Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Allepey: Gods Own Country

Perhaps more than any other place in the world, Allepey is defined by its Gods. There are more than a 100 hundred churches and chapels congregated in this small, lazy town of picturesque canals, lakes and backwater lagoons. The backwaters of Allepey, for which Lord Curzon named it as the 'Venice of the East', is a major tourist attraction, and our reason for being here.

It was not uncommon for me to gather a few rupees, strap on a backpack and spend part of a summer searching through adventures- few years back. Travel gives me a thrill. It tires me. I curse myself for being so tough on myself, postponing the inevitable adult responsibility of 'work'. But it is something where I found my purpose of life. I'm blessed. Very few can claim this.

Things have changed though. The vagaries of everyday life have engulfed this nomad. Consumerism, capitalism: terms I loathed, are a part of the society I'm 
contributing to. However, the nonconformist still shows up, sporadically. My dogeared biography on Karl Marx's Das Kapital, nestled in my backpack,
while I left for Kerala, portrayed this. It wasn't a co-incidence. I was traveling to a place where marxism has deep roots. Kerala emancipated through education, and feudalism was shown the door. In Face to Face- a highly acclaimed malayalam movie, when the aged, alcoholic and disappointed Marxist, Sreedhar is murdered mysteriously, his old union comrades solemnly pledge and march under their red flags, chanting, 'Long live Comrade Sreedharan'- proving death is so much easier to celebrate. 'Without revolutionary theory there can be no revolutionary movement'- a Vladmir Lenin's quote atop a ceremonial gate, in Allepey, proclaimed, while we were driving towards it from Cochin- a distance of around 65 Kms.

Allepey's early mornings are booming and noisy, unlike its afternoons, which are much quieter. The fishermen get busy in traditional methods of fish curing and drying; workers working in processing firms ride on bi cycles to work; annoying trade union members assemble at harbors and markets taking money out of poor fisherman's pocket. This is, this towns, business time. For rest of the day, people just loiter around. Easy going is a term people live by here. 

Houses are neatly built with noticeable colonial architecture. In more prosperous part of the town, along the beach, the walls are low lying, giving a good view of the SUVs parked in almost every home: the Audis, the Toyotas and the BMWs. 

At noon we hired the boat- our vessel de tetra for next 24 hours.The boat was spacious with an open lounge area, two enclosed air conditioned bed rooms and at the back a small kitchen and staff area. We were introduced to our staff. There was a boat master, a helper and a cook named- Joseph Stalin. Yes, the Russian red tsar had a name sake in our boat. The ride was incredibly peaceful with only the clattering of the migratory Kumoan birds breaking its eerie silence. It seemed we were offered banana fritters, fried fish every hour, by our hospitable staff. Some small boats drop off regularly selling fresh fish and vegetables. Cars and trucks can only access the periphery, so everything else ends up going by the water. The parade of the boats and their uses are diverse. We saw small boats dropping students at individual jetties, livestock being carried to pastures, people at taxi depots waiting to go home. Amidst all this, there was visible care taken of the habitat. The canals and these numerous inland waterways stretching hundreds of kms were largely kept clean.

While we were sipping afternoon chai on the open deck of our boat, Mohsin propped up a question. What brings us here? In a hurriedly hustled program-me I packed my bags in Dubai; Akhter joined from Kashmir cursing us all along; Mohsin reported sick to office in Bangalore. And here we were, three of us, sitting atop a boat, in a remote south Indian village. Friedrich Nietzsche has drawn a fantastic conformity to it. He says men are inclined to laziness. They hide behind customs and opinions. At bottom, every human being knows that he is in this world just once, and that no accident, however strange, will throw a second chance. He knows it, but hides it like bad conscience. Why? From the fear of his neighbor who insists on convention. But what compels the individual human being to fear his neighbor? In vast majority it is the desire for comfort, inertia. That inclination to laziness. Only artists hate this slovenly life of borrowed manners and loosely fitted opinions. They unveil the secret, everybody's bad conscience. They dare to show us the human being as he is, down to his last muscle. In his uniqueness he is beautiful and worth contemplating, as novel and incredible as any work of nature. Nietzsche adds that a human being who does not wish to belong to the mass must merely cease being comfortable with himself; let him follow his conscience which shouts at him: 'Be yourself'. 

The boat meanwhile kept on pacing leisurely. At night we pulled into a mooring that was close to Stalin's village, so that he could go home for the night. As evening fell, with picture perfect sunset, we settled in watching lights in the village come on and the night traffic on the canal. For now it seemed everything had a purpose. The birds had a home to reach. The skies had a promise to turn dark. A new dawn had to break somewhere else. Kerala calls itself 'Gods own country'. On a night like this, I think they're right.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Ashes and rivalries.

There are some sporting rivalries that go beyond playing and players. England- Argentina in soccer. Maradona's one genius work, and one Godly work, gave it an all together different flavour- remember Mexico '86.

Then there was Bjorn Borg and McEnroe fighting out on French clay and English grass. Fans sighed. The rockstar Borg had females bating. The head-band and the sweaty forearms had them swooning all over. McEnroe had a temper and personality. Contrasting styles. Great tennis for fans. This was a rivalry called as 'Fire and Ice' by the aficionados.

India- Pakistan in cricket has had its moments. But, it is marred by politics. The rivalry as I see it, is not sporting, but, political. Hence, I keep it away from the discussion.

But there is Ashes: tradition, folklore, heritage. There is something when these two countries meet. First day of the first test at Edbagston or Brisbane. The buzz is in purists. It's time when everything else takes a backseat. Cricket is all what matters. A bouncer is hurled, a hook is played. The Barmy army sings. The urn may be tiny for which they play, but it carries the weight of a century and more. Of sweat and squabs; of long sea voyages in earlier 20th century; of Bodyline and Jardine; of Bradman and Jim Laker; of Botham at Headingley and Warne at Old Trafford.