<HeadLine>Always time for a laugh
Kochunni and Kesavan arrived at a remote point in the Arctic region and started the Ayyapan Tea Stall. The next day, they started the Ayyapan Kerala Samajam which, however, split the next day, leading to the Ayyapan Malayalee Samajam. Cause for the split? Political ideology. Kochunni was a CPI follower and Kesavan belonged to the CPI(M).
Tell this eternal joke to an audience of Malayalees, and you''''ll still be rewarded with howls of laughter. At a recent Mumbai function held to propagate the use of Malayalam among non-residents, the loudest cheers were reserved for satirist Jaikumar Warrier, who did a Prof Henry Higgins by mimicking the different accents of the language from Alappuzha to Wayanad. He did not spare even former state chief ministers and their particular style of Malayalam. For Malayalees have a sense of humour and do not mind laughing at themselves. In fact, it is a tradition. The late Mannath Padmanabhan Nair, a formidable leader of the Nair community popularly known as ‘Mannom’, was once entertained to dinner at Cherthala, notorious for its mosquitoes and cases of filariasis. After the meal, the hosts apologised for not providing Mannom with a mosquito net. "That is all right," said the Nair community leader. "I presume that most of the neighbours are Nairs." The hosts nodded. "Get half a dozen of them to come here and sleep in my room. The mosquitoes will bite them and thanks to the Nair blood inside them will become lazy and sluggish, leaving me alone!"
Keralites developed mimicry into a fine art. Top actor Mamooty and TV personality Cochin Haneefa excelled in the art and often Haneefa mimicked Mamooty and vice versa. The famous cultural institution Kerala Kalamandalam in Cheruthuruthy taught mimicry from the outset and one of its distinguished students was the famous comic star, SP Pillai, who acted in hundreds of films during the 1950s. His act did not spare great men of Kerala, like poet Vallathol Narayana Menon and Mannom, who often laughed the loudest.
Even Kerala politicians had a keen sense of humour and excelled in the ‘retort courteous’. The government of veteran Communist leader and former Chief Minister of Kerala, EMS Namboodiripad, who had a speech impediment, was on the verge of being sacked by the Centre in the late 1950s. He organised a press conference in Trivandrum, which was also attended by foreign journalists. A boorish American stood up and asked, "Mr Chief Minister, do you stutter all the time?" In the shocked silence which followed, EMS blinked, smiled and softly replied, "No, no, no, only when I speak!" The American journalist never spoke again.
Satire, cartooning, comic drama, you name it, Kerala had it. Who can forget Shankar Pillai and his Shankar''s Weekly where the cartoons did not spare even Jawaharlal Nehru. Nehru was a great admirer of Shankar’s art. The state also boasted of Abu Abraham, Kutty and OV Vijayan. Abu regularly held workshops for cartoonists in Kerala. One of the regulars at the workshops was Mario Miranda. "Every home here has a cartoonist," wondered Mario.
Routine life in Kerala had its tinges of laughter. Laughter was also provided by the eccentrics in the villages. Tarakad Village in Palakadu was supposed to be full of loonies and many jokes were made at its expense. Many jokes targetted the village Brahmins who made it a habit of keeping Nair women as concubines. The village feasts organised by the temples also led to jokes at the expense of the local gluttons who were hidden behind mountains of rice, sambhar and vegetables. Villagers fondly talked about eccentrics like the retired tehsildar, who while doing his daily puja followed every line of prayer with enquiries to the kitchen about how lunch was being prepared, whether the spices were being added properly and if the payasam would remain hot till his puja was over. That was some devotion for you.
Nicknames in the villages added to the hilarity. Nicknames like ‘Mottai’, ‘Vazhukai’ (baldy), ‘kaadan’ (the uncivilised one), ‘Mullampanni’ (the porcupine in view of the prickly hair), ‘Vethalai Vaai’ (betel mouth) and ‘Kozha kozha’ (wishy-washy), abounded. Some of them were cruel, but in the exuberance of youth, who bothered if feelings were hurt.