The Year was 1995. I was part of the Calicut University contingent attending the National Service Scheme’s National Camp at Bodal in Gujarat. The government had selected this place as the location for a housing project to rehabilitate those who would lose their homes due to Narmada Sarovar project. We would end up constructing a total of 32 houses during the 10 day camp. I would end up being the Best Volunteer there. 100 volunteers from 20 Universities were attending the camp.
I was not keeping well after 3 days into the camp as I ran a high fever. The smell of mustard oil and the sweetness of breakfasts had taken an initial toll on me. I had to rest for one whole day, and at the end of the day had to attend a party in the village. A new potato ware house was being opened and the whole village was invited. The entire camp was invited and we were the special guests. I was not in my usual upswing mood and decided to take my dinner early. As I was about to pick up my dinner place, I heard a lady saying, “ aa glass onnu eduthu tharumo “( Please get me the glass) . I turned back and it was not Nazee, our lone lady volunteer. It was a local and I wondered if I heard it right. To my utter surprise, I had heard it right. She was talking to a guy who also looked a thorough bred local in clear Malayalam.
This village where the camp was happening was in Anand district, the birth place of Amul. We had traveled for a couple of hours to reach the village from the city. From the nearest main road, this was 14 kilo meters away, and the whole travel was on mud roads. There is possibly no way an outsider would even know about the existence of such a village. How come there is a Malayalam speaking family there? I could not contain my anxiety and went and asked him. His expression was of over joy. He happiness on knowing that I was a Keralite was evident on his face.
His name was Anthony and he ran a Tyre Puncture shop!!! That was the last thing I would have imagined. A puncture shop in the middle of no where!! Seeing my amazement, has said that there are many trucks in the village that ply between the potato warehouses and the city, and he has the only puncture shop in the village. I had to ask him, how did you reach this place? He said, had run away from his house and after few weeks of travel, had reached Anand. He got a ride in the next truck, and that took him to Bodal. He was some 15 years old then, and knew no other language and knew no job. The truck driver taught him to repair punctures, and he had a job. He went back home after a decade to meet his parents. He was not welcomed at home, and he returned back to Bodal. I asked him, is your wife also a Malayalee? He said No… She is from this village, but we speak Malayalam at home and both my kids speak good Malayalam. I had my eyes popping out as he narrated his story.
Back to 2008 and last 2 days, I was traveling to Hyderabad. As I waited for my bus, I was feeling thirsty and went to get a bottle of water. The boy standing in the counter looked a pure Mallu. Few years in Bangalore have taught me, that most bakeries here are run by Mallus from Kannur. The boy seemed happy that I decided to start the conversation in Malayalam. I asked for a Musambi Juice. He said ,in a lowered voice, “ Chetta Musambi venda.. Nalla Chicku Shake undu “ ( Don’t have Musambi, the Chicku Shake is better).
As I sat in the bus, some how Anthony Chettan of Bodal came back to my mind. But I was in for a bigger surprise. As the bus stopped at 1 Am for an untimely food break, I was forced to get up from my seat by my uncompromisingly hungry neighbor. I was half asleep as I walked to the restaurant. I looked around, and there was no sign of any life in the periphery of my eye-view. And I wondered why some one will run a restaurant in the middle of no where. The answer was simple, if it is the Middle of No where, it is run by a Mallu. So was this restaurant, An Uncle and his nephews from Kannur. I heard someone shouting from inside , “ randu KP , Mutta Curry “ . KP is Kerala Porotta with Egg curry was the order. All had their lungis tied up, and I felt I'm in some road side eatery in Vadakkanchery. I spoke to the Senior guy in the cash counter, in between my intake of a Double Omlette. They are running it on lease and are doing rocking business. It was the border to AP and he gets the entire trucks and most of the contract carriages stopping over. He runs the restaurant 24 hours , and has already negotiated for the neighboring site to start constructing a new hotel when the lease expires. He said that he found out this place as they were traveling to Hyderabad one day to find out a place to run a hotel. That looked a bit unbelievable to me though! It definitely was the middle of no where. The nearest house was 3 kms away!!
On my return I met another man from Raichur, who runs a grocery shop there for last 25 years. He hails from Trichur and has not gone home for last 12 years. He has no intentions to go back either.
He told me something which seemed the answer to why we end up seeing Mallus in the most unimaginable places. His theory is that we, Malayalees have the best survival instincts amongst all. We can overcome emotions like home land, home sickness etc etc, much better when survival is of prime importance. He joked, India’s Chandrayan, had a full Mallu team in it. The next mission will be to send a Mallu to open the much discussed tea Stall in moon.
As I'm typing this, I'm in the train and I took a break and looked out of the glass window, and saw a small light in what looks like the middle of no where. Would it be another Anthony Chettan tallying his collections for the day , far away from where he belonged.
Survival, in the Middle of No where. ???