June 06, 2005

American Elections and Kerala Rallies

I have a new colleague who joined my company recently. He was working for a world famous US firm for the last nine years before moving back to India. He is a Muslim, a very religious man, one who can be made a role model in that aspect. I was talking to him about the life and people in America, with the general curiosity of a software engineer who hasn't got an onsite chance yet. He was talking about how people in US react to presidential elections and how important it is to present himself as an "interesting and not boring" fellow for a future American president. I have read in news columns about the importance of television campaigning in US, what he told confirmed all my perceptions to be correct. He summarized people in America in general "They eat a lot of junk food, watch a lot of TV and movies and have sex. They talk most of the time either about movies, TV shows or sex." I am sure there can be disagreements with this argument, but considering the exposure this guy has had to the culture, I think this must be a true generalization!

Now, Kerala is considered to be akin to US in living standards, I thought how people in Kerala behave compared to this. Naturally, it is understood that the above said behavior of Americans come from the fact that they live in an affluent country, where there is nothing much to worry about, other than the life of movie characters. But for Keralites, the idea of open sex talk and junk food are still alien as of now, though the latter is picking up very fast. I can easily say that Keralites are the most conservative community among Indians.

My observations when I went to Kerala last time included so many things. People are building up huge and posh houses and are spending money on making the old ones bigger. They are very much interested in getting best of the furniture and household items so that their house looks no-less or better compared to neighbors'. (This transformation is happening to my Sweet Home also). In most cases, this has been an impact of foreign money flow into the state from early 1990s. The gulf dirhams that come to any Muslim household in northern Malabar or the dollars that get transferred to NRI account of any Christian household in southern parts of the state, include this. This flow of money from outside has created many people in state who does not need a job to survive. In fact this has also changed the attitude of people so much so that they have become spendthrift. It is difficult now a days to identify the financial situation of an individual, especially youth, just by looking to his outfits. This is a far cry from the situation when you had customized dressing styles for a community depending on their occupation.

This mass of people who are unemployed, or who does not need a permanent job for survival, has been utilized extensively by political parties in the state. Politics in the state has become a gimmick on TV screen. The better actor you are, the better you will survive in politics. The 101 channels that try to establish themselves in the state give so much publicity for any XYZ leader of ABC party that it has become easier to be popular. It is not ethics or morals that matters, but how do you manage your screen presence. And the latest popular technique to this effect is RALLY. Every party and religious organization conduct rallies in the state in order to SHOW their strength. And almost all of them have made their rallies successful, a factor determined based on the length of the rally, the time it took to pass a certain point and the time duration for which the rally managed to block the traffic in the city. The rallies are usually organized in the major cities in the state viz Kochi, Thiruvananthapuram and Kozhikode so that the latter of the above factors makes a bigger impact in the success of the rally. Coming back to the original subject, how these rallies are useful for the unemployed youth? As and when the number of rallies increases and when the rallies are conducted almost daily, people get tired and are no more interested in going for any of these. There comes the role of agents who recruit people for these rallies. Agents will offer these unemployed youths a sum of 250 to 500 rupees and a bottle of alcohol for participating in a rally. At the end of it, the organizers are happy because the rally was a huge success, the youth is happy because he got made some good money in two hours and the agent made some money for amassing some stupid people. The one who losses is common public, who is made to see all this drama through the channels and whose life is made difficult by blocking roads and the state which looses the working hours and the name "not fit to start an industry".

And people like me, who is migrating from state to state for a better job, because their is no job available in the state even if you are ready to compromise on your compensations, find the whole scenario as disheartening! There was a time when I felt proud when I heard a common mallu joke, that Neil Armstrong found a Malayalee Tea Shop when he went to Moon. Now, when I understand why so many Keralites have left the state to find a job elsewhere, and with the homesickness now I feel, it no more seems to be a joke to me!

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