epiphanies and revelations

Namaste from Kerala,

       To borrow a laughable phrase from “The Castle”, this India place is “so full of culture”.  And India is experiencing some culture wars right at the moment. You may have heard something of the culture wars, centring around the incarceration of a university student leader, accused of being anti-nationalist. More of that situation on the morrow, if you are up for it, dear reader.

       We have moved on from the treetops, spent a night in a resort amongst a cardamom plantation and are now resting comfortably in a houseboat on the Alleppey backwaters. And everywhere we go, more culture! 

Alleppey Backwaters Kerala
“He will just hope for the fondness.”

    I needed to ask a favour of some locals, to help with a flight booking later this week. This caused a travel agent to stay back at his office until after 9 pm. On the way, I remembered the local penchant for tipping and felt my pockets. I was without any cash. I asked our host, Paulson, who was driving me to the rendezvous, if the fellow would require baksheesh. Paulson smiled and said, “he will just hope for the fondness”. 

   In a dress shop in Cochin (yes, Linda thinks she needs more dresses!) a casual line from the vendor served as something of an epiphany for me. Linda was prevaricating over a fairly revealing dress, expressing doubt about wearing it out in public (bra straps showing!). The vendor remarked that such showy dresses are meant to be worn at home: “You want to wear such beautiful things in front of your husband only.”


     These are the types of exchanges which make India worth visiting. Westerners come here to seek out such “I-never-thought-of-it-that-way” moments. Of course, lots of westerners come here expecting the genuine life-changing epiphanies – having exhausted the likely sources elsewhere – and sometimes find them. Occasionally, some of these same people convince themselves that they have stumbled on Nirvana, even when the evidence is a little flimsy. But who are the rest of us to judge what is or isn’t Nirvana for them? 

Backwaters Kerala – houseboats = kettuvallam

   We are the only people apart from crew on our houseboat, lolling silently as I write, against our mooring for the evening, listening to some Hindi music over loudspeakers wafting over the water. Playing songs over the loudspeaker is a very common practice in the sub-continent. It’s tantamount to imposing your tastes on others, I would have thought, but it’s a nice change from the call to prayer. We are sipping on a cool white wine from Bangalore and awaiting another delicious local curry.

Last night the place in the cardamom plantation was superbly appointed and we were the only ones there, too. Neelakurunji (the name of the resort; named after a local flower which blooms once every 12 years) was just a little bit cooler, and higher in the hills (the Western Ghats). There the birds were more voluble, the roads more badly pitted and the population more sparse. (That’s an adjective you don’t often have cause to use in India.) Here in the backwaters of Alleppey the people live right up to water’s edge; an amenity which would add a hefty premium to the real estate in most other places.

     Culture is much much more than dress, language and cuisine. And business people are also slowly cottoning onto the fact that it is also a lot more than obvious differences like how to greet one another, what utensils to use at the dining table or whether to include beef on the menu or not (McDonald’s made a famous concession on this point upon entering the Indian market recently). It’s about the way we think. And these are the things which make visiting this place worthwhile, like epiphanies in dress shops or hopes of fondness from a travel agent.
Kanam from Kerala

*slight exaggeration, granted

Other photos from hereabouts

on the backwaters, Kerala
performance of Kathakarli – unique to the region
from the cardamom plantation, Kerala

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