Malayalam mash-up

When Mood Music
2006-06-26 16:55:00

Firstly, sincere apologies to anyone who reads this for not getting the lj-cuts in the previous entry right first time. I did try to correct them but the town’s dial-up connection had died, along with my retinae, just as I was about to submit the updated entry.

The lj-cut ‘abdicating my divinity’ hides a long and probably tedious examination of gender roles and treatment of guests here. You have been warned.

yesterday once more (Sunday 25th)
Yesterday contined with a meal at a local restaurant: masala dosa and black tea for Rs12. You can do the maths. I wonder how much the workers make per hour?

Ajeesh then drove us back towards his house. At the place where he parks his car (about 500m from his house but just before the slop gets impossible for the car), we met some of his friends who live about in a nearby ‘suburb’, 100 or so metres vertically above his house and about 1km of jeep-rutted track away. They have a small chai-shop that seems to fulfil the functions of a UK pub – apart from selling alcohol.

One of them is a self-taught electronic engineer. He introduced me to the sound-system he’s cobbled together and we bounced around his house. It’s a shame to see his skills going to waste: he wants to be a fully-fledged hardware engineer – you can guess why it hasn’t yet happened.

It may seem that I’m perpetually upset and not enjoying myself here. I think there’s bias in the reporting. On the whole I am very much enjoying my time here. Every now and then I get a bit miserable, especially when I lose things or get too tired to want to be here, but every now and then, something happens to make me say to myself ‘shut up moaning, you pampered so-and-so’ or I see again some of Kerala’s beauty and the enjoyment restarts. I’ve been invited to stay indefinitely and offered, even encouraged to make a life here. It’s tempting but there are too many people and things in the UK I’d miss.

I think the friendships I’ve made here will continue: I hope they can be strengthened by some sort of fair/ethical trade set-up. Anyone out there interested in buying coffee, tea, vanilla, cardomom, jaggery, etc from here. I’ve enjoyed the food immensely here and would like others to have the chance to do so.

yesterday once more (Sunday 25th) continued
Back at the house, another food-gasm courtesy of Jaya:

  • fat-grained rice still in its cooking water
  • chatni: grated coconut, mango, onion, mustard seed, all mashed together
  • part-caramelised onion, steamed with sliced green beans, chilli and slightly fried grated coconut


movie mayhem (Saturday 26th)
After finally getting to wash my clothes this morning, Ajeesh drove me, Jaya, his mum and niece into town to watch another movie. This was filmed in Idukki district and appeared to be about a carpenter who shelters a woman from unjust legal penalties by getting her to dress up as a bloke and become his apprentice. The song-and-dance piece where she acts as a bloke trying to dance a “normal woman’s movie dance” were hysterical.

I lost interest when she put her (own) clothes back on and the inevitable matching happened. However my interest perked up again when the woman (by now still female but appearing to have gotten through 2 tragic marriages [I’m sure appearances are deceptive here] then fell in love with the carpenter. During the interval (movies here tend to last over 2 hours), I fell about laughing again to a techno version of Twinkle, twinkle, little star. I’m sure I’m going to have to explain my amusement to Ajeesh and co later.

In another hysterical piece, she pressed her suit towards him while he politely tried to evade her clutches and escape. Eventually he returned her love and they pedalled off into the sunset. The part I enjoyed most was when the projectionist fell asleep and delayed a reel-change for 5 minutes: the audience’s cat-calls have been recorded for posterity.

abdicating my divinity
I don’t care who is looking over my shoulder as I key this. If you have the nerve to pick up my diary or look over my shoulder when I’m keying in my banking password, don’t be upset by what you read here.

There’s a bloody great caveat about my fondness for Kerala. People have been wonderfully friendly and welcoming (if far too nosey) so it may seem unfair to criticise but I think it’s right to record and report my complete impression.

The caveat is that, outside of restaurants and chair-stalls, if a woman is fit and available, she’ll do ALL the domestic work. A man won’t even take his dirty dishes to the sink and will drop (for example) his cigarette-packet wrapper on the floor and expect a wife, sister or mother to sweep up after him.

I don’t know if men living on their own don’t do any (I have no experience of this to report) and I know they’re capable of doing it. However, I’ve been told that domestic work is basically a woman’s role and that it is ‘balanced’ by men’s work in the fields, etc.

I might be able to accept this if I didn’t see evidence of lack of balance: women certainly do work in men’s ‘province’. I’ve not seen a single man return the favour. For example, many women work in fields, carry huge loads of wood barefoot up extreme slopes and labour on roads. I don’t know who does the domestic duties in their houses but I’d be prepared to bet the cost of my next week’s food that it isn’t their husbands.

I know that I’ve seen a statistically insignificant part of Kerala and that by reporting what I’ve seen here, I’m only paying lip-service to this issue. So far I’ve done nothing significant to balance the amount of work that Jaya has done for me and I’m struggling to think how I can. The only route seems to be to find a job for Ajeesh so that he can pay her dowry to her fiance’s family and so Jaya and her fiance can actually marry.

I need to acknowledge that Ajeesh has spent days centred on my wishes and needs too and that I have so far been unable to give back to my satisfaction. However I think there’s more scope for doing so in his case.

As for the many people to whom he’s introduced me, especially all the women who have made tea or prepared delicious food and served me with welcoming smiles until I near explosion, then taken away dirty dishes and refused to let me do anything in return, I have no idea yet how to restore the balance but I’m thinking about it!

I know I’m mixing my experiences as a guest and as a (western) male into this report: this is inevitable because there’s only one of me. (Aren’t you glad?) The attitude here seems to be that ‘a guest is God’. I feel a large need to abdicate from this divinity. Quite apart from the tedious of disappearing in a puff of logic because I won’t allow myself to believe in deities, I don’t want to be worshipped and I don’t work miracles. Nor do I always want to sit in the best chair: standing is nice sometimes.

Again, this fulfillment of my almost every need might be more comfortable if I was currently returning such consideration or there was a chance to do so in the future. However, it’s very unlikely that Ajeesh or Jaya, for example, will ever be my guests in the UK or elsewhere. If you have any suggestions, please, please comment.

OK, it’s 6pm here and the walk up the hill takes 50 minutes. It gets dark in 45 minutes. I’m offski!


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