‘Pongala’ over Sanju Samson’s omission casts the Mallu ‘trollan’ in bad light

The atmosphere in the Greenfield International Stadium in Thiruvananthapuram was electrifying as India and West Indies did their pre-game warm-ups on Sunday. That camaraderie the crowd shared with the players, however, took a distinct U-turn soon after the game began when Rishabh Pant let go of a catch behind the stumps to give the West Indian opener a life.

The angry crowd chanted “Sanju, Sanju” to mock at Pant, who has, of late, invited wrath from Indian fans for his inconsistency. Before the start of the series, Captain Virat Kohli had made it a point to appeal to the crowd to not “shout” and “isolate” Pant and to “respect” him as a player. This time, a clearly miffed Indian skipper, questioned the crowd with a show of his hands after they brought out Samson’s name to jeer at Pant.

Kohli gesturing to fans

Earlier at the toss, when Kohli announced that they were fielding the “same team”, the whole stadium went into limbo and a hushed silence followed as they expected Samson, who was seen practicing wicket-keeping ahead of the toss, to play. His omission from the T20I squad at the beginning of the series had not sat well with the Keralites either, who expected him to be given a game during the Bangladesh series before he was dumped.

Now, that’s a fair request to place, for Samson’s omission without even playing a game was probably unfair. But was he a fair selection in the first place? Despite a rollicking double ton in the Vijay Hazare Trophy this year, Samson’s List A and T20 records are far from impressive and the double century is actually his only List A career hundred. Batting averages of 30.82 and 27.5 in the two limited-overs format barely do justice to his abundant talent amidst the current crop of Indian players who sport incredible domestic averages.

But none of that mattered as Keralites outside the ground took to social media to do their ‘pongala’ (the act of spamming posts/pages with comments/trolls) work while their counterparts in the stadium got messy with their shouting. TV debates, which should aim at the greater good of Indian cricket, went along the lines of what must happen in order for Samson to get a game. Malayalam News channel reporters at the ground asked frenzied fans if Sanju Samson should get selected, ahead of the match.

While Malayalis are often known and talked about for their intelligence and knowledge, logic often takes a backseat when it comes to some of these passionate individuals, who simply have to react at anything that pricks their likes or preferences.

This isn’t just reflected in matters related to cricket, but remains an innate quality etched into the Kerala culture. Take ‘Chakyar Koothu’ or ‘Ottam Thullal’—art forms that depict Hindu mythologies by dance, oral or hand gestures–which have sarcasm and satire ingrained into them and we see the origin of the sarcastic Mallu which has taken a vicious turn into the “trollan” (someone who trolls) Mallu in recent times.

While the art forms as such are hugely appreciated, the new-age “trollan” version of it—while funny and enjoyable when done the right way—has often taken an annoying deviation. From television channel satire shows to Facebook pages and instagram memes, sarcasm has gone to another level in recent times, making the usually witty Mallus a defamatory group that are out there to avenge about anything and everything that goes against them.

“Oraalude thanthakku paranjapo enthoru aashwasam,” (feels so good when you have abused someone’s father) Mollywood actor, Mohanlal famously says in Adhipan, one of the movies from his prime. This alone speaks volumes about the attitude a set of Mallus have towards a lot of issues ranging from social to political. Pure venting has become a feature of the rebellious Mallus in the new-age trolling era.

We all remember the infamous Maria Sharapova incident from a few years back. In a post-match press conference after a loss in 2014, Russian Tennis star, Sharapova, admitted to not knowing Sachin Tendulkar, who was at the stadium. Out to defend India’s pride, Mallus spammed her page with vicious comments, barely thinking that cricket wasn’t even played in Russia. She isn’t the only one to be at the receiving end of the wrath of the trolls from Kerala.

Australian cricketer Mitchell Johnson, Bangladesh player Shakib Al Hasan, the New York Times, actors Prithviraj and anchor Ranjini Haridas have all had their social media pages inundated with abuse–this in a language unknown to them—from Mallu trolls in the past. Made under the guise of reacting or bringing justice, the ‘pongala’ is often plain derogatory and filled with abuse.

Another glaring instance in this regard is that of former Kerala and India speedster S Sreesanth who was caught for spot-fixing in the Indian Premier League (IPL). Despite the clear evidence on record against the pacer, there was a lot of backing given through social media and TV channels for the tainted pacer. Keralites celebrated as the Supreme Court set aside the life ban imposed on the pacer earlier this year, not realising that the ruling does not change his complicity in the crime.

What is evident from this is that most of the reactions are instantaneous with little thought given about why certain events took place or certain statements were made. That the reactions spark little more than a collective outrage or mob mentality is concerning because questions remain as to how effective a Mallu’s reaction is to a real socio-political issue.

Effective reactions often get drowned in the wave of abuses and all we are left with is a sour taste in the mouth. The outrage regarding Sanju Samson’s omission–ranging from on-field shouting to social media posts and television discussions—is another drop in the deep sea of meaningless reactions that Mallus dish out every now and then.

With the troll culture at an all-time high, the witty, sarcastic, enjoyable Mallu of old is now plain abusive and irritable.

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