Archive for the ‘Kerala’ Tag

“Down On My Luck”   4 comments

 

 

What will you do when  you come face to  face with a place where history sleeps intertwined with culture on a hartal day with low mobile battery and no one for company ? Well, First you will take a snap. Then you pretend to think, trying to forget that you are the unluckiest person on the earth right now, until the rarest of the rare bus appears on the horizon. This is the southern entrance of the renowned Vadakkunnathan Temple in Thrissur, the cultural capital of Kerala. This ground plays host to the most famous Pooram in Kerala:The Thrissur Pooram which was  the brainchild  of Sri Raja Raja Varma the  Maharaja of  Kochi.

 

They say that the knowledge system in god’s own country can be broadly classified  into two. The  one which emerged from our own backyard, tracing its lineage to the Sangam heritage is dubbed the “Kaavu Parambaryam”/Traditional Knowledge. The other which had its birth up north, which migrated down south over the course of  time was baptized the “Kshetra Parambaryam”/Heterogeneous Knowledge. It is through the tug of wars between these contrasting but vibrant systems that the language called Malayalam, the identity named Malayali and the state called Kerala as we know today came into existence. Kaavu, which is essentially Dravidian, imagines nature as sacred and unbound assimilating within its embrace the mores of the folkways. Driven more by commonsense, this knowledge tradition includes flourishing sacred groves, rudimentary idol worships, instrumental magic rituals backed  by occult beliefs, unsophisticated but intricate arts and straightforward dance moves backed by oral tradition. The non systematic-practical learning rooted heavily in the vernacular completes the picture .

On the other hand, Kshetra parambaryam draws heavily from the migrant Aryan tradition which reached the southern tip of the subcontinent through flourishing contacts due to improved trade and flow of  ideas by hermits and monks. In sharp contrast to the Kaavu, Kshethra parambaryam draws heavily on rationality, based on which a sacred space is  demarcated based on formulas , a chosen god from an elaborate pantheon is placed, idol worship backed by detailed rituals are systematized, intricate art forms and  sophisticated dance moves dubbed as classical are practiced by a chosen few within four walls. A non utilitarian educational system backed by the language of the gods completes the Kshetra parambaryam. In short Kaavu celebrates the ordinary son of the soil, his mundane ways of life in the open, celebrating and  elevating his language and oral culture. But Kshetra parambaryam promotes the erudite Brahminical abilities and his devotion to pioneer, broaden and deepen his knowledge in various fields such as mathematics, astronomy, medicine and philosophy through god’s language all the while  maintaining a monopoly.

Over  the course of time, due to the rise and demise of  various ruling dynasties, these divergent knowledge traditions evolved as a consequence of thriving contacts between the two resulting in a unique cultural syncreticsm. Even though the convergence between Kaavu parambaryam and Kshetra parambaryam was visible across various art and dance forms, it  was more pronounced in Language as well as Festivals. Festivals especially Poorams in Kerala, from the outset, were fantastically designed rituals  based on grandstanding, aimed at perpetuating the rule of the mighty.

Pooram, the equivalent of carnival in Europe, was an  occasion for the subject class to forget their unbroken period of  unshrinking labour from morning to sunset. Pooram was that  occasion for a peasant which brought him some joy, colour, and moments of  brightness in his otherwise dark, depressed and deprived life. For the ruling jenmi, it was an occasion to stamp his wherewithal to stage a larger than life spectacle which remains incomplete without an array of caparisoned elephants, the perambulation of the presiding deity, imposing pyrotechnics, generosity towards  his subjects and  magnanimity for the deviant ones. Hence on a Pooram day one can find the confluence of  every conceivable forms of trade, tricks and personalities amidst a sea of  humanity gathered  at the rendezvous to witness the spectacle. Longstanding feuds are buried, egos are massaged, friendships are renewed, drunkards and fraudsters forgiven, deviants and iconoclasts are forgotten bringing together families, distant relatives, friends, kin groups and the society as a whole.

In many ways it is an ingenious way of sending out a message to the subjects about  who the real ruler is by an ostentatious display of power and wealth. Lost in the sheer joy of the moment and reliving them in the future, the subjects pledge their allegiance to masters voluntarily than by coercion.  This stabilized the kingdoms against threats from within in the form of grass-root protests and rebellions. Thus the power of  the mighty is  sealed for eternity. This oversimplified picture gets more complex when we bring into frame the effect of  heterogeneous cultures from across the seas like Christianity and Islam having strong influence on the society. We dont need to necessarily pick sides here because this  is how objective historical  forces bring together people resulting in cultural assimilation which gets reflected in changes across visible and invisible spectrums of a society. You just need to  be subjectively aware of these objective forces acknowledging that reality is chaotic and dynamic!!

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This is  a mish mash of some trains of thoughts which chugged along the nerves in my grey matter during a Hartal Day in the past. The above syndrome gets all the more worse when  I am famished. It is just an attempt to scribble them down before they disappear and these are pure possibilities based on what I have read and heard from books and great minds over a period of time!

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“Along The Maze of Backwaters !”   7 comments

One of the many meanders along river Pamba. The river banks these days have another contender jostling for space alongside the swaying coconut trees: Concrete. These days, eulogies narrating Alapuzha to be verdant can be put to test with ease ! We chose to freeze this stretch since it had managed to stay away from concrete !!

One of the many meanders along river Pamba. The river banks these days have another contender jostling for space alongside the swaying coconut trees: Concrete. These days, eulogies narrating Alapuzha to be verdant can be put to test with ease ! We chose to freeze this stretch since it had managed to stay away from concrete !!

 

Pamba rarely flows alone. She always has companions sailing along her. The illustrious companion who has strolled into the imagination of the tourists is the all pervasive "House Boats". This illustrious escort of the tourists is an unmistakable sign of changing times in Kuttanad.

Pamba rarely flows alone. She always has companions sailing along her. The illustrious escort who has strolled into the imagination of the tourists is the all pervasive “House Boats” and is an unmistakable sign of changing times in Kuttanad.

 

Roads came along with development, tearing across the hearts  of the verdant paddy fields, making it easy to transport the grains post the harvest. What was hitherto a backbreaking task became a cake walk of sorts now!  The enormous boats of yesteryears were on the verge of becoming obsolete but for the ingenuity of the natives. What shifted mounds of grains back in the yore got a facelift and started transporting tourists!!

Roads came along with development, tearing across the hearts of the verdant paddy fields, making it easy to transport the grains post harvest. What was hitherto a backbreaking task became a cake walk of sorts now! The enormous boats of yesteryears were on the verge of becoming obsolete but for the ingenuity of the natives. What shifted mounds of grains back in the yore got a facelift and started transporting tourists!!

 

Many state owned boats ply along the maze and was the mainstay for the people till yesterday. But the advent of roads piercing the paddy fields have relegated them to the background. Some even call in anachronistic !!

Many state owned boats ply along the maze and was the mainstay for the people till yesterday. But the advent of roads piercing the paddy fields have relegated them to the background. Some even call in anachronistic !!

 

 

 

Posted October 29, 2014 by Aneesh in Bon Voyage, Shutterbug

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“When the Cub came of age.”   3 comments

 

BASED ON A TRUE EVENT

"Cub at the outset"

“Cub at the outset”

A cub from the stables of a leading hospitality institutes was placed in a prominent fast food restaurant chain recently. His employers, who had humble origins in Kentucky, went onto conquer the world guided partly by their expertise in offering delicacies in fried chickens and partly by the unstoppable globalisation juggernaut. The cub, our protagonist, decided to enter the den considering the stint as a learning curve after weighing in the paucity of recruiters and the prevailing global pessimism. He took the plunge convinced that the restaurant was the place to be till the hospitality industry bounced back.

The Cub’s early days saw him getting introduced to the team members and acquainting himself to the busy kitchen environment which prevailed throughout the day. Even though the team leader was a hard taskmaster, the cub considered himself fortunate to have found the right place to see off the recession days. Bent upon giving his best the cub put his heart into the tasks assigned to him. Lessons in customer care, crowd management, shift rotation and multitasking followed which the cub thought could stand him in good stead. The back breaking work in the restaurant kept him occupied and hours passed like minutes. Every passing day saw him master a trick in trade ranging from enticing the taste buds of customers to winning unflinching loyalties. The Cub was an avid learner and a curious observer too. Within a short span he improved his skill sets tremendously and was juggling many tasks with ease already. This, inevitably, saw him walk into the good books of the Manager earning him many adversaries and admirers as well.

Beneath the visage which gleefully accepted all the praises which came his way, the cub portrayed a disturbed guy. The colleagues, according to him, seemed to hold many secrets.  His inquisitive mind was full of unanswered questions. Unlike the pleasant atmosphere and camaraderie on display amidst the customers, a veil of secrecy hung over their private space. The length of the shadow extended from the plastered smiles on his colleagues’ faces to the miserly conversations among them. The cub tried eavesdropping into their hush-hush conversations which always seemed to hold back secrets. He even tried peeping into Manager’s desk without success. Nothing seemed to work and the dark clouds gathered with renewed vigour as days went past him. He felt as if stuck in a mental asylum full of disturbed souls holding back secrets and his suspicion grew stronger by the day when he discovered standard patterns in their peculiar behaviour.

Despite being employed in a renowned food chain, not even a single soul ate anything from the restaurant. They always attempted to slip out and reach for the nearest hotel or brought homemade food. Despite many innovations, they all desisted testing them. The reason for refrain ranged from being a vegan to revolting stomachs. In case if they encountered surplus or unsold food, team members readily fed them to stray dogs or the beggars who spent the nights by the pavement. No one seemed drawn to the menu which otherwise was enjoyed by the whole city. The cub initially mistook this for dedication and good practise but soon realised that there is more to it than what meets the eye. These questions constantly popped up in his mind and the cub wanted to put them to rest forever.

One fine day he plucked enough courage and met his Boss in his cabin. The cub blurted out, without any manner of preamble, his lingering doubts. The senior’s reaction came as a surprise. His face turned purple and the moustache bristled in anger. He thundered at him saying nothing was abnormal and the cub should stop acting like a fool. Unable to stand his ire, the cub tiptoed his way out of the line of fire. Letting the matter go made ways for more dilemmas cropping up in his head. After a few months, abiding by his friends’ advice, he accosted his boss in a different but shrewd manner. The cub, learning that his senior’s went weak at the knees at the sight of alcohol, got him sloshed to the core one evening. Having attained enlightenment, the Boss started spilling the beans.

When skeletons tumbled out of the closet, the cub could only arch his brows in utter disbelief. Turns out that every single item on offer, in the menu, had an unmentioned item being added beyond its desirable proportions. The intruder was “AGINOMOTO”.  Every day they got on the wrong side of the law. Passing out of the culinary stable the men behind the menu were aware of these transgressions. Instead of raising their voices in protest they had kept mum and colluded silently. They knew the hazards of adding AGINOMOTO beyond the prescribed limit and hence kept the items at arms length. The secret never slipped out their mouths despite trying circumstances and provocations and had become the norm overtime.

The cub, now faced with overwhelming evidences of gross violations, was caught in a moral dilemma. Whether to stand up and question the violations and set things right or to meekly surrender and save his job became his new obsession. As if on cue, one of cub’s neighbours hosted a youngster who had come down to his city for treating a strange case which baffled the doctors year in year out. Finally they deciphered the cryptic code and realized that the youngster’s blood had unusual levels of Monosodium Glutamate or AGINOMOTO.  The youngster had skipped healthy food and became a regular at one of the branches of the food chain major.  Alarmed, the cub decided to put an end to the whole issue.

One defining moment came along offering a way out. The next day the cub confronted his senior and requested him to refrain from the prevailing practises. The day which followed saw pink slip coming the cub’s way followed by a barrage of abuses. The conditions were simple: “You either play by the rules or just get out”. The cub now was out of job and walked into oblivion. When his career showed signs of taking off and flying high, the senior had clipped his wings. The next day, just when the scheming senior reclined on his chair mocking the cub’s wild and immature ways, heard a decisive knock on the door!!

When the senior was pleading with the Food Inspectors to spare them for one last time, the Cub was already on his way to the airport, all set to fly to Dubai. After responding in the affirmative to the job offer from a leading luxury hotel in Dubai, the cub had set the cat amongst the pigeons by revealing the closely guarded secrets of the restaurant among the mall rats and other store owners. Absolute pandemonium ensued. The last nail on the coffin was struck by the cub when he dialled the authorities alerting them before flying.

Uncertainty remains as to whether the authorities may collude or collide with the perpetrators. But what is certain is this: HE WAS NOT A CUB ANYMORE!! He didn’t play by the rule but changed the game!!

His Baptism by fire turned the Cub into a roaring Lion!!

His Baptism by fire turned the Cub into a roaring Lion!!

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Image Courtesy: http://pastoralmeanderings.blogspot.in/2014/07/like-roaring-lion-seeking-whom-he-may.html (Lion)

http://animals.nationalgeographic.com/animals/photos/big-cat-cubs/ (Cub)

Posted November 8, 2013 by Aneesh in INDIA, The Motley Crew

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“When it rains”   19 comments

Monsoon in Kuttanad, Kerala.

The time when nature comes alive, raining down from heavens, breathing life back into barren lands, lazy rivers, trickling cascades, hungry ponds, and in its wake bringing forth the lost hues of the verdant green and creatures great and small. When the Monsoon rhapsody escalates, one can easily slip back into the sit back and relax mode, breathing in the irresistible petrichor while sipping in a cup of Kaapi or two staying within the comforts of a blanket.

But there is more to Monsoon than what meets the eye ! For out there, a struggle is on for survival encompassing all and sundry. The banks struggling to contain the deluge, migrating fishes striving to outwit the nets, the loquacious frogs trying to evade the stealthy snakes, the saintly storks and swooping kingfishers sealing the fate of edgy fishes, survival is at stake for everyone.

Embodiment of Spirit of survival !!Survival of the Human Spirit !

A commoner is out there, on his tiny vessel, waiting under a makeshift shelter seeking reprieve from the unceasing rains ! He has nothing on the vessel barring the oar and a sack of cement apparently to plug one of the leaking walls in his tiny abode discovered at the eleventh hour ! The wait is getting prolonged, revealed by the looks heavenwards translating into vehement sighs, since the downpour has put a spanner in his works ! The sail ahead, through the choppy waters would be strenuous. Just when the truant sun appeared for a glimmer, reducing the downpour into a drizzle, the mighty SURVIVOR set sail again pushing his oar forward with all his might ! As he disappeared in distance, the skies again turned pregnant with rain clouds all set to unleash its fury with renewed vigor.

Surviving in the maze of backwaters (read Alapuzha) for the commoner is a struggle ! This hits the crescendo with the advent of monsoon every year. Nevertheless, combining numerous frugal innovations of the people (JUGAAD) and the government back up, the odds have partially turned even. But, just when you think your fortress is impregnable, she lets you know who is in command the next moment !!

This picture was captured during the temporary reprieve from lashing rains when the mood was light .

Posted October 30, 2013 by Aneesh in Bon Voyage, INDIA, Shutterbug

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“Woods are Lovely, Dark n Deep !”   26 comments

Stopping by the woods.

Another pilgrimage in search of Moksha lead us to Sabarimala located in Pathanamthitta, Kerala.  When the journey entered the ERUMELI – CHALAKKAYAM – PAMPA phase, the desperate break from the mundane that we all searched for had arrived.

Spreading a veil of morning mist over the road ahead, Nature was playing hide and seek with us. Journey came to an abrupt halt when the driver could no longer negotiate the winding roads owing to thick fog. Amidst the Bhakthi filled milieu inside the Van, we could all recognize the pangs of our muscles desperate for a stretch or two. Giving respite to the unceasing chants, we took a Kaapi break despite the low visibility.

This was the moment when nature turned the tables on us. Slowly but steadily she dropped her thick veil and revealed her magnificent self though for a fleeting moment! Laid out on each side of the road were green carpets on which stood majestic trees surviving the test of time, under whose shelters thrived tiny plants and beautiful flowers !  Every part of this stretch was a potential picture post card !

When this beautiful scene unfolded in front of us, all we could say to ourselves was – Carpe diem ! For a moment, we forgot about the extended halt and the rest of the journey ! Before the moment could fly away, we tried to capture it as best as we could ! And the next moment heavens opened ! We continued our journey in search of Moksha but felt as if we had attained it halfway through !!

Indeed – The woods are lovely, dark and deep ! But we had promises to keep. -Robert Frost

“The Lone Abode atop a tiny hill.”   12 comments

The Lonely Abode atop a hillEvery turn you take in High Range, Kerala throws up many surprises. You may discover things ranging from pristine cascades, weather weary rocks, creepy valleys, avian friends, tiny creatures and ill tempered tuskers over the course of your journey. When the road snaked through a nondescript village, inhabited by tea plantation workers, I discovered an isolated abode devoid of all charms but leaving an everlasting impact on me.

Years have rolled past since but I still imagine the way of life in those quaint little villages where life is a long lasting struggle but one can still live life in slow motion amidst nature’s orchestra.

 

“Tusker in throes !”   4 comments

Caparisoned elephants has become a precondition for festivals in Kerala. However, there are no uniform standards for treating pachyderms which leaves a lot to be desired.

Caparisoned elephants has become a precondition for festivals in Kerala. However, there are no uniform standards for treating the pachyderms which leaves a lot to be desired.  (Pic by appu)

Another festive season in Kerala. When I saw him first, under the shadow of a tree by the corner of a school ground, he was in the middle of an afternoon break. Realising that his mahout was not around, we took some snaps for which he posed magnanimously.  Without further ado, let me just draw your attention towards the stick resting on him. The “STICK” symbolises a weird deal between the mahout and the elephant. The details of the deal go like this:

The mahout often leaves the scene apparently to take toddy breaks which may run for many hours. Whenever the mahout is to leave the company of the elephant, he leans a stick on the elephant and departs. The elephant on its part has to make sure the stick doesn’t fall or take a different position. He has to limit his movements according to the rules of the deal. Luck was not on his side today because the stick deserted him and kissed the ground moments after the mahout left the scene. What followed were frantic attempts to pick up the stick but to no avail. His restlessness grew by the moment and reached its crescendo when the mahout appeared in the horizon like a speck.

The mahout, as he proceeded forward, looked at the fallen stick in disbelief. Gathering his Dutch courage, the mahout charged forward brandishing a deadly cane. Shouting the name of the elephant, the mahout started thrashing him with no mercy. Cries of the animal filled the air. The second in charge came running and intervened thereby preventing the conflict from escalating further.

I, like many others could only stand as a mute spectator to the whole event. Even though many registered their protests with the temple authorities, the latter washed their hands off reasoning that they were in no way responsible for the mahout’s behaviour. The above was one among the many cruelties suffered by elephants in Kerala. This is the norm; nevertheless, there are a few good exceptions. Hopefully, may the few good exceptions reign over the prevailing atrocious norms in the coming years!

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