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

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

'Khaliyar' And 'Kaliyar'

Nizam Ali is a remarkable character from O.V.Vijayan's Malayalam classic, 'The Legends of Khasak'. At least half of this post is about his assumed title: 'Khaliyar' (pronounced 'khaaliyaar').

I have not read the English translation of the above work, so I dunno whether the etymology of 'khaliyar' is explained there (in the original, it is not). What follows is mostly my guesswork.

The 'aar' ending is an honorific so we need only to understand 'khali'. Presumably, it is a corruption of 'khaleefa' (same as the English world 'caliph'), which in Arabic means 'successor' or 'representative'. And Nizam Ali is of course, the self-appointed corporeal representative of the Muslim saint, Syed Miyan Sheikh, whose spirit benignly watches over the lives of Khasakians.

The semi-literate rural folk of Khasak address the otherworldly Nizam Ali as 'kaaliyaare!', where the initial 'kha' sound is corrupted to 'ka', a common occurrence in Malayalam and elsewhere.

Recently, I came to read in eminent academician NVP Unithiri's autobiography about 'Vayathur Kaliyar', a titular deity of his family. My initial reaction was "Hey, that is interesting. A very traditional Hindu family has a Sufi mystic as a 'Kula Devata'!" (well, I do know of a few 'Tam Brahm' families who venerate Nagore Andavar, a Sufi saint as a family deity but in Kerala such cross-religious veneration is traditionally very rare among 'upper' caste Hindu families).

But then, I came to know that 'Vayathur Kaliyar' is actually the local name of the presiding deity of a well-known temple (dedicated to Siva) in the far north of Kerala. And apparently there is also a well-known 'Kaliyar kovil' somewhere in Tamil Nadu. Wonder how Siva got this name. Perhaps it is from the goddess 'Kali', his consort. But then, in both Malayalam and Tamil pronunciation, the 'l' in 'Kali' is 'retroflexed' - and that of at least 'Vayathur Kaliyar' is not!

Note added on 5th of July 2007: I saw the English translation of 'Khasak'. 'Khaliyar' is translated as 'Khazi'. Looks like this khazi is a corruption of 'qazi' (~ expert in religious law) or 'ghazi' (~conqueror of the infidels), neither of which matches with the character's role as the chosen representative of a higher spiritual power => more murk!

Note added on 18th of April 2009: There is a dargah called 'Kaliyar Sharif' near Haridwar. The place is also called 'Piran Kaliyar'. The first word is probably pronounced 'peeraan', the plural of 'peer' (= spiritual master) - maybe the dargah is the resting place of more than one Sufi saint. Moreover, spelt as it is in English, 'Piran' could just as well be pronounced 'piraan', the Tamil world meaning 'lord' or 'master'. The double-meaning must be just a coincidence - or is it??

Monday, June 11, 2007

Two Stories, At Least One True

Let me first retell an old story:

The Hero of this story ("Hero" hereafter) had a fixed routine. He was a wanderer, living on whatever he could get as alms - usually rice. Every evening, he would halt wherever he had reached, boil some 'kanji', eat it and sleep right there; the next morning, he would resume his wanderings.

One winter evening, he found himself at a cremation ground. The place had plenty of wood and fire. So, he set up the 'kanji-apparatus', next to a still-smouldering pyre. It was a bit chilly and he dozed off a bit - only to be woken by a blood-curdling roar.

It was none other than Kali, accompanied by her 'spiritual' attendants, each more hideous than the other. They were a terribly scary sight. But Hero was unmoved. Kali and co. seemed annoyed with Hero's presence there and even shocked at his seeming nonchalance.

Kali: Hey, who is hanging around here?!

Hero: Are you blind? I am a man, just like any other!

Kali: But this is our territory. At night, we come and dance in cremation grounds and it is not supposed to be seen by mere humans. Go away!

Hero: Look, I came here first. If you want to dance and create a racket, go somewhere else.

Kali: Every night we come here to dance. We cannot change our rules.

Hero: I have some rules of my own, which is wherever I reach at sunset, I will boil my kanji there, eat there and sleep right there. And I won't change them either. So, just beat it!

Kali: (changing tack): So, you really are not scared to see us.

Hero: I can't answer all your stupid questions. My kanji is ready. Let me eat in peace!

Kali: (rather impressed) You seem to be a truly evolved person, totally at peace with everything...

Hero: (interrupting) Hey, don't think that you can change my mind with flattery!

Kali: No Sir, indeed we are so impressed with you that we would actually like to grant you a *boon*!

Hero: I don't care for boons and stuff. My kanji...

Kali: Please understand. Whenever we encounter any human, we are supposed to either curse him or to bless him. And we don't think you ought to be cursed. Please accept a boon of your choice; and we shall move to the next graveyard.

Hero: (muttering) this has become a pain... Anyways, can you tell me when I will die?

Kali: Sure! you have another 30 years, 10 months and 5 days to live.

Hero: Fine. Increase my lifespan by just one day!

Kali: We are sorry, we can't do that. Yama fixes that.

Hero: Okay. let me live one day *less* and die on the day before you mentioned.

Kali: Again we are terribly sorry, we have no authority to do that either!

Hero: They what the hell can you *do*? I told you upfront, I don't need your boons; you have none that is worthwhile!

Kali: Please, we beg of you, please ask for something we can do for you!
Well, let me leave that story here and cut to the present.

A multi-national software company headquartered in the west. One fine day, a developer at its Indian office meets his local (Indian) manager and politely complains about his pay-hike. "Can you give a slightly higher hike?" types.

The manager gives an equally polite and detailed answer, touching upon market realities, company performance, customer whims, employee performances and their normalization, inflation, the international climate for s/w development, how the Indian share in outsourcing pie is being eaten into by Israel (where developers are smarter), Philipines (where they are cheaper) and China(where they are both), how the Indian operations of the organization are being restructured... and signing off with: "yes, you need to assess your priorities, your career goals, personal goals, family goals,... and arrive at a decision that optimizes your requirements and the constraints under which...."
Later, the employee summed up the event thus: "Boss could as well have said: "we are not gonna pay you a penny more. Take what you get or get lost!". But then, I should have known better. *Everything* is decided by the Firangees at the HQ. Come to think of it, even if I had told Boss "my salary is now getting to be too fat, please cut 1-2% off it and give it to charity" or something like that, he could only have given a similar lecture!"