Kings and Crooks

Historically, our kings have failed us, or fooled us, or both. There is perhaps nothing more to be known about the hideous private battles of the Zamorin of Calicut and the Raja of Kochi. All the tales of their orgies of power mongering at the expense of their subjects, I thought, have been told. Not quite. A new, though unlikely, story linking that doyen of Indian Marxism, E M S Namboodiripad, doing the rounds.

EMS himself was not in the picture. It was a forebear of his household, namely, Elamkulam, who stirred up the story. The influential household was domiciled in Kochi, its influence stemming from the confidence it inspired in the king. Obviously in an exercise to reinforce his royal hold, the Elamkulam patriarch was wont to invite the king for an occasional meal at his fabulous home.    

Now, it was not enough to make sure that every dish was royally  cooked and devoured. It had to be unique, quite unlike the Zamorin’s recipe. The ruling warlord of Calicut would not eat the same rice as his arch rival, chieftain of tiny Kochi,  would eat. He would not want to be served any dish favoured by the Raja. It was so shameful a show of oneupmanship that  vegetables should not be sliced similarly. If the pieces were round for Calicut, Kocshi would have them as squares. 

EMS’s ancestor, poor host, got it wrong once. And that was the last time he incurred the Raja’s wrath. Lunch was just about over, last course of a uniquely Kochi dish was being served, when the king uncovered an outrage. Vegetables in that  dish had been cut in a hostile Zamorin style. What treason! He walked out in rage, raucously rebuking the helpless host. The king ordered that his callous host should not ever afterwards come within the royal view. He didn’t want any scion of Elamkulam to set foot in his kingdom.

So EMS’s ancestral family set out in search of a hospitable, even honoured, place in the Zamorin’s territory. While moving from underground shelter to underground shelter as a young leader of a banned Communist Party, EMS might have heartily contrasted his rigorous life with the comforts enjoyed by his ancestors as the king’s servitors.  Elamkulam household migrated to some place in the land of the Zamorin where they are still based. 

Their pettifoggery helped the Portugese and the Dutch more than any other fortune hunters from across the sea. They alternately befriended and betrayed their gullible royal hosts. New generations of the subjects of those minuscule lands would look back with shame and anger on the unabashed manner in which they threw open their little empires for a protracted battle between two foreign powers. 

The Zamorin’s sway extended over an area much larger than the Raja’s. Because of its pride over its  expanding kingdom or other geo-cultural factors, the Zamorin dynasty was usually wily. It bullied its neighbours. So much so the king of Valluvanad, present day Palakkad, sought the help of Mysor’es commander-in-chief, Hyder Ali, who was camping at Dindigul on the other side of the Sahya Mountain. That started off another incursion, eventually exacerbating communal passions. 

Another chieftain in northern Malabar, king of Pazhasshi, when under Tippu Sultan’s threat from the north, used the British to foil the Mysore Tiger’s expansionist designs. Once Tippu Sultan was humbled, the British turned against the naive but brave Raja. None less than Arthur Wellesly was brought in for a while to fight the king who pioneered guerilla warfare in this part of the country. Such was the turn of events that political historians still differ on the characterization of Tippu and Pazhassi as rabid religious monsters or early freedom fighters of India. 

So we go back to the beginning. Our kings have failed us, fooled us, historically. One of them was so rude and crude as the king of Kochi to force his host into exile for serving a dish with its vegetables chopped irreverently. I was introduced to this unlikely episode of royal chicanery by M V Sasidharan who hosts a book portal online.The book under reference is “EMS and Mother” by Thekkumbhagam Mohan 

Not sure if I could give total credence to this parable-like account, I asked him for details of the fratricidal feuds in coastline Kerala. .He concludes the narrative with a query and a reply. The question was how an influential and intelligent Elamkulam patriarch did something that would incur the Raja’s wrath. The answer was that his trusted wizard of a cook was the Zamorin’s spy! 


More by :  K Govindan Kutty

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