'(The Blog) With No Name', perhaps best described as a stream of notes and thoughts - 'remembered, recovered and (sometimes) invented'.

Sunday, May 27, 2007

"Mallus Are Rude!"

Disclaimer: The above is *not* my opinion - indeed, I try not to entertain opinions on such matters. I am only a 'humble chronicler' (to use a phrase due to Malayalam writer Basheer)

This story begins long ago, when I had been away from Kerala only for a year or so. I used to be quite conscious of my Malayali 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

friends 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 in 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!"


  • At 11:57 AM, Blogger Melissa said…

    I must say I agree with this post. I am American married to a mallu. We recently visited God's own country and found the land to be quite wonderful. However, I found the people to be very harsh. My husband was introducing me to a neighbor and the neighbor looked at me and said "This is your wife?" my husband nodded and the neighbor said, "Tell her she needs to exercise." Needless to say that put a bit of a damper on my day.

  • At 1:32 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks melissa for visiting.

    i agree with you. your neighbor's behavior would qualify as 'abnormal' almost anywhere in the civilized world. but in kerala, i am not too sure!

    of course, i hold no opinions as to mallus as a people being rude or otherwise!

  • At 7:28 PM, Blogger pippala leaf said…

    Excellent post and I too agree with you. We mallus are not only arrogant but are reluctant to recognize fellow mallus. The self respect (IMHO one of the a positive outcome from our association with communism) that we developed somehow along the line had turned into arrogance and disrespect. It become a part of our collective consciousness refuting the theory that education makes one humble.

  • At 5:23 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    pippala leaf,

    thank you. i fully agree with your final comment - that education makes one humble is not universally true. education enhances our opportunities to be good and equally enhances the opportunities to be otherwise; it is ethically neutral, to a good approximation.

  • At 12:47 AM, Blogger Jayan said…

    Recently there was survey result telling Mumbaikars are very rude. Examples were on the lines --not keeping the door open, no use of word "please", less of "thank you"..

    Anyone who stayed Mumbai would not agree with any of it. The use use "ji", "bhai" etc would convery enough respect? May be.

    One reason for rudeness , as Nanda said, is education, specifically language education. There is genuine lack of effort to make our daily conversation better. Till recently I used refer mallus in office by "Nee". Then came question from a mallu about my language. He asked I would use such a language at home. I realized I was continuing my college language even after 10 years I left college.

    Question on sir--Do you call salesperson or bus conductor with a 'sir'? Why would expect them to call you with a 'sir'?

    Did any one travel by auto in calicut and Chennai. In chennai, they would call you sssaar and take 3 times the normal fare, if not more. Calicut the meter is correct. Driver may or may not smile, but does give back two rupee rupee back change to you.

    Point I am making is, it is difficult to compare politeness level across world geographies, just with language or how they eat etc..

    Back note .. I am not telling malloos are angels.. In fact this blog does reveal how devilish we are.. My favorite comment is
    --God's own country.. and devil's own people.


  • At 1:10 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks jayan for your comments.

    the 'nee' thing - whether it is acceptable or not - is quite an issue among mallus and it appears to be related to the 'second person crisis' in the language. and there are also strong opinions within kerala to the effect that "people from trichur southwards are considerably more ill-mannered than those who live to the north of nila" - the calicut autowallah stars in any such comparison/discussion.

    as for 'sir', even in madras, notorious in the rest of tamil nadu for rudeness, i have heard folks call out "conductor sir!" in buses. obviously that does not prove anything :)

  • At 1:28 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    and jayan,

    i really liked a statement of yours: "this blog does reveal how devilish we are" :)

  • At 2:46 AM, Blogger Anurag said…

    OK, so now you know how to get people to comment. :)

  • At 4:31 AM, Blogger Two Minds said…

    Can this hereafter be called 'Nee La'. What say?

    What's in a name Sir? Him whom you think is a pig, by any other name is as respectful ..

    Who are 'we'?
    'We' are communists, or Gods, or Devlis or ...?

    1.Common interest (for/against/neutral) elicits comments.
    2.Different common interests elicit different comments

  • At 1:04 AM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    two minds,

    nila is a sacred river; some folks even call it the 'keralaganga'. so,...

    and thanks and welcome, anurag
    yes, although it *provoked* zook comments, i felt (and feel) the immediately preceding post here was (and is) a much better piece :)

  • At 4:39 AM, Blogger sakthi said…

    My close friend is a mallu and I have more than 20 folks in my PG class are mallu..Counting my experience with all of them,I've to conclude mallu's are rude..Even my close friend kailash doesn't how to speak with elder people,I often scold him for his discourtesy act towards elders...
    mobile phone deals

  • At 2:40 AM, Blogger Manusmriti said…

    Hi! Nanda,
    I'm a Mallu transplanted to Delhi and living here since the past 12 years. I support your comments in that, we are known to be "well-educated" and "well-positioned" people among other fellow-Indians living anywhere in India. But if we happen to live in a different geography (esp. without any considerable Mallu influence), we'll see that the way we communicate has drastically changed, and has transformed to something more polite and hospitable. Such was my experience, when I visited my hometown after 3 years. Though at home, we acclaim the so-called harsh behavior as having the "manninte manam (fragrance of the soil)," it may not equally acceptable among others. It's in the Mallu attitude, and eally has to improve. But then it's people like us, who visit our dear ones, who should take this initiative.

  • At 9:06 PM, Blogger R.Nandakumar said…

    thanks sakthi for visiting.

    manusmriti, thanks.

    let me note here that practically everyone who has commented here (including mallus) feels that the general civic behavior in kerala needs serious upgradation.

  • At 12:22 PM, Blogger Hari Vishnu said…

    hmm.. i dont fully agree with you.. but yes ive felt this somewhat too.. and im a mallu too :-)..

    every place has their own do's and dont's, what is polite and what is not, formals and informals. What is normal here may be interpreted as rude elsewhere, say, in tamil nadu. there are a zillion such problems u can find with any place, in or outside india even probably.

    but again, we do have an attitude towards anybody non-mallu that may really be pissing off.. especially tourists, or someone who doesnt understand the system.. and yes, we dont know how to do business too, here the customer is not god, hes just somebody who desperately needs something done, and the shopkeeper is god, and many many more cribbings. guess all these just come with the perks of being in gods own country :-)

  • At 11:04 AM, Blogger krik krak said…

    Enlightening article!!
    Ive been staying in Kerala for a year now and i couldnt quite point my finger at why exactly i wasnt gelling with my mallu fellow students.(during the initial few months)
    I think mallus are xtremely proud people (not in the negative sense) and dont often allow outsiders to get friendly with them as soon as they would to another mallu.
    But once u get to know them they re all right.
    (of course u cant get close to the random shopkeeper, so a little courtesy would b very nice :) )
    But in the end i guess thats what makes india the place it is..i mean what fun is it if people throughout the country are all the same??? Unity in Diversity,remember??
    So mallus continue to be mallish,since evry1 is unique in their own way!!

  • At 6:36 PM, Blogger ved said…

    This issue is connected to the general feadal content of Indian languages. All Indian languages are basically rude to persons, who are considered to be below socially.
    The author of the article himself would be using nee, avan, aval to many persons, but would find it unbearable when it is used to himself/herself.
    As to respect, the social system in Kerala is very mixed up. Persons who are more or less on the lower level of intelluct go abroad and come back with money which expend, 13 times to 50 times due to the fraud and swindle called currency exchange rate. So everybody are more or less inclined to think that it is only a matter of being able to excape to some outside place, and come back, and then he or she is higher.
    When speaking about respect, it may be borne in mind that English does not have this problem. Most of India's problems and the general antipathy to Indians everywhere, when they appear in big numbers is due to this feudal language issue.
    If interested, read my book: March of the Evil Empires: English verses the feudal languages. It can be downloaded from my writings page.

  • At 10:36 PM, Blogger Baiju said…

    I believe this is also due to backlash of the so-called backward classes who has suffered quite a lot and now making a comeback into mainstream through government but with little or real social integration upwardly in a healthy sense. They tend to over-react. Dominate anyone before they dominate you, its a complex which has resulted in a very harsh kind of language use, reverse snobbery, and unhealthy male bonding too.

  • At 6:26 AM, Blogger ALBATROSS said…

    Mallus are Linguistic Chauvanists.
    I am from Canada and I always have this wonderful experience with these guys. If I happen to meet 2 or more mallus, or invite them to my house, they start speaking in Malayalam, even though I can't understand a single word.
    And worse, there are few who speak to me in Malayalam.

    Imagine the wonderful experience of calling these guys to my house and me feeling 'out of the place'.

  • At 1:36 PM, Blogger Satheesh Kumar said…

    Thats my first response ( the RUDE RESPONSE as a MALLU)

    When a north indian friend of mine met my dad he went to touch his feet and dad got scared and jumped of the ground.

    When I met his dad, I touched his feet, and he hugged me and said, son, you're the first mallu ever did it.

    I'm a kannooran, north of nila. My classmates in college were mainlye from south of nila. Girls fought at me many times for calling her nee, buts its how we call classmates in kannur.

    My american born wife born to indian migrants from south kerala, always got double cultural confusion with me. The north south confusion and east west confusion. She always say I'm rude. But actually I'm not.

    People don't talk much in highly populous areas. Kerala and Japan are good examples.

    In karnataka they over-insert the "saar". A menu in restaurant is chilly chicken saar, paneer masala saar, chicken kebab saar, gopi manjurian saar.

    Non mallus say mallus are tricky, its partly because you people trust us so much. We don't trust you beyond a limit. Our ancestors were syrians, southern europeans and arabs along with the indians and indian aborigens. So we are genetic supermixed race. So the virulence is higher

    I know my childhood northie friends don't talk to me coz I'm a mallu. Who cares. Our state has the highest PQLI (physical quality life index ) than most places in the WORLD.

    Once more "PODA". That makes me feel like mallu

  • At 11:28 PM, Blogger Anita Nair said…

    I am a NRK - Non Resident Keralite. You ask a Gujju / Punju which country he is from , while in foreign country - they will respond Indian. You ask a Mallu - he will say Kerala - Kerala is a country. And trust me Mallus are famous for behaving like " countries" as the slang in malayalam goes in foreign places as well.
    This " you are fat" is so rude is not something that has been acknowledged on the Mallu psyche. That too when it cross gender it is even sexually implicit is definetly something that will make a mallu man or women think we have just lost it to Westernisation.
    In Tamil Nadu it is okaly for the daughter to amrry her mother Brother- Mallus jaws drp when we hear that. How come?

    Funny- Daughter can marry Mother's Bros son or Fathers Sisters son. My mom was simply scandalised when my friend chose to love & marry her mothers sister's son. Hyposcracy/ Culture? Long ingrained traditions? God knows.

    Actually Mallus are by far a very egoistic bunch of people. The lesser the cash/ class the higher their fear of ego being burst.

    I had a Mallu maid who felt we who was staying a bungalow were not well off, because we did not brag & her servant frien's boss was living as 2 family sharing a 1 BHK was rich, because she is constantly brag that she was a crorepati.

    Well my whole idea is that actually Mallus are not rude, they are misconstrued as rude. Telling someine they are fat - is a Mallus way of showing that he is so concerned for your obese state, your blood pressure, blood sugar, etall that he/ she worries that you may not be around too long to enjoy his/her other such well meaning intentioned barbs. They feel it is necessary to state the obvious or question it.

    Mallu who does not question the obvious is considerec rude by another.

    So when someone says you are fat, why dont you reduce. Instead of defending yourself , you should be reply with a nod & then - You are so dark, why dont you try some fair & Lovely, etc?

    Now not only the first fellow will feel you are receptive , but that you are very well menaing too.

    Crazy - we mallus.

  • At 10:30 PM, Blogger Ambalavanan Parthasarathy said…

    yeah i am doctor living in kerala for the past two UG being in Chennai and PG in karnataka i can definitely vouch for ur article...
    people here never respect my profession..they often conside me as a servant who has to serve them if they pay me money...that "nee" crisis is indeed adding to the crisis of the language...they always address me as "aayaal" as rightly pointed out in your article. and they get angry for everything...donno why!!!!!

  • At 11:23 PM, Blogger harassed lady said…

    Many Mallus are psychopaths and try to dominate and control your life
    especially if you are a single woman. They have actually are still trying to
    force me marry one of their own kind who is far below me in looks, qualifications , money and who has zero decency in whom I have zero or negative interest.

    The whole society both men and women are making my life a living hell.
    I am almost suicidal. Please help me.

  • At 9:28 AM, Blogger MysticWaters said…

    I ran into a very different problem with Keralites. Every last one of them I have come across till now ( probably hundreds by now ), have been interested to know where you are from , your caste name and where you were raised , before even starting a conversation with you . Assuming I have met a Keralite in the road, this is how a typical conversation goes .

    Me : Standing quietly

    Mallu : ( Watches me from a distance for a while before approaching me )

    Mallu : Where are you from ?

    Me : ( Reluctant to answer )

    Mallu : ( persistently ), where are you from ?

    Me : Er .. Karnataka , Why ?

    Mallu : You don't look like that .

    Me : But I am .

    Mallu : You look so much better than an average Kannadiga . Thought you are a North Indian .

    Me : ( taken aback ) What's your problem ?

    Mallu : Were you raised in Karnataka itself ?

    Me : Why do you wanna know ?

    Mallu : Your English is perfect that's why .

    Me : ( silent )

    Mallu : I hope you wouldn't mind me asking . What caste do you belong to ?

    Me : ( silent )

    Mallu : I am sorry to ask this but were one of your ancestors from Kerala ?

    Me : I am getting a call now . Catch up wid ya later !

    Point to note : He never asked me what my name is . Nor did he want to know what University I went to.

  • At 9:42 AM, Blogger MysticWaters said…

    This obsession they have with regions and castes is what makes them less than appealing to me. They have a tendency to switch to Malayalam when other Keralites are around - I don't have a problem with that. They tend to believe they are the best class of humans in India - I don't have a problem with it either . It's just I wish they could keep their opinions to themselves and be more sensitive to how they are being perceived by others. They really need a brain-to-mouth filter.

  • At 9:54 AM, Blogger Not decided yet said…

    Its not just malayalis who speak in their language..its the case with Tamils, marathons. Gujaratis, Bengalis. When you meet someone from the same state you belong it feels good to talk in the native language. So don't just target malayalis.

  • At 9:54 AM, Blogger Not decided yet said…



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