India is one of the very few countries on mother earth that can boast of varied customs, traditions, languages, religions and of course, varied regional dresses. Of these, the lungi has always been a hot topic of discussion among those who don’t use it often. But there is this certain terrain, where the lungi still retains its popularity, tearing out from view any shirt pant combo that threatens to oust it from power. This place, but of course, is Kerala. The Malayali inadvertently wears the lungi, almost as if it mattered to him as much as anything else in his life. The quintessential Mallu, as we call him- has a lot of whack about him. Heavily oiled hair, generous amount of sandalwood paste rubbed across his temple, a leather, neither purse nor wallet kind of something tucked away nicely between his arm and torso, flat, monsoon-ready chappals, white well ironed shirt resting upon a whiter, tightly clad ‘mundu’- oh, and that is the name for the traditional white lungi. Checklist complete. Mallu is good to go.
On his way to work, he shall have to talk to his umpteen friends that pass by. But the time-manager that he is, he leaves home an hour earlier than required. There is someone asking him about the on-going construction work, someone else who is there merely to laugh at him for not standing up to his mother-in-law the other day, another who hurriedly issues a reminder to him to be present for the temple committee meeting the next morning. An hour later, he reaches school. (School is where my version of the Malayali is employed). There’s a sense of homeliness here for him. After all, everyone there, including him, is a Surendran Maasha and a Ravindran Maasha and a Gopalan Maasha and a what not Maasha-( Maasha is the Malayalam version of professor). And the ones who aren’t Maashas are Suhasini teacher and Vilasini teacher and Mohini teacher. The rest are the usual, prankster, tenth graders. Our Mallu reaches, teaches, preaches, finishes off the day’s lectures, gives his colleagues their fair share of daily talk time (by fair share, we mean, two full hours), and darts off home.
At home, he is waiting. He changes clothes (the white shirt is replaced by a vest and the mundu by another mundu), takes the cup of tea in his hand, sips restlessly, while still constantly looking at the entrance. Finally, they arrive – his neighbor, his neighbor, his neighbor, his neighbor and many more. Together, they start discussing their favorite topic -politics. Our Mallu is a strong Communist and had one or two if the neighbors’ backing. The rest belong to different parties and advocate the same with full royalty. There is chaos, attacks and counter-attacks. Those who come to silence the party, instead join in and add to the mayhem.A weary Mrs.Mallu goes to the neighbor’s house and waits for the session to end.
Our quintessential Mallu is quirky, weird, methodical, has a specific way of doing things, loved his food, tea, mundu and his political party. Day over, sleepy, he slumps into bed and almost immediately starts snoring. Shhhhhh now, let’s not disturb him…..