Is there a wrong answer to the mandatory question ‘Naatil evideya?’ (where in Kerala are you from) that one Malayali asks another Malayali when they run into each for the first time, in another part of the country?
If you’re from Trivandrum or born and brought up there, like I am, you may know what I’m talking about.
The reactions I’ve encountered when I reply that I’m from the southern tip of Kerala range between thinly veiled cringe and people disappearing from my life forever.
Then there are some who refuse to take that for an answer. They proceed to ask where my parents are from. I’ve had some serial interrogators trying to convince me that I’m not from Trivandrum after they learned that my parents moved there at different stages of their lives.
However, I do need to point out here that I don’t speak for everyone. I’ve run into a couple of Trivandrum peeps who share a similar history and have vehemently told me, ‘Ewww Trivandrum, I’m from < insert any place from the plantation belt> and I drink only rubber paal.’
Most longitudinally diverse places have a North-South divide, be it a country, a state, or a city, right? Even within Trivandrum, you can probably listen to a micro version of all these reactions if you tell them that you’re from south Trivandrum.
‘Neyyatinkara? Eww, David!’
I still remember how one of my aunts in Kottayam went ‘Whaaa’ when amma told her that my sister is planning to get married to her boyfriend who’s from Poovar. To her, Trivandrum itself was bad enough. South Trivandrum was a scandal.
I’ve heard people quote several reasons why they don’t like people from Trivandrum. Once, I even went to Quora – breeding ground of stereotypes and generalisations – to find out why. Most of these indicated that people from Trivandrum are rude, never smile, are self-centred, and mind their own business.
Yep, I was astounded by how accurately these described me. The only quality I perhaps lacked was a piece of unwanted pineapple that shocks many people when they eat a biryani from Trivandrum.
Having said that, what is this utopia people speak of where everyone minded their own business? If only my neighbours, who were keen on asking me where I was going every time I stepped out of my house, were in on this minding-their-own-business business.
It’s been a while since I moved out of Trivandrum and I’ve been out of touch with how things have changed there in the last couple of years. I miss a lot of things about my hometown and I also miss people from there.
I miss the waiters in Azad and Aruna hotels who’ve seen me and my family grow up on porotta chicken fry and ghee roast for over twenty years. I miss the uncle in Ammu’s Bakery in Thampanoor who used to save beef cutlets for us in the evening. I miss the conductor chettan of the private bus KNB who always had a beatific smile on his face even as he gave us subsidised 50 paise student tickets.
I miss my neighbours Pankajakshiamma and Molly chechi who unfailingly shower me with love when I run into them on the rare occasions I travel home. I miss the friends I grew up with exploring every single bakery, Sharjah shop and local beaches at different stages of my koumaarakaalam. When I look back through obviously nostalgia-tinted glasses, I miss my version of Trivandrum in all its totality except for the pineapple in the biryani, maybe.