There’s nothing such as ‘authentically Malayali’: J Devika

Visualised as a space for the public to engage with academicians, the Janal series brings people together for conversations on the social, cultural, and political landscape of the state.
Historian and social critic Dr J Devika. (Photo | Express)
Historian and social critic Dr J Devika. (Photo | Express)

KOCHI:  Things we think of as ‘authentically Malayali’ have multiple origins that are imperceptible to the common people, especially language, said historian and social critic Dr J Devika on Saturday. Delivering the Janal lecture series organised by the Kerala Museum in Edapally, she said taking account of this fact would open more pathways of thinking, one that is not fixed on a narrow view of who we are.

Her talk, titled “Reflections on Migration and Modernity in Twentieth-Century Kerala,” sheds light on the shifting nature of cosmopolitanism in 20th-century Kerala.

“A reminder of our culture as an accumulation of multifarious traditions would permit us to be less jingoistic in our ways,” said Dr Devika, who currently researches and teaches at the Centre for Development Studies, Thiruvananthapuram.

“I hope this reminder helps us to be more accommodating to the migrant people who are coming to our state. There is so much we can learn from each other,” she said. Visualised as a space for the public to engage with academicians, the Janal series brings people together for conversations on the social, cultural, and political landscape of the state.

Dr Devika walked the audience through the idea of cosmopolitanism, which envisions human beings as a part of a shared culture, and how it has had a lasting impact on Malayali people and our subsequent cultural productions.

Central to her thesis was the idea of the Malayali as the eternal seafarer, curious and willing to accommodate multiple traditions and give them their own meaning. According to her research, migration in the early part of the 20th century facilitated a culture where boundaries of the self and identity were porous. 

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