What’s with Keralites that makes them hang around tea shops?
We walked into one in Palakkad to find out. Is it the tea? Is it the soft, steaming hot idli? Or the ‘pazham pori’ – a deep fried plantain pakoda? Or is it the crunchy ‘parippu vada’ you munch on while waiting for your ‘Mayilvahanam’ – the ubiquitous Kerala bus that is actually an extreme rollercoaster on wheels?
Maybe it’s all of them. You pick & choose your delight for the day while soaking your brains in endless cups of piping hot ‘chaya’ made in water drawn from the nearest ‘kenar’ (shallow, sweet water well).
For every one Malayali at work, there’ll be three hanging out at the streetside ‘chaya kada’ (tea shop). It’s a ratio that beats all macroeconomic windwanes. We like to believe it’s 100% literacy. We devour newspapers with gusto and hold an opinion on everything from Marxism to heavy metal.
A fair part of their life is spent between the bus stop & tea shop, some in staring at visiting NRKs (non-resident Keralites) like me & the rest planning their escape to foreign shores. Tipplers spend their forenoons waiting in long queues outside state-run liquor shops and evenings cursing the state over drinks.
Ah, there comes the bus, rocking from side to side as it struggles to remain on the curvaceous roads. It screeches to a sudden halt as if the driver had an afterthought. Here, you can experience high-altitude parachute opening shock in a ₹7 bus ride. A quick, almost involuntary, reverse flick sends the ‘mundu’ to its stowed position, the newspaper slips under arm and the malayalee shuffles into the bus as the conductor whistles a code that would’ve done Samuel Morse proud.
In Kerala, everybody is either drinking tea or going somewhere to drink tea; till the next ‘hartal’ (bandh/strike) brings everything to a grinding halt. Anyone with vehicle-mounted loudspeakers and a grievance can sell lottery tickets or call for a hartal. Both have equal chances of changing the state’s destiny. Do try your luck next time you visit.
Jokes aside, Kerala is called God’s Own Country for a reason. If you want to feast your eyes on endless vistas of green, enjoy nature’s bounty, visit temples of yore and savour delectable Malabar cuisine, head south. For the simple Malayali, nothing is off the table when guests arrive.
— written by a fellow Malayali with NRK status and green card aspirations. He hides behind his blog https://kaypius.com
©KP Sanjeev Kumar, 2018. All rights reserved. I can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views are personal.