Tuesday, September 8, 2009

First Impressions of Kerala

My stock of Malayalam (a palindrome, as every Indian schoolkid knows) is limited to a line which my Mallu friend taught me, and which roughly translates as, “If you cooperate, we both will have fun. If you don’t cooperate, only I will have fun.” It is a line from a B-grade movie, and was said, as you may have guessed, by a rapist to his would-be victim.

Given that the line, however colourful, is of limited application, and given that I shall be travelling mostly in rural Kerala, I foresee a bit of a language problem. Because of the language barrier, I may never know the answers to certain questions which puzzled me on this, my very first day in Kerala.

Why do the good people of Kozhikode abbreviate Red Cross Road to R. C. Road when both have the same number of syllables? Why is the water served in restaurants lukewarm and, more unsettlingly, phenolphthalein pink? Why are there so many people selling lottery tickets on the long-distance KSRTC buses? Are they trying to tell us something?

But I can see you are getting fidgety. You are probably thinking: Here is this post which purports to be about first impressions of Kerala, and its unromantic author is going on about pink water and lottery tickets. Where are the coconut groves, you angrily demand? Whither the emerald-green pools?

Well I am not very good at describing nature, but I shall tell you this: I approached Kerala with a measure of cynicism. Ever since I was old enough to say Thiruvananthapuram, I can remember people gushing about its stunning natural beauty. God’s Own Country, they call it in the tourist brochures. Even Lonely Planet, which is usually matter-of-fact, waxes lyrical over Kerala:

Kerala is where India slips down into second gear, stops to smell the roses, and always talks to strangers.
Funnily enough, I have never been to Kerala, and I have long wondered whether its beauty was somewhat exaggerated. Add to that the fact that I have been travelling through rural Maharashtra, which gets no hype at all, but is still incredibly fetching, especially at this time of the year, just after the monsoons.

My train from Hyderabad is passing through Lonavla, and at the end of every tunnel, the passengers collectively gasp as a yet more verdant vally opens up before our eyes, and I am thinking, will Kerala be prettier than this? We are at Malshejghat on a weekend trip from Bombay, and it looks like they set out to make the picture-perfect hillside and went overboard with the mist and waterfalls, and I am thinking, surely Kerala can’t be even more beautiful? It is late afternoon, and my train is chugging down the Konkan coast along what is widely regarded as the most scenic rail route in India; I am holding a steaming cup of coffee and stray raindrops are flying in through the window to sting my cheek, and I am thinking, surely not.

As I said, I am not very good at describing nature, but I shall tell you this: when I woke up this morning, my train had entered Kerala, and with my first glimpse outside the window, I was sold. So much for unwarranted skepticism. Cast aside your reservations and pile on the hyperbole: Kerala is worth the hype.

7 comments:

Karthy said...

Yay! :D

the reason the water is pink is they put something ayurvedic in it (a root of some plant i think it is) the name of which my mother knows...it's good for your health though it needs getting used to :D

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

Woah. I wanna go! Lurve this post. And the previous. :) Upload pics.

Priyanka said...

Karthy's right, it's dried ayurvedic herbal powder, chukku. The last time I went to kerala I travelled with family friends, stolid bengalis who gave me a kodak moment with the expression on their faces when they said "eto gorome ke gorom jol khaaye?!"

It's warm but it helps cool down your body. Works pretty much on the same principle as hot tea on a sultry day, although sujaan vehemently opposes its usefulness (the tea, not the water).

nina said...

let me contribute to the knowledge of malayalam - "idikki pidicchi oru umma tharu" which apparently means hold me tight and give me a kiss. dont know how you will use that though...

Sroyon said...

@Karthy & Priyanka: Okay...
Strange are the ways of the South Indians.

@Shrabasti: After I get back home. Too much trouble uploading pics from cybercafes. At least I am posting regularly (and replying to comments). Be happy with what you have.

@nina: Thank you, but the girls usually don't wait for me to ask :D

Shrabasti Banerjee said...

*mumbles darkly*

Indecision Personified said...

Oh MY GOD!!!! girls don't do what???? who on your reader list are you trying to fool????
I thought you would limit narcissism to boasting about your so called 'charnming personality'... but you sir...

also, about the warm pink water: the pink comes from the bark of a tree, it has medicinal properties and is suppossed to aid with digestion as well as keep body heat down during the heat of the summer.