The Magic of God’s Own Country

The iconic KSRTC

Kerala has always been a retreat land for me. As a kid the vacation used to be in the remote village of the northern most district, Kasargod. As I did my Architecture in Calicut and stayed for the first time continuously for 5 years, I started mentally dividing Kerala into two, Malabar and Travancore, and for some reason I love Malabar more (not that I have experienced Travancore much, but still). I never wanted to live in Kerala, I still don’t want to, but ever since I have started living in Delhi, I have started valuing various aspects of Kerala more. As a kid the most amazing thing was that when I walked on the streets, everyone smiled at me, the people are so much calmer and laid back than anywhere else. This leads to an extent that if I walk on the streets and when the people around have not seen me, then they (including women) will come and ask ‘where I belong!’ This non-anonymity which prevails is what attracts me and for a strange reason scares me. Probably the luxury of anonymity that I have in Delhi, is what I want for a life and the non-anonymity of Kerala is what I like for a retreat (am purposefully avoiding the word vacation).

Hmmm…..God’s own country as the tourism brochure refers it and as the mallus would believe it to be; Kerala in many aspects does feel like God’s own country. The tag line plays a very important role, it reflects and help its citizens as St. Augustine’s ‘City of God’ would have done in the 5th century Rome. A tagline can be ignored, but when it seeps deep in the morale of the population then it needs to be taken carefully….as Charles Kingsley have beautifully put way back in 1857 “the social state of a city depends directly on its moral state, and – I fear dissenting voices, but I must say what I believe to be truth – that the moral state of a city depends – how far I know not, but frightfully, to an extent uncalculated, and perhaps uncalculable – on the physical state of that city; on food, water, air and lodging of its inhabitants.”…. If food, water, air and shelter could be summed up as HDI (Human Development Index) then as on 2011 Kerala (0.920) is just below Norway(0.943) and Australia (0.929), much higher than any of the European countries and US&A(0.910) ;)……well let’s not go into the economics of Kerala, referred to as ‘The Kerala Model’ by UN, is a wonder land with one of the highest HDI in the world and one of the lowest per capita income in India!!!….. basically stating that you can be the happiest man on earth with all the facilities and still be the poorest (moneywise); much expected from the land which had world’s first democratically elected communist government

….hmmm food, water and air….plenty of food, from my perspective it has got a vast platter with an assortment of awesome vegetarian delights and non-veg extravaganza that include sea-food, chicken, mutton, beef and even pork (and many of the hindus eat beef, or atleast doesn’t act like right wing extremists when there is beef in a normal restaurant menu). For some strange reason the best non-veg across Kerala can be accessed at the local Kallu shaap (toddy shop), and even more strangely most of the mallu families don’t hesitate in parcelling the food from a  kallu shaap, or a shaap as its colloquially referred.

Anyone visiting kerala and taking a train or even the highway to go from one district to another will easily realise that there are no fixed boundaries; it is what is technically referred to as the ‘Urban Rural Continuum’, the city never ends. It is always a suburb (this word partially describes the situation) then the city core then the suburb again and this continues along the length. This also have an interesting feature in its cross section; it starts with the long north-south strip of beach, then the north-south strip ‘urban rural continuum’ then the north-south strip of western ghats (Hills and Forests). This means that from the beach, if you travel east you will hit a forest in as little as 10kms, this presents an amazing wealth of retreat within the urban areas itself. Only in Kerala I have seen, where one can live in a city, or a village or a remote forest and still feel connected to the city centre (also partially because almost all the villages of Kerala have a road).

Well these are at a macro level, there is another micro level urban space which I have not seen anywhere. This is called the ‘JUNCTION’. Anywhere you go in Kerala, every “place” will have a junction. Apart from its literal meaning, a junction will be a multi modal transport node (there will be a bus stop, a auto rickshaw stand and sometimes a taxi stand too); A junction is where one finds the shops for all the basic needs, and in some rural context also have the cooperatives which buy agricultural products (usual products like coconut, areca nut, rubber, pepper, cashew etc. are not seasonal, so there is always a seller); A junction is where the old and young people gather in the evening to have chai and parippu vada, or to just loiter; A junction is a place which is highly politically charged (in the larger meaning of the word politics), there will be informal news-paper-reviews, political discussion, and even small political demonstrations and agitations….. and many many more things all at the same time.

Kerala is a place where on a day to day basis people are very simple, everything else is damn complex…… people wear simple light coloured dresses but are obsessed with gold….it has almost every religion that exists in India, Christianity came as early as 52CE, Islam arrived as early as 620AD, but still is a state with largest consumption of alcohol in India…… the most popular dish is parota, but no one have a clue on its origins ….  where every dish has a complex and delicate recipe, which is religiously followed, but biriyani tastes different in every district!… …………. well the amusement of Gods own Country is never ending….. no wonder Mahabali comes back every year!!!!

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