As it is a well-established fact that I am a South Indian trapped in the body of a North Indian, I was understandably looking forward to my Kerala trip. I am yet to meet that one person in my life who would look at me and guess I am a Punjabi and not a South Indian. And somehow going anywhere below Madhya Pradesh gives me a sense of warm belonging. Literally warm, because it is hot down there for most of the times I can take out of my busy schedule of being a mommy and assuring my son catches his school cab decently awake and fed. So naturally when there is a school break, the travel bug in me raises its impish head, one brow arched suggestively.
It was Kerala this time, like I said. Before I dive into my experience, a word about memories. Memories tend to be a little unreliable (I always had that suspicion and a very Science-y program on Discovery channel confirmed that with their very Science-y experiments the other day). There are many ways in which they can be unreliable but, in my case, they incline to romanticize the past occurrences a bit excessively. For example, I would remember the oh-so-clean-and-sparkling-that-it-seems-edible sand on the beach for years and fantasize of sauntering about in a white flowy dress (it’s always a white flowy dress on the beach) while my heart overflows with poetry ideas I simply pluck to write my timeless classic. On the other hand, I am not as much disposed to remember tiring journeys, scorching heats, bad food and other chik-chik-jhik-jhik, inexorably a part of stepping out of the comforts of one’s familiar groove.
Of Kerala I fondly remembered its exotic and yet so homely local flavor. Coconut and banana trees, duh! Also, food served on banana leaves. Constant (and sweet) struggle to procure a spoon after constant (and sweet) struggle of making oneself understood (smattering those precious few words of Malyalam here and there). Face-palming on remembering one had forgotten to carry a spoon in one’s handbag. Again! Smiling while trying to eat runny dishes mixed with copious amounts of rice with bare hands and feeling the smugness at the job done well. The South Indian in one swelling with pride.
Knowing a faraway land and being a part of it – oh, it was all so divine!
Now I should probably add that these schmaltzy memories of mine had their origins in the neighborhood of early nineties. And as obvious, from the era when I was on a student’s shoe-string budget, so even if there were any spoon-wielding places there back then, I wouldn’t know!
The world seems to have changed a lot since then. Fortunately or unfortunately, everything and everywhere appears to come out of same lazy mold. There are spoons everywhere! So are Netflix and Subway and Mojito and other global phenomena while banana leaves are nowhere to be seen. I mean, you can find them if you are really keen but they are not there like they were then. Everyone speaks Hindi! Well, almost everyone and the ones who can’t, they can, to the extent they can do business with you easy-peasy. No thanks to Bollywood. And there are Punjabi songs there, for God’s sake! Again, no thanks to Bollywood! Why, there’s also brute northernization of public queue culture that used to be a study in serene discipline. At least in my blissful memories of the yore.
I had my sambar, rasam, parippu, pulisseri, avial, papadam, payasam, I am not complaining, but there was chapatti also as readily available, something unheard of during my ancient trip! Only you have to figure out which one to order – roti, chapatti or phulka. it’s a trick question. The answer lies in size. Phulka is the smallest, then there’s chapatti and then roti or some other way around, I can’t recall. The point is – it’s there – in three varieties. Three perfectly round and perfectly cooked varieties.
You can imagine how the South Indian in me was disappointed when I was sold Lulu Mall as one of the biggest tourist attractions in Kochi while it, in fact, is the twin sibling of Ambience Mall, Gurgaon! To be fair, there are a couple more of saree and jewelry shops but otherwise you can match it on your fingers, brand by boring brand.
And yeah, you guessed it, food court was exactly what you would get in… well, any mall, anywhere.
Of course, I am not against any kind of progress, it’s just that I had a very idyllic picture in my mind. Outdated but idyllic.
So when a disillusioned I was roaming around the area of Fort Kochi beach (the beach itself is not so roaming-aroundble, put politely), I was beckoned into a touristy shop and what do I see? The same things I see in any touristy shop, anywhere (in India). Stuff from Kashmir, stuff from Rajasthan, stuff from every sellable ethnic region. When an almost-on-verge-of-tears I asked a desperate “why?”, the answer was plain and simple. A pragmatic young Kashmiri chap told me matter-of-factly,” See, the firangi tourists can’t be everywhere in India, so we have to be… everywhere in India.” I am sure, outside too. Why take chances on goras’ whims that may or may not land them in Kashmir or wherever, right?
Shouldn’t I be happy? It’s all one now. It must be someone’s dream somewhere. That’s how I start consoling myself and that’s when it strikes me! Wait! There is one thing, though. It was right there in front of me all this time. Something that has survived the unstoppable duress of modernity. The saving grace of ethnological locality.
Proudly tucked on waists all sizes, folded in its unrestricted glory, the lungi reigns supreme in Kerala, thanks to the hot and humid weather that renders the global trousers a little wanting in cross ventilation.
I did ponder on the arcane matter of women wearing silk sarees (not to mention polyester burkas over a set of clothes) that I would think twice about even in Delhi’s cold and couldn’t arrive at any reasonable explanation.
Well, no more pondering, I told myself, on my way back to my homestay (same as would be in my neck of the woods), a little bit reassured. Now, I am not a dance person as such but there was a certain spring in my step, sort of on the tune of a certain Bolywood number.
Lungi dance! Lungi dance! Lungi dance! Lungi dance!
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