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Outsiders Insiders

The other day a lady called NURA wrote to me mentioning that she felt alienated from her own culture because she was an “unfortunate NRI”.  She felt that she was judged even before she spoke.[Reference http://anjalimenon.wordpress.com/2009/09/27/barack-obama-david-letterman/#comments]

It can be quite a predicament when one has lived in multiple cities and countries and identifies with different cultures as one’s own. I relate to that.

The plus is that one learns so much along the way but the minus is that there is no single place called “home”. When I grew up my parents were quite particular about inculcating traditional values in us and so we were brought up in that way. Yet there are evident influences from beyond that which create a hybrid sensibility – a sort of amalgam of cultures. Most migrant children would have the same.

But what I find peculiar is that, when we return to our roots – are we expected to revert and become some kind of son/daughter of the soil and leave behind our other influences?

To all self appointed judges – I refuse to be apologetic about my multiple identity as I actually like the different sides – am as comfortable with Chakkavarattiya Paayasam as I am eating a Shawarma or a Sacher Torte! 🙂 Besides, isnt the non-resident Malayali an important part of Malayali socio-economic culture? High time to get off those high horses and recognize the multiplicities in our own culture. After all, culture is simply a shared set of values.

I dont take myself too seriously so my usual reaction to criticism is a smile 🙂 I know my Malayalam- English avial  is far from correct but lets hope it’ll get better with time- for the sake of those who put up with it!

But there  are whole generations of immigrants’ children who speak like me and think like me and are like me. Some of who may not laugh off the jibes and criticism aimed at them – instead they discover the pain of rejection. Nura (mentioned above) seems like one such person. In this era of melting borders and fusing cultures, isn’t it time to accept our own? Isn’t it time to explore the mindscapes of such people?

With such ideas in mind, Revathy and myself threw a few thoughts at each other a few months ago. The result is that we are working on a film together – I am writing the film and Revathy is directing it. The protagonists are people who have ventured outside their home territory and found their way back. A warm romantic comedy.

I think it’ll be fun.

Comments: 31

  • Chandu March 3, 20104:11 pm

    Agree with you completely, because I have seen the hypocrisy of the average Malayalee. They always need their wealthy NRI friend, but never miss a chance to hint that they didn’t commit the ‘sin’ of ditch-ing the ‘motherland’ for money.
    I have many cousins who are often ridiculed by their friends in back in Kerala because they weren’t lucky enough to learn to read and write Malayalam. And, above all is the Malayalee motto of “settling down in their home town” and the prejudice that NRI children will be incapable of doing so in the future!
    Anyway, best of luck for your next venture. Still waiting for those lucky red seeds! And by the way, saw your Rosebowl interview the other day. rest assured, your Malayalam is not that big an avial 🙂

  • Shemeem March 3, 20104:12 pm

    Chechi,I think it will be Great combination,not only for the type of the persons who will be working but also the taste of two different artist.This i felt “Happy Journey” and “Makal” in Kerala Cafe.Both were two extremes in their view.All the best for the event.

    Also like to share the things which u saying that sharing of values that created Socio Culture.My view not only from that also one person can change their value of culture with his own ability
    and his analytical skill.I think u also know about my Fluency in English.I know its below than average.But i hope you got what i write this post.Don’t care about your Eng language slang.Not the furnished way the matter handle,how others catch our thoughts.Go forward strongly..All the best for the future.I will tell my story later..

  • Pyari March 3, 20106:30 pm

    Wow! Eagerly waiting for the new venture. And definitely this is a topic which deserves attention. I have hardly heard this topic being discussed by any kind of media. Wishing you both all the very best!

  • sudhi March 4, 201011:11 pm

    I am not in your place or in the mentioned multicultural place fortunately and unfortunately. As long as your parents leave a good slice of native culture in you everything will be alright.Rest is the sensibilities you develop on your own.This is what I think.
    On the other side I don’t see many malayalees in Kerala(I am not talking about more than 20% of people coming from Tamil Nadu, AP, Bengal, Bihar and UP). The chance of developing yourself into a multicultural person is quiet high even if you are born and brought up in the state. I will call that a culture without culture- you just opt for the easiest and most useless form of life. The ears plugged with ear phones, the eyes shut with the TV/video/computer or laptop images, mouth stuffed with fast food and brain filled with our useless curriculum and selfish thoughts.There is no place or space for any human feelings or sensible outside contact.Lost are the days of thinking about the poor and needy. Gone are the days of deep thoughts or freedom of mind. I don’t think we will see any more Rabindranath Tagore, Maxim Gorky, Mahathma Gandhi or any one in that catogory.We will get only the Blairs, Bushes and the company.I think this is the general direction of the world, definitely the ‘developed’ world.Sorry for flying off the tangent.
    Best wishes for your new project.

  • Parvati Prakash March 5, 201012:01 pm

    “I will call that a culture without culture- you just opt for the easiest and most useless form of life. The ears plugged with ear phones, the eyes shut with the TV/video/computer or laptop images, mouth stuffed with fast food and brain filled with our useless curriculum and selfish thoughts.There is no place or space for any human feelings or sensible outside contact.Lost are the days of thinking about the poor and needy. Gone are the days of deep thoughts or freedom of mind. I don’t think we will see any more Rabindranath Tagore, Maxim Gorky, Mahathma Gandhi or any one in that catogory.We will get only the Blairs, Bushes and the company.I think this is the general direction of the world, definitely the ‘developed’ world.”

    Hey Sudhi, if this is what you call “flying off the tangent” then I would suggest you do that every very often you get to do that. I so totally agree with the above mentioned…so much so that it felt like a pie of truth thrown onto my face….I dont know if you get what I mean.
    Point is , yes, I agree with Sudhi here that “As long as your parents leave a good slice of native culture in you “…everything will indeed be pretty much alright. In todays times of umpteen platters of choices, it surely is dependent on the sensibilities you choose to accept and adapt to…In todays mad mad rush of achieving a (safe & soaring) career one has no time or inclination
    to think of the poor & needy, freedom of mind etc.

    Today everything depends on the choices one makes… very few remain , who are able to make sensible choices …Manjadikuru the film is perhaps a beautiful example of the choices made by Anjali…the malayalee( the culture, traditions), the artist(the story) , the filmmaker( the technical prowess).

    again, I think I flew of another tanget here…sorry about that…I am still eagerly looking forward to watch the film in a theatre here in Trivandrum…

  • nura March 5, 201012:14 pm

    maam….very nyc blog but there is a small correction, i am nt a lady ….hehe…i am more of a girl….but many ppl do say that i hav the maturity of a lady…anywho hope that i lrn to handle critism in ur way…i am way more hot headed…waitng to c ur movie on the NRI concept…tc

      • nura March 6, 20105:12 pm

        aaa…if only it was so easy..but i ;ike it this way…it reminds me that i am passionate about certain idealogies….i was just reading ur opinion about womwn directors….it is kind of sad that we (women hehe) keep screamng the lack of our involvmnt in any field….my view is if ur good or passionate about anythng u will succeed in it…at least in this day and age our being male or female is not a deciding factor…i mean guys are awesome chefs, very comfortng nurses (i rctnly had an accident , met this male nurse very nyc guy…also the female matron was so bossy). so i guess it is jst hypocritical to keep sayng that we dnt hav opportunities. in short if ur gud prove it…

      • surya narayanan March 7, 20107:54 pm

        i am a new reader to your blog maam…i found this topic quite interstng…first of all I also belong frm dubai…and yeah i too love the shawarma but i more of chakka payasam kind of guy…nw about being an NRi i am proud of it and consider myself lucky to have had the opportunity to live with my parents whereevr thy wnt…there are certain thngs i wish i could change …like the closeness with my grandparents and certain othr relatives …but i guess that is lyf u gt certain happiness and a certain amount of troubles…i have been lucky to hav a family which did gave me a proper insight to my culture but never burdened me with it…i choose the way i am and quite proud of the man i am…so the moral of the story is that lrn that ppl hav no boundaries ,wen u classify thm basd on boundaries there always emerge ppl like us who have travelled and lived within and outside of a proposd boundary…havnt seen any of your movies but by the way u write i am sure that u have a spirit in your ideas…bst of luck

  • satheesh kumar March 5, 201010:18 pm

    Is culture a set of values, if so a kid being raised in contemporary Kerala is exposed to similar values prevailing in Dubai. kerala kid don’t know how to think and dream in malayalam , imaginations are currupted as the socio, economical, ecological atmosphere ( better not to mention political)…. so all the best for your new project, we all can identify with your charecters.

      • satheesh kumar March 9, 20104:32 pm

        hi Anjali, I may not give you answers, but my thoughts are:
        1. None is a problem, even if they r not dreaming, not to mention about the language. Point is that even a kid in kerala can very well identify with ur theam, as culture undergoes changes like the values.
        2. ‘typical malayali mentality’ can only be cherished by middle class, average , boring premises. i never saw a fiction writer placing his charecter there. So the colourful films needs much more vibrant cultural back drop.
        3. i know nothing about evolution of Indian culture to comment, just thought of discussing a film story.
        4. i am afraid of comparing one culture to another. i was taught compare an apple with an apple.

        so the question comes up what is malayali culture? is it reading and writing in malayam, is it wearing ‘onnarayum mundum’, is it living in eco-appropriate sloppy-tiled houses, is it eating rice in banana leaves or is it living in place ruled by kerala Govnt.
        my corrupted brain tells its what i think or dream about.
        unfortunately its in malayalam which create cultural shocks even to my native fellows in Mulanthuruthy village.
        So a collective individuality of malayali – a culture, what is it?

    • arun March 6, 20107:21 pm

      hello sir…firstly my name is arun i belong to the NRI clan…trust me it pure babble that kids abroad are corrupted…its jst that we hav seen a differnt kind of society frn the very beginning…i am livng in India since the past 4 years…guys and girls ovr here are more ‘corruptd’ than a kid outside…in the end wat u do is partly basd on ur charactr and no doubt basd on ur envirnmnt..so take of ur prejudice and lrn to c a person for the decisions he/she takes rathr than the environmnt in which he takes it..

      • satheesh kumar March 9, 20104:46 pm

        Hi arun, in my stupid opinion . not only kids in kerala, the adults including me are corrupted by our past knowledge. I write this thinking to convey onething, my poor English can not convey it properly, when you read your imagination takes it into another magic world . I was trying tell Anjali that the cultural difference exists even within the place called Kerala.
        It may not be wise for a person to takes decisions irrespective of the situations. Life is always right here and right now, so the culture.

        • arun March 12, 20101:51 pm

          message taken sir. by the way nyc usage of your ‘poor english.’god bless.

  • Jayakrishnan March 6, 20101:09 pm

    Todays world it can be incredibly hard to relate to their own culture as with the multitude of interactions with others. But at some point, quite involuntarily that journey must be taken back to realize the values upon which we have been brought upon and that set of code to function we got used to as culture.

    @ Anjali – Agree with you that it seems quite irrelevant in which language you think is, in terms of this debate. But for a craft like film making would it have gained a different perspective for a theme, may be one that portrays kerala 20-30 years back or plus, if you had been here more.



    • satheesh kumar March 9, 20105:01 pm

      When the imaginations and thinking process get corrupted i got confused.
      i ask a common question to kids comes across me in dubai as well as in kerala – whats your biggest dream
      i am afraid to make a statistical conclusion on this because i still believe in angles.

  • Umesh March 6, 201011:47 pm

    Great news. A romantic comedy from revathy is indeed something to wait for. I really enjoyed watching her mitr my friend. To be Frank I didn’t quite enjoy watching her tear jerkers after that. Again of course you are writing. The expectation has just soared high. All the best

  • all the best for ur new film

  • ariy March 11, 20103:28 am

    I can’t wait to see this. I relate to it completely, being an outsider-insider myself. Coming to think of it, I had actually used that phrase before too=] It’s extremely alienating to be a part of all these different societies and yet, not a full part of any. Ostracized and incorporated at the same time. There’s a whole generation of us=] Lucky ones… not.
    I love Revathi’s movies too. Mitr was one of my favorites. Can’t wait to see this! Good luck on it.

  • sulini March 13, 201011:20 am

    oh dear! why do you raise such difficult questions 😉 i dont think any child who is a product of an eng medium school here can think in mal anymore with monitors lurking ard every corner 🙂 its not sinful to not have that ability, but it is indeed tragic to not know one’s mother tongue intimately. when there are cultures wherein languages are dying out and youngsters face the void of not knowing what their roots are, when english and pop music and an imposed religion is all they have, we are still fortunate to have these and to have an opportunity to get to know them better. (our last work was abt precisely all this!)like someone said here, its ultimately all personal choice. one can live in kerala and be as un-indian, un-malayali as someone who has never lived here. its a time when we have the internationla salsa congress happening in kerala n people consider home grown art exotic, out of date 🙂 its shameful to be wearing a mundu and you’re in when you’re in western wear. its an irony but i think its the native malayali who must feel the most odd nowadays, in places like kochi at least!

    its wonderful to have one’s horizons broadened by influences from all over the world. its tragic only when one starts feeling ashamed of one’s roots!! but in no way does it authorize anyone living here to sit in judgment on the others 🙂 wonderful that something creative is brewing out of all this angst! coming from the two of you, it has to be awesome 🙂 this might make interesting reading


  • satheesh kumar March 14, 20104:34 pm

    Today the world is like Roman empire, state (want only tax) cease interfere with ur life and culture, borders are melted, war happens next door… so how do we get equiped? its only with thinking and being imaginative. A kid gets the culture from mother’s milk, emotions reflected with the language we speak at home, then education and co-operation with a society having the same language, then the cultural activities reading , writing, dreaming, sharing, communicating to enforce the foundation ….. most of our kids are not get these luxuries now a days.

  • ranji March 15, 20108:48 am

    Regarding – are we expected to revert and become some kind of son/daughter of the soil and leave behind our other influences?

    No. Although I think that anything more than an ever-so-slight change from the “daughter/son of the soil” mode implies a huge compromise has been made


    • satheesh kumar March 16, 201012:07 pm

      “kids of soil” can be considered as stepping stone from which kid can stand up and see out of his/her cave and appreciate there exist a wonderful world. Cultural quest of all civilization is to constantly wonder “is there a better way we all can live/die.

  • ranji March 20, 201010:30 am

    Stepping stone is fine, but I think a more appropriate metaphor is bosom. And why this obeseeion with progress? Progress to what?

    • satheesh kumar March 28, 20104:13 pm

      Renji, life is a flow with so many choices. each moment gives us immense potential to select, we with our limited senses and intellect search for the better choice, hece the human civilization ask same question is there a better way to live / die (both are same, its just a matter of time!!!)

  • satheesh kumar March 28, 20104:21 pm

    Hi Anjali, yesterday one of my NRI kid revealed they are first moulded not to be emotionally attached to home(we may shift any moment), society (a lot of strangers out there), country (we have to go back one day)… even freindship is very formal… they apply same ditachment to parents and ultimately become powerful individuals…. world is slowly becoming place of highly powerful individuals with harder foot prints.

  • Anagha December 17, 20125:24 pm

    I don’t think it’s about judging on whether or not you follow you own culture or not.Common people you can’t still wear tiger skin shoes or go to a sanyasi for the cure of any disease!!!!This is the era of technology!!!I think anything can be incorporated as long as it does good to your life and makes it easier to live!!!

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