Veteran Chef and catering expert Pazhayidom Mohan Namboothiri has made it clear that he would no more come to run the catering service for Kerala School Youth Festival, the largest students’ arts festival in the entire Asia, thanks to the Islamist propaganda against the traditional Kerala food style.
Mohan Namboothiri has been running the kitchen for the state school youth festival since the last 16 years. He has been cooking and serving traditional vegetarian Kerala food. But, this time, when 61st Youth Festival (January 3 to 7, 2023) was half way through, some Left media persons started propaganda that vegetarian food is Brahmanical and against the spirit of ‘Renaissance’.
One Arun kumar, a pro-CPM media person, made a Facebook post with derogatory remarks against the culinary expert Mohan Namboothiri. He says that vegetarian food is served due to Brahmanic hegemony. He was referring to the Brahmanic (Namboothiri) caste of Mohan Namboothiri. He alleged that most of the students are non-vegetarians, hence the ‘vegetarian fundamentalism’ in the Youth Festival is the reflection of the casteism. Caste works through the purity and impurity thoughts. Sometimes it camouflages in the form of vegetarian food. It is high time it is stopped. Arun added that the interested students should get Kozhikode’s food (he means biryani and other non-veg dishes of Kozhikode, that is, Islamic style of food). He says, this is not the ‘prasad feeding’ (free feast in Kerala temples), but Youth Festival kitchen. Kumar concluded that this is the way Renaissance is defeated.
But, Mohan Namboothiri has been in the job since the last 16 Youth Festivals. Some people, here and there, have raised their voice against Namboothiri, for, he begs the catering tender every year for more than one and half decades.
This unnecessary and unwanted comment has reduced the food to a religious controversy. It led to the declaration of the Education Minister V. Sivankutty in the valedictory function of the Youth Festival that next year onwards non-veg food would be served from the Festival kitchen. Namboothiri’s statement, that he will not run the Youth Festival kitchen in future, came close on the heels of the minister’s declaration. He said, he is scared to run kitchen when the poison of caste and religion are added in the food for the tender artists. He has been seeing the Youth Festivals as jewel for the last sixteen years. He would not return to this festival any more. The time Islamists, Marxists and some media persons unleashed their carefully orchestrated propaganda against Mohan Namboothiri when the Arab food style tightens its grip in the state. Three persons have recently died in the state allegedly due to the consumption of Kuzhimandhi, Alfam, Shawarma (all are most popular Arabic foods in the state). They are Devanada (19), Reshmiraj and Anjushree Parvathi (19), from Cheruvathoor in Kasaragod, nurse in Kottayam and from Manjeswaram Benoor in Kasaragod respectively.
This year several communist interventions have been reported from the venue of Youth Festival in Kozhikode. These are the most significant of them –
1). A male teacher has been undergoing rude cyber-attacks for acting the role of a terrorist in the visualisation of the welcome song penned by poet P.K. Gopi. Malayalam channel Media One, run by Jamaat-e-Islami Hind, CPM-led government and the Marxist Party are the spearheads of the attacks. Mohammed Riaz, a ministerial colleague as well as the son-in-law of chief minister Pinarayi Vijayan, has demanded an investigation into the vested interests of the people who prepared the welcome song. Their ‘Sangh Parivar links’ also to be investigated! And, the deliberate intention for communal riots in the state should be investigated too. Opposition Indian Union Muslim League had alleged that the welcome song contained anti-Muslim sentiments because the song propagating communal harmony and patriotism displays a man in Islamic attire as terrorist. ‘MediaOne’ channel checked the male teacher’s Facebook profile and declared that he is a Seva Bharati worker. Government and Marxists took up the propaganda of Media One.
2). The religious allegation was engineered by declaring the turban of khadi towel as keffiyeh, the traditional Arabic turban. Mohammed Riaz’s statement has come out as the government intervention.
3). Traditional lamp was put out on the stage before Yakshaganam started and messed up the traditional Pooja, an essential part of this ritualistic art.
Significantly, Quran reading was a competition item in this Youth Festival.
4). Heavy cyber-attack against kitchen and dining in the name of casteism in the food. And, the education minister declares that next year onwards non-veg food would be served from the Youth Festival kitchen.
Pazhayidom’s declaration that he would not return to the Youth Festival kitchen any more reflected his mental agony, grief and the humiliation he suffered. He said, supervising the Festival kitchen was tiresome. He wondered how can he face a generation when seeds of communal hatred are widely sown even in the matters concerning food in a Youth Festival. It brings him discomfort. Youth Festival kitchens were his treasure. But, when a band of sycophants come out with these sorts of allegations, it is not right for him to carry that jewel any more.
Pazhayidom reminisced that during the past 16 years he has served food for more than 2.5 crore students. School Youth Festivals, Athletic Meets and Science Fests were the programmes. He enjoyed satisfaction when he served food for the tired participants. But, now the allegations are personally targeting him. He could have tolerated if they were about the quality of the food he cooked and served. But, the allegations carry religious and caste colour. Who decided to serve veg food? It is none other than the government; but, he is blamed for it. He says, there are valid reasons for the veg food. Scale of events, number of participants and continuous nature of the competitions are some of them. Always he feeds more people than the scheduled number. In the just concluded 61st Festival there were 9,000 participants, but, 24,000 people have eaten the lunch. There are practical difficulties in preparing non-veg food on this scale.
Pazhayidom stated that he had served non-veg food once; it was in the State Athletic Meet. He said, he was not going to cater for South Indian Science Fest at Thrissur which is scheduled for January 26 to 31. He says, this time he did not permit any one to enter the kitchen, first time in his career. It was due to the fear he suffered. He cannot do justice to a work when fear envelopes him. That is why he decided to call it a day.
When he says “fear”, common people guess what does he mean. The target is clear: To create communal rift in the society.