Expressive Humor : Ottan Thullal


“Nokada nammude maarge kidakunna markada nee onnu maari kiidasheda”.It means “You little monkey, don’t just lie down there and block my way. Find a better place to lie down”. The dialogue is by Bheema(one of the pandavas-Mahabharata) to Hanuman, his big brother(disguised as a monkey).This is one of the most hilarious moments in the whole of Mahabharata and that too from one of the most beautiful portion of the epic, that is,”kalyanasougandhikam” . The dialogue may be the most humorous one out of many that you can enjoy during an Ottan Thullal performance.

Ottan Thullal was designed by the 18th century master poet Kunchan Nambiar. There is a story behind the origin of this art form .Kunchan Nambiar was a Mizhavu(an instrument) player for Chakyar Koothu(a kind of art form). So, one day when the performance was going on, Nambiar accidentally dozed off in between. Seeing this, the chakyar(the performer) made fun of him(insulted in a way) in front of the crowd. Nambiar felt so humiliated that he pledged to everyone present there that he would come up with an alternative to Chakyar Koothu. That was the origin of a highly entertaining, simple and at the same time meaningful stage art- Ottan Thullal. It was created for common people who were not able to understand the tough Sanskrit language used in Kadhakali and other art forms. Nambiar purposefully crafted the stories and the dialogues to ridicule the arrogant landlords and openly criticize some senseless social norms and religious prejudices that existed during that time.

Even though I am a malayali (Keralite), I have only seen live Ottan Thullal performances thrice. I saw two live performances when I was too young and  couldn’t really understand the humor in this art form. But after a few years on 18th august 2012, I went to watch an Ottan thullal performance. This time I didn’t go there to enjoy the art itself, but to capture some of the priced moments of the performance. So, on that Saturday I reached the place and watched the performance (it was brilliant!) and laughed a lot. I congratulated the performer like many others. Then I came back home and wrote a few words. If something makes me write, it must have made a deep impression in my mind. Otherwise I won`t write about it because I am not a good writer, that is, I can`t write about all the interesting things that happens in my life . The performance made me realize that there is a lot more for me to know about my home, my God`s Own Country. Ottan Thullal was in a way a revelation and a beginning.



Life in slow motion

I was born and brought up in Trivandrum, but my parents are from Calicut and Thrissur. Both Calicut and Thrissur are turning out to be fast paced urban settlements. Cochin, the queen of Arabian Sea, is the fastest of all the cities in Kerala. But the thing being a person from Trivandrum is that, you are comfortable with a life in slow motion. I don`t know whether I am experienced enough to provide such an opinion. Still, I find the way the way of life in Trivandrum slower than in other cities, may be because there are a lot of government offices in and around the city. They say nothing moves in a government office without being bribed. I don’t think it`s true, but there are some who won’t   move even a finger without getting a “valuable” offer. On the whole, bribe or no bribe, things are a bit slow (it’s the govt, so just don’t care).

Then you have roads. Even if someone wishes to reach somewhere quickly, it’s just not possible. Either gutters will slow you down or some guy who is lazy enough to go slow or selfish enough to cover the whole road will make it impossible for you to break away from the chain. I won`t complain about the traffic blocks since the condition is much better than in other cities (especially Cochin). So, whether you like it or not, Trivandrum walks while other cities run. But I love it this way and I think it`s cool. A slow way of development is really appreciable and in case of Trivandrum, it would be nice if the city goes on without any new developments. By development, I mean new constructions (ex- mono-rail). But I think the government can make this city look much better by just improving the present state of things and not by cutting down trees for new developments.

Anyway, development at a fast pace can be highly toxic. The villages and greenery around other cities are getting drastically reduced to blocks of concrete and the temperature is also soaring. For me, it is a great relief to know that this kind of development is happening at very slow pace in my city (it is happening in the form of Techno Park and flats). When some new work starts in Trivandrum, it normally gets delayed. Many of the green velvety patches in and around the city are still intact. This is why I think a life in slow motion is comparatively better than the fast paced one. I wish this city to  remain like this forever. It will remain as a silly wish because eventually this city will also fall as a prey of development.

Alas!  All I can do is hope.

A view of Chalai, vibrant with activity