Thursday, January 24, 2008

Namesake - The Ali of Aluva

Q: Among a group of randomly chosen Mallus, how do you quickly find out which are the ones who have not been born and brought up in Kerala?

Ans: It is quite easy !! Just shout the word “PARTY “ !!!!


Confused? Ok, here is how it works.

If you are a Mallu but already visualizing a place with music, booze and women …gotcha ! you are a BABU-OK (ie: Born And Brought Up Outside Kerala) , the ubiquitous Non resident Keralite , a species which is soon going to out number the Resident Keralite species given the rates of migration.

But on the other hand; like me, if what you thought of; was a sea of Red Flags, a multitude of white mundu clad leaders moving as a block of people behind a red banner, shouting “Inquilab Zindabad” blocking all the traffic- then well, its elementary – my Dear Watson mone – you are a "Pakka Mallu Born And Brought Up In The Heart Of God’s Own Country!!!! (PM BABU IT HOGOC– Ok ,guess I'm not the best of acronym makers )

I’m picking up a long lost tag to write about my hometown.

But then, it’s not all that easy for me to write a chronicle of my town. Maybe it is because nothing too interesting probably ever happened there. I guess I could call it a sleepy town but then Mom would say I was the one who was sleepy most of the time. Much like that proverbial story of the 6 blind men feeling an elephant (or should I say Visually Challenged persons analyzing a Pachyderm to be politically correct); well, the point is that - it’s basically about perspective. You could grow up in the same town as another guy, even in the same neighborhood and around the same time, but you might have absolutely different memories of how the place used to be. And Mom thinks I never got out of the house enough to tell stories of anyone who lived in the neighborhood. So I’d tell a few stories where I was personally involved and not really try to record how the town used to be.

Here is the first one of the series…

My town was called Alwaye - “was” because somewhere down the line, the name is changed to “Aluva” in a wave of “Malayalamization of every town” but somehow that neither did amazing things to the place’s economy or particularly put the place in the world map. Guess it was all a conspiracy of the paint companies who made a fortune changing the sign boards everywhere. Guess, Aluva was too short to make money –I believe they made maximum when they changed from “Trivandrum” to “Thiru vanantha…(huff puff) puram”.

Growing up in a small town in Kerala has its disadvantages. First of all, you never realize that all the land around you is supposed to be beautiful or any such big deal. That happens only when you become an NRI and then desparately need something to be nostalgic about. That’s when you rue about all those erstwhile paddy fields – now converted to a block of flats; the river which flows by where you used to swim during your summer vacations- currently endorsed by Dermatologists due to the level of pollution & even your dad’s Bajaj scooter with a maximum capacity of 5 – all trigger off wave upon wave of nostalgia. But at that time we probably felt it was not so happening, as the city. And the city meant Cochin 20 km away and that’s where my happening cousins stayed.

Alwaye was rather cosmopolitan and multicultural – now don’t expect that it mean Albanians, Mexicans, Ugandans and Eskimos living side by side in adjacent houses. It just means that all the 3 representative religions co-existing just as they said in the “India- Unity in Diversity” chapter of the Social Studies textbook. That meant we got the Mutton Curry and Pathiri at Id from the neighbors though we'd soon ge have to reciprocate with Mum giving away a portion of my favorite Appam, Stew and Cutlets to the same neighbors at X’mas.

And it meant that like good Mallus, we all faithfully celebrated Onam in its spirit – sitting cross-legged in a yogic pose on the floor for the sumptuous pure Vegetarian Onam lunch on a Banana leaf.

Anyway, this story probably happened when I was 5 or 6, well, I happened to hear of this boxer named “Muhammad Ali”. . Well, I say “boxer” now because now I know him to be a three-time-World Heavy Weight Champion previously named Cassius Clay who used to “Float like a Butterfly and Sting like a Bee”. But back then I guess I just knew he was an “Idikkaran” –( “idi” – a blow with a closed fist, “kkaran”- a person who does the above).

From what I remember, it all happened as follows. Schoolboy conversations would usually revolve around who would be knock out who, if Tarzan fought Mammooty, Phantom fought Nazeer or if Bruce Lee fought Amitabh Bacchhan. (Yeah if you notice, one could easily transcend the fictional-non-fictional divide at that age)

But then this kid talked confidently of someone named Mohammed Ali who can knock down any of the above…even if all attacked him at the same time !!

We were all in awe though I was still sure the Phantom could knock this new guy down too! He’ll leave a Death head mark on his chin too like everyone else got. But I was curious. I didn’t have any clue how this Mohammed Ali looked like, but this kid’s uncle had apparently seen him in Dubai. He was as big as a building and wore gloves that contained granite stones in them, so that the unlucky bugger, who got hit, really stayed hit!

Hadn’t seen any picture of him but somewhere down the line, someone convinced me that he was the same guy in the boxing page of the Olympics themed calendar which some relative had got from abroad. Couldn’t judge how big he was but did look menacing enough; and yeah he had “gloves” on .

And then one day, I heard the big news – you wont believe it

“ Muhammed Ali was fighting someone named Subramanian Potti" !!!

That too, right there in Alwaye !!! That was curious. I'd never seen any movie of this guy Subramanian Potti and neither did he appear in any comics. The only Indian sounding guy in comics was an Orange Kurta clad Bahadur of Indrajal comics.

I was already imagining a boxing ring , Ali landing a 300 kilo punch right on a hapless Subrahmanian Potti's nose. Maybe we could buy tickets and go for this one ..hmm.

But then things got more confusing..

I got to know that they were going to fight in something called the ”election” !!! Now I didn’t know what exactly this election thingy was. I knew that Mom and Dad go for something called “voting” and returns with a “ink mark” on the index finger. Something, which we replicate with a fountain pen to impress the classmates the next day. (Well you mightve noticed that the coolness factor is also politically influenced if you live in such a politically aware state )

Also I knew there were something called “Congressukaar” and the “Communistukaar”. .For a long while I tried to ascertain who are the good guys and who are the baddies. Mom told me Congress was good and the Communist was bad, what with too many weapons right on their flag. And it was in Red – too violent! She knew it right from the church sermons that anyone who voted Communist are headed for eternal damnation. (hehe , guess she was right about that considering the state of affairs nowadays) However, my best friend in school was of the opposite opinion. This “Palm of a hand” (kaipatthi) was not too impressive, on the other “hand” if someone tried to attack you, you could use the Hammer or the Sickle till they saw stars.. Now that; was logical. When you are talking comic book graphics you usually make sense.

But all said and done, how exactly this entire thing connect to the fight between Mohammed Ali and Subramanian Potti?? Such an extremely confusing situation!

The campaign was in full force. Lit up jeeps crisscrossed across the town , and all walls were covered with either Mohammed Ali's or Mr. Potti's name.And then one day I heard it from the loud speakers attached to the jeep covered with election posters.

“Muhammed Ali” was actually coming right to the junction right next to my house. A dream come true! My mind was filled with questions. Will he be wearing that granite stone filled gloves? Will he knock down someone with a fluent “Disshhyooom”? Maybe if he is as big as a building maybe he will need to sit on top of the Car Workshop at the junction. It might just crumble under his weight and smash all the cars below! And what if the glass from all the cars pricks this Mohammed Ali in his behind? The entire situation had several exciting possibilities.

I begged someone to take me for the meeting . Finally Dad agreed. He was a bit rather confused about my undue enthusiasm for the Congress candidate.

The junction was full of people. I couldn’t see what was happening but something interesting was definitely going on. I pestered him to lift me up so I could see the stage. Finally, he lifted me on his shoulders… I couldn’t contain my excitement.I hadnt seen Phantom or Tarzan yet, but I was going to see Mohammed ali in flesh and blood!!

But however hard I looked; I could only see a sea of thick moustached guys in white shirts and mundus. There was some mistake. He wouldn’t be too difficult to spot if he was as tall as a building. But then, on that dais there was none who remotely looked like the guy in the calendar.

Then someone put a heavy garland on one random guy’s neck and everyone else applauded. The air was filled with “Mohammedaali keee jaaiii”. slogans.

“Well and good, but where is Mohammedali????!!” I asked my dad.

“Right there in the middle, look he’s the one waving! “ he replied...


I’d never been so disappointed in my life. My friend was a liar! Probably he'd lied even when he confided in me that he himself was the guy who played James Bond after having a medicine that made him grow.( He had clarified that there was a kissing scene but it was a camera trick and he never got close to any woman, coz he didnt want to be outcasted because of that )

Because, this guy Muhammedali was no big deal. He was not even wearing those granite gloves. Just as big as everyone else and wearing a white mundu and shirt with a thick moustache as everyone else.He could even sit in a normal chair ! So much for all those high hopes..Bah !

And I was sure of just one thing. Phantom could DEFINITELY whip him with ease !!!!


Epilogue: (like they do in the end of “Based on True story” Hollywood movies)

1. Alwaye has actually once significantly figured in history. When Tipu Sultan was camping near the Alwaye River during his Travancore invasion and had his horses and men washed away in the sudden floods effectively ending his campaign. If that hadn’t happened, probably the history of Kerala would’ve been much different.

2. Mohammedali the Congress candidate has won from Alwaye seat several times. Guess he is still in the political scene. Alwaye is generally a Congress bastion.

3. Muhammad Ali the boxer retired around 1981, maybe my story would have taken place a couple of yrs around that time.

4. The friend I mentioned is an aspiring actor now I hear. He starred in a Malayalam movie last year - we’re not in touch though