First Two Days in Kerala [en]

An account of our package days in Kerala. Nice!

It took a bit of firmness, but it was finally less difficult than I had feared to obtain the various entertainments promised in our package.

We started yesterday evening with a trip around the local canals in a canoe. Peaceful, and nice, glimpses of lives in little houses or huts near the water, and the splashing of the oar in the dark as we headed home, interrupted only by the twilight din of the birds hopping and chirping excitedly in the coconut trees.

The food was nice, although the ‘vegetable curry’ we ordered alongside the fish was ‘somewhat bland’, and we clearly hadn’t ordered enough. For my part, I was thinking ‘family style portions’, but each dish here was clearly meant to feed one person only.

We got up at dawn this morning (6:20 a.m., the birds were at it again with their racket) for a slightly longer tour through the backwaters in a motor boat. Luckily we just chugged along slowly, so the noise didn’t prevent us from enjoying the peacefulness of the morning scenes offered to us: fishing, bathing, and washing up the dirty dishes.

We came back for a hearty breakfast of appams, and discovered that the vegetable curry wasn’t too bad with a little added salt and pepper.

By nine o’clock the car (mini-van, actually) was ready to take us to a neighbouring village for a short trek. There isn’t much to say about it apart from the fact that it was pleasant and allowed the atmosphere to sink in. Anita shot quite a lot of videos with the digicam.

Lunch was a success. We had ordered a lot of food and it was really nice — especailly the prawn masala (prawns naked, if you please). We ordered accordingly for this evening.

Half of the afternoon was devoted to laying around and bathing for me, and hotel-hunting and transport-organizing for Anita. Again, I cannot say it enough: thanks, many thanks.

Around three we set off for a brief visit of the highly coloured temple, a stroll on the beach (the soft sand and warm water made me want to bathe, can you imagine!) and a walk in the town. Our driver, Matthew, turned out to be a very nice chap who told us all about the finest umbrella manufacturer in all India (here in Alleppey only), as well as a local church we peeked into.

I’ve rarely packed as many things in an Indian day as I have today!

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A Tourist in India [en]

Some thoughts about being a tourist in India, and how I hate being a tourist.

– ‘Your country?’ Asks the man on the bus.
– ‘Switzerland.’
– ‘Svizerrland!? Ooh. Why you are not staying there?’
– ‘I am staying there. I came on holiday to visit some friends. I used to live in Pune.’
– ‘Ooh, so you are just tourist, then!’
– ‘Well, er…’

That was a week or two back, on the overcrowded bus which was finally taking me down to E-Square to see Ek Haseena Thi. I’ve always hated being associated with ‘tourists’, in India or elsewhere.

Tourists come to see, not to share. They watch the world outside from cozy A/C boxes. They are impolite, they don’t know how to dress or behave, they can’t eat the food or find their way around without a map. They see what they are meant to see, stay in places specially designed for them, and buy things in shops that nobody else would buy. They have money, lots of it.

In some ways, I have to admit that I am indeed a tourist. I take lots of photographs. I buy loads of stuff in shops to bring back to Switzerland for my enjoyment and that of others. I don’t really keep an eye on what I spend, I eat in nice places, I go to the cinema as often as I like.

But on the other hand, I much prefer trying to share the life of ‘normal’ people or just walk around the town I’m staying in, rather than sleep in expensive places and do the things that only the tourists do.

I like people. I do my best not to turn them into objects. I like everyday life. I like soaking in the atmosphere of a place or time.

I’m very suspicious of other foreigners I come upon in India. I kind of assume that they are not like me, more the ‘hippy-dippy’ type, as Aleika and I used to call them. Some sort of anti-tourist snobism, in a way.

Of course, I’m wrong. Lots of foreigners in India are certainly nice people. I almost walked off for ever after saying hello to Aleika, mistakenly assuming she would be ‘at the ashram’. Quite a few of my friends from Switzerland or elsewhere have been to India, so they would therefore certainly have been ‘foreigners nice to know’ had I met them in India.

Ironically, I find myself looking at other foreigners with as much curiosity and maybe more questions as many Indians who see me walk by. Why are they here? What brought them to India? What are they looking for? How long are they staying? Do they ‘fit in’ or not in their home culture? What is their life like here?

The result is that I’ve had very little contact with other foreigners in India, and I’m aware that I’m probably passing by people who would be interesting to know. I keep myself ‘aside’, comfortably settled on a jute bag full of preconceptions and marked ‘Fab India, Pune’.

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A Coin [en]

A little girl follows the canoe and asks the two tourists inside for a coin.

There is a canoe with tourists again. A white lady with fair hair, and another lady from the city. I stand on the edge of the water, I say “Hello!”, I smile. They wave back.

The white lady has a big camera. These tourists, they always take a lot of photographs. These two are laughing and talking and playing with their cameras.

I run along the shore to follow them — they aren’t going very fast, it is easy. I wave, I smile again. I think they like me. I am wearing my purple dress.

I ask for a coin. The lady from the city makes me repeat. I think she doesn’t understand.

The canoe is going round the corner — I take the shortcut behind my uncle’s house and catch up with them again. Once more I ask for my coin. As they still don’t understand, the boatman tells them what I want. These ones won’t give me anything.

I run after them again, smile and ask for a photo. The lady from the city takes a picture of me. I wave good-bye, the boat goes off. Mother is calling me.

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From Pune to Alleppey [en]

Leaving Pune, travelling to Alleppey and a few words about the resort we are staying in.

Leaving Pune was hard, just as the last times. I was sad to leave the town and the people I love, sad to leave without knowing when I will see them again.

Anita had spent a day in Pune, so we travelled back to Bombay together, which was nice. We went to Bandra to see if I could find nice silvery glittery sandals for my size 41 feet. I gave up, to no surprise — shoes that size aren’t really to be found, especially when the foot they must fit is also wide and high.

For dinner, we had what is probably the best Thai food I have ever eaten. I don’t have a great experience of Thai food, true, but in any case, I’m certainly going back to this place next week before flying back home.

We got on our train the next day after an excruciatingly long rickshaw ride to the station. I was prepared to repeat the Chennai feat of last-minute train-catching, but fortunately it proved unnecessary to excercise ourselves in such a manner.

We travelled in the company of a nice young man named Sharath, who was going to meet his family after two years and a half. We ate surprisingly good train food (including two halves of a chicken — the prices must have dropped for a reason you can certainly imagine), feasted on cashew nuts, raisins and almonds, and shot whacky videos with the digicam. I even jumped out during one station-stop to clean the outside of our windows so that we could film the scenery from inside.

We arrived in Alleppey half an hour late, which is pretty good as far as Indian trains go. As promised, somebody was there to pick us up, and we made it to the resort and into our room without a hitch. The resort looks brand new to me, though it is probably a few years old. Room and bathroom are squeaky clean and equipped with a mosquito net, the latest water-squirting technology instead of the normal tap for the toilets, and a couple of frogs on the veranda to help keep the local bug population under control.

We had booked a 3 day/2 nights package with the resort. Although the resort is nice enough in itself, the package organisation left us a little unsatisfied. We had to fight and insist a little to squeeze into our day and two halves here all the promised items of the package (canoing, water-boat backwater, cruise, village trek, ayurvedic massage, temple visit, etc.). Actually, it seems this resort is mainly populated by a lot of foreigners, most of them middle-aged, who spend a lot of their time sitting around in chairs. Based on the list of “Daily Entertainments” hanging outside the office door, I guess many people settle down here for some time to relax, get ayurvedic massages, take a few yoga classes and cruise around a bit every now and again.

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Arrived in Kerala [en]

Arrived in Kerala with Anita. Difficult to get internet access.

Just a quick note to say that Anita and I have arrived in Kerala. It’s nice, a little bit adventurous (more later about that), and internet access is not a straightforward thing (one slow computer for a resort full of white tourists).

Do not fret, therefore, dear friends, if news from me is scarce. My mobile is working, however.

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One Chay And Two Cancellations [en]

India is the country of the unexpected. A nice cancellation, a more unpleasant one, and a cup of sweet Indian tea.

India has always been to me the country of last-minute plans (like my departure for Calcutta barely two days after having met Aleika) and cancellations.

On the menu last Thursday, two cancellations — one which upset me, and the other which pleased me tremendously.

First of all, Madhav sent me a message cancelling dinner and our evening stroll in the university campus. I love Madhav dearly, but he does have a tendancy to try my patience (just as I try his, in other ways) by changing plans on short notice and and cancelling meetings I look forward to. I called Nisha and luckily, it wasn’t too late for her to include me in her dinner plans. She cooked a really nice dinner, by the way — puris and home-made gulab jamun — had she guessed that my spirits might need lifting a little?

I was woken up during the dark hours of the night by the sound os somebody coming into the flat. I was supposed to be alone with Nisha that night, as Sagar works night shifts and Shinde had run off to some festival with his fellow disciples from Markal. In my half-sleep I assumed it must be Sagar coming home early. A few minutes later I had gathered together enough of myself to check the time — it was only midnight!

I got up, and to my surprise found myself face-to-face with Shinde. His festival had been postponed by a day, which meant he would have missed my last evening here — so after some internal debate, he cancelled. We stayed up a good two hours chatting before I finally went back to sleep again.

In the middle of all that, or rather before, the chay.

I had been sitting for quite some time in front of my Internet Café during a notable power failure which seems to have wiped out all trace of electrical activity from M.G. Rd to Aundh, waiting for the message which would cancel my plans for the evening (though at that time I didn’t suspect it) or for Bijli Devi (the Goddess of Electricity) to give up her strike and resume normal activity. Sitting and waiting can become boring, even if you have stuff to write up and brightly-clad female construction workers to film on the other side of the road. As he was ordering another round of chay, the Internet Café owner kindly asked me if I would like one.

Sweet, hot indian tea in a small glass. It was nice.

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Adventurous Morning [en]

Eunuchs and a sleazy rickshawallah.

This day started out pretty adventurous, but luckily it didn’t get too bad.

To start with, a whole bunch of “men in saris” (eunuchs) were roaming in the area around the house. I still have to figure out the what’s and the why’s about these people, but in any case it was clear they were after money.

As we were making change at the chemist’s (for the rickshawallahs, not the sari-clad men), one of them started addressing me insistently, pawing at my arm in the process. Now, if there is one thing I don’t like, it is being pawed at by people who want to get money out of me, be they big or small, ugly, beautiful, child, woman or neither. Nisha told me afterwards that he had said to the chemist that one of his friends had died — hence the need for money.

A minute later, as I was counting my change (which had started by being 50Rs short), the sari-guy had the bright idea of sticking his hand upon my head. I didn’t appreciate remotely, and glared at him even more than before — unfortunately through my dark glasses, so I guess it was lost on him.

We (un)fortunately succeeded in finding a rickshaw pretty fast. The road nearest to the house is always home to a couple of ricshaws, but they invariably refuse to run by the meter. I usually end up walking down to the parallel road where busses and six-seaters as well as normal rickshaws can usually be found. Sometimes, though, like last evening when I was going out, you remain standing at the bus-stop for twenty minutes, and arrive late for your movie after a hectic (but cheap) ride in an overcrowded bus at rush hour.

So anyway, we were happy to find a rickshaw willing to take us to D.P. Rd, but a little less happy to notice that this guy simply did not have a meter on his machine.

On the other hand, the 40Rs he was asking for sounded very reasonable to me. I knew the trip was at least worth 60Rs by the meter. I hopped in, knowing I would end up regretting it.

And I did.

Five minutes later, Nisha and I realised we had misunderstood one another. When she said “D.P. Rd”, she meant “D.P. Rd” nearby, not “Dhole Patil Rd” near the station. Once cleared with the rickshawallah, his price for “my D.P. Rd” rose to a preposterous 160Rs. We agreed he would drop us off at the next rickshaw stand.

Of course, he wanted his 40Rs, but there was no way I was going to give him that much. I could go up to my internet cafe on Aundh Rd for that price, and we had gone barely half that far. I gave him 30Rs, he insisted, I refused, we got off the rickshaw. He followed us around asking for his 10Rs as we enquired for somebody who would take us to our destination and charge the legal fare. He didn’t even give up once we were in our new rickshaw, and I continued refusing to give him more money, explaining all my reasons for this shocking refusal — all that in Hindi, please. Two other drivers came up to join the fun, and Nisha also started arguing around in Marathi.

I was getting more and more angry at the guy, who simply would not give up his litany: “das rupaye de do!” After a couple of minutes, however, our driver started his engine (of his own initiative or at Nisha’s request, I could not tell) and drove off, leaving the irritating crook behind.

I was glad that I had stood my ground and hadn’t given in. Nisha gave me a tip from our driver: if a guy like that won’t let go, threaten to report him to the police. I’m keeping that in mind for the next one — or maybe I’ll simply play smart and really stop taking my chances with guys who won’t go by the meter!

I’m writing all this sitting cross-legged in front of my usual internet cafe, just opposite Taramai’s basti. If the power failure lasts much longer, I might go over to her place for some chay. Straight on the other side of the road, there is a construction site. I’ve been watching the women there shovelling up dirt and carrying it off on their heads under the (already) scorching sun. I managed to take some photographs of them too, and a short video. I think I’ve just seen Taramai and her daughter Roopali walk back to their house. Should I pay them a visit?

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Panne d'encre [en]

Tout va bien, nouvelles photos et vidéos, pas envie de trop écrire.

Tout va bien ici en Inde. Je mets en ligne de nouvelles videos (dans le répertoire “films”) et des photos (dans le répertoire “dumps”). Je passe relativement peu de temps dans les cafés internet, et j’ai presque envie de renoncer à  vérifier mes e-mails, tant les rares messages dignes de ce nom sont noyés dans le spam. Donc, si vraiment vous voulez me contacter par mail, faites en sorte que le sujet de votre mail le différencie bien de la masse de pourriel!

J’ai très peu envie d’écrire. Je lis beaucoup, par contre. Le café internet ne m’incite pas à  passer de longues heures devant l’écran — problèmes de clavier (aussi bien niveau dureté des touches que géographie des lettres) et moustiques sous le bureau, ainsi que la distance conséquente entre le lieu où je loge et le café le plus proche… c’est pas top, comme on dirait.

Mais il y a autre chose. C’est comme si depuis mon arrivée ici, vivre simplement les jours qui vont et viennent me suffisait. Je ne ressens pas le besoin de chroniquer, ni sur papier ni sur écran. Je prends des photos et des vidéos, et ça vous raconte un peu mon séjour. Ce n’est pas accessible, j’en conviens. Mais là , on dirait que je me retrouve dans une petite phase où j’en ai marre des mots. Plus tard, peut-être, une fois rentrée, je verserai par-ci par-là  quelques gouttes de mon séjour.

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More Non-News [en]

Nothing special going on, all ok, not very keen on spending too much time in the Internet café.

Due mainly to how far the closest internet café is situated, and generally the rather bad connections from where I’m staying, I’m pretty reluctant to spend too much time in front of the screen. There are nicer things to do, too, like hanging around with people, reading (I’ve finished my 500-page book, started another), eating nice food, and watching hindi movies.

Not to mention that the keyboards here are hard and hurt my hands.

Checking e-mail isn’t much fun either, as the huge amount of spam and junk mail I get tends to drown out the real messages. At home I have a pretty efficient set of filters organised, but here, even with Thunderbird on a USB drive, it’s not half as good.

Yesterday I went to the new E-Square cinema complex on the university road. It’s just awesome! So new and clean that it could have been in Switzerland. The food and movie (Kal Ho Na Ho) were nice, too. Before going out for dinner, Nisha and the other women in the building had a small function, where each drops in at the other’s place to receive a small gift and things. I took photographs and filmed a bit, so you’ll get to see those next time I come online.

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Just News [en]

Everything fine, India is less adventurous, more photos and videos online.

India is clearly less adventurous than it was for me, and there is therefore less to tell. I guess I’m adapting to the place too well! I’m having a very nice quiet time here, between walking the Shinde dogs and going out to eat in various places.

I went to see The Last Samurai last night. My mid-day meal was the occasion of using up a roll of digital film (understand: a memory stick) shooting pictures of Madhav’s friends. The Crab&Beer photographs are now online for your viewing in the Dumps section. I’ve also made more videos you can go and see.

Obviously, I’m not getting a lot of access to the Internet. Nisha and Shinde do live pretty far off, so if I get to check my mail once every two or three days I consider myself lucky. Please don’t hesitate to use the marvels of modern technology (understand: SMS) if you need to get in touch — as I said, my phone number is in the comments to the entry before last.

Enjoy the photos and the videos!

Update: just a note (for Mark, particularly) concerning the camera. I left my fancy phone behind in Switzerland, and a collegue of mine lent me a pretty sexy Sony Handycam — that’s what I’m using for the photographs and videos. I’m doing many more videos on tape, but those will have to wait until my return to Switzerland to see the light of the web.

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