Gujju by birth, Mallu at heart and moreover a Kozhikoden
I opened my eye as a child in this beautiful place, Kozhikode. My grandfather Bachubahi had come to this town six odd decades back. Like my father, born here and mother in Kochi, I too am a Kerala-born.
I have a wealth of friends from my school days. Till Class 10, I was in Gujarathi Vidhyalaya, and studied Plus Two in St. Josephs School. Summer vacations were spent in renting bicycle from Kuttichara for Rs. 2 per hour; riding across town from beach to goods ground, present day fourth platform then in its old avatar; plucking mangos and chatting with friends under trees and alongside Kuttichara pond, day-dreaming future castles in the air; playing traditional games of nightly hide-n-seek during power cuts; eagerly waiting 'Pakida Pakida Pamabram' at 7.15 p.m. on DD Malayalam, the only available channel! For all the progress and variety we have now, the magic of those days and nights of yore can never be matched. Schoolmates helped out with Malayalam, though they used to occasionally tease me on my linguistic difficulties.
This reminds me of a couple of hilarious incidents. While working as HR Manager in a firm, I called up a person to pass on information that a parcel was sent in a bus, named ‘Nalakath.’ However, I kept on shouting Nalla Kathu, assuming it to be a ‘good letter.’ Fortunately, a senior corrected me. His remark that it was like a scene from Punjabi House had everyone laughing.
Initially, instead of njaan I used to say nammal, a lapse common to most North Indians, since we assume it to be the opposite of ningal. Mazha (rain) to me was similar to maza in Hindi, which means masti, (enjoyment). My Malayalam has improved over the years, since am a keen fan of Mollywood. Incidentally, I picked up some Tamil during my five years of higher studies in Coimbatore.
As a member of international organisations like Rotaract and Junior Chamber International, public speaking and conducting training sessions are unavoidable. The memory of my very first class in a government school for girls at Vallikkunnu is still fresh. I was extremely nervous, for a wrong word would be disastrous. My good friend and mentor, Jayagopal, came to my rescue. He suggested confessing at the outset that: “I’m not a Malayalee, so kindly correct my mistakes.” This line has worked like a charm ever since.
To get back to my classmates; the beach front was very heaven for us, a hangout at nights. Watching the sunset is a soothing experience. On weekends, we used to play football and take a dip in sea, the happiest part of the day. I have travelled the length and breadth of Kerala, and nothing is so refreshing than the green on one side and the blue waters of the Arabian Sea on the other. When friends from international organisations visit I take them to various places nearby. The charm of these places and multi-flavoured cuisine always leaves a permanent impression on them.
I love everything associated with this place, from the food to the wonderful hospitality of its people. The variety of food items on offer is staggering. Exotic pickles like ice achhar, kakri and gooseberry kept in glass jars at various petty shops are mouth-watering. Not to forget the enormous range of juices. My cousins are also envious of puttu, sadhya, Malabari porotta, biryani and nice pathiri. We enjoy to our hearts’ content all the vegetarian delicacies, frequenting the numerous hotels, chaya kadas and cafes. A recent phenomenon is the emergence of cafes offering Italian, Thai, Mexican and other exotic cuisines. But nothing can match an authentic Kerala fare. Kozhikoden halwa and chips continues to be a timeless rage among all, irrespective of age.
The people are easy-going and friendly. I love taking the autorickshaw, as most charge according to the meter (unlike other places). Recently, a few rouge elements have dented this image. Tea vendors and cops too are very helpful.
Many venture out of Kozhikode in search of fresh opportunities. To my mind, opportunities abound here. My bread and butter are here. Kozhikode has given me so many opportunities and love, that I am forever indebted to the people of this town. In the modern, fast-paced world, where people can’t find time, I take solace in the so called ‘small place’ which is very calm and safe and welcomes all.
Celebrating Onam and Vishu, clad in mundu is good fun. Though a Gujju by birth, at heart I am Mallu and proud of Nammude Kozhikode and to be called a Kozhikkoden. I never had this feeling that I am from a different part of India. My sense of belonging is so intense that never have I felt like a stranger in this land, which is now my very own. Nor was I ever reminded of my religion, with personal relationships erasing the man-made divisions of religion and caste.
(The writer runs a firm, which provides financial services, corporate training and advice on start-ups for youth)