Saturday, September 23, 2006

Kattan Chaya

It’s been two weeks now, since i returned from Kerala. Everything seems like a distant dream now. All those greeneries and canoes and karimeens. I wanted to write about it on the very same day I returned back from Kerala. I wanted to write about every single place I visited.. And about every person I met and every chaya I sipped. But I couldn’t do it. Work, Late nights etc.. Zillion excuses. Maybe, that’s for the good.. Whatever remnant now, whatever little which escaped the drudgery of work in these two weeks is all that is worth writing about. Which will stay on. Like an eonian dream.

This is not a travelogue. As a whole, this is not about Kerala either . This is about me. And about the little time I spent on the streets of Kerala.

I never traveled alone before. In fact, I almost never traveled at all to anywhere. Except to a select few cities due to training, work. etc.. During school days, I didn’t have a chance to travel with my family either. No, it’s not that I loved traveling but did not have the chance to travel. Nope. Just that I had no idea about it. My mind was preoccupied with something else. So, one day I wanted to go somewhere. Don’t ask me why. Tumultuous times will make you take such decisions. Will push you inside out . Whacks and Wallops you. Will bring out and introduce you to someone within you who is not you. And sets you out to explore things. And when you go on, on your own, what you end up exploring is not just the things you see outside.

But to my disgruntlement, my dear boss cancelled and postponed and cancelled and postponed my leave application I lost hope. With anxiety and fury fluxed together, I vented out everything in one big email. And one fine Wednesday, he granted me leave for the very next week. So much for going on a vacation for 5 days.

The next morning I rushed to book my train ticket to Trivandrum But every single train was full. Reason? Onam. I got waitlisted. And it never got confirmed the next day, till the very last minute. Anxiety again. That terrible feel of acids boiling inside the stomach. Restlessness. And all of a sudden, a miracle. Or something similar to a miracle. Some 30 odd ticket got cancelled all of a sudden, and voila. This little journey began, thus. With just a one way ticket to Trivandrum

Dear reader(are there any?), I apologize. I have this inability to explain things in short. I could have very well skipped the above parts. True, it doesn’t add much significance to the actual traveling I did, but I see some loose threads.

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I amaze myself. For the past many many months I was trying hard to get up early, around 5’oclk. Everyday started with this little failure looming over the head. A little head ache with images of me stopping the mobile alarm and letting it snooze after every ten minutes and stopping it again to let it snooze all over again. Until this became a habit. Almost involuntary. But to my astonishment I woke up at 5 that day. No alarms. That too, after sleeping on that narrow, cranky side upper birth.

I went out and sat on the steps along the entrance. Dawn was nearing inch by inch. Train was moving very fast. Everything looked panned. Houses and birds and Coconut trees. And then, suddenly, there was this change in the sound and in its rhythm - Thadak thadak. was accompanied by the taal of a vibrating metal bridge. And out of nowhere, I saw a river. Wide wide . wide wide. And a canoe. With a bare-chested man in his lungi standing on top of it with such balance, piercing the shallows with his thudupu with such precision. And coconut trees on all sides. Cutting across eons and eons of time and stretching into the infinitudes of space. It was all misty. So full of mist.

Later I came to know that it was the Periyar river. And then, after a short while , there was Kaladi which again sent in some shrill into to spine. For a split second. Came and vanished. Panned shots of houses and lamp posts and wires and then suddenly vast vast stretches of the river with a milliard coconut trees. All this, within 3 seconds . And then once again panned houses and stations with a station master waving his green flag. Who’s playing this stupid hide and seek game with me? And then, after sometime, Vembanad lake. And after that, Ashtamudi lake. Suspend disbelief, I kept saying to myself. Every time when the Thadak Thadak got slowly changed and unified in harmony with the vibrations, I geared up to experience a haiku.

Where else one could see a Fishermen’s association screening Herbert Spencer’s “Darwin’s Nightmare”, followed by a discussion on the film? In Trivandrum, you could.
The look of the city strangely reminded me of Trichy and Namakkal. Maybe, it’s due to unregulated traffics and narrow roads. Or maybe, it’s because of the cheap food. Had my first dose of Kerala food. Gulped half a dozen Parottas( spelled Porotas there) drenched with gravy and a karimeen. Yumm. And had this juice called “Sharjah”- boost mixed with banana pulp – which is probably the thickest drink in the world. Took me 20 minutes to finish the whole glass. Halfway through, I bet every person will abandon his futile attempt of sucking the juice using the straw and start consuming it directly. But it was yumm.J

Chitra art gallery had lots of paintings by Ravi varma. The man’s sense of light and shadows and his usage of colors appealed even to my otherwise- ordinary-senses. There were a few paintings by Roerich and many other people from Kerala like Satyapal and KCS Panicker . I was familiar with the works of KCS before. He was the founder of ‘Choolamandal Artist’s Village’ , in Chennai – one of the very few places in TamilNadu which supports sculptors and painters.

Then, I loafed around the bazaar near Padmanabaswamy temple. Went into a Margin free store. How do they manage without a margin? And there were hazzar number of studios dealing with Digital arts in Trivandrum. ‘We also do non-linear editing’ read one of the billboards.
And I found a good library with lots of books related to Advertisements, Photography and Digital arts near the Main bus terminus. Tamil songs were played everywhere. Kamal Haasans new cop flick was running packed houses. I wondered why.

I wanted to go inside the temple, but the fear of wearing a mundu kept me aside. Instead, I went to the Palace museum near the temple. Is there a science behind the construction of these Kerala style windows? The way light slides in between the horizontal wooden grills and lightening up the whole room!!!!

Went inside the Kalari Sangam and watched a few people practicing Kalari. There was a lady. Foreigner. She was practicing it with such concentration. I turned back and saw a stunning photograph taken during a Kalari performance, where a person was frozen in air, 15 feet above ground. Matrix Reloaded anyone? Thatched roofs, Pali, Kalari, Kung fu. Buddhism? Is there a connection? Kalari and the other martial artforms like Karate, Kung fu are based upon the same principles – breath control.

After roaming around the streets of Trivandrum and after a few rounds of Sharjah, I left for Varkala via Attingal. It was almost mid night when I reached Varkala. There was absolute silence except for the sound of waves crushing in. I went up the cliff and started walking. Silhouettes and shadows of coconut trees. I sat there for some time, till the cop asked me to go back to my room. Which reminded me that I need to find a room to stay. But all hotels and lodges were closed. There was this hep hotel belonging to the Taj group, which was open. But the charges were high. I decided to go loafing around. And then, miracle again. Someone from behind called me and offered me a room nearby to the beach real cheap .

The next day, got up early and went to the beach. Surprised to see so many Poojaaris around. Later, found out that this beach is also called “Paabanaasam beach’ . Perform the rituals, chant the mantras as recited by those poojaaris and take a dip And voila! All your sins will be washed away. That song from the movie Mahanadhi came to my mind.

I strolled across the beach, saw the fishermen getting ready for their day. Climbed on top of the rocks, slipped down a couple of times. Nothing happened. Settled down on top of a rock. Felt slightly dizzy. Green algae looked beautiful. So did the Brown mud. So did the black rocks. So did the dead white, snow white foam. Even more, black rocks surrounded by green algae. Even more, black rocks surrounded by green algae over brown mud. And, black rocks surrounded by green algae over brown mud crushed by the white foamy waves. Muy bonito. Indeed.

Shabt. We generally equate shabt with chaos. But listening to the shabt of waves… harmony. I sat there for some time and then got up to take some snaps. Stepped over algae. Slipped again. Almost broke my lens. But again, nothing had happened. Can you feel it, dear reader? That gigantic life-force protecting all of us, ALL OF US.. you and me and the fishermen on catamarans amidst high tides. Cocooning and enwrapping us against our every slips, which we fail to notice most of the time. But I fail to understand why the same life force that protect us also from our little slips also swallows thousands of men and women and children during tsunamis and earthquakes. My understanding is limited. And it is blocked by logic. Shaded with prejudice. Colored with pride and vanity. Sipping Cinnamon tea, I watched the waves gushing in.

I left to Narayana Gurukulam. I had very little idea about the palace and the movement. It looked like a very serene place. I bought a few books and set out reading. There were so many parallels between this movement started by Narayana Guru in Kerala and the Dravidian/Rationalist movement started by Periyar in TamilNadu. I bought more books written by Nithya Chaitanya Yathi.

Almost hundred years ago, when Swami Vivekananda visited Kerala, he called it as ‘a lunatic asylum, a mad house of religions’ . Almost every other place in India was rotten with castes and
community should stand eight feet apart from a Nayar. Some communities like Nayadigal belonging to the Kuravar tribes were not even allowed to come out in public. Sometime later, Vivekananda met a Dr.Palpu in Mysore. Palpu belonged to Ezhavar community and was the first to become a doctor in that comunity. However, the Rajas of Travancore refused to offer him a job just because he was a Ezhava. So he went to Mysore and found himself a job.
When Dr.Palpu asked Swami Vivekenanda if there could be any kind of a solution to the prevailing evils in Kerala. Swami answered, ‘The only way to unite people and to remove the hatred and venom ingrained in their hearts would be possible only through spiritual means. Through a spiritual movement headed by a Guru. Is there anyone like that in Kerala?’ .
Dr.Palpu went back to Kerala. He came to know about a person called Narayana Guru and established Sri Narayana Dharma Paribalana Sabha (SNDP).

Since then, much has been spoken and written about Narayana Guru. And his miracles. For me, he is much more than a miracle man. The modern history of Kerala, the gradual shift to modernism starts with Narayana Guru. This new uprising of Kerala in various streams of art – be it literature or cinema – could be single handedly attributed to this movement and also to the successors of Narayana Guru – Nataraja Guru (who happens to be Dr.Palpu’s son) and Nithya Chaitanya Yathi .

Be it Mahakavi Kumarana Aasan or be it Ayyapan - one of the champions of social reform in Kerala or K.Damodoran – a Marxist historian or CV Kunjiraman – one of the pioneers in the field of publishing and small magazines – they were all students of Narayana Guru and were involved with him at one point or another. Each one of them individually brought in a renaissance in their respective fields. Nataraja Guru and Nithya were equally vibrant individuals as well.

To me, it looks like one gigantic tree with so many branches and sub branches, each one of them supporting one another and giving the rest of us the much needed shade and thereby, protecting its own roots.

Now, Sivagiri is a very politicized place. Like every other mass movement, it got lost and beaten up by the mediocrities (There was this saamiaar I accidentally met there, while taking photographs .He kept asking me about the price of the camera, about the auto fare, about the room rents etc.. “Nammaku Chennaiyil oru ashramam undaakkum’, he said flickering his eye brows. I ran away). But that doesn’t undermine its contribution to Kerala in anyways.

T.K. Madhavan, Kerala’s leading freedom fighter and one of the students of Narayana Guru started an agitation in Vaikom for the eradication of untouchability . It was centered around a Shiva temple in Vaikom. Another person hailing from one of the small towns from TamilNadu joined in the agitation. He was later hailed as Vaikom Veerar (Vaikom Hero). His name was E.V. Ramaswamy aka Periyar – the founder of DK party and the rationalist/atheist movement in TamilNadu.

If Narayana Guru’s movement could take a large part of the credit for the spiritual and cultural renaissance in Kerala, then Dravidian movement could take the whole credit for the spiritual and cultural bankruptcy prevailing in TamilNadu. I have a lot of respect for Periyar and for the Dravidian movement. By far, it brought in an uprising whose scale is just unimaginable and unmatched elsewhere. I respect your ideals. I salute your dedication to it. But the problem is with the dialectical method they chose. Dialectical. Dialectical to the core.. Aryan x Dravidian. Brahmin x Non Brahmin. Rich x Poor. Oppressors x Oppressed. Tamil x Other languages.

Comparing this with the method chosen by Narayana Guru – he never used any dialectical reasoning and argument of this kind. He never asked the Ezhavars to revolt against Nairs or other upper castes. Instead, he asked them to educate themselves. And he said, the rest would follow automatically .He never tried to provoke people. Nataraja Guru termed this as the method of an Absolutist (Absolutist here does not mean totalitarianism). The differences we see between the two states is primarily because of the methods they chose to follow. The lewd kuthu songs we see in Tamil films now is just another extension of the philistine method of hitting poor Lord Ganesha with slippers to show the contempt against the Aryans/Brahmins and thereby, provoking ordinary people.

I left the ashram and visited the near library of Nithya Chaitanya Yathi. The more I read his books, the more I got attracted to the man. Then, went to Sivagiri. Loafed around for a while and went back to Varkala with some loose threads still hanging around.

Had a shower. Took some rest. Then, went up the north cliff with my camera bag. Evening sunlight casting gold. I saw a lot of phirangees. One was reading the German edition of Amitav Ghosh’s Glass Palace and writing something, sitting on the edge of the cliff, pen cap between the edges of her teeth. Another gang, playing their guitar. And doping.



I walked further down and I saw the sun casting it’s giant shadow and dancing on the sea. The gradual change in the tones and hues of light is marked by the shift in the mood of the place. I could smell more marihuana. And the subdued, weak sound rising up from the strings of the distant guitar and filling in the entire place. That doped man plays it very well indeed. Like all other doped men. Free from the burdens of self and the emptiness left behind by vanity. I dismissed all my futile attempts of taking a photograph of the sunset.
Sunset painting the Sky with infinite tones of yellows and oranges .
And Vodka. With orange juice.

I felt hungry. I realized I didn’t eat anything the whole day except for the couple of butter biscuits I had that morning along with Cinnamon tea. So, gula. Gluttony time. Pasta with sea food topped with extra mayonnaise. Mousse. Tuna Fish. Sweet lime Soda . Was afraid if any Kevin Spacey was behind me. So, stopped with that. Laid there for sometime hooked on to Mozart. I felt happy. Real happy. After a long time.

Next morning, I went back to the North cliff. Stood on the corner and saw the entire stretch of the beach. Started walking. For how long, for how many miles, I don’t remember. Down below, I could see the entire stretch of shore longing for the waves to crush them. And waves. And waves, hugging them with such love. Like a mother.

I kept walking. I wish I could speak a word or two with Nature. But I could not. So, I kept walking. I realized no medium of self-expression is better than Walking. It is the purest manifestation of self. Thoreau was not blabbering some gibberish. He made all the sense now. I kept walking. Towards the fishing hamlet. And further down. I saw a couple of fishermen standing on top of a Catamaran and the sudden rush of high tides disturbed their balance. And then, another huge high tide, they fell down. The catamaran turns topsy turvy. They recover in no time and chase the catamarans. High above them, there was a bird with long wings flying across the sea towards the horizon with elegance. A coconut falls down from a nearby tree. People sitting in a group sipping hot Kattan Chaya. What a spectacle is all these. What a magnificent world they must be knowing? I kept walking.

I left Varkala immediately. I don’t know why. I had more space for few more Sunsets and for few more rounds of Vodka with Tuna Fish . But I left. Didn’t felt sad. I know I will come back. Soon.

I didn’t have a travel plan. I didn’t even have any must-visit places on my agenda. Infact, I didn’t have any agenda. Caught a train and went to Kollam and roamed around after after drinking a Kattan chaya with bondas and Baalekaayi bajjis. Went to the Boat jetty and bought a ticket to Aleppey. Phirangees everywhere. Realized I am the odd one out on the boat. Rest all, phiraanges. From Germany, Holland, Spain, Polland, UK. Everywhere. I felt like an intruder.

Slight drizzle on my face. Ripples on Ashtamudi. And on my mind. This place makes me swell. I became a kid all over again. Baggage free. I tried counting the coconut trees as the boat moved along.

Let me confess. It is really hard to lose yourself amidst the beauty of backwaters when you are surrounded by 15 curious bikini clad women(well, almost) questioning you all the time. Still hard, if you are seated right behind a gorgeous pair from Spain who kept smooching every now and then.

It is not a very tough task to differentiate between traveler and a tourist among them. Tourists expects the best of the comforts and settles down for nothing less. Why is this chair so narrow? Why is the food overcooked? But that girl is not a tourist. I know. Long lost eyes. She was listening to an eclectic mix of Eric Clapton and Led Zep and Nick Drake and Beatles and Mozart. I overheard the music spilling out of her earphones. You need a fine ear for that, lemme tell you.

She was from Poland. Touring all around Asia. Been to Tibet, Nepal, Delhi, Varnasi and now to Kerala. On her way to Amritanandamayi ashram. She said she was very disappointed with Varnasi. Is she disappointed with the place or is she disappointed with herself for not seeking what she wished to seek?, I asked her. Maybe, she said and smiled back. Cute. She wanted to go to Shirdi and asked if I had any idea about Sai baba. Sai Baba! No baba, I don’t have much of an idea, I said. I lied. Actually I had. But I didn’t want to thrust my opinions. Let her find out herself. She asked me if I could recommend any other guru or ashram . Recommend? That’s not any cooking recipe to recommend, I murmured to myself. Stay for a week or two in Royapuram or Kasimeadu Kuppam and you will get enlightened, I resisted the temptation of telling this to her. Ramanashram in Thiruvanamalai, I said and I excused myself from her.

Somethings will happen only in the due course of time. Like a ripening of a fruit It is impossible to prepone certain things. When you try to engineer the ripening of that fruit, then it ceases to be a fruit .It becomes a fake fruit. I know I am angry with myself and not with that girl. After all, we were traveling on the same boat.



Kettuvalloms. Fishing nets. Birds. Children running alongside the boat and asking for pens(I came to know, thts their hobby. Collecting pens from tourists. A bleeding heart throws away his Pierre Cardin pen, thinking the kids were in need of pens and asking for pens outta poverty). Houses on both sides of water. If you want to visit your neighbor, you need a kettuvallom. Women washing clothes and hitting them hard against a rock rhythmically.
Won’t it get torn off, asks one phirangee.

Lunch in a nice restaurant on the middle of backwaters. Olan and Avial And Sarkauppaery and Puliyinji and Karingaly Vellam and Fish Fry.

Twilight. Birds whispering among themselves. Even the wind was whispering. I could see young women lighting up the candles inside their huts. I was floating inside this huge impressionist painting. More candles. More reflexions. The next day is supposed to be the main day of celebrations of Onam. Children and women were arranging flowers for the Athapookalam. Everything looked beautiful. Even my forgetful past.

Allepey. Alapuzza. Even spelling the name of the town sounded beautiful. A-la-pu-zza.
True, there is beauty within every syllable. But hidden behind all this beauty, there is also itchy ugliness dancing with its hair set all loose. There lived a Thooti somewhere here along with his son. And there lived a man who immortalized their lives. Alapuzza, the hometown of Thakazi Sivasankaran Pillai.

Being an outsider and coming from a neighboring state, the one singular thing which I admire lunatic ally about this state, apart from its greeneries, is the general state of affairs in the field of literature. Apart from the vitality of their writers, it is the reading habits of the Keralites and the support they give to their writers and the admiration they have towards them makes this state very special. Any ordinary Keralite would be familiar with the works of Basheer or Thakazi or Zacharia. If at all he hasn’t read their books, at least he would be familiar with their names. In TamilNadu, people hardly know the names of their writers, leave alone reading their works. When SundaraRamaswamy (a wonderful Tamil writer) died last year, most of the leading tamil magazines wrote nothing about it. Few magazines had it in the form of a box news with all customary details like his date of birth, where he lived, how many kids he had etc.. But in Mathruboomi, it was the editorial.

This culture is something adorable. In TN, we too have some small magazines. Selling around 300-400 copies. But Mathruboomi has a circulation of 1.5 lakhs. O.V.Vijayan’s Khashakinde Ithikaasam came via Mathruboomi. Which is something unimaginable in my state. A magazine like Mathruboomi would hardly have 500 takers. In the late 70s and early 80s, there were translations of Kafka and Camus in it. And discussed structuralism and existentialism much much before those words became familiar to the mainstream media of the north.

Once again, I go back to the starting point where this renaissance began. Some say it is mainly due to the Rajas of Travancore, who themselves were learned men and encouraged people to read. They patronized their artists, but their patronage is off different kind. Like Ayilyam Thirunal Maharaja Of Travancore’s patronage to Ravi Varma. But again, this kind of patronage is extremely restrictive. Remember, the same Raja’s refused to offer Dr.Palpu a job, on caste grounds. So, I would say, this culture mainly started after Narayana Guru – the beginning of the modernism phase in Kerala, cutting across all the caste barriers. So did the modernism phase in its literature, starting with Kumaran Asan(who happened to be one of the students of Narayana Guru) and then to Vaikom Mohammad Basheer and Thakazhi Sivasankaran Pillai and MTV and VK Narayana Kutti and slowly moved towards its post-modern phase starting with OV Vijayan’s Khashak and with Paul Zacharia’s ‘This is my name’ and off late Ramakrishnan’s ‘Alpha’

Comparing it with contemporary literary scene in TamilNadu, there are so many brilliant writers and poets like Sundara Ramaswamy , Jeyamohan, AsokaMitran, Athavan, Pramil, Devadevan, La Sa Ra etc.. but there are not many publishers and no popular magazine is ready to publish their workss. They find it too heavy. I remember reading Charu Nivedita saying, ‘If my essays and stories got rejected in Kumudam or Ananda Vikatan, then I will send it to Mathruboomi. And I know, it will get published”

I left to Ernakulam from Allepey through a crowded city bus. Found a cheap hotel to stay. Had a shower. And started roaming around MG Road. Almost al the shops were closed by 10 o clock. Ate in one road side hotel. Porattas and Beef curry. One little beef piece got struck in between my molars.

Next morning, got up early and went to the Boat Jetty. The day of Onam. City still sleepy and waiting to celebrate the day. My ferry boat arrived. Not much crowd. ride. Got down at Willingdon island. I could see a huge cruise standing right opposite. I had never seen such a big one. I wished if I could take a closer look at it from nearby. I wished I could go in a Canoe instead of a motor boat. Then ,went around Willingdon island. Then, to Vypeen. Then to Fort Kochi. Went around to and fro in those ferry boats. Like a teenage kid. Almost spent 20 rupees over thse rides( ticket prices at 1 rupee and 75 paise) From Fort Kochi, I went on a ‘Junkars’ , which was like one mini cruise. Small tempo lorries, autos, bikes, cupboards, goats, cycles, people… everything could go in.

‘Endha saarae, neengal photographero?’ asked a person and without giving me a chance to reply, he continued ‘logathilae ella problethukum kaaranam yaar saarae?’ , I was blinking. Such a difficult question. From his clothes I came to know that he is the in charge of maintaining that Junkar.

‘theriyilla’, I replied. I mastered the art of speaking in Tamil and making it sound like Malayalam( actually it is easy. Speak Tamil very slowly and softly. And on occasions, stretch it a wee bit. And in between, add words like Cheta , Evide etc..) .

‘America dhaan kaaranam saarae. Naanooru varusham munnadi Vasco Da Gama enga vandhu namme adimai padithinaan. Athe samayam, Columbus America poonan. Ange Sevvindiyarae adimai padithinaan. Sevvindiyarana theriyumoo saarae? Red Indians. Avagaalae konnu konnu pottan. Ipo adhe America kaaran matha naadugalae adimai pathuraan’

‘Saarae, you know, all other problems, ellam avanaalae dhaan saarae. You know, ladies problems.. Fuking problems..”, closes his fist and jerks it a couple of times in front of my face.. “..fuking problems young boys are facing… athuvum avanaalae dhaan’. And starts explaining about the Devadasi system and compares it with the practise of prostitution and its commercialization in America. Hmm. I kept noddddding my head. Suddenly he gave me a blank card and asked me to write my name and address, “Chumma, oru friendshipku dhaan”. ‘Endha peyaru Abdul Sayud. Naan Jamat-e-Islamiyil irukeen.’
Sounded very fishy. Should I write my original address? And then, some one called out his name and he went into the motor room reluctantly murmuring ‘naari….’.

Once a journalist asked Verghese Kurien what is preventing him from starting a dairy farm in his own state, Kerala. For which he replied, ‘Too many Malayalees!”. There were a few images and words which recurred again and again everywhere across Kerala.
EMS. Che. DYFI. CSI.. PJ Joseph(ofcourse). Along with these, that bare chested, mundu clad men sitting in groups and drinking Kattna chaya with the omni present Malayala Manorama in hand. Or Mundu clad men sitting in groups under the shades of a tree or next to railway tracks or behind tea shops or along the shores of backwaters and playing cards. I don’t know if Vergese Kurien is right or wrong. I have read some of the stories of Paul Zacharia about the sheer chutzpah of load lifters who demanded money for the work they never did. My stay is very short and my sample size is small to come to any conclusion. Maybe, it is the awareness any normal Keralite has and the conscious effort he puts in to avoid himself getting exploited(Eg Coca Cola bottling plant incident). Maybe it is sheer laziness. Maybe it is due to some kind of neurosis which leads to an inability to accept change. Maybe it is all of this. And much more.

Another striking aspect I found among the people in Kerala is their humor. Self-depreciating, sometimes. Depreciative of their politicians, on other times. I don’t understand much of Malayalam, but language is no barrier in understanding humor. There was this auto wallah at Fort Kochi pointing at some magazine’s poster of PJ Joseph and made a few hand gestures and the entire place broke out in laughter. Keralites say that any Malayalam writer will start writing only after writing a joke or two on EMS. Some of the EMS jokes were very popular among the communists too. Same case with EK Nayanar.

There are a lot of cartoonists in Kerala. Infact, there are separate magazines for cartoonists. I have read somewhere that parody has some long historical connections with Thullal paatuand and Saakiyar Koothu and this continues even today in Kerala in the form of Cartoons. Some of these cartoonists went on to become brilliant writers, like OV Vijayan. But all that’s fine. Hailing from Tamilnadu, what I cannot take is this. K.P.Kesavamenon, the founder of Mathruboomi, gets parodied in Mathruboomi itself. Kairali TV never forgets to start its day without parodying Mammoty. And ahem, Mammoty happens to be one of the directors of Kairali.. Imagine Karunanidhi getting parodied on Sun TV. Nope. Chup Chup. Umbachi Kanna kuthidum.

And what is it with Mallu women? Why are they all so beautiful? I fell in love with each one of them. Ah.

In Ernakulam bus stand, they were playing promos of this movie called ‘The Don” starring Dilip and directed by Shaji Kailas. Slickly edited with lots of staccato cuts. Looked unlikely a mallu flick, which usually dealt with subjects like a hangman’s dilemma or a father’s anxiety over his lost son during the time of emergency. I never had the opportunity to watch many Malayalam films. Of the very few films I saw, I loved Piravi by Shaji N Karun. It is very sad that in the city I am living, I could get Fellini and Majid Majidi easily, but it is tough to find films of Ramu Karyat or Raghunath Paleri or Padmarajan or Bharathan or KG George. If someone knows a decent DVD library in Chennai with the movies of the above mentioned directors, kindly kindly let me know. A zillion thanks to you in advance.


Went to Mattancherry. Visited the Dutch Palace and the synagogue. There was a lovely book shop next to the synagogue which had a lot of travel books. I bought Waswo.X.Waswo’s ‘India Poems’ and thought of reading it on my way to Edapally, my next destination, where I heard is the Kerala History Museum.

I went to the Boat Jetty at Mattancherry to go back to Ernakulam and I thought of catching a bus from there to Edapally. Suddenly some one called me. A old man. I couldn’t understand what he said. But through his gestures I understood that he was asking whether I am interested to go on a ride in his small thuduppu padagu. Wow! I always wanted to go in canoes. I obliged. I asked him to go near the harbor so that I could see those huge ships. Probably, this is the closest I could get to the sea. I was overjoyed. Kept pressing the shutter button at almost everything I saw over there. Floating Beer cans. Paper boats. Paint tins. And I felt something wrong. My sharp ear picked up that slight moan. I felt the canoe had slowed down a bit. I turned back and looked at the old man. He was actually gasping for breath. His face was full of pain. I felt horrible. On this Onam day, I made this old man gasp for his breath, just because I felt a ride on a Canoe was exciting and romantic.

I tried to dismiss such thoughts which made me uneasy by counter arguing. Like, stop pitying and stop acting like a commie or like a bleeding heart…. or something like.. fuking stop feeling good by pitying. This is their livelihood. Respect it. You are not any fukin messiah etc..
But however I tried ,still that itch remained inside.

‘Ethra Rupayee?’ , I asked after getting down from the canoe and thought of giving in more money than he quoted so that I can continue my travel problem free.

‘Thambiyinda Ishtam’, he said. I kept pressing him to tell an amount so that I can fukin pay him and fukin get out of the place and travel back in peace. But that bugger refused to quote an amount.

‘thambiyinda ishtam’, he kept telling till the very end. How much should I pay him, dear reader?Just How much? I paid an amount which is far high in accordance with my middle class sensibilities. This is not out of pity. This is not done to feel better off myself. Infact, this does not have a name. ‘Money should etherize’, Sartre said once. For once, it did.

The old man paced up and went before me in a hurried manner. He went around a bus and went inside a toddy shop. Oh, all this hard work just for a drink? Is he going to burn his all his hard earned money along with his liver in toddy? Anyways, Have a good time, Happy Onam to you. I laughed at my own foolishness for giving him lots of money. I walked back to the boat jetty.

‘Thambi’, voice from behind. ‘ 10 maniku oru bus ingae varum. Adhulae neengal edapallyku pogalam’ . I felt like getting slapped one hundered times. The old man did not go to the toddy shop to drink. He went in to enquire regarding bus routes, since I mentioned to him sometime back while riding in the canoe that I am going to Edapally.

‘Thambi, appo naan varen’, he said, walking back towards his home. Do not call me a thambi once again. This thambi is a parasite. He will make you clean his shit. He will even walk over your corpses, if there is a need. Do not call me a thambi. On the bus to Edapally, one of Waswo’s poem read like this…


……..
Should I let an old man
pedal my fat white ass
through the streets of Jaipur?
Is a bicycle rickshaw
Thrillingly romantic,
Sweetly nostalgic,
Or unbearably sad?

I must be honest.
………..


Onam celebrations were slowly beginning to show. Near Durbar Hall, a man dressed up as Mahabali was waving his hand up and down and shouting Happy Onam. I reached Edapally and found that the Kerala History Museum was closed that day due of Onam. It was hot and sultry. I slept all my way back. Mahabali looked jaded and was sweating like a pig. He didn’t wave at me, this time.

I wanted to have a Onam Sadya. I wanted to stay in Cochin for one more day. I wanted to roam along the Marine drive. I wanted to eat fresh Fish Peda and Kappa Meen curry strolling across the shores of Fort Kochi. I wanted to take more photographs of Cheenavallays .I also thought of going to Durbar Hall to watch Theyyam performances. I also wanted to go to Thrissur and then to Kalamandalam. But I didn’t. Stemming out of depths of the stomach, there was a primordial sound which was pleading before me to move out of all these. And thus, I landed up here. Thekaddy.

Went to Theakaddy via Kumily. There were lots of churches on the way. DYFI was holding a meeting. The bus stopped at Kottayam for dinner. I wanted to go to this little place, some kinda little cave in Kottayam, where Telephone operators and people working in Telephone department meet together and talk. And what do they talk about? Topics ranging from Doestovesky to Darwin, Sankhiya Upanishads to Sufism. I read about this place through the essays of Jeyamohan, who happens to be a regular in these meets.

But there was an internal scheduler inside me and its preferences and priorities kept changing over the course of time. The curiosity I had when I first landed in Trivandrum 5 days back was slowly dying. The bus started from Kottayam and the remaining part of the journey is hard to put forth into words. I started to sleep and got woken up by the sudden splash of a waterfall on my face. From then, till kumily, the whole ride was an experience in itself. Do you understand me, dear reader? Do you understand the intensity behind these words? A musical experience, it was. All the little music I had heard so far.. Qawali, African, Hindustani, Western Classical, English and Tamil… Nathaswaram and Cellos… Contrabass and Tabala and Shenai… They were all playing together at fukin Ghastly ghastly scales.. Eminem and Mark knopfler and MS singing together to the music of Mozart and Ilayaraja and Nusarat Fater Ali Khan.. I was growing mad..and mad and madder… I bite my lips till it swells like the petals of a rose..



Periyar Wildlife Santuary. Misty eerie morning. I spotted an elephant with five legs. I spotted a bird which was meditating. Should have clicked it seconds before. But the boat was travelling very fast. This birdie, it sits like this, still, for minutes together, praying and preying for its fish. Sits still to avoid any movement of shadows on water. and then, once it spots a fish, it flies straight up into the sky and plunges into the water like this -- /

Trekked around the mountains. I kept walking aimlessly. Me was standing at this reasonably-tall peak near kumily. And zooming in with my telefoto lens, boy, it did look colorful. how will it look like from the above? what does He see? how many colors? how many hues and tints and tinges and tones? how many shades of grey? 23? or still more? And more importantly, what lens does He have?

From there I took a bus to Munnar. Somewhere inbetween the stops, the person who was sitting next to me got down and another guy sat next to me. I didn’t notice this for a long time. And when I accidentally turned back, I saw a beauty. A little baby girl with green eyes was sitting on his lap. She was holding the shirt of her father as her grip and was looking outside the window with such awe. Everything looked new to her. As a Ceaseless, Unending Wonder.

When we were born the world looks new to us and we look new to the world. Everything looks fresh. And as time progresses, we lose this freshness. Slowly. Unaware to ourselves. Soon, our face gets shattered with bruises. As days move by, bruises shape up our face. The baggage we carry along with us leaves a hump behind. And this transition, this loss is what we call as life. Looking at those green eyes of that baby girl, I was reminded of this poem by Eunice De Souza on Cats.

"that stare of perpetual surprise
in those great green eyes
will teach you
to die alone"


Munnar was flirting with beauty.

Walked around the tea estates. Went to Pallivasal falls. Then, to Rajamalai. Huge rush in Rajamalai. Came to know that kurinji has blossomed and so the crowd. Except the fact that it blossoms every 12 years and is very hard to find, there was nothing special about the flower. It looked ordinary. Like any other flower. But what is wrong in being ordinary? How do I know it is ordinary? What is ordinary? This is like a little game played by Nature by making a perfectly simple, ordinary flower to blossom once in every twelve years and thereby making it a special one. All flowers are beautiful.

Next morning, I took a bus to Top station and started walking from there. Mist. Mist. Everywhere. Tea factories on foreground. Coughing out dispersed smokes in blue through their chimneys. The subdued tranquility of the place was slowly disturbed by the single shrill of a distant bird. Deep and distant. Then a sharp screech. Then another. Followed by another. And it grew louder and sharper. Scrreeech. Screeeeeech. Until one hundred screeches mingled together into an unbridled harmony.

Blue smoke gathers pace and slowly mix with the Mist. Brahmanandam Parama sukhadam Kevalam…You pot smoking God. Will you allow me to share your ganga? Can I roll you a joint? Nyaanamoorthin Dwandaadweedam thirubanareetham In return, can you drench me with your cosmic visions? Tat tvam asiyaadi latchyam Eaagam Nithaym Vimalam Achalam Sarvadhi satchi bootham..

The running commentary stopped for a while.

I don’t remember much after that. I remember that I missed the last bus at Top station. I vaguely remember that I didn’t get tensed up at all, but rather had a couple of cups of cardamom tea and hitchhiked my way through vans carrying milk cans and pillion riding on vegetable trucks and Goods carrier. I remember getting lost in the forests near Devikulam. .I remember watching those mists swallow the entire three mountains within split seconds,as I sipped few more sips from that glass filled with sugary Kattan chaya and rain droplets falling inside the glass. I was standing 20 kilometers and a few thousand feet above, drenched in rain , as my auto getting punctured just an hour before my departure from Munnar to Chennai. I remember that I ordered for one more glass of Kattan Chaya with extra sugar.When you
remove youself from the burdens of vanity and pride, there is this momentary realisation. Which whispers softly into your ear, 'never ever be afraid'

Just like the dialectics within a society, just like the dialectics within a country or within a family, just like the dialectics outside you, there are dialectics inside you as well. I realized this wholly during this little trip….

Restlessness. Insecurity.
Will my ticket get confirmed? Will I get a cheap room? Did I lose my ticket somewhere? Is the ticket in the left pocket or in the right pocket? Is my purse still there? What was the name of the lodge I stayed last night? Whats my room number? Do I have enough money left? Will I get a bus to that place? Is this autowallah trying to cheat me?

Delight, joy and Small pleasures.
Like drinking hot hot cardamom tea on the misty mounts of Munnar , sipping in Kattan chaya and reading the newspaper in Fort Kochi, or Cinnamon tea on the cliffs of Varkala or biting and lickin’ little pieces of home made cashew chocolates during the bus journey to Kumily and sipping in water from the bottle, thinking that its still hot, but instead, its chill sends a shrill up the spine.

Frustration, Nothingness, Banality, Confusion..
When the Kerala history museum was closed. When the planned journey to Thrissur clashed with the desires of the subconscious.

Curiosity, Happiness arising out of an understanding.
When I read for the first time about Narayana Guru. And when I was reading books written by Nithya Chaitanya Yathi.

Peace.. Letting fate take its course.
Trying to be a control freak always mostly to banality. The best thing to do your best and allow the rest to take its course. Like all those hitchhikes and pillion rides after getting lost in Munnar.

And beyond all this, there is a word. And that word is Ha:
Awe. Surrender. Silence.
That all-embracive Silence. Arising out of those ancient temples. Behind those seers and saints. Behind those misty mountains. And waterfalls. And waves.. And forests and lakes And coconut trees……….

“Nirpaar nirka nilaa uzhagil
niloom ini naam selvomae !
Porpaal oppam thirumeni
puyangan alzvaan ponadikae!
Nirpir! Ellam thazathae
nirkum parisae orupadumin!
Pirpaal nindru Paelz kanithaal
perutharkariyen Perumaanae! “

-------------

It’s almost six hours now, since I started writing this piece. Without any break. Tunred out to be pretty big, even by my standards ;) . I feel a little elated now. No, by no means I am trying to say that it’s literature. It is full of grammatical mistakes with visible difficulties in sentence construction and structurally, a bit hollow and weak. But I feel immensely satisfied. And I also feel a bit funny now. Looking back at all those crazy excuses I kept giving myself for not traveling like lack of companions, lack of money or time or both and drenching myself with my own thought pukery filled with self pity and loneliness..

After all, all you need is a backpack. And lots of love for this petite little life! Posted by Picasa

32 comments:

raghunath said...

Dear Baraka,
I walk along with your travel visuals. It's a nice experiacne. When I reach at the place where you mentioned about my films, I felt to see you.
love/raghunath paleri

Baraka said...

Thanks Raghunath..

..still remember those days when i used to go with my cousins to 'my dear kuttichaathan' and have dozen icecreams and cakes..

I haven't seen your other film 'onnu mudhal poojiyam varai'. Hope to catch it soon somehow. once again, thnx for visiting..

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