I was invited to a night of celebrating  Parsee music and good food at a friend’s place yesterday.

I was the only Non Parsee, but I didn’t feel out of place at all, for the food was very similar to what you find in North India. There were Biriyani, pulao, meat curry, aubergine barta and raita. The only thing that I have never tried until yesterday was the Parsee version of ice cream. Vanila ice cream blended with crushed pistachios, saffron and rose water. Dinner was followed by cardamom chai.

After dinner, music and dancing started. My friend’s 74 year old mother in law did the shoulder shimmying ( belly dance step) !

But what impressed me the most was a 7 year old boy. He played an instrument called Ney Anban ( Iranian version of bag pipe). It felt like he was breathing music. After a while, he decided to play Iranian Santoor, then he joined others and played Tabla. He knew to play every single musical instrument that was there. He knew all the old songs, but he has never been to Iran.

Every single male attendee knew to play a musical instrument and the women sang and danced. None of them have had formal lessons in music or dance, but because they meet often, their children automatically learn all these.

When I had my children, I wanted to pass on my heritage to them. The only things I could have done was to send them for Malayalam lessons, or dance lessons or perhaps Karnatic music lessons. I often had my cousins and friends over for dinner when I was living in Malaysia. There was no music and there was no question of dancing.. Everyone sat around in groups, talked (bitched), ate and went home.

I wish I had something to pass on to my children..

34 thoughts on “culture

  1. Unfortunately Malayalis are good at not being a community (in the true sense). Where ever there are malayalis, there is a samajam, and then everyone fights to be the top dog. There is untold amount of competition (in every area, from kids and their achievements to the clothes and jewelry you wear) and everybody is always trying to measure the other on a yardstick.
    No song or dance, it is not in our blood 🙁
    I think the concept of spontaenous enjoyment, celebration etc have been stripped from our genes! Lament!!

  2. Circumstances and bitter experiences of course had influence on you but your universal outlook made you keep distance from the culture of Kerala. Heritage is never lost, but ignored and buried.

    • Bipin, No, it is not the circumstances or the bitter experiences. My grandmother used to tell me that once in a while, we had family gatherings and the women used to sing folk songs and men used to tell the oral histories/stories etc. There was also margam kali. As a society, we became more prude in the past 3 decades and now Being a malayalee outside India means, membership to Mallu associations, kids speak fluent Malayalam, onam celebrations where children show off their talents and parents take pride in raising such talented children..We have nothing to give our children..

      • You are proud of knowing 11 languages but you chose not to teach your children Malayalam, the one language still binding you to your roots . The culture and heritage comes through language. The tunnel is not fully closed even now.

        • Bipin: Culture and heritage comes through language is the biggest myth. Yaya speaks fluent Spanish, in fact she is planning to take the certification to be a Spanish language translator in the coming months. That should make her Spanish?? My brother in law is Scandinavian. He speaks fluent Malayalam, does that make him a Malayalee? I have a Danish friend, who is half Malayalee and grew up in Kerala for 15 years and passed SSLC Malayalam. He never thinks of himself as Mallu. He is a true and true Danish. It is not the language that makes you who you are. I speak so many languages and I don’t belong anywhere. I will not teach my children Malayalam because I don’t think learning an Indian language will give them Indian roots. You should learn a language that helps you in your career and future. That is the only advantage of speaking many languages.

  3. Tamilians are not good either. Everyone wants to be one step up than his neighbor.

    We had dinner in a Persian restaurant a week back and I am in love with that ice cream

    • S: As a rule, I never take a second serve. ( how else can I maintain my sexy figure?) But the ice cream was too good and I did have a second serve and came home and went for a loooong walk.

  4. I wanted to share something strange. At my son’s school, there are some Indian kids and sometimes we meet other parents, when we go for class parties, or volunteer in class for reading, math etc.
    Usually Indian parents are very happy to see each other, greet warmly, and sometimes invite each other over for dinner/play dates, since everyone lives close by.

    Then I met this Indian mom, who I see at all parties/occasions/lunch, and her son is in my son’s class. My son has mentioned many times, that he doesnot like to play with her kid, because he lies about every thing, such as owing certain things, going on vacations, even knowing math problems, reading scores etc. I hear and leave it, as, it is his choice, who he wants to play with.
    Finally, I met his mom at a class party, greeted, she barely responded. She was mostly standing close to teacher and discussing something serious. At other occasions, I asked, if she would like to schedule a play date with my son, come over to our house for dinner, or practically conversation of any kind, she says no to ALL. During lunches, I see her practically bending down on her son’s head, and have a long serious conversation with him. I usually keep my distance, other than a casual Hi.
    Finally I found out at an Indian function, that they are from Kerla and Malyalee. She is probably 1st Malyalee, I have met. I have tons of Telugu, Tamil friends. I though her behavior was very rude, and unpleasant for no reason at all. Only thing she told me at Indian function was, your son is very smart, he knows every thing in class. Her son asks her, can he become like him (my son)? I was speechless.

    • Joan: let me get this right. You think the Mallu mother is rude and her behaviour unpleasant because she ignored you, didn’t say Hi to you and didn’t want to visit you?

  5. I recently attended a bday function a northi friend of my son. Everyone danced, even he old ladies. Thy were not that perfect but they enjoyed each moment. I was the only person sitting there without doing anything. I am no used to hat. I love dancing but still couldnt do anything other than watching.

    • Joan: As a rule, I do not talk to any Indian parent’s of my children’s classmates. Indian parents are very competitive and I refuse to play the game. I am very close to parents of their classmates who are not Indians.. we meet for dinner often..

      • Hate it when parents turn competitive…facing the same issues here to the extent that am reluctant to be friends with any of my daughter’s classmates’ parents….. always comparing and assessing 🙁

        • Martha: The standard topic for discussion with Indian parents are 1. how many hours do the kids study? 2. Where do they go for tution. 3. What are they planning to do, ie which college/uni/course? 4. What was their grades for the last exam?

          • ha ha not even grades or marks… enthoke thetti poyi enthokke shariyaki blah blah!

          • Martha: Mallus use their children as an extension of their ego..their children’s success is an extra feather in their bonnet and failure is not part of their vocabulary.

  6. I had a rude awakening when I attended Punjabi, Mangalorean, Goan and Gujarathi weddings of my friends. A wedding is an occasion to rejoice and celebrate, especially for the bride and groom. In Kerala, they starve and take photos with the 1000 guests they may or may not know, get commented on how the bride looked/how much gold she wore or how the food was just above borderline. That is what is important to Mallus. I hear times are changing where there are after parties after weddings and where everyone just have ball of a time. Growing up in Kerala made me think going to a dance club was the most scandalous thing ever and then I went to one. Why are we as a sub species afraid of having pure unadulterated fun?

    P.S. Tamilian weddings at least have some cool games to play. We have nothing.:/

    • Jina: When we were living in Malaysia, my mallu cousin called me to ask if she could come over for a visit and I said No, I am just about to leave for Belly dance lesson and she asked me “Why are you learning such DIRTY things?” I can do a perfect shoulder shimmy, but imagine how scandalous it would be if I had done it in front of Kottayam achayans..

  7. we love weddings for the pure fact that we can assess and criticise anything and everything from the bride’s attire and jewellery to the food served but we are not at all for celebration and enjoyment…once we bitch abt everything we are satisfied! Oh how we love to put down somebody… that’s an art mallus have perfected

  8. This is very true,

    From my observations it’s these attitudes that makes many people ashamed of their identity.It makes many malayalees, even those who grew up in Kerala who have an open mind and try new things want to stay distant from the so called ‘culture’ which is nothing backstabbing, manipulative, ridiculous criticisms and power hungry egos. It’s so common in my family for Christ’s sake. I guess the word ‘civil’ and ‘respect’ does not exist in Kerala. I’ve seen it so many times. Even at our local malayalam church it’s all about politics and just racing to be the best and on top, where they can then make others look inferior. This has driven some of our members away from the church who thus never returned afterwards. There are loads of malayalee associations all around the US and though I barely go to these things because from my cousins who are part of them (and who no longer go because now they are adults and their parents can’t force them to go no longer), it’s nothing but witnessing greed, jealousy, putting people down because they don’t meet stupid expectations, and just making sure you and your kids are superior to others who can dictate and control how others should live. That’s malayalee ‘culture’ alright as there is no harmony b/w anyone, and funnily enough they think every other country, be is US/UK/Europe, even other Indian states are bad and the people are not good, and that Kerala is the best and nothing goes wrong there ! Maybe that’s why your friend was ignored by that malayalee lady because MOST malayalees will not even try to mingle or become friends with those who are NOT a malayalee, even if they had resided outside Kerala for an eternity (if they just immigrated, then it’s ok since they are not used to a different environment and need time to adjust). I’ve seen it in parties where the mallus ignore non-mallus, clan with other mallus and then talk trash behind else’s back ! Makes me gag since I have non-mallu friends and it’s an insult to people from other cultures !

    Btw some of these things may not apply to Kerala only because I heard from others that Indians in general tend to behave like that if they don’t assimilate and be apart of the country they are in. It’s a shame to see that.

    BUT, in regards to your kids, I would encourage (do not force b/c you’ll surely get the opposite result of the good !) them or at least talk to them about our heritage, perhaps take them to Kerala to see how life is like there, or maybe even cook Kerala food that they like. If they have further interest, maybe they can go on a live abroad trip to Kerala for few months and experience the lifestyle on their own. They may come back speaking some malayalam too ! If they don’t plan or have an interest, it’s totally ok. It’s not like they have to learn the culture, but it is a good thing to know about the culture even though you don’t have to necessarily live in that culture. If I have kids, I plan to encourage them and let them experience their roots, but will not force them to follow mallu culture and live like ‘pakka’ malayalees !

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