MAY 31

GOD’S OWN country. What a trite description of a land where everything could have gone right but went so disastrously wrong.

In Kerala, Kerala, Quite Contrary, an anthology of fiction and non-fiction edited by Shinie Antony,we get to see a dark side of the tiny southern state far removed from its effervescent tourist brochures.

The common thread that runs through the book is how the Malayali, ready to the four corners of the earth in search of work, cannot shake off his provincial mentality. This is well brought out in Susan Vishvanathan’s essay ‘Odd Morning’where she recounts the famous unblinking stare of Malayali men at women. The Malayali’s insularity is also visible in other pieces with all its peculiarities.

For example, the irritating belief in his own superiority while hesitating to admit being one.

Various writers in the anthology also speak of the uneasy co-existence of the Christian and Hindu communities.

Why is a state with 100 per cent literacy and First World development indicators not up there in the marquee? It is the penchant for fruitless argument and meaningless opposition that has held the state down.The self-destructive politics and its catastrophic effect on society is brought out starkly in the essay ‘Fort Lines’ by Shreekumar Varma. Here and there as in Shashi Tharoor’s essay, ‘Building Brand Kerala’,we see the promise of what could still be.

The last story touchingly sums it all up.

It is by Omana, a domestic worker who has found work outside the state. As she teaches her wards, the word sukhamano (are you happy?) crops up.When they ask her if she is happy,she replies that, for the moment, she is.

Small people, small dreams. Trapped forever in an illusion of past greatness, mirrored against a Monetesque background,what could have been God’s own country but sadly, disowned by Him.

Lalita Panikkar, Hindustan Times