During my formative years in Malluland, I used to spend a significant amount of time with my grandfather – like every other child, I suppose. He would be relaxing in his easychair, reading the day’s newspaper for the 23rd time, as I get back from school. Throwing my bag aside, I would turn to him and bug him to escort me to ‘Statue’, which was the busy junction near my house and funnily enough when I look back, the seat of power of the Mallu Government as well, as the Secretariat was right opposite the road.
As for the junction being called Statue, there is no other reason except for the presence of a tall, black statue of a rather serious-looking man (Is it quite shameful if I admit that I still don’t have a clue who the man is?) staring across at the white Secretariat. This is in fact quite a common phenomenon throughout the state, as there is yet another Statue Junction in Tripunithura, where I lived subsequently. And yes, there was a tall, sober statue there as well. And no, I would have to deny any knowledge of that dude’s identity. Even though we take pride in giving unpronounceable names to men and dishes, we are reasonably straightforward in naming places. There’s a place near my house called ‘Kinar’. I’m pretty sure that name came about with a conversation somewhat like this –
Local Political Leader with Substantial Power – “Hey you, Chairman of the New Junction Naming Committee! Have you figured out what we are going to call that junction yet?”
Chairman of the New Junctions Naming Committee – “No Sir! In fact, we are quite unimaginative in such matters, Sir. Why dont you bless the junction with a name yourself, Sir?”
Leader – “Ha, I should have known when I created that committee that you buggers would turn out to be useless!”
Chairman – “:D”
Leader – “Fine then, let me think for a while. I’m really busy with a hundred other things. Soniaji had asked Thomasji to tell Rameshji to inform me to file a report on the power situation ji!”
Chairman’s eyes pop out and tongue hangs out. Would have wagged his tail had he had one.
After some days of silence and a few snide remarks on the committee’s usefulness by the jobless hangers-on at the murukkan-kada (Paan shop, for the non-Mallus) near the junction, the Chairman calls up the politician.
Chairman – “Sir, I’m sure you are very busy sir… But that junction……”
Leader – “Eh? What about the junction? Didn’t I inaugurate it already?”
Chairman – “Yes sir! Of course you did! But you had said you would name it as well. Did you think of a name, Sir?”
Leader – “Oh! Well…”
Leader’s aide rushes into the room – “Sir!! Phone call from High Command, Sir!”
Leader drops the phone and runs off to talk to the ‘ji’ calling him. Chairman misconstrues the entire situation and names the junction ‘Well’. Which translates to ‘Kinar’ in Malayalam when used to refer to the water-producing holes that people dig on the ground.
Anyway, this was just to illustrate that our place names are absurdly simple. Apart from Kinar and Statue, we have stuff like ‘Pipeline’, ‘Toll’ etc. And one completely inexplicable ‘Paathalam’ – which literally means ‘Hell’. That must have been the contribution of the most frustrated and pessimistic naming committee ever in the history of naming committees.
As I often do, I drifted away, so I force myself back to the 8-year old me dragging my grandfather down the road to Statue. The purpose of these excursions was two-fold. One was for him to buy me the insanely yummy pedas from the bakery there (Asim Bakery, if I remember right) and the other was for him to buy me the latest edition of Balarama, the popular children’s weekly published by the newspaper giant Malayala Manorama (It must be noted that Balarama is pronounced not like Krishna’s brother’s name – but in the following manner – “Baaa la ra ma”). The other popular children’s weekly was predictably published by M. Manorama’s staunch rivals ‘Mathrubhoomi’, and was called ‘Poompaata’ (Butterfly). Of course, the pseuder kids (OK, me and the girl I had a crush on back then) snubbed Poompaata and went with Balarama, mainly due to the very strong arguments of the latter having glossier covers and all kinds of stuff free with it. Tattoos, Stickers, Masks – you name it, Balarama has it free with the next issue. Total awesomeness.
At this point, I google and am pleasantly shocked to find that Balarama even has a flash website now! And of course, Poompaata seems to have nothing like that. Up yours, Poompaata!
The little red thing in the picture is Luttapi, an imp of sorts, who was an awesomely popular character from the series ‘Mayavi’. He had this spear which was more or less a flying apparatus, and he used to be a sidekick to the main villains of the series, the wizard-witch pair Kuttusan and Dakini. Brilliant, I tell you!
So, on these walks with my grandfather to buy peda and Balarama, he used to tell me all sorts of random things, including some of the meatiest Mallu proverbs. The title of this post refers to the best of them all – “Chakka veenu, Muyalu chathu”, translated as “Jackfruit fell, Rabbit died”. This proverb is so incredibly erudite and complicated that it requires a discussion of substantial length. Which is why I’m sounding the Kaun Banega Crorepati style foghorn now and doing a Big B imitation of “Good Night, Shubh Ratri, Shabba Khair”, thereby ending this particular post.
We shall continue discussing that mystical proverb in Part 2, which I’d write soon.