Sunday, 16 October 2011

Kerala - an atypical view


There are some things quite well known about this southern Indian state.

- God's own country, an ad tag line that has become synonymous with Kerala tourism

- Kera-naadu or the land of coconuts

- Also the land of lungi, referring to the male attire consisting of an unbuttoned, unpinned piece of long cloth, rolled and "double twist" tied around the waist and either left straight on to the ankles or folded halfway at the knees

- Recommended as one of the must see places in your lifetime, by National Geographic.

All of the above is true. It is indeed, really beautiful. Blessed by nature.

While my parents were born and brought up in this state, I was not. I grew up in another state, thanks to my father's work location. I guess, growing up elsewhere combined with the wanderlust in me has ensured that I have travelled a bit and developed rather broad views combined with a healthy curiosity about attempting to understand, experiment and sometimes assimilate cultures, customs and cuisines from all over the world.

During my childhood, my visits to Kerala were largely centred around the two month summer break from school. From the (oh so exciting for a child) 2 nights and 3 days train journey to hanging out with cousins, eating all sorts of raw fruits to generally running around fields and woods while playing kiddish games, was absolute fun minus any responsibilities.

However, all that changed with my work life starting off. With limited visits to Kerala, there was no time to form any real views or bonds. Meantime, the parents had relocated back to 'homeland' after dad retired from work. Finally, after over a decade later, I have taken a real break. Spent months here. Realised quite a few things.

This place is naturally so green and lush, because of the majestic western ghats (mountain range), which ensures that a heavy portion of the monsoon clouds empty themselves on this tiny sliver of land. This practically means that there is rain for nearly half of a calendar year. And when the sun shines, it bakes this place. The heat combined with the humidity in the air, becomes a natural sauna where you will sweat away your fluids faster than you can top up! But it also means that the place remains evergreen. Plants love the combination of moisture and sunlight.

I would not say that Kerala is a microcosmic representative of India. It has its own cultures, customs, cuisines, language and ethos, which are not all in line with the rest of this vast country of 1.2 billion people.

Kerala, with three international airports, over 10 major railway stations and bus stands, and hundreds of smaller stops, is very well connected locally, nationally and internationally. But apart from an odd case or two, do not expect the quality of infrastructure to match international standards. Every attempt at improving infrastructure is strongly fought with by litigation and sometimes public action, yet the very same people will also complain about lack of infrastructure. Twisted!

Tourism is a good revenue earner, as are the monies realised from sale of spices, rubber and coconut based products. But even more money is remitted back into this state from outside the country. An interesting fact about this place is that almost every household is likely to have someone who is working outside Kerala - be it in India or anywhere else in the world. A large portion of these Non Resident Keralites, as the term goes, are labourers. Mostly working in the Middle Eastern countries. This situation has ensured that palatial monstrosities can be found in the midst of verdant foliage and an absolute lack of local labourers. So much so, Kerala is now being revered as the 'Gulf' of India attracting skilled/unskilled labourers from other parts of the country. Economics.

The medical facilities in this place, be it based on conventional treatment, homeopathy or ayurveda, are among the best in the country. With 72 hospital beds per 1000 population, this state is on par with California (United States). The tribe of doctors and nurses practising here are in great demand overseas. After all, why would it not be the case? The people of this state are highly prone to both diabetes and cardiac issues among other ailments major and minor. Not so much to do with genetics as due to unhealthy consumption habits. Many do not even realise how serious the issues are until it is too late. Complexity.

Kerala is one of the few states in India, which is 100% literate. Yes, every person in this rather populous sliver of land is educated at a minimum to read and write at basic fluency level in Malayalam - the local language. English is also fairly practised. Yet, for all the education and intelligence, it has not necessarily translated into common sense. This is also the state where the highest amount of alcohol is consumed in India. Being inebriated at any time during 24 hours is absolutely fine for many! Especially if it is a holiday, then being pickled in alcohol is the norm. Tragedy.

The worm transforming into a beautiful butterfly is a miracle of nature. The Malayali worker transforming from slothful nature within the state, to a dedicated, hard working and entrepreneurial person outside the state is also a miracle. Of the human variety. This state is one of the only two states in India, which have been proudly governed by communist parties since democratic governance was established in India. Even today, strikes happen at the drop of a hat for all sorts of reasons ranging from fuel price hikes to public infrastructural issues and weird scandals. From college to old age, there are people ever so ready to strike i.e. stop work and disrupt the lives of everyone around. Yet, I have personally seen that my brethren are among the hardest working industrious souls in another country. Transformation miraculous.

Having said all this, I must also agree that it is a pleasure to have spent some quality time here. Hearing and watching red crested woodpeckers and blue black drongos right outside the house, while having broadband internet connectivity inside the house tells me there is yet hope and also equally many things to be proud of, in this state. Being an Indian is complex. Being a Non Resident Keralite, even more so. Understanding one, good luck.

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