Monday, December 31, 2007

I Love Kerala

Okay, I just got off the boat: two days cruising the backwaters of beautiful Kerala, the southwestest corner state of India. And in the last week in Kerala I have realized that I am in love with this state. Let me count the ways:

(Disclaimer: Although I may be on land now, my body is still on that boat; everything is swaying and I am pretty nauseous. Hopefully this is coherent. This list is not in any sort of order)

  1. Lungis- All men (aged 35 +) wear lungis, a cloth rapped around to wrap around one's waist (man dress), which are quite possibly my most favorite attire (although I have kept my lungi packed as not to gain too much unwanted attention). They are very comfortable and extremely functional, when it gets hot or one needs to do some demanding work, there is a procedure of folding it up which give's one full maneuverability. My favorite sights was seeing a bus of men heading to work with dress shirts, brief cases, and their lungis. Now that is a working culture that I want to be a part of.
  2. Another male aesthetic note: all men have mustaches here, I know this isn't exclusive to just Kerala, but I love mustaches, and have seen some beautiful ones here that were worth a mention.
  3. There are dolphins here! We saw them jumping just offshore from this beach near Kochi.
  4. Coconuts are used in everything, including their village wine, known as Toddy, which is dangerously delicious. Much better than the village wine I have drank in Rajasthan which was made from a root.
  5. Staying on a fruit related topic, bananas are everywhere, even cigarette and paan stands sell bananas. And they are absolutely delicious, they are different than most of the ones you can get in the states, much smaller but oh so good.
  6. Kerala is noticeably more developed than the north where I have spent all of my time, and the effects are quite visable. For instance, women work everywhere, gas pumps, fruit stalls, Internet cafes and are constantly in the public sphere, which was quite shocking for me coming from the North, where it is very rare to see a woman working anywhere outside of the home. Also, girls make eye contact with me here! In all of my time in India, going on almost a year, I have not made eye contact with a single girl, and here girls actually say hello to me. This newfound attention from Indian women is a bit jarring for me, but I will take it. Oh, the literacy rate of this state is quite impressive. Our travel companion, Rose, was bedridden for a couple days with the Delhi Belly, so this freed up time for me to visit Kottayam, a city boasting a hundred percent literacy. For some reason I thought that this would be interesting to see, this utopia of India, where all, from the business man to the farmer, are engaged in meaningful debate and discussion. But I have found sightseeing for literacy doesn't yield the best experiences, and upon reflection, it was about exciting as it sounds.
  7. Quite diverse in terms of religion, which is interesting to see: about a third Muslim, a third Christian, and a third Hindu.
  8. Traveling around the countryside, seeing beautiful church after beautiful church, it is clear that at least in this region of Kerala, Christianity is most visible, a strange departure from my almost entirely Hindu experience of the North. And Although I wouldn't necessarily consider myself a christian at this point, seeing a shared set of experiences, structures, and customs (albeit in a different form. For example, those that know about Arthi, a ritual fire offering in Hinduism, in kerala, I have seen people performing a similar rite in christian temples that resemble any other Hindu temple that I have seen), especially during this festive season with decorations, costume (we have seen many santas), etc., I have found some comfort in this culture, it is not as alien as it can get up in the North I guess.
  9. An interesting twist in the politics of this region, given the diverse religiosity of people. This state is communist and has been for a long time (I am not exactly sure how long). And just as visible as the religions, so is the communist allegiance, despite the relative decline in popularity as of late. The Communist Party of India-Marxist or CPIM is everywhere, with posters, rallies, flags. Interestingly, I even saw a Laal Mandir as I call it, a temple drawing entirely from Hindu architecture colored red with the communist logo. I went to the communist bookstore in the bus stop and picked up a communist planner in Malayalam, the Keralan native tongue, and a cd by the People's Choir, a branch of the CPIM, which was interestedly awful. It was also interesting to see villagers painting lifesize protraits of Che Guevara by candlelight, weird.
  10. Attitudes are much more laid back here it seems. People are far less aggressive, even in established tourist spots.
  11. Rickshaw drivers give you acurate fares!!! This has never been the case in any place I have traveled in the north.
  12. A conscience salve for the tenative tourist: there are very few beggars here, I haven't been asked for money once. Sometimes I feel guilty of the privilege that I have to go on these travels, and admittedly, in more developed areas, like Kerala, I feel that it is a little easier to travel as bad as that may sound.
  13. And most important: They drink Coffee here, sweet, sweet, love of life coffee that I cannot get in any decent form in my Himalayan abode. It is also ridiculously cheap, maybe 10 cents a glass, and really delicious. While wandering through the backstreets of Ernakulam, I stumbled upon, Broadway Diner, which turned out to be a refreshing deviation from the Starbuck esque establishments that I have been frequenting in the bigger cities. This place had not experienced a single change since India gained her Independence some sixty years ago. It was like walking into a time portal. Creeky chairs, marble tables, old display cupboards with aging signs, cobwebs, dark lighting, steady hum of old fans. Most importantly, they had this warm radio from the forties that played old Hindi film tunes, and strangely enough, obscure American Psychedilic rock. The shopkeep had taken over when his father died, and sat behind this large wooden bar taking money all day. He had impeccable English, we talked about stocks for some reason. The cavernous back rooms where the kitchen bathroom living quarters had no electricity or running water and really hadn't changed since the building had been erected. I absolutely loved this place, I never wanted to leave. I spent about 6 hours there and drank about thirteen cups of coffee ,(they were small though), while conceptualizing with my friend Christoph about a non profit community based cafe/bookshop with a subcontinent focus that we want to start in the US in due time (I might elaborate about this more later). Good times.

Man, I think I studied the wrong language, I should have studied Malayalam in college (by the way my Hindi does absolutely nothing down here, Hindi is within the Aryan language family, while Malayalam is in the Dravidian family, so there are very few similarities in vocabulary, pronunciation and script. I am completely helpless here which has been a huge source of frustration, although my Hindi isn't great, I can get by and am much more comfortable in this regard, traveling in the North).

Alright my head feels like it is about to fall off, I still feel like I am on a boat. But hope that your New Year's was merry!


Agn! Sharman said...

Respect Your Nation..Respect Your National Anthem!

A Damn Good Video!

General Information on Kerala (A South-Western State in India)

CMP Calcutta said...

hi Chad,
Your description of Kerala is just accurate... I come from the backwaters of Vaikom, Vembanadu Lake... Though left the place 42 years ago to grow up in Calcutta... studied at Fordham NY on scholarship grabbing two MAs (MassComm & Education) and now living in Rome... All the best to you. Try KARIMEEN fish Malabar style... before you leave, with GENUINE cocunt Toddy.
CM Paul

kalypse said...

I loved the way you wrote everything. I loved every bit of kerala. to my surprise that was not the case with my comfort loving wife and pure veg Guj family. I am so glad someone with similar view..this sure is model state. I did extesive studies still wonder about the religios harmony between 3 main religion. Cleanliness even without anyone assinged to clean. These folks take bath twice a day. I loved the discipline of school and college childern. The men give utmost respect to women. Marketing techniques and store deals don`t work here...people are extreemly smarter then they apear and they have abundant knowledge of the globe. They don`t let industries come here..the proposed nuclear pant had many plus..but the keralites voted it down..that shows their awareness of planet inthe long run. One day I want to settle down here..and have my kids go to school here...I visted kerala in 1996 and 2000. It`s been 10 years..I plan to go in 2010 x` in states I often go to a kerala store..I can hardly find anything thats genuine kerala...but I call aheda and the owner makes me lunch with thick brown rice..small red peas dry subji, Kerala style (2 kadis)tender beef dry with lots of coconut, Red spicy fish is so spicy ..I start sweating even in frosty winter, small papadums, pickle(sometimes I ask for fish fry)...the funny item is hot water to drink with it..I go with it...I sit behind the store and finish my meal..all for $7.00..watching Asianet...I hope to take my daughter along somedays....I guess she is my type..I gues I should stop..

Mahesh said...

Kerala is my native... glad that you loved my place...