Has the Arsenal Eroded?

Everyday, when I drive through the graffiti-ridden, littered streets of Detroit, I’m overcome by nihilistic despair. With broken-down stores and homeless drug addicts scavenging for a single dime to sustain their intoxication, it’s impossible to believe that Detroit was once a
img_0054 prosperous city with a affluent Black middle class and working men earning higher wages than their counterparts in New York, Cleveland and Philadelphia .

The Arsenal of Democracy. Detroit earned that prestigious title for being heavily instrumental during the Second World War. Factory workers labored exhaustively to build military jeeps, tanks and bombers. Can you imagine how different our world would look if the
Allies didn’t defeat Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan?

Detroit was the pride of America. Now it is the cesspool of hopelessness.

What happened to you, Detroit? You were the epitome of innovation and progress.

You were home to the revolutionary Automobile industry, attracting thousands of migrants from all over the country.

You gave us Motown music, which united Blacks and Whites during a very  tumultuous period in race relations.

Unknown to most, Martin Luther King delivered his iconic “I have a dream” speech in your vicinity six months before he delivered that same speech in front of millions in Washington!

 It would be difficult to pinpoint the genesis of Detroit’s decline. Most historians would blame the race riots of 1967. While placing the blame on that particular event is an oversimplification, let’s began our story on July 23rd 1967.

On my way home, I always drive through the intersection of W Grand Boulavard and 12th street (renamed Rosa Parks street). It’s eerie and bewildering to know that this intersection was the nucleus of Detroit’s most infamous riots.

The time was 3:00am. A Saturday evening party overflowed into the first few hours of Sunday morning. As most of the city slept, anticipating church service  followed by a Tigers match, over eighty men celebrated the return of two soldiers from Vietnam at an unlicensed drinking club, taking place at the office of the United Community League for Civil Action on 12th Street.

It wouldn’t be long before the revelry was raided by Detroit’s predominantly White police force (boy, how times have changed!). While attempting to arrest all the men involved, someone, allegedly the son of the organizer, threw a bottle at the police force, inciting hostile reactions by both the police and the revelers.

Suddenly the drunken revelers threw stones and bricks at the police cars and due to policemen’s inability to quench the violent backlash, the group of revelers turned into a bloodthirsty mob and mob violence evolved into a full-out war in the city.

No one was spared. Blacks and Whites stood horrified as they saw their businesses burned
to the ground, their houses set on fire, and their loved ones being indiscriminately shot for the sole crime of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

For a couple of days, politicians were hesitant to intervene, at least through effective means. The self-destructive results of partisan politics were on full display. Detroit mayor Jerome Cavanagh,  a Democratic politician who cultivated a rapport with the Black community in exchange for their votes, was reluctant to request assistance from Governor George Romney (you know him as Mitt Romney’s pops!) in subverting the predominantly  Black mob. In addition, Republican Governor Romney, anticipating a campaign for the Republican presidential nomination, was equally reluctant to ask Democratic president Lyndon Johnson for deployment of federal troops to contain the violence.

Thank God that hyperpolarized partisanship is no longer a common feature in American politics! Yayyyy!!!

After five days, forty-three people had been killed, over a thousand sustained injuries, over two thousand businesses were destroyed effectively destroying the American dream for the significant number of Detroit residents. The damages resulted in a loss of $80 million.

The riots triggered the so-called White flight where numerous White residents and affluent Black business owners fled to the nearby suburbs (like my hometown). The city had lost a substantial portion of its tax base, launching the fast track into the deep hole of widespread poverty.

There is a Wayne State Law professor named John Mogk who blames the Millikin V Bradley Supreme Court decision of 1971. The NAACP filed a civil suit against Govenor William Millikin in protest over de facto segregation. The schools in the inner city were predominantly Black while schools in the suburbs were predominantly White. Redlining over property ownership was seen as the primary cause. The Sixth Circuit Court ruled in favor of the NAACP only to have their decision overruled by the Supreme Court. If Segregation was addressed properly and integration was encouraged, it can be argued that there would be more White (and affluent Black) residents in Detroit, leading to a more prominent tax base benefiting the city’s revenue.

Detroit witnessed a historical moment in 1974 when the first Black mayor was elected. Coleman Young would hold the mayoral office for the next twenty years. Young was a very dynamic and charming. He was also very eccentric and had a

Coleman Young, Mayor of Detroit (1974-1994)

penchant for profanity. He referred to himself as HNIC (Head Nigger In Charge). He often made remarks like “Aloha, Motherfuckers!” and “I don’t have time to talk to a house nigger” with such casual ease.

And you thought Donald Trump was bad!

Coleman Young was a trade unionist and a far left activist. He grew up victimized by systemic White supremacy and as soon as he became mayor, he sought revenge.

In collaboration with GM, he targeted an district of Polish immigrants and forcibly had them evacuated in order for GM’s power plant to be established. He divided the police force across racial lines and weakened their ability in maintaining safety and security in the city.Detroit-problems

Crime rates soared under the Coleman Young administration. The drug trade reigned supreme in Detroit. In the 1970s, gangs including the Errol Flynns and the Black Killers distributed heroin to the city’s youth. A decade later, the heroin market was replaced by crack cocaine, perhaps influenced by the dark alliance between the CIA and the Contras. The Black Mafia Family and Young Drugs Inc. established their turf. The Arsenal of Democracy became the Arsenal of dope.

Years have passed and Detroit has reached its nadir as it filed for chapter 9 bankruptcy in 2013.

More despair. More hopelessness.

Although he originally planned to relocate his company to Cleveland, Dan Gilbert, real estate giant and founder of Quicken Loans parent of companies, was encouraged, through tax reduction incentives, by the Michigan state government to relocate his company to downtown Detroit. Five years have passed and the face of downtown Detroit’s has completely changed as Gilbert continues to spearhead renovation projects, investing in Detroit by increasing its aesthetic and commercial value.

Of course, one must not forget the dark side of gentrification, as small business in the area have been forced to close and low-income residents forced to relocate.

Quicken Loans’ business practices are also being questioned by the US dept of Justice. But that’s a blog post for a different time.

The future of Detroit is uncertain. Will our city emerge from the ashes as it did after the Great Fire of 1805? Or will it continue to cripple and become nothing more than a tearful memory.

Only time will tell


Accents of Detroit

Most Americans don’t know much about Detroit. Sure, they’re familiar with the corruption and poverty well-documented by the media. Howev9cf217f3888cf6d87fdd04c58836ae78e9704c72er, outside of Southeast Michigan, no one is aware of  spectrum of subcultures and the colorful history that embodies the city of Detroit. The variety of accents within Metro Detroit is a testimony to the city’s cosmopolitanism

Newscaster Accent

If you watch the evening news, you’re familiar with this accent. In Detroit, It’s the uniformed regionless style of diction associated with the white-collar middle class.Characterized by rhoticity, ‘short a’ risings and merged vowels, this mode of speaking gives one the impression of an educated, working professional

Northern city Vowel Shift

This peculiar linguistic phenomenon circulated throughout Michigan and  northern cities including Chicago, Syracuse, Buffalo, and Cleveland. No one knows how this trend emerged but it became popular among blue-collar workers. However, working professionals have exhibited traces of the vowel shift as well.

Basically when people with this accent speak, their vowels literally shift. Their short a’s become tensed, producing a nasal sound common among Michiganders. Their o’s become quasi-short a’s. So instead of having a job, they have a ‘jab’. One’s boss becomes one’s bus! In addition, the caught-cot meager is nonexistent and strangely, ‘caught’ is pronounced in a Bostoneque diction.

At first, this unique style of enunciating is frustrating to listen. However, you’ll later find it pleasant, with a certain regional charm.

Grosse Pointe Monotone

Grosse Pointe is a notable wealthy suburb situated next to a low-income area of Detroit. This town is known for its gated communities inhabited by old-money WASP(White Anglo Saxon Protestant) clans who left Detroit after the infamous race riots of ’67.

In my opinion, Grosse Pointe monotone isn’t as widespread as the stereotype would suggest. Then again, I don’t visit that part of the Metro area very often.

I really don’t know how to describe this accent. It’s basically the Michigan equivalent of Boston Brahmin. The inflections tend to be expressionless, possibly reflecting the stoicism valued by the upper class elite. Their vowels tend to stop short. Sometimes their o’s are rounded.

But most residents of Grosse Pointe speak in the same manner as other Michiganders. So, the stereotype rarely holds truth.


Michigan is rightfully referred as the most Southern state in the Great Lakes. During the 1920’s and 1930’s, a mass influx of poor Southerners, including formerly-enslaved Black sharecroppers and ” po’ white trashy rednecks”, arrived in Detroit, placing their hopes on the auto industry to ensure a better life for themselves.

 Southern style cooking(Cracker Barrel, anyone?), Hoedowns (yes, I’m serious), and Country music artists are prevalent in Southeast Michigan. Even the occasional Confederate flag on porches (oh, the irony) is not unusual. The unique drawl is no exception.

Not surprising, the descendants of these migrants merge their Southern inflections with Midwestern intonations in their delivery resulting in a vast range of accents. Some rhotic, others non-rhotic. Some have the vowel shifts. Some are almost indistinguishable from other Michiganders. Others sound like first time visitors from Alabama.

On second thought, hoedown aren’t that bad. 😀

There are entire generations within families who’ve worked in

auto industry. It’s no surprise this Southern-influenced merged dialect is popular among factory workers in auto plants, occupying the same positions as their grandfathers


one family of many participating in the Great Migration


Since Detroit is prominently Black, most of whom descended from Black Southerners, obviously Ebonics is quite widespread. Some consider this distinctive dialect to be nothing more than English from a garbage disposal, repressing intellectual pursuits among Black youths. Others see it as a cultural motif, bonding Black America since the days of slavery.

I don’t have extensive knowledge of Black culture (or cultures I should say) so I can’t really comment on that dispute.

Ebonics, known as African American Vernacular English, can be traced to bonded African slaves in Dixieland plantations. Southern linguistic sensibilities were spiced with African creole influences.

A peculiar rhythm which some say can be traced to Western African intonations, the prevalence of double negatives, and distinctive vocabulary which has now made its way into mainstream English dialects and an atypical use of verb tenses  are all notable traits of Ebonics.

 While Ebonics may be most prominent among semi-literate Blacks, some educated ‘bidialectial’ (upper) middle class Blacks won’t hesitate to speak it among their fellow soul brothers and soul sisters. As I mentioned before, many Blacks view Ebonics as an intrinsic aspect of their heritage.

I came down from Da U.P, eh

I swear, Yoopers (that’s Michiganese for people from the Upper Peninsula) are the reason for Michigan’s awesomeness.

Although most Yoopers, taking pride in their homeland, remain in the UP, some make there way across the bridge to take advantage of the slightly expanding opportunities in engineering and other career fields found in the Detroit area.

They’re inspiringly independent, resourceful, and resilient enough to withstand eight month winters. Their sense of courtesy is refreshing and their ‘pasties’ are divine!!


However nothing beats the Yooper dialect. It’s sounds musical and refined yet so warm and down-to-earth.

Their elocution is reflective of their Scandinavian roots, along with Lutheran parishes on every blocks and meat pies (ooh, I could use a pasty!!).

There are Canadian influences, considering those proximity to Canada.

The raising vowel and rhythmic dictions makes me smile!

Say ya to da U.P, eh

Immigrant Groups

As I mentioned before, Southeast Michigan is among the diverse regions in the country. I don’t have time to go over every accent of every immigrant community. However, let me mention a few

Detroit holds the unique distinction for being one of the most prominent hubs for pre-WWI diasporic Middle Eastern communities. In fact, Detroit was home to Levantinians (as in from the Levant), Armenians and Chaldeans before the modern day nations of Turkey, Lebanon, Syria, Palestine, Iraq, Jorden and Israel were even established.

They left their homelands during the collapse of the Ottoman Empire at the turn of the 20th century, resulting in mass

St Mary Antiochian Orthodox Church in Livonia

persecution of Christians, Druzes and other

minorities. Upon arrival, these immigrants become involved in the food business, bringing their tasty recipes to the city. The Chaldeans are especially notorious for running most of the liquor store
in the region.

  Through their cultural centers and houses of worship, they managed to maintain their unique heritage.

Like Middle Eastern immigrants, Mexicans made their way to Detroit during the 1910s to join the auto industry. They established their own section of town known as ‘La Bagley’ which later became Mexicantown.

 The majority of Detroit’s Mexicans are now third generation, some fourth generation. Their diction is similar to the mainstream accent, with some Chicano influence

The Middle Easterncommunity is continuously increasing as more refugees seek a better life. There are mixture of fresh of the boat asylum seekers and fifth generation American, and everything in between.

Other ethnic communities have had a long history in Detroit, including the Greeks, Jews, the Poles, the Irish, the Italians, and the Chinese. There are newer immigrants such as Indians, Koreans, Thais, Hmong, Filipinos etc.  They’ve all planted their seed in the cultural motif of Detroit



Papilio Buddha and Caste Politics

I had another episode of insomnia over the past weekend. During these sleepless nights, I’m always on my laptop, revising class assignments, reading news article, binge-watching cat videos or viewing a stimulating clip or two from those unmentionable sites (don’t judge, I’m a guy)

Meow, I want some pussy

I came across this Malayalam movie called Papilio Buddha, which puzzled me. The TV set in our living room has access to Malayalam channels. Every Sunday, my parents watch a Malayalam movie on Asianet. Even if I haven’t seen them, I’ve heard of every film released from Kerala. So what’s the mystery behind Papilio Buddha?

Apparently, Papilio Buddha was denied certification from the censor board and banned from screening. The bans have technically been lifted but screening is not widespread. This film is known for being the most controversial Malayalam movie of the 2010s

Papilio Buddha defies almost every trope in conventional Malayalam movies. No ‘larger-than-life hero’ characters, no love stories, no ‘comedic’ sidekicks, no reverence for cultural traditions or excessive patriotic themes.

Papilio Buddha is a species of butterflies found flying through the Western Ghats. The story revolves around Sankaran, an untouchable Pulaya with a revered Brahmin name. The first scene depicts him capturing the Papilio Buddha with Jack, American lepidopterist, with whom he is sexually involved. There are scenes where the two are sensually touching each other as they overlook a breath taking waterfall. A romantic image receptive to a Malayali audience if one of them was female.

 Sankaran lives in a humble hut located at one of Kerala’s many Dalit ‘colonies’ with his father, Kandal Kariyan, who looks to his son’s homosexual relationship with discern. Furthermore he is enraged by his son’s plans to study in America, interpreting his decision as removing himself from his community while they’re struggling to assert ownership rights to their own land.

 The film’s negative portrayal of certain characters symbolizes its criticism on contemporary society.

For example, take Jack, the American tourist. Despite his good- hearted nature and innocuous motives, he does not comprehend the deep seated issues plaguing the country he’s visiting. By trying to be a good friend and help Sankaran, Jack’s noble effort negatively impact his untouchable lover.

The NGO volunteers, while engaged in superficial acts of charity, continue to hold underlying prejudices as they verbally abuse the untouchables behind closed doors.


Scratch That!!!

Even with Sankaran within their midst, the NGO members continue their diatribes against the people they’re supposed to be helping! One woman claims the Dalits are ungrateful after being scolded by a Dalit teacher for filming her class without her permission. There’s another person (a self-professed Christian) who doesn’t even hesitate to harass Sankaran, declaring his people as ‘dirty’ and in need to cleanliness. He later justifies his asinine remarks with “Political Correctness is not my shit!”.images (3).jpg

The Gandhian activists are no better, as they are nothing more than a tool of the government. Nowadays, the icon of Gandhi is similar to religious scriptural verses. His vague messages are utilized by every political faction– right wing, left wing, center, authoritarian, anarchist–to justify their own agenda.

 There is also a side plot involving Manju, an auto rickshaw driver from the same colony. Being a Dalit woman in a male-dominated field, she is bombarded with sexually explicit, cringeworthy comments, including from one man who offered to ‘ride her’.

As Sankaran and Manju struggled with their own battles, a crisis in the Dalit colony escalates as its residents are threatened to leave their land by the state

Ayyankali (1863-1941, community activist

government. The Dalits take refuge in Kandal Kariyan’s leadership and the ideals of Bhimrao Ambedkar and Ayyankali, two Dalit historical figures rarely mentioned in the pages of history.

Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar (1891-1956), legal scholar, economist, politician, Dalit rights activist

Personally I thought the film was just average. It started with a strong, visually mesmerizing scene but peters along the way. The climax was not as impactful as I’d hoped.

However, there are absolutely no reason to ban the movie, as there is no reason to ban any work of art!!!!!

The censure is an indication of the political correctness and caste politics in modern Kerala. Complaints of gory images and rape scenes are made because, apparently, no other Malayalam movie ever had bloody fight scene and depictions of rape!

None at all!



Hmm….maybe it has to do with the burning of Gandhi’s effigy. Or that scene where the NGO members discuss Hermann Kallembach’s book detailing Gandhi’s secret gay lover.

Of course! Gandhi is the embodiment of India. Therefore, any work of art depicting Gandhi as being less-an-revered is an anathema to the nation!!

Oh please!

Can we stop referring to Gandhi as Mahatma. The fact that we have

 ‘mahatmas’, ‘saints’, and ‘heroes’shows how deluded we are!!

Mohandas K. Gandhi was a remarkable man but an ordinary human as we all are! He was enslaved to the cultural standards of his day and his own moral weaknesses as we all are.

He was wise and erudite

He was a deep thinker and a dynamic activist

No one impacted the Indian independence movement more than he


He wasn’t a good father, prioritizing his career over his family

He wasn’t a good husband. He was physically abusive to Kasturba, his wife, and even refused her penicillin during her last days, while he had no problem taking quinine to treat his own ailments

He has perverted views on sexuality. While claiming to be practitioner of Brahmacharya, he slept naked with his grandnieces as an ‘experiment’ (like..ewwww..)

He was also a racist. He didn’t really care for Black Africans whom he referred to as Kafirs

“Ours is one continual struggle against a degradation sought to be inflicted upon us by the Europeans, who desire to degrade us to the level of the raw Kaffir whose occupation is hunting, and whose sole ambition is to collect a certain number of cattle to buy a wife with and, then, pass his life in indolence and nakedness.”

And he was incredibly patronizing to Dalits, referring to them as Harijans (God’s children) despite protesting their inclusion in the Poona Pact

So, in other words, despite his laudable tactics in his contribution to secure independence for India, the Dalits also have legitimate grievances against him.

No historical figure should be immune from critique.

Speaking of caste…

It should not be a surprise that Malayalam cinema is a Nair-dominated industry. Although there are occasionally Christian and Muslim themed stories, the majority of plots revolve around Nair clans (tharavad) and Nair social customs.

Similarly to Black character portrayals in American film productions from the Classical Hollywood era, Dalit character in Malayalam films are also ruthlessly stereotyped.

The men are commonly portrayed as uncultured thugs (like in Martin Prakatt’s Best Actor staring Mammotty). Sometimes they are portrayed as  excessively subservient (like in Kamal’s Celluloid staring Prithviraj). Dalit characters are always depicted as secondary or background personas embodying one-dimensional traits.

The premises of Papilio Buddha breaks the status quo in Malayalam film culture. Its alternative style contrasts with commercial sensibilities. Perhaps this explains the hostility it was faced with.

However, a film industry should not devolve into an echo chamber, producing cinematic recyclables for the sake of not offending anyone. The purpose of cinema, similar to books, paintings or any art form, is to challenge the audience through entertainment. This is what make cinema valuable to our culture

 Good Old Days (That Never Were)

We long for the good old days.

When life was simple.

When People were courteous to one another.


“Families ought to be more like the Waltons and less like the Simpsons”

When children were polite to their elders

When everyone had a book in their hands

When music was worth listening to.

When tv programs and movies were watchable.

When we didn’t have to worry about ‘Stranger Danger’

When life was perfect.


“I wish we lived in a place moere like the America of yesteryear that only exists in the brains of us Republicans.”

Newsflash! The ‘Good Old Days’ is a myth! Like Godzilla, Hercules, G spots
and mutual sexual fantasies between heterosexual couples

Girls, let me give it to you straight: your fantasies bore us, ours offend youcouples.

The ‘good old days’ is a period in our lives before we got mugged by reality and blindsided by the bleakness and absurdity of the world.

In other words, people have always been shitty. The world has always been shitty. Life has always been shitty.

Albert Camus was right!

“How Absurd!!”

Nevertheless, humans are programmed to only remember the positive of their past. If we didn’t have this feature embedded in our brains, there would be an exponentially rise in Prozac prescriptions ( yay for Big Pharma!!!)

Therefore, nostalgia is one of the most marketable products sold to the mass public.

In my hometown, there is this family owned burger joint which has been in operation since the late 1950s. Walking through the restaurant’s doors is like walking through a time-portal.

“Tell me about it, stud”

The aesthetics, from the stools to the menu, are straight out of Grease! You’ll be looking for John Travolta!

Known as the most popular eatery in the vicinity, it’s always crowded. From the favorable reviews, you would expect their burgers to be mouth watering and orgasmic.

NOPE!!!     Honestly, I’d rather have a salad from McDonalds. Their burgers are sinfully greasy and their buns easily fall apart!

However, they’re not selling burgers. They’re selling nostalgia.

My family and I have only been living in this municipality since the late 90s, alongside families residing for a least 20 years longer. There are some residents who were born in this city long before it was even a city! The burger joint is the focal point of their recollections of their town

Team meals after a ballgame, date nights, first outings with their own children.

To them, it’s more than just place to fill your stomach.

There seems to be a case of nostalgia fever in pop culture. A couple of years ago, Girl Meets World was launched on the Disney Channel as a sequel to the

classic 1990s Boy Meets World. The tv program is mediocre at best, unable to compete with its predecessor.

I’m sure you’ve heard of Full House. I mean, it’s still being syndicated on TV. Back in the day, America fell in love with the Tanners, an unconventionally-structured family living under one roof. Its target audience consisted primarily of preteens, who were able to overlook the cheesy humor, nauseatingly moralizing themes and poorly written storylines which reflect the writers’ poor grasp of reality.

Next week, Full House is about to be rebooted as Fuller House! Its premise mirrors Full House in the most uncreative method.

Basically, DJ is now a single widow with three boys. Her younger sister,  Stephanie, an aspiring musician lives with the family (such originality!).

You know, for a meth addict, Jodie Sweeten still looks bangable

In addition, her best friend Kimmy Gibler and Kimmy’s daughter, Ramona, also receive room and board(presumably residing in the attic).

And you wondered why the Oslen twins declined to participate in this collassal joke!

But this copy-and-paste model works to the producers’ advantage. Die hard fans of Full House make up a prominent portion of their target audience. And the show will achieve considerable ratings because a significant number of Generation Xers and Millennials aspire to live in the past.

There is a saying: “a person who dwells in the past will never get ahead in life”. But nostalgia is a ubiquitous drug more addictive than opium..

….. and we all need our fix!

Red Fruits from my Family Tree

I don’t consider myself to be a Liberal. In fact, I abhor the political correctness and superficial signaling associated with the political left. I find liberals to be nothing more than posers who appropriate social justice language to ostensibly project their solidarity with the working class and marginalized communities while salivating in their own self-righteousness and sense of superiority over the rubes.

Nevertheless, I’ve always been fascinated with the left-leaning labor movements of the early 20th century. People like Mother Jones and Eugene Debs sacrificed tremendously to secure basic workers rights. Heck, without them, we wouldn’t have this length of time known as the ‘weekend’.

In Southern India, left-leaning movements also took hold, inspiring a myriad of disguntled youths to join the cause. My grandfather was one of those aspiring activists.

The last time I visited my grandfather was in the summer of 2012. He passed away a few months afterwards. My grandfather, C. Yohannan (or Appachan, as we used to call him), had a multi-layered personality. He was loving and playful. Yet he was also blunt and short tempered. He had a domineering personality and never hesitated to speak his mind.

Appachan was born in a town called Niranam. When he was four, he and his family journeyed east and settled in the outskirts of Punalur. They acquired a piece of land situated at the bank of a water steam, prompting them to christened their new home, Thottukadavil (“touching the river”). Afterward, the family became known by that name. Throughout his adolescence and his adult life, Appachan worked as a rubber tapper. Although it was a secure, public sector job, it was strenuous work where workers labored for long hours under the boiling hot sun. These sweat-drenched workers used to unwind by lighting a cigarette or two, a habit which Appachan started as the age of ten, only to affect him drastically in his old age.

The entire Indian subcontinent was still under the whip of the British Raj. As agricultural laborers toiled under the heat, a group of western-educated Anglophile Indian lawyers, known as the Indian National Congress, continued to spearhead their quest for Indian independence. They constructed their ideology through a combination of Classical Liberalism and Socialism, which, ironically, they acquired from British-run educational institutions. It wasn’t long before a radical communist clique would emerge within the Indian National Congress. This inner circle became a movement of its own.

My grandfather was in his late teens when a pivotal moment in history would affect the rest of his life. In the Alappuzha-Ottanad region of Travancore (present day Southern Kerala), a rebellion broke out as a crusade of low caste coir workers, led by Communist activists, protested against Diwan CP Ramaswami Iyer’s proposal for an Americanized system of government, coupled with a lassiez faire capitalist system.

Wealth inequality prevailed in Travancore despite the surge in GDP. Agricultural tenants and factory workers were heavily exploited by industrialist and upper caste landlords. An American capitalistic system was perceived as a threat to these wage slaves. Their livelihoods were at stake so they fought.

This movement is now referred by history books as the Punnapra Valayar Uprising, named after the two villages in which the protests took place. Although the primary objective was to uphold the dignity of worker against an exploitative system, the ultimate long-term goal, as claimed by one of its leaders, T K Varghese Vaidya, was to instigate a widespread revolution, eventually leading to a Communist India.

At the end, the Diwan, known for his aggressive, hawkish stances, called for martial action and thousands of protesters were killed by gunfire.  Yet the blood of these martyrs would be the fuel of a new social revolution, changing the political landscape of the region.

News of the Punnapra Valayar Uprising circulated throughout Travancore and neighboring Cochin. Appachan and his colleagues were shocked that their own government would use force against their own citizens.

The year was 1946. The British Raj was entering its twilight years. Uncertainty and instability reigned across the Indian subcontinent. Many younger Indians were petrified by an unknowable future. All the more reason to be attracted to radical politics.

Today, communism is the norm in Kerala, with its opportunistic career politicians, Hartals, economic stagnation, and luddite attitudes. However, back in the day, communism was such a major threat to the state that meetings had to convene underground, hidden from the public’s eye.

As the pitch-black night sky enveloped over the villages of Central Travancore, Appachan would be found at a fellow comrade’s home, accompanied by other young men. They discussed the recent developments involving the dawn of their nation and their aspirations for a classless society.

As Appachan, a fourth standard drop out, attended those underground meetings, he became educated in economics, sociology, history and political theory.  He became acquainted with the works of Karl Marx, Leon Trosky, Vladimir Lenin He would have been in the same league as Saul Alinsky if he came from a well-off background.

However, unlike most of his comrades, he would not give up attending Sunday Mass. He was a devout Christian, from a clan that contributed a innumerable  clergymen to both Orthodox and Malankara Catholic Churches.  He was vibrantly active in his local parish, holding positions of treasurer, trustee, along with memberships in the building and ministry committees, respectively. In addition, Appachan was a dynamic preacher, well-versed in the Bible and known to deliver sermons that dazzled even the most learned of clerics. He would never abandon his faith.

Although hardline communists and leftist trade unionists in Southern India were predominantly  atheist, they weren’t as antireligious as their Soviet and Chinese counterparts. Politics is a numbers game. A politician in Kerala would be alienating the majority of his own state’s population if he espoused antireligious rhetoric.

Nevertheless, the Communists would find themselves in a hostile rapport with Roman Catholic clerics. We’ll get to that in a moment…..

A couple of years after the Punnapra Vayalar uprising, leading to Appachan’s adherence to Communism, his parents arranged his marriage to a 16 year old girl from a nearby village. The couple had a blissful marriage, producing six children, the youngest being my mother.

Growing up in the 1970s, my mother recalled her father’s comrades having chai and kappa with fish curry in their kitchen as they discussed the latest political issue with Appachan. My grandmother (whom I’d call Ammachi) would leave the kitchen with a huff. As someone without a political bone in her body, Ammachi hated the mere mention of words like sarkar (government), manthri (minister), or inquilab (revolution).

Appachan never failed to put his family first. He was a loving, sensitive husband and a devoted father who would, undoubtedly, sacrifice his own life for his children. Even when he travelled to neighboring states like Tamil Nadu and Karnataka, leading protests with the trade unions in those respective regions, his wife and children were his first priority and never hesitated to return early to meet their needs.

A decade passed since Appachan joined the revolutionary cause. The sociopolitical political landscape had drastically changed in Travancore.

In 1947, when Louis Mountbatten and his fellow countrymen left the jewel of the British crown (while still keeping the Koh-e-Noor!), Travancore and their fellow Malayalis to the north, Cochin, merged to form the uncreatively named State of Travancore-Cochin.

Under the State Reorganization Act of 1956,  the Malayalam-speaking regions of Madras State (Malabar district, Kasoragod taluk) merged with Travancore-Cochin. Meanwhile, the Tamil-speaking region of southern Travancore separated to form the Kanyakumari district of Madras State(present day Tamil Nadu).

The remaining result is the present day State of Kerala, known for coconuts, Ayurvedic massages and kallu shops.

The Communists were no longer  an underground movement. In fact, they were now a major political party contesting in the 1956 state elections! Their candidate for Chief Minister (CM) was EMS Namboothiripad, a Namboothiri  Brahmin (allegedly the most elite of all Brahmins in India) with a distracting case of stuttering. You couldn’t have a more suitable representative 😂😂😝

The Communists won sympathy and support from the masses and emerged victorious in the election. Yet they would soon be forced to abdicate….

Namboothiripad wanted to address the social inequality plaguing the newly-formed Kerala. His administration introduced two new bills. First, the Education Bill, written by Education minister Joseph Mundassery, addressing the sub par working conditions and inadequate salaries in management school, which were often run by Catholic dioceses. The second was the land reform bill which transferred ownership of land from the upper caste landlords to their share cropping tenants who toiled day and night for their muthalali.

The Catholic bishops were enraged by these new laws. The Church operated those schools and now their power was being threatened. The Nairs were also equally livid. After all, having one’s land get taken away is always an unwelcoming surprise.

The Catholic Church in Kerala and the Nair Service Society launched the Vimochana Samaram (liberation movement) in 1957 to combat the Communist-led government. In Catholic parishes, tirades against Namboothiripad’s administration replaced spiritual lessons in homilies, as parish priests encouraged their parishioners not to be swayed by the ideals of the red state.

Appachan now faced intense pressure from his fellow parishioners. They constantly questioned his political stances and accused him of being Catholic-in-name-only, to which Appachan severely rebuked.  While devout Christians expressed their support for the Indian National Congress, Appachan was the lone wolf who abided by his leftist principles.

Irony presented itself as the underground movement became the establishment. Ten year previous, they were agitating against the status quo. Now they were the status quo and faced their own agitators.

Furthermore they were not above the militaristic tactics of Ramaswami Iyer. On the fateful day of June 13th, 1959, police open-fired on an anti-communist demonstration. Seven people, including a pregnant fisher woman, were killed. After that incident, the democratically elected Communist government was dismissed by the Centre government in Delhi and Kerala was placed under President’s Rule.

Namboothiipad would return as CM in 1967 and the Communists still contest in the elections to this day. However, it is no longer the idealistic revolutionary movement Appachan joined as a young adult. Communist politicians are no different from any other politicians–corrupt, cynical, power-hungry.

Despite these turn of events, Appachan still clinged to revolutionary Leftist ideals until he drew his final breath. In that empty, off-white, one story house, pamphlets with the iconic portrait of Che Guevara still lie  on the coffee table next to a crusty, old Malayalam Bible.