Me: You are up early
He : This is regular. Everyday.

Me: Do you catch a lot of fish at this time?
He: I do my best. Sometimes I catch. Sometimes I dont.

Me: You are alone here.
He: In this world we all are. It doesnt matter.

Me: How many children do you have ?
He: Three

Me: What do they do ?
He: They go to the municipal school.

Me: Is it a good school ?
He : I dont know. They go. They come. They are happy. I am happy that they are happy.

Me: Have you considered a big boat ?
He: I have thought about it. I am happy with this. On a good day, I make about Rs.200/-. On a bad, its next to nothing.

Me: You could make much more with a big boat !
He: Your educated mind will tell you so. But I am happy this way. No loans. No folding of hands before some money lender. Just about enough to give the family what it needs.

Pause. Reflective pause. Silence.

He: Just about enough of money. I dont understand you educated people. Running behind money.

Saying so, he lowered the boat into the water and went fishing. I kept looking as his steady rowing took him farther away. Aware that in his matter of speaking, he had brought me closer to myself.

Which is when the phone rang. I had to get back and get ready to participate in the conference. We were to discuss ‘Inclusive growth’ !

Poovar in pictures

River commerce

The closest I had come to this word was an ‘actuary’. The actuaries that I knew were brilliant folks working on subjects which only they and their ilk could comprehend. I mean, I didn’t understand much of what they did and consequently was perpetually perplexed at the big bucks that they were rumoured to take home at the end of every month.

But this was called an ‘Estuary’. An estuary, I learnt, is an area where there is inflow of both river and sea water. In Poovar, the river Neyyar flows freely. Beyond which is a strip of beach. Beyond which is the mighty Arabian sea !

It was sight to savour. Ofcourse, it is not so often that the only avenue of commute to a place that I stay in, is by boat ! Nor do I come across such verdant green interspersed with fervent blue of a quiet river bordered by clean yellow sand holding a restive sea at bay !

Floating cottages on a river. Do you see the wisp of a beach afar ?

‘Floating cottages’ that are moored to land, that get mildly rocked by ripples from every passing boat. A mild sort of a rocking, that could make you think of a giant rocking chair !

Ripples in the river

faraway fishermen, pulling their net from the Arabian sea, while their shadows dance in the river

The scene and surrounding gives many an opportunity for picture postcards clicks. These obviously aren’t the best of pictures. The professionals were at it. These were the best I could manage.

boat jetty

Of the several places that were there, the boat jetty was the picturesque. In my humble opinion. Regular readers perhaps notice that for some odd reason I find these transitory places very attractive. Railway stations. Airports. Bus stands. Now, boat jetties. Perhaps its got something to hop on and hop off.

This place is, as a colleague put it, “is ‘infested’ with honey mooners!” I recall a couple which kept staring at me. They would, wouldn’t they. Who wouldn’t. If they see a madcap photographing the bench at the boat jetty for half an hour!

For all you may care, they wouldn’t have noticed me nor the boat jetty nor the river beyond, the Arabian sea or whatever. For they were absorbed in each other. Rightfully so. I think.

All that is besides the point. If you need some peace and quiet, well, head to Poovar. Its a small coastal place close to Thiruvananthapuram. If not for anything else, you’ll learn a new word : estuary !

I promise you, the word does not convey a fraction of the beauty the place holds.

Earlier post on this trip is here

K for…

Rarely do I feel impressed with my amateurish dabbling with the camera. This moment was one such.

Kalarippayattu. That’s an ancient martial art form of the south. Kerala to be specific. It’s a fetching sight to see these fighters with bodies of gymnasts move with such agility and panache. With just a dash of imagination and a sprinkling of a story, any onlooker could well imagine how revered and soakingly absorbing a duel would have been just a few hundred years ago.

Oh, not to say a modern duel isn’t a sight to stop, hold your breath and stare in semi open mouthed awe, long enough for a few large mosquitoes to conduct a few sorties down the alimentary canal. More often than not, such goose bump causing art forms remain in the obscure confines of the past.

A trip to Kerala and a stay in a hotel at ‘attractive prices per night’ (which would be equivalent to what your father would have paid to buy the entire property, when he was your age), usually throw in a cultural performance or two.

Even better when the Company that pays your salary also pays for the trip and the room, in the name of a conference, harbouring extravagant hopes that such investments will pay off. In such cases, a hotel gladly throwing in ‘exposure to culture’ performances is de rigueur.

Kalari quite a popular performance. There are jumps. Fights with bare hands. Sticks. Fire. And several else. These are new techniques for the coporate types who are used to used to one martial art form called ‘Powerpoint’. Which ofcourse comes loaded with ‘bullet’ points! If the bullets don’t get you, boredom will.

In such Kalari performances though, young men spar on stage. Synchronised movement, overflowing with synergy. With swords, shields, some kind of a flexible sword, sticks, daggers and such else, with seamless movement. Like in the snap above, a fire bush at the end of the a rope fastened to the chest is used as weapon. Artfully swinging and moving about.

The corporate types usually look half in awe. Cheer in slightly inebriated delusion. Bite into the chicken with new found gusto and take a few more swigs of whatever drink their hands reach out to.

The really skilled photographers amongst them find the perfect spot to click. Additionaly, the morose ones aim their cameras from different corners snaps, click vapid snaps and write blogposts beginning ‘Rarely do I feel impressed with my amateurish dabbling with the camera..’

Ofcourse there is the mandatory crowd of American tourists. Their skin standing out amongst the crowd and their hair standing out on their skin. Staring. If I were them, I would wonder what all this fuss with Kalarippayattu and sparring with swords and building bodies and muscles was about. When all it took was a walk down the store and buy a .32 magnum and blow the brains off every living form in the locality.

Incase you are yet to look up Kalari, here is the link.

Incase you still haven’t, it is a martial art form that’s been around for ages.It was banned by the British. At one point in history, it was as common as ‘reading and writing’ and everybody in society was proficient in it.

Incase you are still wondering, what brings this post up now, I am back from another trip to a place that I have been in love with for ages : Kerala. Ofcourse, more posts & pictures follow.

But, boy, am I pleased with this snap!

Rants & pictures !

They don’t call it Gods own country for no reason. It provided some wonderful opportunities for playing with light and the camera. Here are some snaps from a Kerela trip that happened some time back.

Just as the snaps load up on your screen : My MTNL internet connection is woeful at home choosing to go on strike on a whim. I am hastily pushing through this post, when it has chosen to show me that it ideed can work at top speed and this months bill will include charges for internet !

To compliment that, to blog on such esoteric topics from the workplace, well, err, is not allowed. So, please people, put up with my silence.

In the meantime, I continue to shout out into the world through the twitter accounts and I don’t have a modicum of memory of what all I have shouted out to the world. The chief twitter account I use is @KavisMusings . Well, that’s a subject for another time.

For now, here are the pictures.

Silhouettes have fascinated me since the time I knew they were called ‘silhouettes’. I used to hate the spelling but quite liked the way the word is pronounced. With a twang that has almost an Italian connection !

All these snaps were taken at places somewhere around Kottayam. ‘Panchali Medu‘ is one such. I don’t raise an eyebrow everytime we go far off, deep inside Maharashtra or down into Kerela where there is folklore around the exiled Pandava brothers with Draupadi in tow having lived there for a while. Panchali as Draupadi is better known in the south, has this hill named after her.

She is supposed to have taken bath in the local pond etc etc, details which I omit writing on, and leaving your imagination to do its work.

The modern day ‘medu’ (RTT : raised plateau) has 14 crosses. I wont tell you why. For I don’t know myself. I only know that the place has an extravagance of ‘awesome’. There is an endless breeze, a feast of green for the eye. The clouds rolling over your head and tease you to reach and touch them if you can.

Off Kuttikanum is another green zone : Wagamon. Sometimes spelt with a ‘V’ instead of a W. Whatever, it is , It doesn’t alter green beauty. Green as in GREEN. Meadows. Plateaus. Hills. Throw in some mist. Some people who are ever willing to help. Water bodies that tempt. Well, in sometime, you could have romance brewing in the air.

Value for money romance. For the place is relatively unexplored ! Some unconfirmed news has it that Wagamon is called the ‘Scotland of Asia’. I haven’t seen Scotland. But I can go as far as I can and tell you, Wagamon is a lovely place to go to.

If any of those didn’t get you excited enough to pack your bags and include Kerela a big mindshare for your next travel, here is something that will do the trick. I ooze confidence in stating this.

Chips. Slices of a particular type of plantains. “Plantains” was to give the humble ‘banana’ a twang of fancy. Nevertheless, slices, deep fried in authentic coconut oil. You just cant stop with one or two for that matter. Two minutes on the lips and a lifetime on the hips. For sure.

But those two minutes they are on the lips, they give you a lifetime of yearning for the next time you will head to Kerela !

Earliers posts on the same trip are here, here, here and here !

Reeking royalty !

The zoom lens on the camera were the first to spot it. A patch of brown in a sea of green. Some more zooming and out with curiosity more than anything else, least of all, understanding history, got us in front of this gate.

It looked like any other gate. A gate that was fastened with a chain and a piquant lock. The biggest battle that the gate seemed to wage was with the forces of nature and ofcourse, the undergrowth in the vicinity. Quite ordinary, you might think.

Except that we were standing on Palace Road. This was a gate that we passed twice, without realising that we were passing the gates of the Summer palace of the Raja of Travancore. At Kuttikanam. 140 kilometers South of Cochin in Kerala.

The royal folks that lived here are long gone. The palace sits in silence. Unpretentious yet majestic. The walls could tell you a multiple zillion stories. The walls… Its extra smooth walls, which if we were to believe the old caretaker and his young son, were polished with eggshells amongst a millon other things.

Teak floors. Teak roofs. The broken glass panes of windows that a royalty and their retinue would have operated, let in the fresh crisp sunrays of another lovely morning October morning. Like the windows would have, decades ago.

It’s a quaint, simple structure yet reeks of prosperity and a princely time that seem present, in their absence.

‘Nobody comes here’ says the caretaker, giving us a look half filled with surprise and the other half filled with curious disinterest. Yet, he indulges us in showing us around, and relating stories of a time that’s passed us all. A time, that he himself, has only heard of.

‘This is where the king received his guests’ he says pointing to a large hall with a spectacular window and view. He moves on, leaving you to fill up the picture of a king, his queen, generals and visitors. The tapestry of movies seen and narratives read, can feed the imagination well. Within no time, imaginative narratives of a scheming Diwan, a loyal minister, a lovely queen with the British knocking on the door, ran in my mind.

Only to be occasionally broken by the realistic narrative of the caretaker who by now was doubling up as a tour guide.” This is the queens room” he says lowering his voice marginally. Perhaps in awe. A yesteryear carpet still fills the floor. Decimated by time, and neglect.

The Royal emblem stares at you from the window. A broken cupboard still stands. Perhaps for reasons of pride, for falling down can reduce it to a pile of wood.

The toilet commodes are ‘Belgian’. The tiles Italian. The glass panes are from UK. So thinks the old caretaker and his young son. Who by now, we realize, has fed the curious minds of a few stray visitors like us. There is no reason why we wouldn’t believe what he was saying. It was adding up well.

I ran my fingers across the wall for some odd reason. Perhaps vicariously caressing royalty and a royal time. Ending up with an inch of dust and a consequent glare from the missus.

True to form, the kitchen could accommodate four ‘1 BHK’ Mumbai homes and has the giant bicep powered grinder. The hand grinder seemed remarkably dust free which intrigued us no end. The intrigue didnt last long though. ‘We use it’. He says. Quickly moving away leaving me facing the lotus shaped sinks, the vegetable racks and such else.

Right in the centre, is the ‘open to sky’ area. The undergrowth has come back with vengeance. Fungus, cobwebs and still air give the caretaker and his family company. So does life in flowers and bees.

Ofcourse there are those nuggets of architectural excellence like the central heating. Or the underground escape route, the splendour of using sunlight and the natural air, which by now, has become so de rigueur for us, that the eye brows don’t arch as much.

In a style that is typical of a city dweller who gets approached for taking a home loan once in two and half hours, we ask him about the owners and where they stay. Not that we had the slightest inkling of buying but then, you ask. As a matter of practice.

‘Its been bought by an IT company from Bangalore’ he says.

‘Ah IT’ is all that I mouth.

A quiet silence pervades the air.

Whats the point I wonder. Of meticulously buying glass from Belgium and tiles from Italy and leaving it to an elderly caretaker and simple visitors with interest that didn’t stretch far too beyond a curiousity enhanced imagination. Wistfully despairing the state of disrepair of dilapidation of what once must have been the nerve centre of a kingdom.

The nature of life and change being the only constant, sometimes gets eloquent reminders. This was one.

We walk away. My imagination in royal splendour for what now seems like an interminable period. Exciting possibilities of a beautiful queen, stately king, an interesting affair, blunder filled jester, , galloping horses, Lovely retinue, politics and twists, song and dance!

I don’t realize I am walking half in a trance, until the missus shakes me up.

‘Go clean your hands’, she says. ‘They are dusty’.

Toll Tales !

If there were any more objects of interest than the roads themselves, they are the toll booths.

They have been a subject of enormous interest and intense enchantment. For me, that is. Are you rubbing your eyes and wondering if my lunacy has had a fresh bout of energy infusement, well, indulge in me as you always do. Oh, I shudder at the plight of the world without kind readers like you who have progressed to the 4th line on such a topic of egregiously earth shattering importance like the toll booth.

For it is at a toll booth you catch glimpse of the moron who overtook you with such blinding speed that you really thought he was taxiing to take off to the Mars or someplace beyond. You catch the elderly grand mom kiss her sleeping grand daughter. And the grand dad looking away. I know what you are thinking here. No, I didn’t mean it that way. Whatever you were thinking.

It is also the place, where you see some strange acts performed with an intensity that bellies the seeming innocuousness of a toll booth. Like, picking their nose, brows furrowed in concentration that would befit a nuclear scientist on the verge of a mankind changing discovery.

Ofcourse, you would not be surprised to see those that would honk like there were virgins waiting in heaven for the loudest and most fervent honker ! If you are still not awakened completely, the attendants manning the toll booth wake you up in a jiffy.

Usually they talk to you from that elevated booth that somehow seems to you as though they are speaking from a distant star. Sometimes, there is paan stowed away and showing up as a lump in the cheek. By the time you comprehend and respond you realize that the line behind has grown at a pace that is faster than the birth rate in China and the honkers were having urgent apparitions of the virgins in heaven !

Ofcourse, then, that is the beginning. For the chap doesn’t have change for Rs.500 and you have nothing else but Rs.500/-. So there you are. Villain to a population on the highway with even the heavens hearing the noises !

All in all, the toll booth is such an interesting place !

In Kerala though, things are slightly different. First of all, Rs.7.50/- for a return journey is a fare that seems unbelievable. Especially to the wallet that grows lighter by Rs.150/- and more on trips to Pune. Rs.7.50/- ? That’s like a discount store selling off unsold stuff for free.

There are no high pedestals. The toll booth operators stand on the road. Ofcourse, it would take two lifetimes for you to pull out Rs.7.50 exactly. He comes in to help you.’ Give me Rs.10’ he says, not even bothering to look at you. As you hesitatingly fish out the Rs.10, wondering if you will get change in return, you get a small package in return!

The small package essentially is the balance of Rs.2.50/- packaged with the Toll Booth receipt !

Move on”. “Move on”.

In a jiffy the toll booth moves to your rear view mirror!

Ofcourse, you despair the opportunity of missing the other promised sights at the toll booth. But then, just to see that surprised smirk in the toll booth operator’s face, as he sees your expression change upon receiving the ‘packet’ from him….well, that’s priceless !

Defining a state

Driving through Kerala is an experience. For starters, whats called the highway has just about as wide as for two regular trucks to go past barely scrapping each others paint on the bumper. That may not be completely accurate all points of the highway. Someplaces, its actually worse.

Yet, it is an absolute pleasure. For several reasons. For it is in such a drive that the contradictions clean out any preconceived idea that you came laden with.

One, the perpetual sea of green that adorn the sides of the road is such a soothing alternative to Mumbai. Where the roads are so seamlessly and almost by way birthright encroached upon by a builder, a hawker or a gawker. The road side in Kerala is a green.

Two, is the colourful array construction that surprised me no end. Truth be told, some choice of colour left me open mouthed debilitation of the eye. Churches , temples, mosques, toddy shops all hold your attention. Amidst them the churches predominately hold attention. Atleast they did so to mine.

Just as you are taking a turn at the road, if you need to be keeping yourself mentally alive and occupied its easy to do here. You could play simple game like betting with yourself (or with the people in the car that you are traveling with ) that the visual element that would next meet your eye, upon taking the turn, would be a ‘purple coloured spire with some connection to Jesus’.

You could be right. In most cases, I was. Or wrong. Like I was. In yet other cases I was yet to recover from the intensity of the previous sighting or the point of interest it generated.

For instance, you couldn’t think of a South Indian temple without thinking of the golden staff that adorns them. The permeability of culture to enable people to settle into a new idea or religion and help them feel at home was evident in some churches sporting the same golden staff.

But then disappointment or joy doesn’t matter. Either way, the sight is arresting with a limitlessly boundless feeling. Of either joy, wonder, curiosity or ‘what-were-they-thinking’ ! For the sight of a green coloured toddy shop or a bright yellow temple or at the least, an aesthetically constructed and ever so visually appealing to the eye kind of a house (bungalow) ensure that there just is no dearth of what the eyes can soak up.

At other times, distant cousins of Schumacher and Hamilton will shake you up as they rev the cracker of an engine in what would seem like a bus that would barely survive the corner swerve. The only warning signs are written on the sides : ‘Super Fast’ . In a rather quiet and demure way.

If you look at the shape of the bus that seemed to have rubbed its body against dinosaurs and conclude that super fast would be as glacial movement, well, let me put it this way : please be prepared for a rude awakening.

But try wrapping your arms around the state with a singular idea or a definition, and realization quickly dawns that its tough to do that.

Somewhere between all these churches and temples, communist party supporter still thrive.

Amidst all the relaxed ambiance of nature that thrives by the side of the road, the super fast buses rule the roost in the middle of the road

Wonderful stately artistic houses nestle in the midst of purple spires, yellow domes and toddy shops painted in green.

The simple pristine dhoti is the regular wear while big billboards advertise for jewelry, seemingly by the kilo, that could well have the potential of making the Reserve Bank of India feeling downright jealous.

The artistic quotient in the real movies of Kerala is perhaps the best in the country. Of the other kind of movies, that get made have an equal if not exceedingly alluring claim to fame too.

It is these contradictions that seem to have made peace with each other and thrive in a seamless ease, that make the place rich for me.

Much like a husband and wife who have a productive and harmonious marital life. Yet, he annoyed at the way she squeezes the toothpaste out, even as he gives the same toothpaste case the treatment she would give to a jewellery box.

And she perennially cheesed off by his insistent perpetual oddity of chewing dosa with loud chomps that would fit a primate even as she would insist on using a knife and fork to prise open and transport the the masala dosa from the plate to the tongue with elegance that can reach a hall of excellence in that category.

The red flag waving communist complemented by the purple church spire and yellow temple dome. The clean roads matched only by elements of nature and insistent ‘towers’ that are coming up now. The oodles of history besotted by the imminence of the present day. All of these, and much more, make what perhaps is an idea that is Kerala.

An idea that is not defined by singularly by geography or history or Economics or by this all encompassing word of ‘culture’ ! For the state comes alive in its boundless contradictions and uncanny beneficence of nature and hospitable people.

Who make some awesome boiled rice and fish curry. On that invigorating thought, I rest this post.

Previous post is here

Kerala calling !

Just back from a trip to Kerala. For reasons that fall somewhere in the vicinity of ‘personal work’. For those of you that think of that as a well qualified oxymoron, well, it is very much in use. Just run a random sampling of reasons employees give their managers, when the need to take a few days off! Thats that.

Kerala is a place that one always looks forward to. Green. Clean. And ever so offering something new to be seen.

Wavy mountains, pristine plains, wonderous waterways, and always : awesome people. Cochin was where the aircraft touched down. A proud Kerelite calls it Ernakulam and the moment you say, ‘Cochin’, well, they dont give you a dirty look. But, my friend, life is slightly uphill for you after that!

Ernakulam, the metropolis it is seeking to become seems to seamlessly bridge the gap between the past, the present and the future. Its not as though I am new to this place. Some eight years ago, work used to take me every month to Kerela ! It was almost home.

This time around several things were new. Time had worked its magic. Villas and property advertisements jostled for space amongst the ubiquitous ones for jewellery. Roads were wider. At a couple of places where the mind clearly remembers a ‘dead end’ the road seems to have had a fresh lease of life, dutifully coloured by teeming traffic.

And then, there was this tender coconut vendor I used to frequent. Who was still there, vending his tender coconuts. At the exact spot where I had last seen him several years ago. It was surreal. Almost like a group of children playing ‘Statue’ and freezing a part of town. But I only had to look up, to realise how close I thought I was to ‘Statue’, yet how far I was from the truth.

For right above his head, was a new giant hoarding selling ‘3 BHK, 4BHK villas’ with a picture of a ever so happy family clinging together. Pandering to the great Indian dream of owning a house, even if it meant, paying an arm and a leg as EMI !

All the while the tender coconut vendor had been climbing up those slender coconut trees and bringing down those coconuts for the parched throat, ‘development’ had seem to have gone above his head, and completely missed him. For better or worse ? The jury is out on that one !

In other news..

Inbetween all the work that we had to complete, the greedy traveler and big city dweller that I am, took the time to soak in the clean air, fill up a few GB worth of photographs, take a peep into life in an estate etc etc ! Not to mention, soaking into the hospitality of friends and family. ( Which actually reads ‘eating like a shameless glutton.’ )

Posts and pictures follow.

Watch this space.

Sticking the neck out..

A wedding invitation bearing my name ‘& family’ came my way. And ofcourse, i went.

And brought to mind typical weddings and their decorations back in Madurai. The Mumbai wedding is slightly different. It retains all the glitz and is a little more racy. The eye is on the watch and the thought is with the 9.07 PM local that needs to be ‘caught’.

But the point is this. That across India, for every marriage, many converge. And each wedding is a very typical, Indian moment. For every marriage, many converge. ( usually in multiples of many hundreds). All eat. Most see. A few wish. Some other wedding ‘proposals’ exchanged.

Everybody gets photographed and videographed. And form a queue that will walk upto the bride and groom to gift or thust a cover (ofcourse with cash inside ) into a sweaty palm of a tense bride. Or groom, for that matter.

When feisty youth used to course my veins i used to abhor attending weddings. For it was the time when the other ‘uncles and aunties’ would be concerned about what i was doing.

Which was exhibited with a casual question on ‘how much do you make ‘ as though it was the number of dosas that had gone in since morning. (And in any case, the question rather had been about the dosas).

And ofcourse, that was followed by a by-the-way comment about how their son was was basking in the Mediterranean and the daughter was waxing eloquence in London or someplace else, you only saw on National Geographic.

But the point is this. That the great Indian wedding is an inescapable part of us. There is music. There is dance. There are pretty women. And handsome men. And ofcourse, some great food.

And in the midst of all the din & decoration, often less talked about is the good that it does to economy. For the wedding season spurs many businesses on. From the decorator to the dance party, everybody makes some dough. And by the way, the jeweller is not someone that i am going to talk about.

This picture landed in my in-box from a friend, who wanted to establish that the recession was far away from ‘happening’ in Kerela’s weddings. Now, this surely had my eyes perk, and the ears twitch.

What the world wears for its wedding is a matter of personal choice and consequently – none of my business.

But you know…i am just concerned. Of the neck.