The Malayali nurse from Kerala is everywhere. She rattles around in a second-hand Japanese car, driving 150 km from Jebel Akdhar to Muscat to do her weekly shopping. She is in Cologne contemplating a move to Ireland, only her German is now better than her English has ever been. She is in a small town in Madhya Pradesh, wondering when Australia will work out. She is one of the three nurses in the little hospital in a small mining town outside Perth, Australia. She is everywhere, so sometimes it is difficult to see her. At some point you have to squint to see past the chimera that is the Malayali nurse. You have to ask why even Libya is a better choice of place to work than any place in India? You have to ask why she chooses nursing at all. Why is she where she is? Is she a gold-miner, cowboy or nun? Who is she?
If there is a hospital near you, wherever in the world you are reading this, step inside and see if there is an Indian nurse. There is a high likelihood there is. If she has a minute for you, ask her which state of India she is from. The chances are she is from Kerala, India. For decades young women from the tiny state of Kerala have left their homes to go all over the world.
“At this particular moment I have distant relatives in Libya, ones who have recently left Yemen, ones in Boston, in Germany and in London. They are in Bangalore and in Delhi. They are all nurses.” Nisha Susan, Author
The Kerala nurse is everywhere. At last count, according to the Indian Nursing Council, there were 2 million registered nurses in India of which 1.8 million were in Kerala.
As ubiquitous as they are, what do we know about them? Why do they travel so far from home? In a country where women are fighting day by day, hour by hour to break out of traditional expectations, how did the Malayali nurse make it normal to be a working woman who works odd hours, who picks obscure spots in the world to work in, who has radical family lives shaped in such a matter of fact way that no one quite
realises how radical they are? Where else in India would you find husbands running households while their wives worked abroad for years?
So who is the woman emerging out of the smoke then?