GOD'S OWN COUNTRY: KERALA*

_ Bora Ercan



Even before visiting Kerala, I knew that I was going to like it very much. I  had a somewhat strange feeling I couldn't define before going there. No, it was not just happiness,  a feeling of curiosity or the pure feeling that arouse when I saw  the idyllic pictures of Kerala or listened to the experiences of my friends who had been there before.

It was in the afternoon and I was sitting just next to the window. The plane was somewhere between the clear sky and the the blueness of the Indian Ocean -the so-called Arabian Sea.  I felt so excited that I didn't know what to do for a few seconds when the shores of the Subcontinent started to become visible.

We were flying from the North to the South by following the west coast of India. I opened my eyes wide to seize each second and jot down the first thoughts coming to my mind. My heartbeats were getting fast as I realise that in a few seconds I was going to be in Kerala.

Keralans hardly find the words to define the beauty of their country. Officially they say Kerala is the No1 state of India with a hundred percent literate people, world-class health care system, the lowest infant mortality and highest life expectancy rates, the highest physical conditions as well as the best law and order conditions in India. Here is India's most affluent state. Peaceful and pristine, the cleanest state of India. Or as some people claim, it is God's own country. All in all, we can say that Kerala is the world of superlatives...

I am an experienced traveller of India. For the past 17 years,  I have been travelling to India regularly. I am not a businessman, nor a spy or a devotee of any new age cult such as Osho.  I am just a simple traveller. The reason why I go there so often is that; you can see a wide range of cultures in India. China or the US are also big countries but only one language is spoken there or may be we can say that a couple of languages are spoken in China. But in India you cannot imagine how many different people, religions, languages have been living side by side. I mean, the more I go to India, the more I want to explore it. There is an endless source to be discovered for me.

This is the first time I have been to the southern part of the country. I have been to the central part and western part before. In the north, just Dharamsala, in the south, Goa and Karnataka. It is my first time in Kerala. Every place has its own peculiarities and some people judge some places by its being dirty, unhygienic etc...And thus such a place is unacceptable for them. But what they miss out is that the concept of cleanliness varies from one culture to another. I prefer to feel the cleanliness of  the hearts, which remains the same all around  the world.

White sandy shores are like  borders between the sea and the green hills. Gandhi says that Kerala is that it is the greenest state of India. The backwaters of Kerala, which is also visible from the plane reflect the unique natural beauty of the landscape. There are countless canals, like a spider's web from the sea into the land. Suddenly a lightning struck in my mind: the water and the sun, they make everything gorgeous, and this is why Kerala is the mainland of ayurveda -traditional Indian medicine.

From the Trivandrum Airport where the Capital of Kerala is , we go to Kovalam, located 16 kms south of Trivandrum. In the Indian style of cab, the faces of people made me feel as if I was in the Caribbean. Being more or less on the same parallel, their geographical and also ethnic properties are similar. However more than that I could see the red flags with the hammer and sickle on it, waving and saying that Kerala is one of the communist states of India. Also there are a number of wall posters with the famous picture of Ernesto Che Guevara recounting an event about him. Had Che ever been to Kerala? Or how are the relations between Cuba and Kerala? Oh god! How could I stop my desire to know...


Offices of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) in Cochin. Photo by Gary Jones, 2008


The AISF is apparently a communist student union, founded by Nehru.

In Kovalam, the southern most beach and the most popular one is the Lighthouse Beach. The beach and Kovalam is still very popular. Actually it has been popular since the time of the hippies - the flower children of the 1960s- whom I respect more as I visit the places they had been to, who had always chosen the places to be.

I would like to go back to Kerala and talk about its cuisine, which is different from the other parts of India. For instance, there is no Thali, nor alu matar; I mean, no typical Indian dishes: instead sea food is widely available.There I tried curry pineapple dish for the first time in my life. I had never thought of cooking pineapple before, but why not? Anyway, I enjoyed the meal a lot. Though I never eat chilly pepper at my home, here I do... the very first night, after a good supper just near the beach, looking at the ocean which seems endless to me,  eternal feelings washed all over my body with the smell of the waves of the Lakshadweep sea.

We slept in a small hotel. The next morning we woke up with noises coming from outside. Tropical birds were singing morning songs. And on the beach there was another surprise waiting for us: the fishermen. Keralan fishermen were pulling a large net from the sea as they were singing traditional songs. All were dressed the same: something colorful, like a half skirt half shorts. All had skinny but strong legs and headscarfs. I thought that this system had been going like this for thousands of years. And also the connection with this ritual and communal life. Perhaps it could be said that by working altogether they had become adjusted to communist ideology. I could have been mistaken as I was just thinking without having enough information about the history of Kerala. I had not even completed Arundhati Roy's fiction  The God of Small Things, at the time. On the other hand, I could  defend my idea of communal life by saying that no one was the owner of the sea...


It was high time for this famous ayurvedic massage. We went to Chowara which is about 11 km far from Kovalam where ayurvedic resorts were located. Dr. Franklin's place, whose family has been engaged with ayurveda for 400 years, is the best known place. There is no word to describe how good it is for health. I also had sirodhara. For half an hour oil was made to drip on my forehead. I willingly let all the problems of the world leave me during the massage.

In Chowara, there was a big beach just down to the palm groves. Strange shaped big fishermen boats were on the beach. It was like a dream to me or a scene from the film, Rhapsody in August. There was the sound of  big waves and the wind was so mild.

The book, Lonely Planet says, 'the sea is dangerous'. Strong currents can sweep away the swimmer, that is why I am not swimming further away from the shore. It's impossible for the beach to be busy as it is so large. The reason why elder and middle aged tourists and travellers prefer Kerala is ayurveda. The youngsters go to Goa. I am happy to be here especially after eating mango and pineapple from the hands of smiling Indian women on the beach.

 We plan to go to Varkala which is located 40 km north of the capital. We went to the capital by local bus and got on the train. The buses run properly, incredibly cheap, as well. The train is also cheap and clean. There is no chaos in the train station. This is important because we have experienced such things previously. Many of our friends lost their belongings which showed us that the thieves work efficiently here...

Varkala has got its own character. There is sharp cliff over the sea and there are two beaches: one is a small beach, the other is big. The big beach is very popular during the sunset. Indian families and travellers from all over world come, boys play football, kids ride horses. Gül, my companion, wanted to swim, but the lifeguards whistled,which meant it was closing time. Uh! How come, how can they close the sea! After bargaining with the lifeguard Gül gained the right to swim for a couple of minutes more. This is not  Aegean Sea, this is an ocean. A shark may  be visiting Varkala with her family while you are swimming. So, for the sake of  a five-minute swim, you can lose some parts of your body...

In Kerala, everything is well-balanced. Even the demography is in harmony. You can see a wide range of religions: There are Christians, Muslims, Hindus. You can see the flag with om next to the flag with crescent and star. The former is the symbol of Hindu religion while the latter is the Muslim. The Christians here are not Catholics. They didn't convert to Christianism after the Portugese invasion, like the Goans. They are Assyrian Orthodoxes. After 50 AD, Saint Thomas went to Kerala from Syria and since then those people have been Christians.  However, religion does not seem to be dominant in Kerala. I think that they still believe in their own archaic religion.


* I thank Emre Örs and Pınar Kayacan very much  for correcting the English version of the text.
** I promised my dear friend Stephanos  to write about Kerala in English.  

 

 

 


Bora Ercan boraercan@yahoo.com
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