Saturday, April 26, 2008
Not so God's own country
"Wow, it's really God's own country," gushed a friend who was just back from a vacation in Kerala. "I just don't understand you Mallus," she continued, "how can you leave such a beautiful place and be in all these impossible places?" This was not the first time I had come across such remarks from people who have just returned from a vacation in Kerala.
They come back gushing about the greenery, the kettuvallam ride on the backwaters, the beaches, the hills, the Ayurvedic massages, the capsule kathakali performance lasting less than two hours tailor-made for tourists in lieu of the night-long traditional performance, the list goes on.
It has never ceased to amaze me how most of the tourists who go to Kerala come back missing some of the most obvious. They never seem to see the pothole-ridden roads, they most definitely miss the long hours of power cut in this land of waterfalls and hydroelectricity.
Kerala is a typical example that things need not be always what it appears to be. To all appearances Kerala is a state which has it all - hundred per cent literacy, lowest population growth and picture postcard landscape as an added bonus. It has been a laboratory of social transformation with ready to read high quality of life index which adorned the central theme of many a book on Development Economics worthy of earning plaudits from pundits.
Kerala is the land of ultimate paradoxes. It has the highest literacy rate in the country just as it has the dubious distinction of having the highest unemployment rate. Where can this small beautiful state find jobs for its thousands of post graduates
and tens of thousands of graduates? Even with this high level of unemployment there is a near irrational rush for the white collared jobs. Not having a job could be passable but a blue collared job is a big no. The state with the lowest infant mortality rate in the country also happens to record the highest suicide rate. And while the rest of the country is witnessing a baby boom despite government efforts, Kerala is the only state, which has recorded negative population growth.
But then with fewer children and higher life expectancy, the green state is fast turning into a grey state. The number of elderly left to fend for themselves - emotionally, not financially - is on the rise. A situation also necessitated by the fact that the high rate of unemployment has forced the young generation to move out in search of jobs.
And of course, a tourist is not expected to know that he should actually thank the militant trade unionism in the state, which has left the state with the highest unemployment rate in the country, for the very beauty they are raving about. But for the trade unions, industries would have dotted the state instead of greenery.
Then of course Kerala wouldn't have made it to the 50 must see destinations in the National Geographic list, but there would have been fewer suicides, lesser unemployment rate and fewer parents spending the autumn of their lives alone in huge mansions built for them by their expatriate children.
Paradoxes of this kind are rare to find and rarely so pronounced. The swing of the pendulum of paradox has been so wide in Kerala that it takes inexorably long time to reach a range, within which the society can manage such contradictions. Today, the swing of the pendulum seems to be gearing towards more manageable levels. There is a dawning realization among the
elite, the political class and the enlightened common man that a change is needed. A change that would not result in an upheaval but would manage the paradoxes of this unique state better.
And it would be then that Kerala would truly become the God's own country