backwaters, Christianity, Cochin, Islam, Kashmiris, and Crows
The highlight of the whole vacation is a two night boathouse trip drifting through the backwaters of Kerala. It’s very dreamy, slow pace going along canals as people come out to do their washing, or simply gaze back at as and wave as we go by. The name Kerala (kÃ©-rla) is a bit of a no brainer: kera= coconut, ‘la’= land. We luck out at one point in Champakulam and run into the church ritual marking the beginning of a Syrian Christian religious period (didn’t quite catch what it was, Keralans have a tendency to speak English like they do Malayam, fast staccato, and clipped – there are enough syllables in the average Keralan proper noun to fill an alphabet). But what is interesting is how early Christianity came to Kerala – some say around the time of St Thomas. So there are all manner of Christians, living side by side with Hindus and Muslims in peace. More on that later. But the richness of the Syrian Christian colors here is uniquely local.But for sure, as in most religious traditions of India, one feels the strength of people’s faith here. There is of course still much stronger conservative social elements which form part of the drive, but again as in all religious traditions in India there is much personal conviction and devotion. Kerala, so slow and sleepy, seems to allow that faith in all its variety to create a harmony, (for example, one sees Muslims tourists visiting churches) and all go about their ways quietly side by side. But there are shadows of the India’s flip side, the senseless communal riots which are mostly the creations of politicians eager to exploit this massive reserve of energy locked up within the faith that Indians have to their respective religions: many Keralans believe that some of the new Indian bred Muslim terrorists (as opposed to the previous bogey, Pakistani terrorists, or for that matter even the Hindu descendants of the assassins of Mahatma Gandhi) use Kerala as a meeting place, and that there are training camps in the forests. It’s a typical India “probable” but there is yet little published evidence to substantiate it. But on another ‘front’ what is clear is that the merchant Kashmiri’s, India’s pushiest tourist ‘operators’ who seem to own shops anywhere a foreign tourist sets foot, have established a very strong foothold in the local tourist industry. After our slow boat ride, it is really rankling to be continuously assaulted as we walk down what were once very charming streets in Jewtown. There are now only maybe four Jewish families (as I mentoned earlier in the blog) but there are scores of Kashmiri shops. TheKashmiri vendors’ smooth talking, pushy style really contrasts with the laid back Keralan politesse, and I become irritable at my own lack of patience with them and my own prejudice. Our autorickshaw driver pushes me to a snap by continuously trying to take us to different shops run by his friends, and I get grumpy. Later, poor Monica, who herself has a passion for photography, cops it from me when she inadvertently steps into my frame at the fish market. I feel like I am grasping at straws, and later on am so out of sorts that I mistakenly format a card full of images – half of my last days take on the boat ride with some of the best images. So they are all lost. I go into a funk, and much later really regretting being so mean. I realize how great my attachment to images is, and how it in turn gets in the way. When my companion points out that I seem to value these images more than human relationships I feel ashamed, and feel like giving up photography if I continue to have this manic attachment. I remember RenÃ© Burri of Magnum telling me that he tries to remind his fellow photogs that we are humans first, and photographers second. I must remember this advice. It is perhaps one of the most important things I have learnt in sleepy Cochin, (which incidentally is so full of crows, considered to be messengers of the wrathful Tibetan protector Mahakala).
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