03 Jun Are you a Mallu, Malabari or Malayali?
It’s all in the name! Haven’t we heard this before? So also the rose line… Call a rose by any name and…well, I cannot forgive myself if I were to drag the greatest bard into his, because my reference is to name-calling and not naming.
I was privy to a couple of instances of unpleasant name exchanges of late. And my first stop was at Google to ensure I’m updated on the latest definition of ‘racism’.
One of my friends took serious offence on being called a Mallu. [For all those uninitiated, the pronoun refers to people from the South Indian state of Kerala].
Indians call their compatriots from Bihar, Biharis; those from Bengal, Bengalis; those from Tamil Nadu, Tamilians; from Gujarat, Gujjus, similarly Nagas, Telugus and so on… So why should Malayalis take offence to being called Mallus? And don’t we hear bhiyyas and madrasis, too.
“We are Malayalis and not Mallus,” came one stern correction.
Then why don’t you take offence when called a Malabari – another common reference to a native of God’s Own Country? I wondered aloud.
Probably because ‘God’s own subjects’ seem to have silently accepted that pseudonym, I suggested, when I got no reply. To that, one of them told me rather miffed, “to how many will you explain the geography”.
[Let me explain the geography bit…The exodus to Gulf countries from Kerala initially – way back in the 1980s – was from Malabar region of state. So they were called Malabaris and the name not only remained but over time anybody who speaks Malayalam is called a Malabari.]
But how should it matter? It does not imply the caller is superior in any which way. If at all, it only highlights their ignorance.
Name-calling is a form of racism, I was corrected. [Now you know why I first Googled]. The theoretical definition of ‘racism’ is the same in this hi-tech century as it was when first formulated.
If name-calling is racism, then what is not? Our behaviour, beliefs, opinion, actions and habits are conditioned to a certain extent by our surroundings and our upbringing. And, thereby, any word we utter, any action we initiate will be racist in nature in some bizarre context to at least a few, who consider it is unacceptable.
How about blondes, blokes or Pakis? Definitely ‘racist’ because they are culture-specific. And so every time you call a man by his nationality, you are a screaming racist. However, if you laugh it off, you are a sport. If you take offence, you are hurt. And if you didn’t bother, it’s just another name.
Just like kheer is termed pudding; idlis called rice cakes; rotis called breads; any South Asian dish a curry…so also for non-Keralites or non-Malabaris or non-Malayalees or a combo of any of these, residents of the state are just Mallus. Easy to pronounce, short to write and fun to taunt. But then, it’s zimbly unbearable to some of us. Each syllabblle faals like a bombbu on ower eaers!