartal would cause the next day. So, my cousin reaches for her mobile and calls up her friends and colleagues, and reschedules all that had been planned.

She wonders if public transport will be off the next day, and how she would reach her office that is outside the municipality limits and wouldn’t be affected by the shutdown. The family discusses if it would be prudent to take the car or hire an auto-rickshaw. Finally, she calls the regular auto-rickshaw driver, leaves home for office 5 am to beat the 6 am hartal (normally she leaves at 9 am) and spends the extra hours at a friend’s house near her office. Her daughter misses classes at school.

And finally, it turns out that there was an all-party meeting and the hartal was cancelled. Life was near normal that day. But the talk of hartal rents the air always. Most of it are rumours, but very often it does materialize, and the disruption it causes has become a part of a Keralite’s lifestyle.

Hartal makes for easy conversation with strangers, like the weather in Britain. So I tossed the topic to the man standing near me at the bus stand. “Today was supposed to hartal… “ He echoed the normal sense of resignation that everyone has. “O, that has become a part of the culture here. Who is ready to stand up against it? No one wants to take the risk. No one even thinks about it.”

Why, I ask. He thought he had the answer: “So what if there is hartal, everyone has enough money, they all lead a comfortable life. Why invite trouble by trying to change the status quo.” He said his name was Anish and he taught Mathematics at a local school.

Does he support the hartal culture? “No”. I surmised that most people think like him. I wondered why had this culture caught on, if no one wanted it? His guess was that people who call the hartal had their own means to livelihood and they were insensitive to common people’s problems.

As we talked, he rightly inferred that I wasn’t a resident of Kerala. When I said I stay in Bangalore, his first question was about the Metro Rail. How good it is, how many kilometres it is, how comfortable it is, how long does it take to travel from one place to another, etc. His question disguised in vain not only a sense of amazement but also his aspiration to get out of the shackles of the daily routine. He didn’t forget to rhetorically ask if progressive Bangalore had hartals.

And out tumbled his frustration, “God knows when Kochi will get its Metro. Work is going on. They say three years, but don’t expect it in the next 10 years.” I tried calming him down saying all such big projects aren’t easy to execute and do get delayed, but not to the extent he thinks. I pointed to the elegant, wide-bodied, low-floor, sparkling city buses — a metaphor as it were for the changes the society was seeing.

But, for now though, Anish, and probably many like him, have merely dreams, punctuated by hartals, to live with.


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