If you live in Kerala, chances are that you cringe every time you hear the Malayalam word ‘freaker’. In case you’re wondering, freaker is the common name given to a new subspecies of human beings (scientifically classified as Homo sapiens freakus malabaricus) found predominantly in urban settlements across Kerala. Although genetically similar to normal human beings, they have an irrational affinity towards gaudy clothes in fluorescent colours. They are known to take photographs in these clothes and upload them onto Facebook. It is also said that they attack unsuspecting Facebook users with messages like: ‘Heyyy broowiie, plz liek my pro pik!’ Etymologically, the Malayalam word ‘freaker’ is a corruption of the English ‘freaker’. In either language, the meaning is more or less the same. Freakerz are also commonly referred to as chullanz, mwonjanz and hip-hop boyz.
Now, whether you like it or not, chances are that you’ve come across some of these freakerz on Facebook atleast, if not in real life. If you’re in Trivandrum, just head to Kovalam or Kanakakunnu Palace on a Sunday evening and you’ll be able to see them first-hand.
Tamy, an engineering student from Calicut, had this to say about how freakerz originated, ‘I don’t even know how it all started. There’s the influence of Malayalam movies, in which the actors look ridiculous sometimes. Wonder who works on their make-up and costumes!’ Like most fads, it’s hard to pinpoint when or where the whole freaker culture exactly started. Freakerz however did gain mainstream attention through Malayalam movies like Honeybee, ABCD, Da Thadiya and Ustad Hotel. Sreenath Bhasi, through his movie roles, has come to be seen as the quintessential Malayali freaker: someone who speaks an amalgam of Malayalam and English, unnecessarily peppered with terms of endearment like bro, machaan and dude.
If taking selfies and posting them on Instagram is a symptom of narcissism, freakerz take it to the next level. At the same time, they’ve perfected the art of amassing Facebook likes and comments for their photos. There are a few who see it as an attempt at amateur modelling but most people seem to dismiss it as attention seeking behavior. Sarath, an engineering student from Kochi, is of the opinion that they do it to gain attention and to be different from what a normal Malayali would be like. There are a few similarities between freakerz in Kerala, and goths & emos in the West. They’re all manifestations of the same urge for personal expression but push the limits of what is acceptable in society. And of course, there’s the superficial similarity of excessive eye-liner use.
As a state, Kerala has always welcomed non-conformists and rebels. More people know about Bob Marley and Jimi Hendrix here than probably any other state in India. Unfortunately, the interest isn’t strictly musical. Che Guevara is also very popular. Adopted as the poster boy (literally) of the SFI, his face adorns the walls of almost every college here. So it’s not altogether surprising that the freaker culture has taken root so quickly in Kerala. Being a conservative state, this is also probably one of the only ways by which young adults here can push the rigid limits imposed by society.
Anurag, an engineering student from Kannur, had this to say, ‘I find it repulsive but it’s not wrong. It’s just another way of life and you can’t question it. They have their freedom of expression while we have freedom of thought. They think it looks cool and we all choose to make fun of them. Kerala is a state where the actual progress into the so called ‘western culture’ is much slower than the teenagers here would like it to be. So they express these emotions in multiple ways, portraying themselves as better, cooler and hipper.’
There are also others like Anova, an architecture student, who are more open to freakerz, ‘I’ve come to realise they are, in many ways, much nicer than people like you and me. We all have phases in our lives where we do peculiar things, imitate people or styles. It’s something that we all do, to varying degrees.’
At the end of the day, freakerz are not doing anyone any harm so I think we should just let them be. At the same time, there’s nothing wrong in all of us wishing them a speedy mental recovery.
With inputs from Alaka, Keerthi, Ashok and Anju.