A glimpse of Kerala

August 25, 2007 | 55 Comments

Onam greetings to all our friends and family from Kerala.

More about the Onam festival HERE. The best feature about Kerala’s two main festivals, Onam and Vishu are that they are celebrated with equal fervour by all religious groups.

If you can describe Kerala in one word, it would be LUSH. It’s a green, gorgeous place with the Arabian Sea on the west and the Sahyadri mountains on the east.

It’s a tiny sliver of land on the southern tip of India, the size of Maryland, just 75 miles wide at its widest. (See MAP) It, however, has the population of California, and a per capita income rate of just $300. What makes Kerala special is it’s literacy rate of 90%, and its religious diversity – 58% Hindu, 21% Muslim, 21% Christian. Kerala was the first place in the world in 1956 to democratically elect a Communist government. The language spoken is Malayalam.

This strip of land on India’s western coast is crisscrossed by 44 rivers. Forty-one of these originate in the Sahyadri mountains. Kerala is covered with paddy fields, coconut, mango, cashew and rubber plantations, and produces 40% of the world’s black peppercorns. (More about Kerala HERE)

I’m Keralite from my mother’s side (and Telugu from my dad’s). In Kerala, among the Nair community, it’s a matriarchial system, and it’s your mother’s lineage and family name that counts. Not the father’s, not the husband’s. Muaaaah. So yeah, as far as technicalities go, I’m a Keralite.

So here’s my fav place in Kerala – my Ammaman’s (maternal uncle) home. It’s a semi-rural setting with modern buildings interspersed with paddy fields.

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This is the view from my uncle’s front gate. Across is the village tank, dug out to collect rainwater. In the backdrop are the Sahyadri mountains. Next door, sharing his boundary wall, is the village temple. It wakes everyone up at 6 a.m. with devotional hymns blaring though the loudspeakers. If you’re already awake, it’s nice to listen to the music. If you’re not, it’s a darn irritating way to be woken up. Half a block away is the Communist Party office. Many of the office-bearers are not averse to visiting the temple once in a while. :devil:

That temple serves the most awesome aravana payasam or neyy payasam from time to time. It’s a dark brown rice pudding without milk. It’s made of rice, ghee (clarified butter) and jaggery. When I was a kid and teenager, I would visit during summer vacations. To get the payasam, you have to have a bath, dress up, go next door, and pray, or atleast feign to pray – all at or before 8 a.m. That’s a lot of work. So I would contract this to my little cousin who would fetch it in exchange for assorted shiny objects from Bombay. I had to ration out the little things I bought her from my pocket money, in dribs and drabs, if I wanted a steady flow of payasam.

Word gets around fast here. Fifteen minutes after my mom and I would arrive at my uncle’s place, the phone would ring, and some neighbour half a mile away would be enquiring of my aunt who her visitors were. It couldn’t have been the lady who works at my aunt’s house who told the neighbour, ‘cos she’s still working, and hasn’t left yet. I swear, people there have x-ray vision that lets them see through all the thickets of trees, walls and fences. And antennae that allow them to pick up every single conversation you have, even above the blaring temple music.

The same evening, my cousin and I walk to the small corner shack (6x6x6 feet, with a surprisingly comprehensive inventory) to buy some Parle-G biscuits, when we see some neighbourhood boys swagger around. It is a sign of machismo to have their lungis double folded so high, you can see all of their hairy legs and part of their underwear.

One’s telling the other, “Who’s that one?”. The other replies, “She’s S’s cousin from Bombay.”

Huh?? It’s been six hours since I landed and they even know how my cousin and I are related?
The first one speculates: “She probably doesn’t understand Malayalam.”
The second one: “Of course not. She’s a mademoiselle who only speaks English. She has nice tits.”

All this three feet away from me. Welcome to my uncle’s friendly neighbourhood grocery store. I know why my cousin hated going there.

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A typical Kerala home has a back door leading from the kitchen to the courtyard, lined with banana, mango and coconut trees.

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And a couple of jackfruit trees.

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My aunt tends to her jasmine field. There’s construction activity all around, with agriculture giving way to multi-storeyed housing.

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Chinese fishing nets (Cheena Vala) off the Kerala Coast. Pic from Webshots. This form of fishing is a very unusual and ancient tradition. Read about it HERE.

An important event to mark the Onam festivites are the boat races. Scores of rowers line up in the snake boats and race across Kerala’s network of backwaters.
The most famous among them is the Nehru Trophy Boat Race at Punnamada Lake in Alleppey.

Basia is a Polish-American who currently lives in Chennai and captures vignettes of India in her wonderful blog India Ink. Check out her photo essay of this year’s snake boat races HERE.

More about Kerala, it’s history, cuisine and traditions @ Pepper Trail, Ammini Ramachandran’s website.

Kerala picture gallery @ chitram.com

How do we plan to celebrate Onam? The way we celebrate all festivals – by sipping margaritas in our backyard. This was the view from our patio last weekend.

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Triple Rainbow

- b.

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55 Comments

  1. musical says:

    Pretty rainbow picture guys! Happy Onam to you and your readers as well :) .

    he he, and yes a lot of times word really spreads fast! and that dialogue at the corner store is really crazy! Its funny how when people are assuming (not even sure) that you don’t know the language, they’ll say rude stuff right in front of you.

  2. TBC says:

    Happy Onam! :)
    Is that rainbow for real or has it been photoshopped into the pic?

  3. Srivalli says:

    Happy Omam…and the pictures are lovely…thanks for sharing…

    Srivalli
    http://www.cooking4allseasons.blogspot.com

  4. RJ says:

    Happy Onam to you guys and very nice description of kerala. I am tempted to see kerala.

  5. Srivalli says:

    I had gone back to reading it…and hahha….well I don’t want to mention anything here…but thats really true….

    Srivalli
    http://www.cooking4allseasons.blogspot.com

  6. Mythili says:

    Happpy Onam, you guys. Please share the margariata recipes :P :P
    :horn:

    Btw, I can only see 2 rainbows, you say triple? :rolleyes:

    the bottom one is double. although it is not a complete double as in VIBGYOROYGBIV. the double was fading and my tripod was nowhere in sight…so couldnt get the double in time :(

    margarita here. http://jugalbandi.info/2007/07/a-mean-margarita/
    –jai

  7. Madhuli says:

    Happy Onam Bee and Jai!

  8. sharmi says:

    wish you both a very Happy Onam. Lovely pics of Kerala. Where in Kerala is your place?

    our anestral home is in kotakkal. my uncle’s home is in palakkad. – b.

  9. pelicano says:

    Oh dear…I see suburbia! :hammer: I do like the rainbows though! :D And margaritas are always good.

    This was a wonderful read Bee, especially the part about hiring your couz to go through all the purification to get the payasam for you- how enterprising! At first I thought: what a devious little girl you must have been, until I thought of a few stunts my sis and I pulled to get our own childhood sweets. :embarrass ..of which I’ll spare mention.

    Or…Jai? Is she still like this? :D

  10. archana says:

    Happy Onam to both of you :) The pictures are superb. Would love to visit Kerala.
    The rainbow is looking pretty. never seen so many rainbows at one time ;;) :hmm:

  11. Anita says:

    Happy Onam, everyone.

    Enjoy your visits home while it is still semi-rural…soon on its way to sub-urban…beautiful vignettes from Kerala (one of the few States of the country that I have not traveled through extensively – always makes me sigh wishfully – one day, very soon…)

  12. Anita says:

    I swear I didn’t put that winking emoticon! It just appeared of its own accord… not separating the dot from the closed bracket – that’s it!

  13. Madhu says:

    Hi Bee,
    Happy Onam and pictures of kerala are fabulous.

  14. arundati says:

    jai and bee….happy onam….we’re off for a Sadya to a friends place this afternoon!! yay!! (good) free food …friends a great cook!! the conversation at the grocery store is so familiar(we all love to bitch in our native tongue)…happens all the time…infact recently i had a family of four – ma in law, daughters and daughters in law at my class….they kept jabbering all the way in mall…..comments about what i was teaching, how much i am charging, how much i may be making etc etc…and since i have classes at home, some (nice) comments on the house as well….(hey i am house proud, they could’ve just said it loud) anyways…class over, they waited for their driver to arrive ….we chit chatted…so where are you from etc etc….when i said K is from Kerala, they froze, turned beetroot…then gingerly asked me, so do you understand malyalam?? i said “yes i do”…..the look was to die for!! i should have refunded them their money!!

    wow. wish you had captured that on camera. however, i can’t imagine why they couldn’t have waited to leave your home before discussing you. they have some nerve and are bored out of their brains. – b.

  15. Jyothsna says:

    Onaashamsakal Bee and Jai! Oh, you recreated the Kerala magic beautifully! This took me back to my own native place, where the scene was almost the same. And the folks thought just because I don’t speak Malayalam with the “Mallu” accent, I don’t know to speak it! :D And hey, you can come over for a nice sadya tomorrow. And Bee, there’s pradhaman on the menu :)

    so did you turn around and say, “nayendemon”? :D – b.

  16. Sreelu says:

    Such a beautiful way to celebrate Onam,tripe rainbow is beautiful. Must visit gods own country during my next visit

  17. Anonymous says:

    hallo b’n'j

    which camera do u use

    pbj

    the first few with a sony point and shoot. the last one is a canon rebel 300D. – b.

  18. sra says:

    Happy Onam, B & J! Nice post!

  19. aa says:

    Happy Onam Bee and Jai! Isn’t that chayakada exchange the store around every nukkad in every part of India! Languages change, but what is said is often the same thing??!! :hammer:

    On a lighter note, my favorite association with kerala is the ‘vanji pattu’ the “didh didh taara, didh didh thayy..” songs :) any you can post?

    sorry, don’t know any. i only now those two lines that mahout in mile sur mera tumhara used to sing. – b.

  20. aa says:

    oops! storY not storE

  21. Nupur says:

    LUSH is right. I remember flying into Thiruvananthapuram a few years ago and being spell-bound by the endless expanse of coconut trees as the plane was landing. I was in a restaurant last week and the server said she was planning a trip to India and could I recommend what place she should visit, and I said- Kerala!

  22. seena says:

    Hi Bee,
    Happy Onam!
    Loved reading your description about uncle’s home and surroundings..am back after vacation, so still mind is at home in Kerala..Palakkad is a very nice place I like..
    thanks for sharing with us.

  23. Mamatha says:

    Happy Onam Bee and Jai. That was a lovely read – brought back a lot of memories of my childhood trips to my grandma’s town.

  24. Cynthia says:

    This time of the year makes us nostalgic eh :) Loved taking that trip down the road with you and your cousin.

  25. richa says:

    Happy Onam to you!
    so u used the barter system for ur share of prasad :D
    i remember the song from ‘katha’ kaun aaya, kaun aaya….

  26. sushma says:

    Hey Bee..

    Onam ashansgal.. (i dont know.. i hv wished properly.. this is what i hv learned frm my frnds in d coolege.. Any ways wishing u again Happy Onam.. i love ur semiya payasam..Nice Photos.. :D

  27. Asha says:

    Beautiful pics, reminds me of Montana!! I have never been to Kerala, got to one day. Happy Onam and eat a lot!:))

    they have coconut trees in montana? :hmm: – b .

  28. Hi happy onam bee!
    Nice pictures! Kerala is so green and beautiful! ;;)

  29. Rachna says:

    Hey Beejay

    kerala is my fav place to go when in india… i love my hubby’s place in kerala… its near kannur ….have gone past kottakal…. its amazing

    i guess its even easier for ppl to bitch about a non-mallu (like me) by the shops ….thats why one of the first phrases i learnt to say to the person next two me in that shop scenario is “virthiketta patti, chhe!!!” and walk off leaving every1 stunned….heeee

    rachna, they need a good punju dose. no one can swear like the jats. :D i’d pay good money to learn from them. – b.

  30. bharathyvasu says:

    Hrudayam niranja Onasamsakal Bee and Jai.
    Can i invite you here for lunch tommorrow?I am Making sarkara adaprathaman for the payasam section!:)
    Fine shots of my my my…Kerala!!Nice to note that you too have the roots of Kerala and Telugu culture!!Do you speak both the languages?btw?

    the only telugu word i know is ‘jaragandi’. jai taught me that. – b.

  31. Rajitha says:

    i am sure boys everywhere speak the same boring things- tits and ass!! … what i love about keralites is that the sil stays at his wife’s place… more power to that.. not sure about this, but i think the daughter gets the first dibs on property too right unlike the male dominated society of ours??

    in the old days the daughter inherited the property. now, under indian property laws, it’s equal. – b.

  32. Archana says:

    Wish you a very happy Onam Bee & Jai. Your posts are always very refreshing, this one is no exception. Thank you

  33. Laavanya says:

    Happy Onam you guys!! Love the rainbows – so pretty, can’t believe there were triple. Loved your post Bee and Kerala is so beautiful. I was there during most of my summer vacations and always enjoyed myself with my cousins (3 of my uncles live there).

  34. Ashwini says:

    Oh you wicked girl….talk of female anatomy AND margaritas as celebration in ONE post?!!!! :D
    I have similar memories of visiting my maternal native place. The girls there would always snicker behind our back and speak loudly enough for us to hear all their snide comments. Never thought I’d say this but man I miss all that pettiness :huh:

  35. bharathyvasu says:

    :rofl: oh yeah “Jaragandi” is the word mostly used in Thirupathi Moolasthanam!!..

    The maternal ancestry is known as “Marumakkathayam”,in malayalam.And when my man came to know abt thisinteresting system during one of our Kerala visits,he sighed!!.:ohno:.can u guess y?If that would have followed here in T.N he could have happily lived with his sisters and would get rid of his wife..(as I would be awayliving with my brother) :laugh:

  36. sunita says:

    Happy Onam to you both…loved that rainbow :angel:

  37. Pragyan says:

    Hi Jai and Bee, Wish you both a very happy Onam. Have a great day!

  38. Sig says:

    Happy Onam Jai and Bee…

    That chayakkada conversation is what I had to go through all my life… and believe me, it wouldn’t have made any difference, even if they knew you could speak the language… :hammer: But despite all that, Kerala is still my favorite place on earth!

  39. mallugirl says:

    HAppy onam to both of u.. Don’t u just love going back home to get a fresh stack of those memorable comments?Onam and margaritas! Mahabali is probably turning in his….

  40. Jyothsna says:

    :) Nah, I didn’t have boys talking behind me, they were scared of my uncle who lived there :D
    And Mahabali maybe wondering why no one served him a margarita ;)

  41. Santhi says:

    Happy Onam..dear bee & jai…am missing celebrating Onam, the traditional way :-) …. :)

  42. Raaga says:

    Wow… that rainbow looks so fake… but I am sure its not :-)

    Happy Onam. I have to make sure that S doesn’t see this post… he’ll take very well to the sipping margaritas for a festival bit :-)

  43. Anjali says:

    Aha my favorite state! I drove across Kerala for 11 days 1200 kms from Kochi, Munnar, Periyar, Allepey and Thiruvananthapuram in 2003. One of my best holidays. Just me and Dad and it actually set a trend for us and we travel a lot more now just the 2 of us.

    Happy Onam! Get soaked in all the attention wanted and unwanted too ;) .

  44. lakshmi says:

    Happy Onam!!

    “It is a sign of machismo to have their lungis double folded so high, you can see all of their hairy legs and part of their underwear.”

    I always wondered why lungis would be folded so high that one can see the striped underwear – especially in tamil movies where the concept of double fold is stretched to its limits!!Sign of machismo?!! :o hno:

  45. coffee says:

    That was a wonderful peek into the life in Kerela! And loved the pic of Rainbow!
    Happy Onam to you guys! :)

  46. Padma says:

    Happy Onam! enjoy and have fun sipping those margaritas… :horn: :horn: :horn: :horn:

  47. neroli says:

    Happy Onam, dear Bee and Jai.
    What a wonderful post: writing and words.
    As I despise tequila, I’ll join in toasting your rainbows—past, present, and future—with a Jack and Coke Zero !:horn:

  48. [...] from the Kerala regionĀ of India. Wikipedia has an entry on the Nair community, and I found this lovely piece on Kerala fromĀ  [...]

  49. Vegeyum says:

    I had another look at this post. I will be in Kerela in Jan/Feb. So excited. I have been extensively through Tamil Nadu and Karnataka (sp?) but not yet explored Kerela very much. Some of your photos are so beautiful – taking me back in my mind to Goa and parts of TN. Beautiful. I can’t wait.

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