"Mallus Are Rude!"
Long ago, when I had been away from Kerala only for a year or so. I was quite conscious of my Mallu identity (and accent), nostalgic about my home town and everything about it and imbued with Mallu-Mallu feelings. Those days, I got to know a lady scientist (non Mallu), who was
quite pally with several other Mallus and had even picked up some basics of the language. Once I asked her whether she had been to God's Own Country. She said:
"Yeah, a few times. Lovely place."
I asked further: "And what do you think about our culture?"
The Lady: "Can't say, really. Yeah, I found Mallus as a rule to be extremely rude!"
Self: What you say is quite a shock. You are pally with so many Mallus and they must be nice to you! Moreover, is it logical or fair to make such a sweeping statement?
The Lady: See, the way you argue! I just make an observation and you question my very integrity. So very typical!
Over subsequent years, I heard similar views being aired quite a few times. Another person, a Mallu himself, spoke at some length:
"See, whether it is due to Communism or whatever, Mallus do not know how to show respect to strangers. In Tamil Nadu or any other state, if you are a customer in a shop or a client in an office, folks have no problem addressing you "Sir" (or "Saar") or "Madam" and referring to you in third person as "This Sir" or "This Madam". And this is the practice even in villages. In Kerala, there is a distinct reluctance to show such respect. If a bill collector or delivery-man comes knocking at your door, he will address you with a silent poke of his jaw towards your face. That poke is "you" in Mallu. Mallus seem to have this funny feeling that addressing a stranger as "Sir" is below one's dignity".
Note: Part of the problem described above is the lack of a proper second person pronoun 'YOU' in normal spoken Malayalam, something I have written about elsewhere in this blog.
Here is an example of an exchange which took place at a book store in a certain town in Kerala. The sales staff of shops that area are famous for their curtness.
Customer: I am looking for books on Biochemistry...
Salesman: Which author?
Customer: Er... can you show me the titles you have?
Salesman: Why don't you tell me the author!
Customer: Heard of something like "Langer.." or...
Salesman: That's better! But, we don't have it.
Customer: Then what other authors do you have?
Salesman: That is what I have been saying. Tell me the author and I will tell you if it is available.
Customer: You store tech books upstairs, right. Can I just take a look?
Salesman: No. You tell me the author I say! And ... if you don't even know which book you want to buy, why look for it in the first place? (turns away)
I conclude this post recording a (quite recent and) very unique (or is it typical? I have been a 'non resident Mallu' for so many years now...) experience.
I am visiting a college in Kerala. It is a hot summer day. I walk into the college canteen. Very few people about. I ask the supplier for a cold drink (in Malayalam). He silently gives me a bottle and says: "five bucks".
I silently hand him a ten rupee note. He says: "No change" in a very matter of fact tone. There is nobody at the cash desk. The supplier turns in the direction of the kitchen and says very loudly: "Daa 'vane, iyaakku oranchu rupa koduthedaa!" (here is a very toned down translation: "Hey you, Give this feller five bucks!"). No response.
Vexed, he mutters something and walks in and says loudly to some invisible being: "Daa, ninnodu! oruthan avade nikkundu. ayaakku oranchu rupa kodutheyda!" ("Hey, I am telling *you*. a feller stands there. Give him 5 bucks and send him away")
Note: Unlike most of the stuff above, I do have an opinion (which I won't express here) on the following:
Someone had this take on the above canteen episode: "that guy might have thought you were a *student* of that college so he might have been being just informal!"