Gratified to see Malayalis avidly surf the internet. I haven’t got these many letters at anytime as I got for my blog (and the subsequent Rediff article) on “VS”. Of course, it has nothing to do with me as a writer as such; the fact is VS simply provokes. Incidentally, today’s Times of India has a massive cartoon of VS — not Ommen Chandy — as one of the “gang of four” (along with Jayalalitha, Mamata and Gogoi) riding into town in the Wild West.
Even a “cultured” Nair Service Society functionary recently got provoked, isn’t it? By the way, coming to this particular NSS sideshow, let me narrate a similar experience about the politics of “culture”. It isn’t an NSS trait, actually. The Austrian colleague became a particularly close friend in Ankara when I was serving as ambassador, for the reason that he grew up in India as his father was an architect who designed the magnificent Austrian chancery building in Chanakyapuri. So, as the friendship blossomed, we had an arrangement to have a private lunch once every month, just the two of us, alternating in the two Residences. (The sprawling Indian Residence on a hill top jutting into the Botanical Gardens was, of course, a great location in Ankara and he was a great connoisseur of Indian food and I had Pandey, my old-time great cook from Amroha in Uttarranchal). I found the arrangement useful since the Austrians had their two feet deep inside the EU camp and Turkey’s longing to be part of that european home is perennially the leitmotif of its politics and diplomacy – and my friend was willing to let his hair down and talk things beyond what one gets to hear. So, once he explained to me in whispers that Turkey can never ever be part of EU because “we are culturally different”. What he meant by “culture” was not very different from the cobweb of prejudice that our NSS functionary wearing such sparkling well-starched white dhoti and shirt would be harbouring in the attic of his mind.
The point is, what intrigued me was that the letters I received have been overwhelmingly from anti-communists and they were mostly visceral or vituperative with hardly any intellectual content. And, almost all of them branded me as an apologist for CPM. This when I thought I was probably a little too harsh on the communists in my criticism of the factors behind their “historic blunder” to have allowed the certainty of securing a renewed mandate in this assembly election in Kerala to literally slip away through their fingers because of their own acts of “ommission and commission” – and despite the Congress-led UDF being so uninspiring.
Equally, what startled me is that these correspondents maintained a deafening silence about the thrust of my writing, which is that politics in Kerala is decaying because the society has become decadent despite the high literacy and other indices of social formation. Frankly, I never expected Kerala to descend into such acute caste prejudices, as I wrote in my article, in less than a century after Sree Narayana Guru passed away. The Kerala I am seeing after 38 years of wandering abroad is so shockingly decadent and oppressive. Women are being shabbily treated, alcoholism is rampant, sleaze is the common norm and people just don’t seem to care for anything other than self-seeking pleasures or money. Intellectuality is at a premium — Town Hall meetings don’t attract good gatherings anymore. Male chauvanism had been the imprimatur of Kerala’s caste-ridden feudal culture and it has been resuscitated with a vengeance.
Especially, in any social encounter, I notice that an almost unavoidable initial instinct on the part of your interlocutor is to first fathom your caste before the interaction can proceed any further onto a substantive plane. I believe that social get-togethers are nowadays almost entirely on caste lines. A leading intellectual from Ezhava community told me last month that he was recently asked in a hushed tone of bewilderment as to how he happened to attend a Nair wedding in Thiruvanathapuram! I find this degree of social decadence and primitive mentality very tragic because things were so much better when I entered into an “inter-caste marriage” full four decades ago. Frankly, no one cared a tuppence at that time. We never bothered, me and my college friends in Thiruvananthapuram, what each one’s caste or religion was. When I passed the All-India Civil Services Exams with second rank in the merit list in 1973 and was leaving for Mussoorie for training, they all came to the railway station to say goodbye with tears of joy in their eyes.
I am making this point because I suspect that most of the guys who wrote to me are “middle class” fellows who want to hijack my thesis and instead dwell on peripherals. Who cares if I am a communist or not? (I should be an imbecile if I ever was impervious to Marxism.) What ought to matter is what I wrote about the great relevance of VS’ political line today and my “discovery” during the recent period when I began visiting Kerala much more frequently than at anytime since 1973 when I left home, as to why VS is “connecting” with such a huge reservoir of (latent) opinion in Kerala, which is where I think the communist movement should play an “authentic” role, having been the inheritors of Kerala’s great social renaissance in the early part of the last century.