Malappuram in Karachi

Malayali community in Karachi

The tiny Malayali community in Karachi has shrunk over the years. Those who remain wait in vain for a passage to India

The nondescript apartment looks like an average home in Karachi. It's the bar of Chandrika herbal soap in the bathroom and the Mathrubhoomi calendar on the wall, ubiquitous to Malayali homes, that betrays the lineage of its occupants. The flat's octogenarian owner, BM Kutty, came to Karachi from Kerala in search of greener pastures in 1949, a time when Karachi was just a train ride away from Mumbai. Since then, the political activist has spent six decades of his life as a Pakistani national.

Kutty is part of the shrinking community of Malayalis settled in Karachi. Unlike some Muslims of north India who migrated to Pakistan during Partition, the migration of Malayali Muslims had a different context. The first exodus from Kerala to Karachi took place in 1921, the year of the Mappila Revolt, when landless Malabar Muslims (Mappilas) of Malappuram district in north Kerala launched an armed rebellion against the British and upper-caste Hindus. The uprising was brutally crushed after the British proclaimed martial law, and the Karachi chapter of Mappilas was born.

"Many Mappilas fled to Mumbai or Karachi. Here, they started from scratch with nothing but a kettle and cups, delivering tea to offices. Soon, they were running paan shops and hotels," says Kutty. Today, most Malayalis in Karachi are small-time owners of shops and restaurants. One can find an odd Malabari restaurant in the city, the masala dosa on the menus of many non-Malabari restaurants, and Malabar betel leaves from Kerala in Karachi's paan stalls. But few of the city's Mappilas speak Malayalam. At schools run by the Malabar Muslim Jamaat, established in 1920, a handful of students can speak Malayalam, but second-generation Malayalis are more fluent in Urdu than in their native tongue.

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