Straight Bat: The Idea Of Kerala
On Nov 06, 2016
God Own Country' has entered its sixtieth year of existence; quite an astonishing feat considering the shaky, tremulous start it had as a poor, underdeveloped thickly populated state riddled with caste and religious conflicts.
Sixty years later, problems persisting, it stands as one of the more developed states in India and indeed among the world with favourable social, economic, political and even moral indices. Though Keralites as people are notorious for the apathy they hold for their motherland, the fact is Kerala has got more to brag about itself than most other fellow states.
So, inspite of the obvious geographic and demographic limitations, what was it that held the state together to attain progressive stability in its sixty years of existence, with many more still come? What was it that made Kerala transcend from being more than just a piece of land marked on a map to grow into a model of its own that proved to be an anomaly on all set laws of development, the fabled Kerala Model?
Though certain shorelines of the state had been known to the trading world since ancient times, as a cultural and linguistic entity Kerala is a fairly recent addition in history. While the state has its share of nobility and legacy of great wars waged, none of them are standout candidates to bring together this long piece of land under its command. Even the coconut trees, which gave the state its name, is not a unique enough feature to give it an enduring identity of its own. What made this place unique among others is very simply the fact that this was where the voice of the public, the masses, truly ruled over kingship and dynasties.
The feature that is most synonymous with Kerala is its celebration of Onam, a festival held to commemorate the rule of Mahabali, a demon king. But Mahabali is revered not because he ruled over three worlds or because he presented his self to a God in disguise, but purely for the fact that his subjects were the most happy and most prosperous. The celebration of Onam is not celebration of the memory of a mighty king, but the celebration of a time when all people are equal and are at peace with each other. It was and is always about the people.
The reason why Communists gained that historic win in 1957 elections was not because of their sloganeering or the charisma of its leaders, but because Communism promised prosperity for the masses like no other. And when the red political outfit started to display an authoritarian behaviour, that which is anything but people-friendly, the same masses rose against it and removed it from power. Again it was always, and truly, about the people.
It is fascinating to note that unlike other states, for Kerala there never has been a true 'godfather' kind of figure, neither in politics, nor in philanthropy, nor in religion, not even in movies. Kerala developed not because of its individual leaders but because of the people. The earliest policies of the state were aimed at ensuring education and health to the forthcoming generation. That generation then took those gifts and used it in the desert lands of the Gulf and turned it into bustling economies on their own rights. Remittances from there thrust the state forward to scale new heights.
When the state became wealthier, it was because the masses became wealthier; it wasn't a handful of billionaires generating more billions. When urbanisation came, it wasn't focused on one city, but the whole state grew as one giant city. Kerala was never about the land demarcated in a map. It was always about the people.
Keralites are never known for their patriotism, but for their willingness to strive and struggle for a better life. They are never known for worshipping larger than life personalities in any field because so far as Kerala was considered, it was never about individuals, it was always about the masses. It was always about the people. And it is in this aspect that the state stands unique. This is the true Kerala Model. And this is the idea of Kerala.
Madan Sivadasan D (MSD)
Contributor to Yentha. He lives in Kochi but his heart beats for his home town Trivandrum. Absolutely no ambiguity on his views or in his writings.