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My Online Writings - 2004 - '07

Part 4
It is foretold! The torrential flow of inexorable destiny!
Attributes of ‘Sar’

The first encounter

I heard the word Sar for the first time when I came to Travancore in my middle school class. I was coming at that time from an English school, wherein the curriculum was trying to retain British systems, with progressive levels of failure. For, the outside world was expounding Malayalam systems with a sort of vengeance, and it was natural that the teachers and the management were succumbing to its claims.

Another world

When I first came to the Travancore school, I had the shock of my life. It was a government aided school, where I was admitted in a hurry due to other preoccupations of my parents. I found that everything that I had previously understood as teachers, teaching, polite behaviour and much else were different.

In my pervious school, even though there was an essential environment of Malayalam slowing entering, the official policy had been to promote English behaviour systems. (I think that mine was one of the last batches of this school, before the whole system was brought to a halt and the school went in for complete SSLC syllabus and June-March Academic year).

The word and its ambit

In the Travancore school, I found the new word Sar. It was not just to signify Sir, but also He and You, and sometimes it extended to mean even She also, when all these persons were teachers. Since in my English school, communication was in English, there was no occasion to talk to teachers in Malayalam. So the word Nee was not an experience as far as communication with teachers were concerned. Yet, in this same English school, when talking with the person doing menial work and also with peons, sweepers, and mess workers, this word was experienced.

Links to an inferior perspective

Now, communication in this new school with the teachers became linked with Sar-Nee. In many ways, not only the communication, but also associated behavioural aspects also connected the new teachers with the old sweeper class of my English school. The concept of politeness was not there in the new school. The new going philosophy was giving respect, and taking snubbing in return. There was a level of meanness in the teachers, and their attitude to the students was as if they were some sort of idiots. The male teachers walked with a sense of tremendous power, and the female teachers displayed a sort of pretended meekness to the male teachers. Yet, to the students both were to display a sense of snubbing power. The unfolding and folding of the Mundu also had a code of tremendous meaning.

Striping the aura

In my pervious school also, we had been frightened of some teachers. Yet, the problem in the new school was not of fright. But of a feeling of being a lower level of person. Yet, I must admit that the other students were blissfully unaware of this feeling, for they were used to the snubbing. Some teachers were very loving to the students, yet it was the love one shows to a meek subordinate, and not to one of equal dignity.

Requirements of subservience

My previous school was not anywhere near a perfect English school. I do not remember whether we had to get up each time a new teacher came to the class. I do not think that any school in India, other than very elite schools, will the children be allowed to be seated when the teacher comes in. For the hierarchies in Malayalam and other Indian languages will not allow it. Yet, as training it has very bad indications. For, the same attitude is being imposed on all Indians when they have to go to any place, including the Village office, where a petty man overlords them. I have seen many Village officers (what officer? the word officer signifies a gentleman) using the word nee to the common man, and the common man displaying his meekness, as he had been trained in the Indian schools.

How a person changes

When my bureaucrat parent came to Travancore, the new social language codes were to affect him/her. My parent had been used to the word Ningal from the common man, and even though the lower level Malabar Malayalam is loaded with sneaky feudalism, at the level of addressing the bureaucrat, there was a level of assertiveness the common man with some assets could practise. In many ways, this was able to keep the bureaucrat in some control. Not only that: the senior bureaucrats of Malabar did still have a hue of British administrative systems embedded in them. So that my parent did always have a feel that he/she was only a public servant and that common man can question his actions.

But when we came to Travancore, I did perceive the slow change coming over my parent. In Travancore, as per my understanding, there was total break down of systems. Everything was working on feudal sycophancy at all levels. All government officials were Sars.

The problem of direction and unequal communication

It was true that even in Malabar, the words used by the bureaucracy towards the common man were Avan (Ooan) and Ayaal (Ooal) for males and Aval (Ooal) for females. Only really big persons among the common crowd were above these words and reached Adheham and Avar.

The lesser stifling in Travancore

In some ways, there was some level of less distressing communication among the lower levels in Travancore communication. That was the use of such words as Thaan, Eyaal, Pulli, Pullikkaran and such. This has to be dealt with in another context.

When everyone started addressing my parent as Sar, and the whole bureaucracy showing a marked stance of disdain to the common man, it was to affect him/her. A feeling of grandeur and a halo of divinity seemed to adorn the person. I could notice the changing coming. From an English perspective, it was a most negative change; while in the Malayalam context one would claim that the persons was becoming more grand.

The differing stature (in those days)

In the early days, Malabar businessmen did carry a sense of dignity in their bearing. In Travancore, this dignity was then of a slightly contorted shape. The Travancore businessman would have a lot of persons under him to display homage; yet, when this man came across a bureaucrat, he would immediately transform into a Sar singing, homage bearing personality. This personality training was inbred in the common crowd and was seen as a most intelligent manner of behaviour. In many ways, there was an element of deceit and treachery in this shallow behavioural pattern; in that it was simply behaviour without any deep feelings. It was deeply connected to the hierarchy in the Malayalam communication system. A single word of right or wrong introduction could simply change it.

The haste to become a PeonSar

Now, Malabar leads in flawed social communication. It seems to be making up for the lost time. I was not surprised when during a PSC exam for a peons post, many businessmen were in the exam hall. For, a peon is a PeonSar, and in many place he is a avar or chettan, while the others are simply a avan and simple name.

The metamorphosis into social and cultural leaders

In Malabar, the word now trying to match Sar is Mash. A simpleton Balan is loitering around after his formal education (which actually means nothing other some nonsense called certificate). His father somehow manages to gather some 5 lakh rupees and he is now a school teacher, where he is in a position to lord over immense children with a Nee and avan and aval. He suddenly metamorphosis into Balanmash. It is a very powerful term in Malabar society. He is centre of social reverence, he is a mediator in disputes, and in his presence Mundu has to be unfolded.

To put is frankly it is a bit of a crazy scenario.

The craze for social titles

Now everyone understands the significance of social titles; even though the use of social titles has been banned by the constitution, it still endures in other forms. For it is encoded in the languages framework. Balanmash, AntonySar, GovindanChettan MaryMadam, StellaMiss and such else all are loaded social titles, with the same social leverage as the earlier day feudal social titles.

In Malabar, every so-called educated youngster strives hard to become a Mash, if a government job is being delayed. Females strive to become a Miss or a Teacher or a Madam. The situation is horrible. In the innumerable computer institutes dotting the landscape, there are immense Mashes and Madams and Teachers. They cannot bear anyone addressing them with a Ningal. It simply distresses them to distraction. They can get displeased and even violent.

Concede to servitude or generate the expelling force in the air

Once I wanted to give a copy of a CD on English language freely to some computer institutes. When I could meet the owners, there was no problem. But in many small time places, when I confronted the miniature Madams and Teachers, they were horrified by my addressing them with a ningal. They wouldnt accept the CD. They only wanted me out.

Stimulating symptoms of schizophrenia

In many places in Trivandrum, many, many years ago, I did notice that a mere addressing of a government official by a common man, or a taxi driver could unsettle him to the point of homicidal mania. I did notice that a mere Nigal can make them tremble, the eyes go red, their words go into disorientation, they cant look at the man in the eye, their writings goes illegible, and there is a sort of total breakdown of mental composure.

Codes of coolie English

Talking about Madams, even though I did use this word many times, as a female form of Sir: Using it as a suffix to a name, and as social title, I could not do it. For, from my English usage understanding that I had from my childhood, mainly from my wide reading in English literature (right from my childhood days), I had the impression that the word Madam when used as a social title and as a suffix to a female name did signify the sense of Brothel matron. Who introduced this title to Indian languages as filler, in their haste to fill the communication gaps inherent in Indian languages, is a moot question.

Businessmen by choice versus businessmen by distress

When I was doing my business in my early days, the major businessmen were persons who had taken business as a vocation by choice. In the present days, such persons are rare to find. Most of the persons who take to business are those who had tried and failed to get a government job, of whatever level available. There are others who have become businessmen through the Gulf route. Some of them are different from the common crowd in mental disposition.

What the majority crowd of businessmen have done as a group is bring down the stature of businessmen as a group who cringe before small government employees for small favours. They also do not have the demeanour to communicate as a dignified equal to the government employee. Beyond that they cannot bear any other person displaying an assertive personality their deemed heroes, the government official.

Provoking insecurity in meagre persons

I remember an incident retold to me by a businessman in Trichur. A Drugs Inspector went to inspect a major Drug dealers office some 10-15 years ago. It was a sophisticated place with an English ambience; so much so that it was an exception. The administrator lady in the office addressed the Drugs Inspector with a Mr.——— in a polite tone. The sneaky Drugs Inspector got the shock of his life, for everywhere he goes the owner and staff bow and cringe and exhibit servitude in its varied forms. He trembled with anger. He ordered the seizer for all the main records in the office and had them taken for inspection. Later the owner was literally made to beg for pardon from him.

Persons with and without profundity

Another thing I noticed in my business days was that dealers, who wanted things from me, came to me with a show of deep reverence and Sar. Yet, if I were to go to any other big dealers office, without proper introduction, all senior staff in the office would take offence from my addressing them as Ningal. Even when I introduce myself as a businessman, the moment I have to enter any business premises for getting any commercial collaboration, the instinctive attitude from the persons sitting there is that the newcomer is a person who has to exhibit servitude. This was not my natural inclination. And many times, this attitude of mine has cost me business. Yet, it has also gained me beautiful relationships with many senior businessmen and officials also. For, there are also persons who have the bearing to deal with others who come on an equal footing.

To emphasise the point, I have not understood why employees of any organisation should think that other men who are businessmen in their own right should exhibit servitude to them, who are only employees. It lies in the negative training both sides have received; and to the total feudal ambience naturally created. It is a sort ‘every dog barks in his own yard’ scenario.

An attitude with the hazard of vulnerability

Usually I do not allow anyone to address me with a Sar or Mash I insist that all persons who deal with me address me with a Mr. in front of my name. Many times, it has given wincing affect on me, when simpletons do not understand that a Mr. in English is a symbol of formal relationship, and is different from informal intimacy. They simply forget the Mr. Another thing is that without a Sar or Mash or a Chetttan, such words in Malayalam as Avar and Adhehem are not easy to extract.

When polite dignity turns disruptive input

It is a common experience that when many persons are addressing one person with a Sar, and then suddenly one man appears in the scene and addresses with a Ningal, there is a lot of mental pain and displeasure. Some seven years ago, I did live in a very remote plantation area, for a brief time. That time I did some English teaching. I naturally become the Sar, for it was a Christian settlers area. Suddenly I found that I was also getting the jitters when suddenly someone addressed me with a Ningal. I though about it, and found that the disruptive codes in Malayalam were affecting me. I made it a point to tell everyone not to use such words as Sar, Mash etc. about me. In many ways, it was a socially disabling request. Yet, as I inspired others to learn English in its proper British form, there were persons who did appreciate me.

The distress that I have just mentioned has been confirmed to me by many other persons.

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