development and tradition

Namaste from Kerala, 

      During the early 1980s a chap called Kris Srikkanth opened the batting for India. Like a lot of Indian openers, Srikkanth was a hard-hitting risk-taker who showed scant interest in records or averages and savage disdain for the hapless Australian spinners of the era. Srikkanth was from Cochin which is the biggest city in the state of Kerala in the far south of India. Unlike most erstwhile Indian cricket heroes, Srikkanth is not well-remembered. He took a bribe and was caught. He soiled his own nest.


     Srikkanth’s home state of Kerala is the richest state in India. Linda’s observation from the taxi window: “this looks like the most prosperous part of India we’ve seen”. There’s no squalor here and – as far as we have seen – no slums. The coastal port city of Cochin is doing very nicely. Like a lot of Indian cities, it is built in and around a former Portuguese fort, replete with high concrete walls, gun emplacements and narrow streets.

After a few restful days in the fort we have ventured inland to the ghats where the tropical rainfall is constant across the year (as opposed to the seasonal monsoon of Mumbai, Kolkata and Dhaka). The vegetation is thick and lush.

     Kerala is showing the rest of the nation how to do it (develop, that is). As well as their home-grown industry,  they are attracting their fair share of tourists, both domestic and foreign. The unprecedented growth in India’s economy is being fuelled by both of these economic injections but tourism is integral to the plan. 

spiritual uplift

   Tourists from the west have been coming to India for years, of course. They come here for spiritual uplift, for enlightened ideas on how to live their lives and for cultural exchange. The Beatles weren’t the first but they paved the way for many others.

      India is now developing rapidly, taking its place in the globalised world. In the process, they are losing some of the very things which others come to experience. Commerce always seems to trump tradition and there is evidence galore to say that India is facing the same dilemma. Sarees and lungis are still worn here but the young ones – influenced as much by YouTube as by tradition – are opting more and more for western garb. Urbane young people speak English, run businesses on western precepts and adopt western (pharmaceutical) medicines.  Even the head wobble is disappearing.

upmarket vs budget

      India will need to be careful about the way they combine development with the maintenance of tradition otherwise they will inadvertently throw the baby out with the bath water. Just like a business which wishes to expand its market share, India needs to understand their existing market. If a business is ‘upmarket’ and adopts a policy of going ‘budget’ – with a view to capturing a bigger share of the market – they stand to gain some new customers at the expense of their existing ones. India as a whole faces a similar issue.

     Kris Srikkanth knew that cricket success would afford deity status in this country but he soiled his own nest when he took a bribe. He would have been Cochin’s hero. Instead the locals disown the man. The lesson is clear: change the product and the customer may choose another. I hope India keeps its integrity whilst withstanding the temptations of development. They should keep remembering that they have just as much to offer as to learn. They therefore have just as much to lose as to gain.

Kanam from Cochin

Other photos from hereabouts

 for purposes
rock hut – purpose not entirely clear, Kerala
up in the ghats
on the backwaters Alleppey
sunset in the ghats
tea plantations roadside, Kerala
on the backwaters near Alleppey
in the cardamom plantation, Kerala

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