Posted on Jan 19, 2005

Liba: Not Lost In Translation

We met Pinto and his bride Liba when we went to Kerala. Pinto is the same old good friend, and Liba is charming and beautiful. It was great to meet them.

I had heard that Liba was a second generation Keralite born and brought up in Germany, and though I had not expected to meet a Madamma* (knowing Pinto), my mental image of her was more like a westerner clothed in a Sari or Salwar.

But she was a surprise. I would not have even guessed that she was not brought up in Kerala if I had not known it earlier. She spoke excellent Malayalam with a nice Kottayam accent, she was always at-home, and she made us feel at-home. There was nothing to suggest that she was brought up in Germany. Not even the way she pronounced “College” gave her away – it was the same ‘Kollaage’ pronunciation that we are so familiar with. :-)

Of course, language is not the only indicator of a culture, and we did not get enough time to get to know her better. But obviously she and her parents have taken good care to retain their culture though they have been at a foreign land for the last 20 odd years. It can be tough, since it is so very easy to lose your roots when you try to blend in with a new culture.

This makes me think of the immigrant people and how they interact with the new cultures where they move to. I have seen Indians in the United States (San Jose, esp.) maintain their culture and customs pretty well even while trying to be a part of the American lifestyle.

But how have Keralites done as immigrants in maintaining their cultural identity and also in seamlessly blending with the local culture? Is Liba an exception or the general rule? I would really like to hear others’ thoughts on this.

* Madamma – the word used in Malayalam for ladies from western countries. Evolved from ‘Madam’.