catching up

When Mood Music
2006-07-14 12:45:00

Apparently the last time I blogged was on Monday. Here’s what my diary tells me I’ve done since then.

Monday 10th continued
After I finished blogging, by pure chance I met Ajeesh, Anish and one of their friends in town. This was a case of ‘hail fellow, well met’ because the rain had started to be annoying. I also had a foul headache so was glad to avoid the exertion of walking to the house. However, once I was in the car, Ajeesh announced that we were going to briefly visit Sindhu. She’s the friend he took me to visit in hospital and with whom we stayed on the way back from Goa and is an official in Ajeesh’s local self-help group/eco-development committee. She lives in Udumbanchola which is about 10km up north of Nedumkandam along National Highway 17 so I thought we wouldn’t be too long: I’d told Jaya and Radhalaxmi I’d be back at the house around 7pm and it was now around 6pm.

The meeting appeared to be about trying to get the police to crack down on illegal distillers. Ordinarily I’d not have a problem with people making hooch: it’s up to them and their customers whether or not the rot their guts with ethanol.* However, because the distillers are allegedly cutting the hooch with meths and other nasties and because local politicians are allegedly taking kickbacks to protect the distillers, I’m pleased that Ajeesh is trying to do something about this. Apparently, Sindhu has heard some things that can be passed on to Anish for publication in his newspaper. Ajeesh was also keen to know the date we got slightly involved in the arrest of a distiller at Kanthalloor.
*In Kerala, strong drinks appear to be a government monopoly, sold from government-licensed shops only.

The rain was very heavy when we arrived at the path that leads to Sindhu’s house. Ajeesh and Anish dashed towards the house because they had no coats or umbrellas while I had both. However it was pitch-dark, the path was muddy and had many puddles and I couldn’t remember how to get to Sindhu’s house. I walked about 20 metres along the path and gave up. I tried to open my rucsac while still sheltering under my umbrella to retrieve my phone and torch. The rucsac strap rubbed against where a blister had peeled off and left raw flesh. I screamed, dropped my phone and other things in the dark and retrieved them while screaming imprecautions against rain, mud, India, my throbbing head and being lost in the dark. When I calmed down, I phoned Ajeesh and asked him to come back and guide me. Sindhu’s sons came out with umbrellas and a torch and guided me so that my feet stayed mostly dry.

At the house, Sindhu offered tea. I asked for hot water because of my headache and Sindhu brought out some paracetamol while Ajeesh gave me a quick facial massage. These two treatments helped a lot – thanks both!

We got back to the house around 9pm and I received a friendly telling-off for being two hours later than I’d said. I’d also left my diary in the car and Ajeesh insisted on going to retrieve it, despite me telling him that it was my fault for leaving it there and so I should go.

Tuesday 11th
After a late start and a couple of unpleasant things that aren’t bloggable and are now sorted, Ajeesh drove us to town. I spent most of the afternoon organising my photo archives, uploading the photos that are in a recent entry and working on the essay for DS. I also spent some time phoning people in the UK and thinking about my next moves.

Wednesday 12th
During the night a UK friend sent a text message that implied something horrible had happened in Mumbai. In the morning I asked to watch english-language TV and learnt about the latest Mumbai bombings. (I say ‘the latest’ because 9 years after a previous outrage the suspects are still on trial!)

I still can’t comment on this except to hope that the Rail Authorities repair the damage quickly – these suburban trains are used by millions each day. Mumbai’s roads appeared to not be capable of carrying the traffic that existed when the rail system was intact so I don’t want to even think about what they’re like now.

I needed to extract some money from an ATM. The nearest ATM that would accept mastercard and maestro cards was at Kattappana. Ajeesh had some business there too so we drove there. This was the beginning of another Bruce-farce.
The drive to Kattappana almost empties the car’s tank. We have to buy a litre of petrol on the way to be sure we’ll get to Kattappana. This reduces our total liquid assets to around Rs70. This is not enough to buy sufficient petrol to even return to Nedumkandam.

I find that the State Bank of India ATM is out of order. Meanwhile Ajeesh is at his meetings and isn’t answering his phone. The SBI staff tell me that it will be out of use for several days and that the nearest SBI ATM is in Kumily, 30 km south.

Despite being fairly sure that the other ATMs (Union bank and Federal bank*) in Kattappana don’t accept mastercard or maestro, I trudge off to try them. I confirm they are useless to me and trudge back to the cybercafe’s building to meet Ajeesh. On the way I buy a parapuwada, leaving myself with Rs14.
*The do take Visa cards. Boo hiss!

Eventually Ajeesh returns to meet me at the cybercafe. He gives me Rs10 so I can check my email. We get a hurried lunch (chai and two more wada each) at a cafe in the cybercafe’s building and try to work out what to do. Without obtaining more rupees, we’re stuck in Kattappana. I decide to cash one of my few remaining traveller’s cheques. (I’d been hoping to keep these because ATMs may well be rare in Sumatra and entry officials like proof that visitors have funds.) I need to obtain more rupees than I have in TCs so I still need to visit an ATM.

I go back to the SBI and am told that this branch can’t cash TCs. The manager suggests I go to Muthoot Finance who will cash TCs and will give me a better rate than SBI can. Nice!

Muthoot Finance is in the cybercafe’s building, so back I go. The manager there is a very jolly chap and is keen to give me all sorts of information about the area. He gives me his card and says that I should show it to the management when I check in at the Cardomom County hotel: this will get me a good discount on the 80 UK pound per night cost. I still have the card: does anyone out there want it? The SBI folk were right about the rate – I get maybe RS1 per pound more than I was expecting.

Finally, with some real rupees in my hand we can return to the nearby petrol station and get enough to drive to Kumily and then back to Nedumkandam. The drive is along NH17 but this part hasn’t been resurfaced in ages and has more potholes than a teenager has acne. I fear for the car’s suspension and Ajeesh tells me that we’ll return by a different route.

At Kumily, I get the cash I need. We then drive around Kumily: because Ajeesh is organising a programme that involves the Deputy Director of Periyar Tiger Reserve (just outside Kumily) and he happens to be in Kumily, there’s a slim chance they can have a face-to-face meeting. However, because it’s after 6pm, we can’t find her at her office and there’s no answer when we go to her house, this falls through.

To return to Nedumkandam but avoid the horrible roads, Ajeesh decides to drive from Kumily into Tamil Nadu, head east as far as Cumbum and then go north again and get back into Kerala at the same latitude as Nedumkandam. We stop outside Cumbum so I can photograph some statues I’d seen when I came here earlier. I’m told by an old lady I meet there that they were erected by her son to gather donations for a local Ashram. She anoints my forehead with white powder and prays for me.

In Cumbum, we park at a real car-park (ticket, guards, the works!) and eat iddly sambar at a reasonable-looking vegetarian restaurant. We then drive back towards Nedumkandam. Ajeesh points out that the mountain roads in Tamil Nadu, even those that aren’t State or National highways, are much better than those in Kerala. Tamil Nadu mountain roads have edge-markers and intact road surfaces while Keralan roads are usually terrible.* Ajeesh believes that this is all thanks to the recently deposed Chief Minister, Jayalalithaa. He also says that Jayalalithaa’s rural loans policies are responsible for large agricultural improvements in Tamil Nadu: 15 years ago it grew nothing but rice and peanuts. Now it has coconuts and bananas which it used to import from Kerala, as well as grapes and other new crops. Kerala now has to import crops in which it was self-sufficient 15 years ago. I point out that a lot of Kerala, including his home, is fairly marginal land, while the population density is higher than most other states so that the state’s tax income is relatively reduced and has more marginal people to support. Also, I’ve read that Jayalalithaa is very corrupt and has tried to inculcate a cult of personality worse than Enver Hoxa’s! Ajeesh says that Tamil Nadu police ask for Rs5 bribes while Keralan police want bribes of scotch whisky. I have no answer to this.
*The NH-17 runs from Munnar, via Nedumkandam, to Kumily. It’s been resurfaced since I’ve been in Nedumkandam from Munnar to just south of Nedumkandam. I wish the plans included kerbstones: without them, I fear that the edges will erode and potholes will form far sooner than would otherwise occur. National Highways are planned by central government but constructed and maintained (supposedly) by state governments.

There are many checkpoints on the border – we pass through at least three, each supposedly checking for different things and in reality not even lowering their barriers. Just inside Kerala, we pick up a minister who is returning to Nedumkanadam. He passes forward a bag or fried and salted chickpeas – yum.

Back at the house, I eat while Ajeesh disappears. (He told me later that he’d been at Santosh’s house.) I try to stay awake so that the others aren’t woken when he returns and needs to be let in but fail and am soon in the land of nod.

Thursday 13th
Ajeesh again had business in and around Nedumkandam so I went with him to town. I blogged for a while and then decided I wanedt to upload some of the photos I took yesterday so that you, my beloved readers, can see them. My usual cybercafe has windows 98 PCs and a reasonable dial-up connection but I’ve found the drivers supplied with my card reader don’t work on their PCs. There is another cybercafe in town: its PC has Windows XP (so doesn’t need drivers) and a CD burner but it has a terribly slow and flaky dial-up connection. I realised I’d left my camera in the house so I walked back. Miracle of miracles: I don’t get rained on. At the house, Jaya served a lunch based on jackfruit (two different jackfruit curries, rice, sambal, pickles and bean ‘curry). Then Gopalkrishna returned from cutting grass for the cows and we talked about the forthcoming nuptials.

I returned to town around 4pm, promising to be back around 8pm. On the way, I passed many local children who were returning from school. Many of them enjoy calling out ‘hello-how-are-you?’ or ‘hello-what-is-you-name?’ – these seem to be the two english phrases that everyone learns by rote. I always answer, hoping that it will help them learn something and because they’re being friendly and enjoying themselves in a pleasant way.

I bought and posted a birthday-card and then walk through town to the XP-enabled cybercafe. There, I suffered a worse than usual connection and so wasn’t able to even write an email to a friend, let alone upload photos or work on DS’s essay. (I email successive versions to myself so that I can access them on any PC that can connect to the internet.) I made a couple of phonecalls and walked back to the house, arriving utterly soaked with rain and sweat about 8:05. Ajeesh was still away – he was organising the event that involves Periyar’s Deputy Director.

I see on IdukkiVision’s news report a piece about plastic litter and illegal use of land at a temple at the top of this suburb’s hill. Some of the photos used in the piece were taken by Ajeesh with my camera. I’m quite tickled that I’ve been able to contribute ever so slightly and pleased that Ajeesh’s efforts are getting some notice. (I seem to recall another piece earlier this week about the hooch-makers but that could be a false memory – there’s nothing about it in my diary.)

Friday 14th
Today Ajeesh and DS were to attend a Headmaster’s conference in Kattappana. Kattappana also has an ISDN-connected cybercafe with reasonable PCs running XP. (All but the server have had their CD drives removed.) So I’ve come with them to Kattappana and have blogged here while Ajeesh and DS attended the conference to tell the delegates about their project. The project is an anti-plastic litter/clean-up project. It will involve Periyar’s deputy director somehow. Also, DS has asked me to talk for 15 minutes at it. Errrrrrrrrrrr – nervous but I’ll do it!

Lunchbreak was a visit to the police canteen. I resisted temptation to bring out my cuddly pig and ask her where her uniform is but didn’t enjoy the experience at all. Now I’m going to get on with the essay and then return with Ajeesh and DS to Nedumkandam. By the way, I’ve found a mention of Nedumkandam online here. You can also get to a reasonably honest road map. (This one seems a little better.

Not sure about tomorrow – will let you know asap.

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