For most of my career life, I have been in Africa, East, West and South. I started in the East. Before I went there, I had no idea, what the place looked like, what kind of people I would be coming across or anything of that kind. It was not even my dream to go overseas, yet I was there, by marriage.
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 significant presence of Indian community, which gave me some consolation. Most of them were descendants of the labourers hired to toil in the productive East African Colonial farms or of 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 calendar, which in a small way relieved our homesickness. However, the most disappointment for me was the feeling of isolation regarding media communications from home. The place where we lived had no TV or a national or local daily. 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 fluttering signals.
The only entertainment available in that small town was an Indian theatre where old Hindi and Chinese films played during weekends.
In the major cities, some Malayalees imported Malayala Manorama a Malayalam daily from Kerala. They raised, I was told, its import cost, the price and an enormous postal charge, which was sent in advance to the media office in Kerala, from where somebody connected to them collected it and posted them on a weekly basis to Africa. On the ship or aeroplane, the parcel took another two to three weeks before it reached here. Then it made rounds to the 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 developments, she included all state and national elections, their outcomes as well as the ineffectiveness of a bribe-hunger civilian contingency that administered the country.
We heard about the assassination of Indira Gandhi and her funeral through BBC. Where were we then? In WestAfrica. 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 Keralalites there made a difference. Each family after visiting Kerala returned with bags full of Malayalam film cassettes and put them for circulation. Then there were the class-caste-conservative-elitism- ridden Malayalee Associations which they said were to indtroduce Indian culture to the younger generation. In actual sense, they helped to pass on their caste-calss-religious dogmas.
By the time Rajeev Gandhi was crowned on to the throne of Indian democracy, we were in South- South Africa. Nelson Mandela was released from his 27 years of 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 a democratic republic in 1994, the apartheid systems were dismantled and replaced with new democratic regimes.
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 its ruling system and elitism, until today.
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 big sections of Indian books, on history, religion, culture, politics and short stories. Most Universities have faculties on religion which prominently features Hinduism. Other strong indian factors are a high contingency of Indian population, the historical reminders of India’s embargo on the apartheid government as well as the pragmatic spirituality promoted by M.K Gandhi who lived here a few years, during its troubled time.
Less than 1% of the current national population of SA is Indians and they play an influential role in its economic, social, political and educational life. Mostly descendants of the labour recruits for the sugar cane plantations in Durban, a port city in South Africa, during the colonal times, through hard work and tenacity, they managed to turn things around in their favour. And apartheid had played havoc with 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 programmes on the national TV. Bollywood films are regularly shown in theatres. Indian culinary is a sought after item here, oth on the screen and in real life.
Of all the best was the advent of 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 believe. 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, one-tenth of its population work overseas, and India was already on the path of liberalisation. Any person would have expected that Kerala's’ media houses were conducting business keeping at level with the world's standards. But, in reality very little have changed there. True, there was a massive makeover on the outside; media people sporting modern gadgets of journalism, pretending to be a new media force to be reckoned and so on. But how much of their journalistic work are guided by researches, investigations and journalistic integrity is 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. Liberalisation is an entirely misunderstood concept for them. It gave them license to conduct businesses in their persoanl interest with scant regards to the public and the nation as a whole. Media, suppressing vital information, favouring the vested interest of ownership and political supporters would only help them to plunge them deeper into ill-reputation and ineffectinvess.
The Kerala I found in 2001 through its media was in no way a Kerala I had hoped for. Hardly an article in their publications meet with the international standard regarding 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 a software programme that enables the reading and writing of Malayalam ( 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 more who need mentioning, but many of them I do not know.
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 expertise with others. It is also a powerful forum to connect with people to discuss matters affecting them and the world as a whole. 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 with time into a powerful forum to influence our socio-political statuesque.
That is all that I have to say about myself for the time being. Thank you so much for reading about me. Your suggestions and opinions are valuable to me.
Contact me at: firstname.lastname@example.org