i don’t think the “god’s own country” campaign had started when i first went to kerala. it was in the summer of ’89, my first trip to south india; first bangalore, then cochin. i had no idea what to expect, but a malayalee friend would always speak of the different green of his state. his voice would definitely reflect a funny kind of pride when he mentioned that. being from bengal, another “green” state, with poets and lyricists devoting many odes and songs to that very aspect of it, i’d say, yeah, i know what you mean. almost offended, he’d assure me, i had no idea. none at all. kerala’s green was a different green. deeper, richer, more ancient. i’d ascribe the assertions to his partiality toward his home state, a mallu thing. but kerala was actually, exactly, and very much that green. and so much more.
i have been to kerala three more times since then. on our way to lakshadweep, it was via cochin. then a few years later, a couple of days in cochin, a nine-hour backwater boat ride in alappuzha, and first encounter with fish pollichathu, before a beautiful holiday in munnar. as we drove up, there were coffee and green cardamom bushes along the slopes, pepper vines hung about here and there. then came the tea estates, the hospitality, and passion fruit juice, freshly squeezed. the tree was in the garden.
the last time was in 2015. while my husband and that same friend were on a work trip, my daughter and i went along. we drove all the way from cochin to quilon, spent a night and a day at a rubber plantation homestay in vagamon in the western ghats, thanks to the friend. it was stunning. the silence of tall rubber trees, nutmeg hanging from a tree you’re walking by, hot appam with banana jam, urlis brimming with flowers (i had to get one), that deep green and the hospitality. of course, the kasavu sarees.
am supposed to be in kerala in december again. a friend’s daughter’s wedding.
the floods have devastated the state. for now, nothing is the way it used to be. i feel the despair of every malayalee friend or acquaintance i check with. but the people of the state, ad campaigns don’t speak of them usually, are showing how brave, committed, and determined they are. from the chief minister and opposition politicians to the ordinary citizen, to the fishermen who have saved more lives than perhaps anyone else. on twitter, i watch their determination to help no matter where they are. i see pictures of a fisherman sitting on all fours in the water, so that women can step on his back and climb onto the rescue boat. there’s the lady who refused to leave her twenty five dogs. the little girl who donated the rs 9,000 she’d saved to buy a cycle. the columnist (writer of my favourite mathrubootham letters) who’s taking on a right wing liar spreading fake news about donations. there are daily bulletins from water engineers and others on exactly what’s being done to manage the situation. the chief minister’s office keeps everyone informed with regular tweets. in singapore, they’re collecting clothes and sending containers, i have a feeling people are paying for much of it themselves.
the raging waters seem to have abated, now starts the work of rehab and restoration. i never quite knew if i liked that god’s own country tagline, but really, the sheer grit of the people of this state and their love for their land has me awestruck.
a few shots from our last visit. if you’re thinking of donating, this is the chief minister’s relief fund: https://donation.cmdrf.kerala.gov.in
above: chinese fishing nets and a ship approaching, sunlight on water in between.
an urli full of lotus at the hotel doorway.
on the way to quilon, we stopped for lunch at this restaurant, the karimeen was delicious. the backwaters all around.
rubber trees in skirts. rainguards made of plastic.
st francis church in fort kochi was originally built in 1503, it is the oldest european church in india. vasco da gama died in cochin in 1524, and was initially buried here, later his remains were moved to lisbon
chinese fishing nets, in the foreground a bit of that kerala green.
just look at those colours. the urli at vanilla county.
appams hot hot.
no one even bothers to glance at these gorgeous things, so common in certain parts of kerala. think it’s a variety of ginger flower.
nutmeg on the tree, casually hanging, oblivious to the fact that voyages have been undertaken, wars fought, countries colonised for it.
mace lace on nutmeg. how pretty is that.
the serene heritage plantation home at vanilla county.
there are only six jews left in the old jew town in cochin, around twenty “black” jews apparently live in the market area in ernakulum. jews came to kerala some believe after the destruction of the second temple, 70 ad i think. at several points after that, jews came and settled here.
outside the pardesi synagogue. no photography allowed inside.
the synagogue from a field at the back. the blue building is a temple. in kerala people of many faiths live in harmony. and have done so for centuries.
a picture from the koder house. the koders were a wealthy and prominent jewish family. no one is left here any more, the house is stately and classy with beautiful furniture, and lovely floors.
the kasavu or gold saree. in kerala as in bengal, white fine cottons are a thing. if i tell my friend that, he’ll say their white is different i bet. read: a saree from kerala
a shot from the car as we crossed a bridge. there are forty four rivers in the state i just read somewhere. these were the backwaters.
hope restoration goes well and kerala is back soon.