Wednesday, January 07, 2009

The transition

Achamma works in my neighbor’s house. She has been working here as a live in maid for over fourteen years now. She is a native of Trivandrum. She loves me and the dogs a lot and would regard us with great amusement initially. She had never seen anyone walking dogs in her village. When she first came into the neighborhood, I was but a toddler and I walked the dogs with my Dad. Achamma would come to the house gate when she saw me and I would linger to talk to her and then run to join my Dad who would have sauntered off ahead. Achamma would shout a warning asking me to be careful and watch me worriedly till I reached my Dad. Then she would walk inside the house closing the gate behind her.

I have grown up with Achamma. Every evening I stop near her gate to talk. She would tell me about her teenage kids, who were being looked after by her parents in Trivandrum. Her husband a drunkard had abandoned her long ago. Her children were studying then and she was forced to come to Bangalore to seek her fortune. Fortunately, her cousin placed her in a kindly Mumbaikar Malayalee household. She is very happy and well looked after here.

Earlier she would go home every year for Onam. On her return she would bring some goodies with her for me. My mother’s protestations would be lost on her. Soon she started going every alternate year. And now she has stopped going to Kerala all together. The other day I heard her tell my mom that a visit to Kerala always made her bankrupt. Buying gifts for siblings and helping out relations who ask for monetary help made her totally broke on every visit and she has taken a very hungry train ride back to Bangalore every time. Thankfully the train tickets were bought and paid for by her employer. Now her kids are grown up and working in Delhi. Her parents have died and their small house sold and the proceeds split between her siblings and her. After that, Achamma took her last train out from Kerala, never to return again.

Achamma is not alone. There are many menial workers like her who have severed their ties with Kerala and parasitic relations after the initial enthusiasm to help out family and relations. And the reason is watching their hard earned money making people take things easy and leading to increasing irresponsibility amongst youngsters. Many of her nephews have dropped out of school and are working as laborers. Their sisters who are working, keep them afloat by sending money home. Many of them are married and have wives working outside Kerala or within Kerala supporting them while they indulge in alcohol and party meetings and strikes. There is a lot that keeps these party workers going and it is not just the party, but a support system consisting of hard working people mostly women.

Now the support system is crumbling at the edges with the women questioning the men's spendings. A maid in a nearby colony was beaten up by her husband, who came from Kerala by train to do so, when she stopped sending money home. Teresa is an example of this phenomenon. The blind loyalty towards family members back home is fast vanishing and a colder and harder conviction has set in that people back home need to take life more seriously and live within their means. For far too long, many people in Kerala have treated the maru naadan Malayalee as extra pocket money. Now attitudes are changing. People are not willing to indulge even parents who waste money and youngsters who drop out of school or college.

Perhaps family ties are weakening or women are getting smarter or wiser. I wouldn’t know. But the consequences will be deadly as a lady lost her life recently after she ran away from home to work in Bangalore and was traced by her husband. He is now on the run. It will be a bloody transition, but it is happening and that is a positive sign.


rm said...

This was pretty good. I don't know anyone in Kerala, and didn't know of the entire funda of sending money back to the party workers. Interesting. So much so, that just this once, I'll just call you Anju.

Btw, your link on "Teresa" isn't working.. :)

Anonymous said...

Nice post :)
I've recently started reading both your blogs-quite a contrast in your writing style, though that's understandable given this is your 'serious topic' blog.
About this post- I sometimes wonder when I hear about Kerala being better for women since it's a matriarchal society and is thus more progressive. The story of abusive husbands plays out among the poor everywhere.
I think the whole communist movement there has been sustained only because of expat remittances-once this stops, people over there will be forced to actually work instead of going on strikes.

phoenix said...

According to this study "domestic violence has emerged as one of the most serious problem faced by women in Kerala."

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

Transition you say? One hopes.

Things are etched beautifully in your memory. First two paragraphs so nicely written.

Rexzilla makes a good point about expat remittances.

I saw 'Varavelppu' recently. BRILLIANT movie. Deals with this along with many other issues. Marvelously scripted!

Deepti said...

Well written... Hope more people have a transition like this ... So amny women who work hard especially in lower strata of society so that their husbands can fill themselves with booze daily.

Rockus said...

You are spot on when you say that a transition is happening. It would be naive to think that family ties are weakening, its a case of people waking up to weed out the parasites instead of supporting them blindly. Family ties will be strong and meaningful only if relationships are symbiotic or commensal.

Rakesh Vanamali said...

Your account of Achamma and her plight moved me a great deal!

Although a Keralite, I have spent all my life outside of Kerala with the exception of 2 years!

During my stay, I did witness first hand of how party politics paralysed the workings of the state and the industrial machinery! It is little wonder thus that Kerala remains far behind in progress in comparison to its counterparts in the Country!

I am glad that a transition is effecting what will be seen as a much needed change in the mindset of the people of Kerala, which is otherwise blessed with serene surroundings and a very high rate of literacy!

Change is what we need! Change is what will make us counter the wave of immorality and abuse! Otherwise, it would be God's own country and Devil's own people!

Kunjootty said...

well put piece!!
Nowadays another phenomenon has taken kerala by the grips; another supposedly NRI created situation:
if a household in kerala had 2 cows and a small vegetable garden of its own at home in the past, now they have all stopped such self-sufficiency creating activities because "mon ameeerika-ilaa avanu nanakedaaville ivide ingane njan pashune okkee karannu jeevikunnathu kettal" Due to this trend kerala hits the ceiling first whenever there is a lorry strike because now almost every house is dependent on buying everything from outside (ie other states) and all this crisis due to a status issue!! :-P

silverine said...

RM: Thanks for pointing it out. Have corrected it! :)

Rexzilla: The abuse a mallu woman bears is far more humiliating than what a woman in other states go through. Its a little complicated to explain. But you are right. The whole commie movement is sustained because of remittances.

Phoenix: Ironic!

Karthik: 'Varavelppu' was a very telling movie. But nothing changed even after that!

Deepti: The transition is definitely happening. And I hope the tightening purse strings will improve the situation in Kerala.

Rockus: It is heartening to see women questioning spending now. However timid their voice is!

Rakesh: Very true!

Kunjooty: That is sad to hear! And even sadder that such age old practices are discontinue due to status issues!!

usha said...

well written one, and so so true..

Though it all just made me think about a similar paradox of these days, with the high income IT sons and daughters being looked upon as cash vending machines. most of them get played into the same trap by their families back at home, manipulating in the name of 'traditional values'.. and the karan johar / suraj barjatya inspired generation just falls in for it like makhhan.

Dreamcatcher said...

Hi Silverine,

U have made an interesting observation,but same situation is happening from ages as a vicious cycle.

Blame it on toddy effect or the system of society or male dominated society,where women are still considered as under privileged in the section of daily labourers.

With the education and active participation of media , attitude and stigma associated are undergoing a paradigm shift.

Now ,women are in the path of empowerment and she is being accepted as bread winner and multi tasker.

Domestic violence has caused serious impact in our institution called marriage.

This is the situation happening in the educated society,even though domestic violence has be reported from different sections of society.

I have seen instance where, wife and husband are daily laborers. Evening sharp 7pm,i can hear subrapatham of bad words coming from husband's mouth and wife would be shouting and crying .

I could also hear children crying. All these is for getting hard earned money of his wife for alcohal.

He wont stop beating ,unless,he gets that money.After 3 hrs,he will come back and start again the saga of beating ..then ends with his vomiting of alcohal.

This is cycle,whether its recession,boom happening in the economy

Manoj said...


I beleive that the root cause of evil against women in the state is due to ever so high proportion of alchoholics in the state. Take care of that nuisance and half the problem is solved. On the brighter side, Kerla has one of the highest female to male ratio and its not seen a trouble/ sin /curse to give birth to a girl child unlike in many other areas.



"... watching their hard earned money making people take things easy and leading to increasing irresponsibility amongst youngsters." How true.

A very well-written psot, and one that makes me think. It is always the women who have to bear all the suffering, on top of working to maintain the family. Sons grow up watching their mothers suffer at the hands of their fathers, and are all sympathy for them, hating the fathers.
Yet when it is their own turn, they follow in the footsteps of their fathers and abuse their own wives,and so it goes on....

It is vital that the transition takes place, even if it is bloody and slow