India, my motherland, appeared to me a far away place before I ventured into blogging four years ago.
For most of my career life, I have been in Africa, East, West or South. I started in the East. Before I went there I had no idea about what the place looked like, what kind of people I would be coming across or anything like that. It was not even my dream to go overseas, yet I was there.
Within days I realised, the African people were of non-interfering but inquisitive about me as I was about them. In the small town we lived there was a strong presence of Indians which gave me some consolation. Most of them were descendants of the labourers hired to toil in the fertile East African Colonial farms or of the Indian traders who followed them with their wares during the colonial times. They spoke mostly Gujarati or Hindi. There were less than ten Kerala families too there, all expatriates working in the government, private or Parastatals. I was with the Department of Education of Tanzania.
We Keralites used to gather whenever possible to celebrate the cultural and religious events in the Malayalam calender which in a small way relieved our homesickness. However, the most disappointment for me was the feeling of isolation in terms of media communications from home. The place where we lived had no TV, or a national or local news paper. I heard that Tanzania being a socialist country, TV was tabooed there being a Capitalist’s luxury. The only means to know about the outside world was the BBC radio that came in poor signals.
The only entertainment available in that small town was an Indian theater where old Hindi and Chinese films played during weekends.
In big cities, some Malayalees imported Malayala Manorama a Malayalam daily from Kerala. They raised its import cost, the price and a huge postal charge, which then was sent in advance to the office of the news paper from where somebody connected to them collected the news paper daily and posted weekly to Africa. On the ship or plane the parcel took another two to three weeks before it reached its final destination. Then it took rounds to the homes of contributors.
Those who could not afford to import the MM, relied on the BBC and the letters from home. My mother used to send me long letters chronicling every event happened in and around my home village, like births, deaths and marriages. On the political events she included all state and national elections, their outcomes as well as the ineffectiveness of a bribe-hunger civilian contingency that administered the country across.
We heard about the assassination of Indira Gandhi and her funeral through BBC. Where were we then? In the West of Africa. There too the condition was not better than in the East as far as the availability of the Indian media and publications were concerned. But the higher density of the Keralalites there, made a difference. Each family after their visits to Kerala, returned with bags full of Malayalam film cassettes and put them on circulation. Then there were the class-caste-conservative-elitism- ridden Malayalee Associations which gave a mockery of cultural exposure to the children about their 'cultures and traditions'.
By the time Rajeev Gandhi was crowned on to the throne of Indian democracy we were in the South- South Africa. Nelson Mandela was released from his 27 years of political detention in the notorious Robin Island prison.
Apartheid was on its last leg, yet we had to rub shoulders with its inhuman practices. Our daughter was point blankly denied admission to a White school for being an Indian. Apartheid in South Africa was a White owned politico-legal system having grounded in its colonial legacy. When the nation became free republic in 1994, the apartheid systems were dismantled and replaced with new democratic systems.
Now the White population is generally willing to assist the government in undoing the wrongs of apartheid. They find the practice of discrimination against the Blacks, a challenge to their own conscience and humanity.
In India I believe, the individuals never faced such personal challenges because the social collective, responsible for its apartheid was never unshackled. Instead it remained well oiled and supported by the nation’s ruling system and elitism, the individuals finding refuge in it.
So the free South Africa, in my opinion, is not anything like the apartheid South Africa. Even in the apartheid SA, I felt a strong presence of India. It had a far advanced public library system with strong sections of Indian books, on history, religion, culture, politics and short stories. Most Universities have faculties on religion which prominently features Hinduism. Other factors that influences the idea of India here may be a strong contingency of Indians, the government of India’s embargo on the apartheid government as well as the pragmatic spirituality promoted by M,K Gandhi who passed his formative years here in SA
Less than 1% of Indians in the current national population of SA play an influential role in its economic, social, political and educational life. Their grandparents were labour recruits for the sugar cane plantations in Durban, a port city in South Africa, and elsewhere by the colonialists. Through hard work and tenacity they managed to turn things around to their favour, though apartheid had played havoc on their human welfare and dignity.
Once India lifted its economic and cultural sanctions against South Africa after 1994 both countries have entered into a productive cultural and economic relationship. On the cultural and entertainment front, a lot have changed; now one can watch a few Indian programes on the national TV. Bollywood films are regularly shown in theatres. Indian culinary is a sought after item here.
But of all the best was the advent of the Internet, in 2001. At a finger touch the whole Malayalam world of news, entertainment and literature rolled out on to a cyber screen was too real to be virtual. It was an unforgettable Malayalam moment the thrill of which still lingers in my memories. It brought to a close the more than two decades of my isolation with the Malayalam media world.
However, the Malayalam media of 2001, in my opinion could have done much better. Remember Kerala by then was acclaimed as the world’s economic model, it was on top in literacy among all states in the country for a long time, its one tenth population worked overseas and India as a country was already on the path of liberalisation. Any person would have expected that Keralas’ media houses were conducting business at greater standards. But, in reality very little have changed there. True, there was a huge makeover on the outside; media people sporting modern gadgets of journalism, pretending to be a new media force to be reckoned with became a common sight. But how much of their journalistic work were guided by sufficient researches, investigations and journalistic integrity is still a big question.
On top of that, the media houses of Kerala have become corporate bodies. With partisan interests, the fourth estate of the state has drawn lines of interests along party politics and religious fundamentalism. Liberalization was a totally misunderstood concept for them. It gave them license to conduct businesses in the way they wanted it with scant regards to the public out there. Media, suppressing vital information, favouring the vested interest of ownership and political supporters have become common practice there now.
The Kerala I found in 2001 through its media was in no way a Kerala I had hoped for to find. Hardly there was an article in them that could meet with international standard in terms of their content, style, depth or investigation.
It was in 2006 that I came across blogging just after Mathrubhumi a Malayalam daily had reported a story about it.
Thanks to a few Malayalee software professionals who through their incredible commitment to their mother tongue, made the Malayalam blogging possible to all. Cibu C.J (http://vpraise.blogspot.com/ ) the creator of ‘Varamozhi’ a set of software programme that enables the reading and writing of Malaylam ( transliteration) on the computer, Raj Neetiyath (http://peringodan.blogspot.com/2008/12/118.html) the creator of the Mozhi Keymap assisting the writing of Malayalam are two among them. There are certainly many more who have who found time to dedicate to the process in one way or the other.
If the readers can suggest me more names to be added here I shall be doing it with pleasure.
Blog in my experience is a perfect media for self publication and to share ones’ knowledge and experience with others. It is also a powerful forum to connect with people to discuss matters affecting them and the world at large. It assisted me to have some good friends and to forge a team spirit of some sort.
However, in my opinion Malayalam blogging is currently functioning as a Malayali clubs; I hope it may grow in time into a powerful forum to influence our socio-political statusqo.
That is all what I have to say about myself for the time being. Thank you so much for reading about me. Your suggestions and opinions are very valuable to me.
These are my two bloggs
1. മാവേലികേരളം (Mavelikeralalam)
3. ഇന്ത്യന് ഭരണഘടന ഒരു ബൊധനാത്മക താരതമ്യപഠനം
4 2010 World Cup News from South Africa
Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org