More Malayali than Marvadi
Having spent over three-fourth of my life in Kerala and over half of it in Kozhikode, I consider myself more Malayali than Marvadi.
Having set foot in Calicut in 1985 it was literally and figuratively a sea change from Zambia (Africa) to Calicut.
Probably the first thing that actually struck me was the way people went out of the way to make you comfortable, not knowing Malayalam was a big negative in those days and though everyone here learned Hindi, they hesitated to talk unless it was in their interest. This often happens even today.
I went on to study in Sainik School Kazhakootam, where I had the opportunity of a lifetime to interact, involve and learn to be one amongst the spectrum of students coming from across the state. I learned spoken Malayalam during those days and am quite fluent in the language, however my parents who were working with the Grasim industries and later ECHS as doctors are still not very fluent which only emphasises that learning Malayalam is indeed a difficult task.
Having joined the government dental college Calicut for BDS in 1994 was when my actual interaction with the aam aadmi and elite professionals of Calicut started. The quality of medical education and treatment is amongst the best in the country and over the years has evolved to be amongst the best in this part of the world. This striking factor is probably due to the highly educated population when compared to the rest of the country, however the flip side of this is often seen in the lack of discipline when it comes to fundamental rights vs fundamental duties.
The experience of ‘nokku kooli’ and arrogance of certain select few is often a traumatic experience for the common man, having experienced this first hand, however, in the same breath I would also like to mention the help and assistance provided by the people when you are in need or for the social upliftment of the people in general, ie Trauma care and Palliative care movement.
My experience with the institute of palliative medicine and exposure to the palliative care movement started when I joined as a faculty in the Government Dental college in 2004, and over the years I feel and see the humanitarian face of the people of Kozhikode which actually makes me feel proud to be a ‘Kozhikode karan’.
A common communication issue that confused me a lot initially and probably confuses anyone who comes from any other place is the nodding of the head which could denote either yes, no or even I don't know. The only way to decipher this is to learn face reading which gradually one picks up with time and that is also why probably most non-Malayalis feel they are being stared at as aliens when they move around the city. In my experience, all one has to do is look back at them and give them a smile. In most cases, they shy away or would take that as an invite to assist you or enter into a discussion on any topic under the sun.
The general hygiene and personal grooming of people is something that probably needs to be emulated across the country. Be it the housemaid or skilled/unskilled labour, the clean dressing and spare set of work clothes is probably unique to this part of the country, though with the onslaught of migrant labourers now flowing in, this trend seems to be changing.
It is common knowledge that Calicut loves food. The cuisine be it Biryani or any other ‘nadan’ delicacies offer a spectrum of tastes most of which is non-vegetarian.
In the initial years, as a vegetarian family, it was difficult to comprehend that even many weddings served only non-vegetarian food and only a select few vegetables were available on a regular basis.
However, over the years this has changed dramatically and now most weddings have separate vegetarian counters and almost all vegetables are available in the city. An incident that comes to my mind is when I was attending a reception party during my college days, the hosts had served chicken Biryani which is the common practice, on informing the person who was serving that I was a vegetarian, he gave me a confusing look and went away with the plate and returned a few minutes later with the plate of Biryani sans the pieces of chicken.
Over the years I have also come to enjoy the taste of ghee rice (ney choru) with salad, achar, chutney and papdam. Calicut has a lot of hotels and restaurants that serve very good vegetarian food. However, a huge untapped potential lies for an exclusive veg restaurant serving all kinds of veg cuisine considering the huge population of people from Rajasthan, Gujrat and other states often referred to as ‘Sethumar’ in local parlance.
Another good food trend that has come over the years is the starting of mithai shops and the trend of coffee shops and cafes which has increased the evening buzz of the city unlike in the earlier days when the city used to go to sleep by 7 pm.
An aspect that I have been actively taking part in, is the work of service organisations and leadership organisations in the city. Youth organisations like Rotaract, Leo, Junior Jaycee though still active were much more active in the youth during the nineties and early part of this century, the only youth organisation that probably has stood the test of time is Junior Chamber International previously known as Jaycees. Other service clubs like Rotary International, Lions, etc. still do play a vital role in the development of the socio economic fabric of the city. NGO like Trauma care, pain and palliative care society, etc. are institutions in themselves showing the way forward for the rest of the state and country. The residents’ association or ‘ayalpaka vedis’ are truly a neighbourhood network that embodies the spirit of promoting harmony that one gets to feel in Calicut.
Anything about Calicut is incomplete without mention of its avid art and music lovers. Art in any form be it, fine art literature music or cinema has its connoisseurs in Calicut.
From my experiences in Calicut, I can summarise it by saying this city is an ‘Akshaypatra’ of love, harmony, caring and sharing.
A hub of educational excellence with all professional institutions in and around it.
A cosmopolitan city with ethnicity in every breath.
You need to experience life in Calicut to truly feel the meaning of God's own country.
(The author is Associate Professor in Prosthodontics at Government Dental College, Kozhikode)