28 July 2006

Kerala Clichés

Spend the last week in Kerala. I find it very difficult to help my friends in Europe visualise what Kerala looks like and its is all about without the use of Clichés. In fact more and more I believe though we always criticize the cliché as reducing complex situations into highly simplistic images it is a very important tool to introduce people to new things. So at the risk of many fun of my self and my roots I have this time selected only the most clichéd images I took during my trip.

What better (or rather worse) image that the elephant along the road carrying stuff around?

(By the way to all those who don’t know - this is not a common sight in Kerala anymore, the expense of maintaining these beautiful beasts and ever increasing pressure from environmentalist are making this a rarity).

Actually I should have started with the lower image. Any highway in Kerala looks like this. The whole state sits on the extreme southern tip of India on what can be considered its more fertile side (the west side). Because of the amazing rainfall it gets and its fertility the entire landscape is made up mainly of shades of green no matter when you go there. And as you can see Coconut trees really make up for a large majority of the greenery.

Because of this beautiful and rich landscape the distinction of cities versus countryside doesn’t clearly exists in the traditional sense of it. In fact the whole state can be seen as a sprawling city or you could say that here there is neither an idea of Rural nor Urban. But whatever little Urbanity there is exists in typical Indian small town chaotic Urbanity. Largely made of highly fractured or unplanned settlement growing around some kind of infrastructural hub.

To explain this phenomenon below is an image from a small town just outside Cochin. But as far as this argument goes this could be anywhere in Kerala.

And then ofcourse there is the image that the tourism industry wants to sell – that of pristine beauty, man co-existing with Nature – as the tag line of Kerala says as ‘God’s own Country’. Though I wonder which God would actually be happy here, I have to say that the state has its own charm and is definitely worthy of its place in the National Geographic ‘10 place you must see before you die’ list.

Here’s to this spirit of Kerala – the Arabian Sea / Indian Ocean as seen from the coast of Kannur.

And for the end I save the picture that I would show if somebody asked me to ‘Explain contemporary Kerala in ONE image’.

The image is of the Cochin Airport [Probably the busiest airport in Kerala]. It show glimpses of some her main source of income – Agriculture [the vast fields (generally its paddy) and coconut plantation in the backdrop], Tourism [people from all over the world fly into Cochin] and last but not the least Kerala’s dependence on what we call ‘Gulf-Money*’ in this case coming straight from Dubai on an Emirates Airlines sitting between the beautiful greenery.

*- Money flowing in from expatriates working in the Middle East, a huge percentage of the people here either have some relatives there or indirectly benefit from the large presence of Keralites in the Arabian Gulf. Including yours truly – born in Kerala, bought up and spoiled in Dubai.

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