Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Commi Caper:

It felt like a typical bollywood story. Twins separated at birth. Both looked the same, believed in the same ideologies, ate the same things. The only difference was that while one liked coconut, the other had taken to mustard. And of course, their outlook on women. Also like a typical story, one had become rich, while the other struggles to keep the head above the water.

Just remove a few coconut trees from around the village ponds and add in more bamboo shrubs and the villages of Kerala and Bengal would look the same too.

The stark difference now though is the presence of colour in Kerala and the sheer lack of it in Bengal. Most of the old style houses have been razed and ponds filled up to build the most colourful concrete houses I have ever come across in my life. From deep orange, magenta, bright yellow to 3 shades brighter than parrot green….I was jumping like I found new treasure each time I encountered a new colour. This bright colouring is prevalent everywhere…..from temples, saaris, and ropes, to wall paintings-advertising (which mostly are of jewelers and builders), boats and even butterflies (I saw one gorgeous black and red butterfly in one of the villages)

It might not come across as a big surprise for many people, but I didn’t know how to react to the fact that there are no empty stretches in Kerala. One village seamlessly merges with the next throughout the entire coast. Although in a different place I would have found this claustrophobic, but here the greenery and the hundreds of waterways seemed to cover up everything….giving you an illusion of living in a thick dense tropical forest.

What I loved the most was observing the women there. For a fully literate matriarchal state, the women are surprisingly coy….even the news-reader in a business suit was soft-spoken…almost apologetic. Kochi (with its numerous food-joints misguidingly called ‘barkery’, where they sold anything from sweets to beef chilliy) however was a bit different, I felt. The current young generation was quite open…wore western dresses and sat freely with each other. This, I found only in the city-centre….the moment you entered the residential areas…they were clad in salwar-kurta with properly oiled and braided hair and carrying umbrellas. My friend and I stuck out like sore thumbs….stared up and down so blatantly that after some time we stopped getting bothered. I, in my travelers’ attire of pajama, t-shirt and dupatta came across as a foreigner….so much so that in one local temple a priest refused to give me flowers or a tika on my forehead!

It’s a very strange concoction of a state – very rich and expensive where you cannot shout
at an auto or honk at them ‘cause they are equal and have the same right to the road as you do. Even the maid will refuse to take tea if you serve her in a different cup than yours. Yet despite all this surface equality, there lacks the basic equality between a guy and a girl. Their traditional role, attire and looks are etched strongly in people’s mind….any different and one gets so stared at that its better to look like a homogenous mass than be different. To the point of living a stifled life, I feel. One thing I found quite commendable is the fact that despite so much external influences through tourism, they have managed to retain their traditions aggressively.

I just wish I had come here earlier and discovered niches and pockets which tourism has not taken over yet.