Dear great-great granddaughter Sumathikutty
I am sure you never expected this missive. Yes, you may even think it impossible. But here am I, writing to you, from the other side of J Devika’s computer screen at which she is staring now, mouth open and goggle-eyed, right now. I don’t have to introduce myself – most Malayalees know me as Chandu Menon’s Soul-Daughter, and the Grand (Old) Lady of Modern Kerala (alas, some of the youngest know of Indulekha hair oil only!).
I am a little doubtful about the ‘Old’. I am ever-youthful because I was born from the sheer pleasure of story-telling shared by my parents. I am deathless : my mother co-created me in pleasure , not give birth to me in pain. I have seen the times pass, and true to my deep interest in knowledge, I have never failed to recline on my couch every morning with all the important newspapers (and these days, flit about online still reclining) reading all the news about Kerala, our beloved land – our slice of divine green, lying serenely like a fresh banana-leaf at the foot of the Sahya mountains (now, that metaphor isn’t mine, but of a wonderful young lady poet called Balamani Amma). I also have watched the Nairs – my Soul-Father’s people, and therefore I suppose mine too – change in these times. Indeed, from much long before you were born. Therefore despite my eternal youth, I have known much more of life and society than you. You may be now actually now senior to me but you can only be my great-great granddaughter.
I have watched sadly how as times flew, Nair women lost their names, their hold over wealth and property, their sense of worth. In my times, we – my partner Madhavan and me – thought that marriage was not something to be used as a document of safe passage or a security certificate. Oh, we married in our souls first – the anthakkarana vivaaham preceded the formal ritual, and the latter, really, was just a formal stamp on our relationship. But now, in one of my visits, I noticed how Nair women have started wearing Talis which mark them as ‘married’ – why, even before I and Madhavan led a marriage-revolution, only pregnant cows needed to be identified with special marks like that. We did away with the Kettukalyanam! I have also seen how Nair women now smear sindooram in their hair-partings as if the Talis weren’t enough to mark them off as women in legal sex/legally-occupied-so-don’t-harass-or-tresspass etc. Worse, I have seen how they acquire education but do not often have a mind of their own, moral courage to resist injustice, and tick off men who tried to led you around by a noose. Instead they are paying men to lead them around, cow-like! In my days in late nineteenth century Malabar, after my experience, I thought there would be a time when only cows would need the noose and a stake to be tied to.
I suppose you know of my life in my grand-uncle’s Taravad. I am known best for having ticked off a ridiculous Malayala Brahmin who thought he was doing me a favour by agreeing to thrust himself on me. But he wasn’t the only man who irritated me! My own lover Madhavan could be quite bad at times. He sometimes thought I was just a – a laddoo he could hold tight inside his fist. So I did give him a piece of mind too, occasionally. Oh, Madhavan was no saint for sure – but my Soul-Father Chandu thought no end of him and even set him up as the new-age Nair who would soon replace the despicable Soory Nambutiri. But to give credit where it’s due, Soul-Father Chandu did make the much-inflated Madhavan meet his match in me. And later, as time passed, as we wafted into and out of the minds of newer generations of readers, very many of them tended to agree with him. Therefore nothing prepared me for the surprises that I mentioned earlier.
But now, it seems some things are getting worse and worse. I am known for being sharp, but this stumps me. In my times we were (I was, at least) trying to stop people from treating women like cows; then it looked like women were being coerced or convinced into behaving like cows in the name of ‘modern marriage’, ‘Hindu wifely values’ etc. etc.; and now cows matter more than women? And Brahminism has come back in a new incarnation making shrill demands for cow-like-mothers and cow-goddesses? Stranger still is that some of the Gosai-folk (I understand we are one country with them now) in this new Brahminism, are talking other things elsewhere – like this woman called Sushama Swaraj who just told an audience with a whole lot of Dhwaras and Dhwarasshinis with skins as white as they used to be in my times too somewhere far away called UN that India is for ‘empowering the girl child’? That must have made their pale skins flush pink with pleasure, but will it ever happen? When this Sushama’s brothers and uncles here are busy treating women as cows and cows as goddesses? But – and to my utter horror- it seems that rather than announce loudly that we are not cows and will not be treated as such, instead of ticking off the whole nasty lot, you are allowing yourselves to be led on and on! Can this be described as anything other than bovine meekness?
I am saying this because I ran into a comment you made about an online article some of these neo-Brahminists wrote recently, and felt pretty worried. You seem quite taken by them! You write:
… As a Hindu I am distressed that some who carry Hindu names use it to shelter themselves while vilify things I consider holy. I am also distressed that public money, which includes my hard earned money, paid as tax is used to pander to communalism. I am distressed to see the press polishing their halos by giving disproportionate space to minority matters and reporting it in a biased manner. I thank the writers to have expressed my feelings in this open letter . K. Sumathikuttyamma.
This article was about a film star who married a Muslim, converted, and took up his lifestyle. The neo-Brahminist authors were heckling her about it, saying that she had no right to say anything about the evil violence the brothers and uncles of these authors were perpetrating!
What to say, you, with your lovely Nair name, go and support them! Of course, you are not to be blamed. Madhavan and my Soul-Father had a cheap thing about the Muslims – and went sort of soft when they talked of the Dhwaras they served. But aren’t men, men? Even I wasn’t fully exempt of the cheapness, I admit. But men are men and as my Soul –Father never failed to note, I was better at thinking than Madhavan. So you see, while I am not surprised by your fear of Muslims, I must say that you must still think fairly and blame fairly!
Why do I say this? See, when I married Madhavan and not Soory, I had to adapt a life that suited Madhavan – I left my Tharavad and settled where his job was and played the modern wife of the modern man! I am not getting into that story – right now, I want to point out to you that all that the poor girl, the actor Sharmila Tagore, did was that she married a man of another community and took to his ways! Evetn I, who ticked Madhavan off several times in our love life (after marriage too, but that isn’t a story I was expected to tell!) was made to adjust and they called it Hindu wifedom! Oh yes, I heard much crap about Hindu women who were supposed to be caring for their husbands 24/7 as if these men were all perpetually-bed-ridden invalids! (As one of my favorite grand daughters K Saraswati Amma put it). I did adjust but that didn’t turn me into a totally cow-like woman for sure – my Soul-Father admits that I reigned (and ruled) like a Queen. You Nair women who have all been married off and now live according to the ways of your husbands’ families have no business calling her names – unless you are certain (perhaps from your own experience) that a woman who takes to her husband’s ways and faith are inevitably and perpetually cow-like. Perhaps you are or at least desire to join the ranks of the bovine-feminine .
WHY, otherwise, girl, are you dallying with fellows who are bowled over by fans of Soory? Ah, I would not have scolded you had I not chanced to read a Gosai who is apparently the Karanavar of these Gosai-led neo-brahminists – who heaps insults on Nair women and praises Soory and his ilk? Hmmm, my blood boiled when I read what this Gosai called Golwalkar had said to some students at a meeting at the Gujarat University in 1960 reported by the strange publication called Organiser: The horrid man said such awful things that you, even with your sympathies, would not perhaps mind it if I pulled his beard off and stuffed it down his throat:
Today experiments in cross-breeding are made only on animals. But the courage to make such experiments on human beings is not shown even by the so-called modern scientist of today. If some human cross-breeding is seen today it is the result not of scientific experiments but of carnal lust. Now let us see the experiments our ancestors made in this sphere. In an effort to better the human species through cross-breeding the Namboodri Brahamanas of the North were settled in Kerala and a rule was laid down that the eldest son of a Namboodri family could marry only the daughter of Vaishya, Kashtriya or Shudra communities of Kerala. Another still more courageous rule was that the first off-spring of a married woman of any class must be fathered by a Namboodri Brahman and then she could beget children by her husband. Today this experiment will be called adultery but it was not so, as it was limited to the first child.
Father the first child indeed! Bhbha..a! Shappan! (And the blighter got it all wrong anyway).
But seriously, wench, WHAT are YOU doing with these fellows and with a name like yours? This big-man Gosai seems to think that Nair women could be and were used for cross-breeding like cows? And you hang around with his nephews and nieces online? You are sorry that your tax payments are not used to breed these vile elements? You are sorry because the press isn’t fawning over them? If you think that such Soory-sired bullshit which we made that venerable posterior-orifice (I am still delicate when it comes to cuss words, excuse me please) swallow in one piece, can be served as prasadam because your Gosai beardie has uttered it, I can’t help saying this of my own offspring, but you ARE a shabby little wretch with no self-respect!
Now, I suppose if you were married to one of the nephews of this Gosai and took his surname and his family ways then I have no right to tell you anything – because, naturally, you have assented to his views that Nair women were indeed like cows on who Brahmins could perform genetic experiments. But since you still keep a nice Nair name unlike the neo-brahminists whose writing you fawn over, my dear, may I tell you frankly – get a dose of dignity to go with it, girl!
Wishing you the courage to throw off the yoke of the neo-Brahminists,
Your concerned great-great-great Grandmother,