A Nair is a Nair

     A Nair is a Nair, as long as he opts to sustain that standing. Why is a Nair a Nair, how can one remain a Nair, is allowed to be a Nair, ceases to be a Nair, or chooses not to be a Nair? And when is a Nair, not a Nair? It is for us Nairs to explore, analyze, understand, adjust and adapt. And most importantly, what is our meaning, role, responsibility, and obligation as a Nair?
     The ‘offer’ to write for the NSS convention souvenir reached me as I arrived in Kerala, aspiring to visit my siblings, extended family members and friends, and in the midst of an unusually heavy and drenching deluge of the Monsoon. Contemplating on what to write about, with some relevance to the theme and regime of the Nair Service Society, I am venturing into my own life of over eight decades, lived in three continents and how that span has molded my personal perspectives on Nairs, their lives, status, direction and future from a global standpoint.
     I am a Nair, a Menon by designation, labelled based on the prevailing customs of the era. My mother’s, as well as my father’s Tharavad, were Menons in Kochi state, while my mother’s father was Raman Nair from Malappuram of old Malabar. My parents were brought up with matrilineal traditions that were distinctive of Nairs, but gradually through my generation and nuclearization of the system, the customs changed and blended with the universal habit of families headed by the father, the earning member of the family.
     As we acknowledge human life as the highest, divine endowment, I was lead to believe that being born into a respectable Nair family was a privileged, honored assignment to be cherished and nourished as dictated by certain perceived regulations of the times. I was raised in an extended, three generational setup with grandparents and parents designing and managing the supervision of the children. It was with tacit discipline that we were subjected to guidelines in every aspect of behavior, with customary instructions and timetable on how to conduct ourselves through the day, through life. Like a well-directed cinema, we were scripted, edited and screen-played on our routine, from getting up before daybreak, through the ordeals of daily routine, bathing, praying, studying, dressing, and eating, the kind of language we used, how we behave with others, on absolute honesty, performance at schools and essentially every little detail of maintaining dignity and poise. A step out of the prescribed allowance would be considered an insult and humiliation to the family, the status of the household that was for each of us to uphold.
     That certain distinction, instilled in us from a very young age, was assumed to be the standard of culture, that every Nair was obliged to cultivate, to uphold a legacy that belonged to the class of our creed like a knighthood bestowed on us. We believed that the status of a distinct dignity comes with the inherent responsibility of behavior that we offered others as they reciprocated with subtle deference and an expectation of accountability that came with it.
     The last eight decades would perhaps be the most tumultuous and ethnically rebellious in the history of Kerala. India gaining independence from the British would also sadly mark the end of an epoch when we began to lose our cultural integrity and appreciation for a certain pride and poise that we cultivated for centuries. Ironically, the foreign rule imposed on us a sense of implied cohesion, a need for bonding, that we used our rich, millennia-old traditions as a protective cocoon against a common enemy. After their exit, instead of strengthening our traditional values in a free India we lost that focus as well as respect for our priceless heritage, abusing the power of freedom to squander away what our saintly ancestors have generously bequeathed us. If aping the west and grabbing their worst marked the end of our regimented habits based on pristine Vedic traditions, the communistic encroachment derided us of our spiritual inclination, annihilated our work ethics and conditioned us from respecting others. The cancerous growth of technology and its obscene influence on the behavior of people extinguished the few remnants of our adherence to age-old customs and religious and cultural observances.
     Hindus in general and Nairs, in particular, were the worst casualties of modernization, embracing all the evils of such changes and with a penchant to discard their prized habits. Unlike the Christians or Muslims who obey the strict guidance of the churches and mosques, with no such authority in Hindu ways of life, the parents not being aware of any responsibility to instill such fundamental values in their children, our past two or three generations gravitated into a state of basic religious and moral bankruptcy. Establishments like the misguided, communistic pseudo-principles attracted the passionate young minds, robbed them of respect for our old habits, eradicated sentiments of religiosity and forced us to foolishly embrace and cultivate hollow ideologies that appealed to their disoriented minds.
     For us, the expatriate Nairs who are sentimental and nostalgic about our past glory and making every attempt to rekindle and re-establish the concept of ‘Nairhood’ in our adopted land, handing it down to our future generations, it may be relevant to periodically update the status of our old glory in our motherland and adjust our actions as appropriate and practical. Every time I visit Kerala, as I walk through the streets of Ernakulam where I grew up, the scenes I witness, the changes that have undergone and the behavior of its present inhabitants, stab my conscience and tear up the inner filaments of my emotions. To say the least, it is abysmal, devastating, and deplorable. I would rather ruminate on my old, majestic, royal little town and be content that I was fortunate to grow up in that era.
     There is a drastic and measurable change in the outlook and habits of the Nairs in today’s Kerala, more by their own choice that subsequently and inevitably forced us and our traditions out of style, out of power, and out of the picture. We have discarded our cultural habits, our social discipline, our pride, our communal responsibility, as well as losing our economic dominance, and in turn, squandering claims of any status worthy of gloating. Many of the recent movies, novels, and stories depict the harsh reality of the Nairs who are portrayed as servants in the kitchens, shops, and industries of the newly wealthy and affluent non-Hindus, who earned their status by diligent hard work or perhaps some of them gaining it through backdoor tactics. In the popular scenarios, we often see a Chackochen muthalali ordering a Narayani Amma to wash his under clothes or a Kunju Mohammed shouting at a Kesavan Pillai for not cleaning his footwear. The tables have turned.
     Is it the finale? Has the last curtain already been drawn and have the Nairs reached a point of no return? Hard to say. Unless something drastic is done and if the present course is allowed to continue, a pathetic end is inevitable and assured. And sadly, many ‘Nairs’ wouldn’t even know or care. Before we arrive at that ominous conclusion, it would be prudent to analyze how we got here and what were the many factors involved in our downfall. This short article doesn’t have the scope for an elaborate exploration, but in a nutshell, it may be summarized as our own despicable apathy, disregarding our precious legacy and foolish, pitiable subjugation to wrong influences.
     The approach to meet and correct the situation must be after extensive deliberation, education, and discussion while the moves must be instituted on a cohesive, global scale. Being very much aware that many of the leaders may have already attempted such endeavors, I am adding my thoughts for whatever they are worth.
     Get informed of the profound legacy of our heritage; proudly learn our ancestral accomplishments gained through their scholastic efforts, yearn to digest 148 the immense wisdom that they possessed and how they utilized it for the benefit of the community; and bask in that glory not to boast with arrogance, but to regain the ownership that can bring back our glory days. Propagate the values of our history, and its benefits, share, spread, disseminate to those who are interested. Be inclusive, not restrictive. Bring back our old, inculcated austerity of habits, prayers, observations of our festivals, temple related routines, stressing them as building blocks of character, honesty, efficiency, education, leadership – fundamental, clean, healthy Hindu values. Be cognizant and alarmed of our adversaries, the several, immensely potent, drastic, resourceful, internal and external agencies that work through political, religious, evangelical, radical, economic, and vicious vehicles. Distinctly identify our friends who share our values, hopes and obligations, and discretely detect our enemies who deceive and destroy us through subtle, malicious means. Create and strengthen our base, gathering and broadening similar-minded groups, establish political unity, economic stability, and a willingness and commitment to enhance our fundamental interests. Utilize the conventions and Karayogams not just to socialize, entertain and promote selfinterests, but also to share concerns, to understand our situation, mutually educating and designing long-term solutions, to steadily cultivate our culture and periodically monitor, adapt and modify our modus operandi. Set definite goals and work with unity, camaraderie, focus, pride and intense fear of the impending peril and of possible extinction. What we do today will determine of what we would become tomorrow. Do not let the history books of the twenty-second century designate Nairs and NSS as mythological entities.
‘Nairs of the present’ do not want to follow the dinosaurs of the past.
(Written for the souvenir of the NSS Chicago Convention, June 30, 2018.)

Author: Dr. Venugopal Menon

Was born and raised in a loving family in pre-independent India, became a doctor, served Indian army, got married, then came over to America with wife and a daughter, established as a successful Allergist, raised a family of three children, was involved in many social establishments, retired, and wrote memoirs, 'My Mother Called Me Unni, A Doctor's Tale of Migration'.

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