Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Spooks, elephants and the odd banana. Or notes from Kerala

To me, Kerala has always meant only one thing - my paternal grandfather’s home in Kochi. Every other year my family and I would spend a week or so in a damp house that always smelled of coconut oil, banana chips and clothes that were never really dry. The floor was always clammy and the walls were covered in old calendars – some dating as far back as the Emergency. As I grew older my trips to Kerala became more and more infrequent and soon I was only making a days stopover at Chitoor House on YMCA Lane before moving on to attend weddings in Guruvayoor and other temple towns.

After a gap of almost three years I revisited Kerala last week. Chitoor House has since been sold and my aunts and uncles have moved to apartments across the city. Though I never particularly liked the house I felt sad. Another link to my past had been severed.


It is a shame I take terrible pictures, for Kerala is all colour. Black umbrellas shiny and slick with rain. A countryside that is wild, abundant, green and lush. Not for Kerala the prim and proper vales of South Buckhingamshire. Red hibiscus in profusion. Yellow bananas hang heavy in shop fronts. Terracotta tiles, purple lungis and gold bling for Alappat Jewellers. It is as though someone has set the colour contrast bar on the television at the very last bar.


Fantastic houses are found in the most humble of corners. To the trained eye (or any set of eyes for that matter) they may appear gaudy and in bad taste. But these dream houses in mango yellow with columns reminiscent of Grecian temples and massive wrought iron gates straight out of Dynasty never failed to bring a smile to my face. Good design be damned. These were the very earthly realizations of castles once built in the air.


Bhima, Josco, Alukkas are all familiar hoarding sights in this state. But the last thing I expected to see was a board for Hypnotherapy Training outside a decrepit building on the road to Edapalli.


At Moozhikulam we met Meghanathan and Megharjunan. Megharjunan was sprawled in his side being scrubbed and washed by his two minders. He was to be offered to the temple that Monday and was being made decent for the polite society he would be keeping. Meghanathan seemed upset at the lack of attention coming his way and tried to turn the spotlight back towards him by waving his trunk at the odd passerby. I think the picture we took of him did a lot for his self esteem.


At Chottanikkara the Bhagavathi is a benign, smiling presence. A pleasant face that belies the darker side of the temple. For it is at Chottanikkara that those believed to be possessed of spirits are brought to be cured. These men and women can be found sitting in corners softly talking to themselves or making their way around the temple calling out the Goddesses’ name. A giant arasamaram stands near the Keezhkaavu its bark covered in giant black nails as a mark of those that have been exorcised here. Tiny plastic dolls are skewered to the tree, arms and eyes missing as though they have been roughly handled by a spoilt child. My mother recalls fainting the first time she ever saw this tree. I wondered how long it took to cure a person here. And if spirits did indeed reside in the bodies of those afflicted where did they go once people were cured? Did they evaporate and become one with the Universe? Did they float away like a dark rain cloud? Or perhaps they were closer by, sitting on one of the higher branches of the tree on the lookout for their next victim.


My grandfather is no more and the house that once stood on YMCA lane will soon be gone. But this time I left with another reason to return - Kerala herself.


rads said...

That was beautifully written. Somehow our native/old towns have a charm that touches a chord somewhere...
sometimes it's a celebration, sometimes it's just sad.

Anonymous said...

If you can read tamil, try reading Jayamohan's "Amman Maram". He describes the very under belly of this temple.

Rookie said...

Ah, Kerala! I prefer the small lanes of Thrissur (at least as I remember it) to the bustle of Kochi. The aanas have to be my favorite - they somehow symbolize the gentleness and might of Kerala, don't you think? I always had mixed feelings at Thrissur Pooram - awe and pity.

Nicely written. Brings on heavy nostalgia.

Thanu said...

wonderfully written...

The huge bill boards everywhere with Kavya, Meera and Mohanlal all selling gold freaks me out...

apu said...

I loved the last lines of many of the paragraphs..." It is as though someone has set the colour contrast bar on the television at the very last bar." - that was lovely!

So was, "These were the very earthly realizations of castles once built in the air. "

Szerelem said...

great post as usual shoefie! it brought back a lot of memories.
Kerala has some of the most amazing temples in the country, Guruvayoor, the Padmanabham temple in Trivandrum...
And omg do I remember the Bhima jewellers hoardings!! In the malabar region there are these shops that have gold hanging from ceiling to floor. Really.

Anonymous said...

Your post brought back many memmories.Recently i had been to Trippunithura and nothing could stop me from visiting Chootanikkara bagavathy and Poornathrayeeshwara Kshetram.
Even to this day photgraphy is prohibitted..Wish they would relax a weebit so that i can also carry the memmory in print

Nilu said...

she is not tamil?

mumbaigirl said...

You went to my adopted land! Give it my love. Very well written.

The ramblings of a shoe fiend said...

Rads - Nostalgia. Sigh

Dna - Is it a book? I can read Tamizh but very slowly.

Rookie - I've never been to Thrissur. Next time definitely

Thanu - I know! I couldn't figure
out why Mohanlal had to be on them.

Apu - Thanks!

Szarelem - Thanks. We saw about 11 temples in three days. Kerala temples have a great sense of calm and peace about them which is what I liked the most.

Deepa - I know what you mean! I asked if I could take a picture of the men and women who make the garlands in the courtyard of the temple but they said no to that too. :(

Nilu - She is half tamil half palakkad.

Mumbaigirl - Will do! Had an extra banana chip for ya too:D

Skasster said...

hey Shoefiend,

a mallu appreciates the notes you've written on Kerala - the Vadakkanthu temple in Thrissur is lovely but the most beautiful temple I've been to is the Bhagvathy temple in Kodungalloor - with its tales of love and war and all things in between. Love the story of the small-pox Goddess and of course the ill-fated romance of Kannagi...

Anoop said...

Great post. I've been a lurker on your blog; I came over from Veena's. All the nostalgia has just forced me to comment!

Being a Tam from Alappuzha myself, I was in Kerala briefly this February after six years. I didn't get any time to visit any of my favourite temples or hangouts. I was amazed at how much the city centres themselves have resisted change from when I saw them last. Thanks for a wonderful post. :)

anjali said...

we did the same - visit every other year during summer hold. i can remember my grandparents' home vividly, though it doesn't exist any more - the lovely teakwood, plaintain and mango trees, jackfruit hanging from the trees, ready to be plucked and eaten, chakkavarati, cows grazing, wood burning ovens, the dark storage rooms with bags of rice and jaggery, huge uppu and manga bharanis....i haven't been to Kerala in ages but would love to go anytime!

Nice post.

TomCruiseChellum said...

Nice post.
Let us have more on God's own country. Toddy shops dotting the highways (and the low ways), periyar (river not ramasamy from erode) forking into two near Aluva on the way to Cranganore (Kodungalloor), temples and churches next door to one another but giving way to mosques as you move north on the highway to Kottakkal for that ayurvedic massage, non hindus offering coconut to the Bhagwathy at Kadambuzha to get rid of their enemies, et all But aproposs your comment on Nilu's comment (You know I cant resist the use of apropos imbibed from reading the letters to Indian editors over 50 years) ie she is half tamil and half palakkad, may I say :
a. either you are half tamil half malayalam
b. you are half (say) tanjore or tinnevelly or what ever and half palakkad.
El Meow

small talk said...

The missed writing about the Kerala rain. No place in the world is more beautiful than a rain-drenched Kerala.

Kuzhimadiyan said...

home sweet home... glad to know that you too have root in Kerala. Another copywriter, nicely written... wherever you go we are there (Jingle)

Faffer said...

I've been a longtime blurker here - but I had to comment for this post. Beautifully written and very evocative. I love your style of writing. Keep 'em posts coming.

Best wishes!

... said...

Kerela is a beautiful place. I had a chance to visit Kunnur last year and I absolutely loved it. I was at the fort where they shot one of the songs from "Bombay" and I couldn't believe we were just three of us there! Thankfully, Kunnur has been (yet) exploited.

swne said...

Always wanted to visit kerala... it sounds beautiful!!

DesiGirl said...

you're back, then! Looks like you had a wonderful trip, full of memories.
Loved the post.

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