Maybe if my birthplace was on another planet I might be more enthusiastic to head home during the holidays. But as things stand, since childhood, I have always resented this annual southern trek towards kith and kin.
If I thought I could tiptoe through this period anonymously doing my own thing, there is something urgent that requires my complete physical presence; a betrothal or baptism or girl-seeing or boy-seeing, and if nothing else someone dies.
Since everything happens very far away one has to wake up at an unearthly hour to reach in time. In the car an aunt will say the rosary loudly , that’s how she prevents personal road accidents, an uncle will show you fond pictures of his gall bladder (not within him anymore) and a child will throw up (sometimes that’s me).
After a long and aimless drive, the motley bunch reaches destinations fresh as a daisy while I wander dazed and zombie-like. A million strangers ask me with the widest grins if I know them.
‘What’s my name?’ they will question if you nod uncertainly. I have never met so many people who forgot their own names.
This bone-deep lack of enthusiasm translates itself sartorially. I pack my oldest clothes, thinking I can throw these while leaving Kerala and travel back light. So I stand accused of landing up at weddings as if for a funeral (though, thankfully, not vice versa).
At weddings, where Malayalis are happy to turn up in their costliest Kanjeevarams colour-coordinated with rubber chappals, a blinding amount of bullion is worn by all. I am politely taken to be a Pentecost because of my lack of gold or perhaps very, very poor.
I’ve been asked point blank why am I so dark/thin/fat, why wasn’t I seen at church last to last Sunday, am I a boy or a girl, and shouldn’t I grow my hair to stop this gender confusion ha ha.
There is also the pleasant fringe benefit of being stared at in a neutral way by the opposite sex throughout your stay.
There is always time to bump into an uncle, aunt or cousin who will look tragedy-stricken that you cannot write or read Malayalam. ‘What?’ they will scream, or ‘Vaad?’, abandoning their purist tendencies just so you comprehend the full extent of their shock in the language of your betrayal.
‘And your children?’ they ask with big-big eyes. No, they cannot either, you say, edging backwards. Two years later the same uncle, aunt or cousin will tell you with beaming pride that their grand-kids speak only English.
Since a silent snobbery within Mallu circles makes maru-nadu Malayali superior to those who live there all the time, the moment one gets out, he/she starts to mock what he/she calls a ‘Typical Mallu’.
I always thought I would like my hometown more because my only parent lives there, but I find I dislike my mother a little because she chooses not to leave.
Dangle me mid-air or dunk me in a submarine in the middle of an ocean, but, please, please, don’t let me meet my relatives. As I leave whichever city I am living in, I sing: ‘Country roads, don’t take me home...’ or ‘kundree rods, dawned day'k me howmmm.’
Shinie Antony is a writer and editor based in Bangalore. Her books include The Girl Who Couldn't Love, Barefoot and Pregnant, Planet Polygamous, and the anthologies Why We Don’t Talk, An Unsuitable Woman, Boo. Winner of the Commonwealth Short Story Asia Prize for her story A Dog’s Death in 2003, she is co-founder of the Bangalore Literature Festival and director of the Bengaluru Poetry Festival.