Meeting someone who is not a Malayali or Indian but can flawlessly pronounce Malayalam words and comprehend the culture is a rare occurrence indeed. Hence, when Chris, popularly known as Mr Christopher on Instagram and based in the USA, started posting videos about his admiration for Malayalis, we were shocked and, of course, utterly impressed. His linguistic abilities are nothing short of remarkable, and we are truly fascinated by his aptitude.
We had a fantastic chat with “Your Nalla Vellakkaran” about his amazing journey of discovering the wonderful Malayali community and becoming a beloved figure among them.
The Chris-Malayali Connection
Chris’ journey into the heart of Malayali culture began organically. He has always had a keen interest in languages and cultures. He was particularly drawn to subjects like language, history, music, humanities, literature, art, philosophy, and theology, both in and outside of school. It was fascinating to learn that Chris didn’t have much exposure to Indian culture until he reached the age of twenty. However, everything changed when he had a life-changing experience that led him to connect with the Malayali community in his area. As time passed, the individuals from this community transformed from being mere acquaintances to becoming his true family.
He shared, “While most of his friends spoke English fluently, some of the older generation primarily communicated in Malayalam and felt nostalgic for their homeland. Chris saw this as an opportunity to learn Malayalam, both as a challenge and to connect with more people in his “adopted” community. Over time, it became a running joke between him and his friends. They never pushed him to learn Malayalam; it was just a fun way to bond with others. The internet seems to agree as well!”
Chris had no inkling that his content about the Malayali culture would take the internet by storm. For him, it was a way to connect with his Malayali friends and share those relatable moments that everyone loves. Despite being a private person with a minimal social media presence, Chris was not afraid to put himself out there, even if it was for fun. And when he saw the overwhelming response to his first few videos, he knew he had something special. He stated, “When I saw how well-received those first videos were, however, I knew I couldn’t just sit on it.”
He further added, “Now I really see it as an opportunity to share my gratitude for my ‘adopted’ community and connect over our shared experiences. I come armed with my relatability, humour, and uneducated and broken Malayalam—and ultimately, I want to try and be a positive presence in the social media environment. I decided to address myself as “your nalla vellakkaran.” It’s a bit of a pun on nalla ayalkkaran (“good neighbour”), which is a connotation I enjoy. Nalla Ayalkkaran was also the name of a disaster response effort from the 2018 Kerala floods, so maybe that was something in the back of my mind as well.”
Trip to Kerala and Love for Kerala Food
Did you know that Chris has actually stepped foot in God’s Own Country? With a plethora of Malayali friends across the United States and around the world, it was only a matter of time before he embarked on this adventure. Finally, in 2019, he took the plunge and headed to Kerala. This was no ordinary vacation; it was a unique opportunity to reconnect with his friends and immerse himself in the culture and heritage of the community he had spent several years with. He shared, “My time alternated between visiting houses and exploring the local areas, which led to meeting many new faces as well as plenty of genuinely “Kerala” experiences (lots of auto-rickshaw rides!). I probably spent the most amount of time in Kochi and Thiruvananthapuram, but I also remember Kottayam and Kasaragod very fondly. I’d love to go back one day and fill in more of the map!”
When we inquired about Chris’ trip to Kerala, he couldn’t stop praising the incredible warmth and generosity of the locals who extended their hospitality to him during his stay. “I was surprised and even a little humbled by the willingness of strangers to help. In general, the deep family and community bonds (with all their ups and downs) are inspiring to see and they’re something we sometimes lack in the USA,” he shared.
He further added, “I also enjoy nature, and I have keen memories of watching the afternoon sun over the paddy fields and of sitting by the Indian Ocean. I’m a big lover of chaaya, so it was nice to always have a good cup of tea close at hand too! And of course, there were also many little moments of Kerala life I got to experience: lime juice, sugar cane juice, thattakada, peak hours on a public bus, balancing a large suitcase on the back of a motorbike, and much more.”
Chris loves chowing down on meen varutathu, porota and beef, appam or idiyappam and curry, a bomb masala dosa, bonda, payasam, banana fry, and anything from a thattakada. He enjoys cooking in general, especially Indian cuisine. When it comes to Kerala cuisine, he’s got some serious skills when it comes to making beef curry and bonda. But honestly, he’s just as happy sipping on a nice cup of chaya.
“Kumbalangi Nights is my favourite movie”
Without a doubt, Malayalis are passionate movie enthusiasts. It goes without saying that Chris has indulged in the unique experience of watching Malayalam films. He shared, “I have watched some, though admittedly less than you might expect. I’m more familiar with contemporary cinema than I am with older films. My favorite is probably Kumbalangi Nights. I like how it shows some of the complexities of modern domestic life, and how family bonds ultimately give each character the ability to overcome or bridge those issues. In addition to that movie, I can also easily recommend Bangalore Days and Premam. Films that are new are definitely where I am most familiar, but I know there are also a host of classic films out there too. And I would be remiss not to mention watching a movie with Mohanlal or Mammootty.”
On What it Feels to Receive so much Love…
Chris enthusiastically stated, “On the one hand, it feels familiar because I’ve been part of this community now for years. On the other hand, it’s much more than I’ve ever experienced in my life! I do my best to respond to people as best as I can, though admittedly, it has become a lot to keep up with. Most of all, though, I am grateful that what I’ve made has resonated with people, and I hope to reciprocate the love that has been shown to me as I keep moving forward. Namukku onnichu pokaam!”
Mr Christopher took the time and effort to dive deep into the intricacies of Malayalam, a language that’s notoriously difficult to interpret and was able to capture its essence truly. Not only that, but he also wholeheartedly embraced the culture, getting involved in their traditions and practices. It’s inspiring to see someone so dedicated to broadening their horizons and embracing diversity.
You can follow Chris on Instagram here.