Dreaming In Colour – First Impressions of Kerala, south India
v) Karikathi Beach, then Kovalam, aka The Last Resort
Rain drips from the coconut palms like thick black coffee, hot, viscous, strong, dangerous. The oil drips onto my head, hot, dirty, a little crude, Marmite black. The sky is black, then white. Bombs and sheet lightning then nothing, dark matter, empty and endless, old eyes staring into space. The mosquitos come into the mosque, shoes off, to escape the deluge. Red hibiscus runs riot up the walls leaving pink stains like white emulsion mixed with a little blood. The waves crash round the house. The tuna fishing fleet flash their lights and sing in time with the waves – we are fireflies, we are sand crabs, we are burning plastic, we are sandalwood powder, we are A.K. Naboodeer’s amazing toothpaste, come to make your teeth gleaming white, naturally. The tuna fishing fleet, hundreds of lights bobbing on the horizon like fireflies.
The branch of the coconut palm falls in slow motion and strikes my right cheek bone. I fall helter skelter down the Indian Coffee Shop slide, to the beach, and into the waves. The mosque is steaming, the crows are pecking at my ankles, the sea eagle circles then drops, heading for the crown of my head. Up and down, the boats bob up and down, the lighthouse spins, swarms of mosquitos race round, following the light. Where are the fishing nets?
It’s raining. A mosquito is helping itself to a blood transfusion from my right arm. The ceiling fan is off because of a power cut, and we forgot the mosquito net. Damn. Awake. Night time in paradise.
And back into the next big breaker. The mynah bird is wearing a tea towel on his head. His head rocks from side to side. He smiles a beaky smile. Fresh. Fresh. He keeps repeating the word he learnt earlier from the proprietor of the Ayurvedic Treatment Centre. He is talking about their massage oil. I can’t tell if he means – yes, it is fresh; no of course it’s not fresh, you idiot; or if he is simply parroting the word, parroting, like the birds in Battersea Park, green and totally out of place. They should be here with the crows.
A thousand tuk tuk drivers, heads nodding from side to side. Free. Free. We are free, they chant. The rain stops. Dawn arrives suddenly like the Kerala express pulling into Ernakulam Junction. First there is black; then a light; then the whole train arrives all at once; car after car after car – general compartment, sleeper, sleeper, sleeper, ladies only, chair car, chair car, chair car 2AC, first class.
The rain has stop. Dawn has arrived suddenly to wake me. I am under the net. My arm is itching. It is the beginning of another day in paradise, the boats are one their way home, time to get up and swim before breakfast.
This is the rope that makes me one rupee. This is the rope that makes me one rupee. At 4am every day the family who live behind our de-luxe luxury apartment on the beach (sea view from bedroom) get up and start making rope. The rope is made from the stringy insides of coconuts, soaked in water for six months then wound round two ancient iron contraptions by the ancient father while the ancient mother and the pretty daughter feed and twist the scraps of dry, hair-like twine. Feed and twist, twist and wind, all day long from 4am.
Each piece of rope, about three metres long, can be sold for one rupee. Feed and twist. Twist and wind. Another piece off the production line. You can’t really buy anything with one rupee, but ten or twenty is enough to make a meal. Feed and twist, twist and wind, every day in the dust and the dark, every day in the sun and the heat, every day in the heat and the rain. If you listen closely, just before dawn, you can hear the sound of the ancient winding from our de-luxe apartment (sea view from upstairs bedroom).
Meanwhile, up the steps and over the hill, the rich and fat of Europe are slowly grilling in their sun loungers like freshly caught, shiny sardines on individual luxury grills. In the two weeks we have been here these are the most miserable looking people we have seen. Perhaps they should read the words outside the Ramraj Cotton (for the Prestigious People) Shop:
“Don’t always presume yourself with a feeling of superiority over others.
Don’t be greedy and crave more than what you need.”
Thathuvagnani Vethathiri Maharishi
Feed and twist. Twist and wind. Would we Europeans be happier if we couldn’t afford to come here? Would it be better for the people here if we didn’t come? When we do come, is it possible to make a reasonable transaction when our economies are so different? Is it stupid to explain that at home we are not rich? At home we work hard to please other people. We are all the same.Trying to make our way as best we can with the skills that we have and the luck of where and when we were born. We are (mostly) good people who want to be treated as we would treat others. We want to talk, we want to help, but what can we do alone? We can’t buy enough saris and dhotis to make a difference. We can trade, cooperate, communicate, try to understand a little, talk about micro banks and Asian tigers; spices and skills and fishing boats; education and family and life long friendship.
We can talk and we can listen. Listen when Alex tells us that there are no poor people in south India. Everyone here is rich because this is an abundant paradise, he assures us with a smile, pouring dark brown coffee into pale white cups. This is God’s Own Country, no matter who your god happens to be, you will be fine. Everything is in balance. There is night and day, dreams and reality, he smiles again and pours a little milk, turning the coffee to muddy brown. For every problem there is a solution. Here you can somehow live a good, simple life, and be happy. And that is enough; truly, that is enough.