Say Kerala and the words ‘leftist, trade unionism and corruption’ are synonymous with it for the eternal cynics. A few months back, I was forced to speak on the same ‘what ails Kerala’ in an interview by a panel member who held strong anti- Kerala views. In the mid 90s when we shifted to Kerala, well-wishers, family, friends everyone had an opinion to offer on how ‘Trivandrum is the epicenter of everything evil that exists in Kerala’. Yet, being the true blue mallu, any breeze that is a prelude to winds of change happening in this place cannot go unnoticed.
A couple of days after we reached Trivandrum, when the lorry carrying our belongings and furniture came, I was freaked out by the men clad in blue shirts, perched on different parts of the lorry. My seven-year old brain comprehended it as the ‘dacoits’ about whom you heard in stories. It was later on that I learnt they constituted the local trade union members. That was my first encounter with these Trade unionists who were despised by everyone in the locality. Being new to the place, we were cheated royally in terms of unloading charges and thus, began our cat and mouse chase with the Trade Union Members (TUs from now).
As per the rules those days, goods carried on hand carts could not be touched by these trade union members. Thus, a couple of months later, when we had to shift to another house in a nearby locality we hired a handcart to transport our stuff, with the sole purpose of avoiding these TU members. But, we had to pay a heavy price for it. The person who pushed the cart had to negotiate a steep slope, lost control for a few moments and our kanjoosi was repaid with a damage in the refrigerator, the door of my table refuses to budge even now, stuck in the 450 position and our furniture suffered a couple of dents.
It was not only the wear and tear that counted. The TUs came to know about what we did and staying in the same locality we invited the wrath of these people which was to be seen in years to come. They had a strong political backing those times and had a well-established network of informants who passed on the info about where, when and how load would arrive in the locality.
When the construction of our house began, these people acted like ‘hell hath no fury like a TU scorned’. That explains the exorbitant amounts we had to pay for loading and unloading purposes. People avoided these TUs like the plague. They would try to get the materials via an alternate route, or come past midnight, hoping none of them were around. But there was no respite from the shackles of these TUs. Many a times I’ve woken up at ungodly hours like 2-2.30 am hearing the brawls between the TUs and residents. While returning home from school, my bus stopped right in front of the TU office and I’ve witnessed them literally hijacking vehicles that carried stuff.
The TUs ruled all over the place. You could neither please them nor could you survive by infuriating them. The assemblage of a windmill in Amma’s office was stalled for a month coz these people weren’t allowed to unload the materials and the work was delayed by local interference. Thus, the initial encounters with the TUs left a bad taste in the mouth and we avoided any confrontation with them later on.
Having settled down in this place, it was the series of transfers that unsettled us. Thus, it was time to move with half the lock, stock and barrels leaving the other half behind. Like everyone said ‘Avar ellam panku vechu pirinju’. Once, again we were at the mercy of the TUs for loading our stuff. Appa had his cash balances ready, with sky rocketing expectations and inherent fear of these TUs’ demands. He had his strategies prepared for bargaining but everything vanished with the minimal rates they demanded.
A year and half later, once again we had to get their services as the construction of the upper floor was delayed due to the jinx, and now things are finally settling down. We were contemplating exorbitant rates and yet once again the rates made my Dad’s jaws drop to the floor. Decency, courtesy, reasonableness etc, replaced arrogance, violence, selfishness and other such traits which were considered typical of these TUs.
Now that we’ve known these people for a long time, the current chief had no qualms letting his guard down. Out of the 25 members who constituted the TU around 5 of them died of heart failure or cancer. They were cheated by their own representatives. He almost admitted that they were tired of this rampant hatred against their breed.
Now, these people are making efforts to shed the bad image they had. They have a contribution fund for the bereaved families of their union members, especially for educating their children. They are making significant contributions in the development fund of a government school in our area that had almost seen its final days. They are not aligned with any political party now. He said that they don’t go to the houses of poor people for loading-unloading purposes.
Somehow, all this felt like a sincere revelation with a tinge of repentance. Maybe it’s the harsh times, downward spiraling business or a change in attitude. I saw real human beings in them rather than the cold-blooded morons they are projected to be.
This is a personal experience and I cannot stake claim that things are the same all across the state. In things like this I do believe in the cheesy notion of little drops make an ocean yet, the eternal cynics are blinded by notions and distorted views mostly from hearsay on ‘what ails Kerala’. Acknowledging change does not mean you have to go back on your words.
There was a time when I grumbled a lot about Kerala being the worst place to be, having endured some of the worst times here.
There may be a zillion negative accounts to counter my views, but, I’m an optimist in this case. Having seen the worst of times personally, seeing the better times and believing that the best of times is yet to come, I hope I get to see and my children get to live in the true ‘God’s own country’
[PS: I was quite pissed off with the anti-mallu attitude spread across media and people’s conversations (esp during those long tiring journeys from B’lore toTVM), thanks to the worst kind of self-deprecating breed that is us]