During a visit to Dubai, it was hard to ignore the people from the state of Kerala in India. They were everywhere from the hotel lounge to the shops we visited – why our program has 3 people too (including me)! You turn on the radio, you hear at least 3 radio channels playing malayalam songs (malayalam is the language spoken by the people of Kerala).
The Touristy Stuff: To those who came in late, Kerala is in the southernmost part of India; it literally means the “Land of Coconut Trees” and when you land into Kochi (the most popular city in Kerala) you would not be surprised why it is called so – it’s almost like a carpet of coconut trees as far as the eye can see (see pic). The tropical conditions here are due to the relatively abundant rainfall (retative to the rest of India). Kerala is home to some very scenic spots like the Punnamada Lake in Alleppey to the Tea Gardens in hilly area of Munnar. Being a coastal state, it boasts of a lot of beaches – the best being Kovalam Beach. But a visit to Kerala is one of paradoxes – Temples, Churches, Mosques along side red communist flags and pictures of Marx, Lenin and Che Guevara.
A Bit of History & Culture: Kerala was in a sense one of early gateways to the subcontinent; the place where Vasco Da Gama landed in India and started the spice trade; the place purportedly where Kung Fu was originated and was taken to China; the place that was probably the earliest user of chinese goods – the chinese fishing nets! The arts flourished here with the dance forms such as Kathakali (see pic) and Mohiniattam. Even some of the major religions in the world found a home – Hinduism always existed here, but this was also the place where Christianity, Islam and Judaism has been flourishing in India since they were formed (Christianity since AD 42 after St. Thomas, one of the 12 apostles of Jesus, landed here; Judaism since BC 7; Islam since about AD 600). These religions still thrive in Kerala except Judaism since majority of the Jews have left Kerala to live in Israel in the last century. After Independence of India, official state of Kerala was formed from the merger of 2 kingdoms in the region with the same language. Like any other place in India, Kerala too suffered from ills of social discrimination. As a result of this, there were a lot of social uprisings and this gave birth to the popularity of communism.
Dubai Connection: It is strange to think why people of this state would leave their homes behind but the truth is that this state has the most number of people living outside the state, in fact mostly outside India. Communism rose in Kerala mainly due to the social inequality (caste system) but as a result of this industries could not survive in Kerala – a lot of factories shut down because of frequent strikes.This had to do with the fact Kerala, back in 60s and 70s, not only suffered from unemployment but also labor issues due to it’s leftist leanings (these issues still exist but has been alleviated considerably by the tourism, IT and fisheries industries). It was the discovery of oil in the persian gulf in late 60s that saved the people tiny state in India – what is called as the Gulf Boom. The middle east needed cheap labour and found that aplenty in the people from this state (highest during the 70s and 80s). I guess Indians are by nature adaptive but must have been really heartbreaking for many of the families to let their children off to the Gulf for the hardship. As we went through our residency in Dubai, we heard stories of these labor camps; like 10 people living in 1 room and earning very low monthly wages. Of course, being from Kerala, I knew of most of this and had heard stories of this from my childhood. But it wasn’t always the jobs with hardship – in fact a lot of engineers, doctors and nursing staff found a lot of well paying jobs (chauffeurs et al) in the Gulf region. In fact of late, the interest in Gulf among the people of Kerala is on the wane – most prefer to work in the US or UK for high paying jobs. Or work at home in an IT or a BPO company. An increased wealth and increasingly educated labor force that was mainly funded by a lot of money coming from the Gulf region was probably responsible for this.
How about this for statistics. 80% of population in Dubai is expatriates. 80% of these are Indian. 80% of the Indians are from Kerala. No wonder that I kept thinking that Dubai is the capital of Kerala. There are more people from Kerala in Dubai than in the actual capital of Kerala.