I was holding this entry back until I could add a photo of a map of Idukki’s panchayats. But this PC won’t accept my card reader, nor will it see the PC in this cybercafe that can accept the card reader, nor can I copy the image across on a floppy. Thwarp!
Tuesday 18th continued
On the way back up the hill, Ajeesh stopped to give a lift to a local panchayat member. There was a tense but blessedly non-shouted exchange between them. Ajeesh later told me that it was about a local boy who has a mental problem which needed treatment in Trivandrum (Kerala’s state capital, about 6 hour’s drive from here).
Ajeesh told me later that the talk was about getting the boy to Trivandrum. It’s supposedly the panchayat’s duty to organise this but this member was trying to offload the driving onto Ajeesh, without even offering payment for petrol. Ajeesh was very tired and had his hands full organising the schools event on the 25th. He did offer to contact his Red Cross colleagues at Trivandrum so that they could assist once the boy had got there. Just before we got to the house, we were passed by a jeep which turned out to be the boy’s journey starting off.
Incidentally, Ajeesh tells me that there are three levels of panchayat:
- gram panchayat, roughly equivalent to a suburban or village ward in the UK
- taluk panchayat, for a taluk (‘block’) of villages
- district panchayat, e.g. administering Idukki district.
The people elected to these different levels of panchayat are all called members, even when being polite. Here’s a wikipedia article I found about Keralan panchayats.
Above district panchayats are State governments, composed of MLAs (members of legislative assemblies). Above (and apparently often in conflict with) State governments is the ‘Centre’, i.e. the parliament (and hence the government, curently headed by Manhoman Singh of the Congress party) in New Delhi. (Parliament is composed of the Members of Parliament in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha.)
Finally, above all of this is
- the President, currently APJ Abdul Kalam. I hope he’s the only real person to have ever had a Blackadder 1 hairstyle but somehow I doubt it. He appears to be a strange mix: a strict vegetarian yet, during his civil career, responsible for part of India’s guided missles programme!
- The Supreme Court, trying to keep it all legal!
I’d spent quite a lot of dial-up time on Greenpeace’s website, identifying abstracts of research done by their labs which might be relevant to what I’m due to talk about on the 25th. However, the thought of downloading so many PDFs by dial-up scared the hairy wotsits out of me. I thought it might be better to go to Kattapana: theRs 27 and two hours on the bus would be amply made up for by the speed of their ISDN connectivity (and it’s Rs10 per hour cheaper than Nedumkandam’s dial-up anyway). Er, wrong! The local phone carrier and ISP (BSNL, the Indian government telecomms company) wasn’t playing in Kattappana today. I stayed until 5pm, hoping that the signal would come back but no such luck.
Instead I had a thoroughly enjoyable (even though otherwise unproductive) time, laughing and joking with the boys who run the cybercafe and their friends. I will post some digital evidence some time.
It also appears my ability to read Malayalam letters in improving slightly: I could tell that the first bus that passed me was bound for Kottayam (but didn’t know that it would pass through Kattappana on the way). Also I could read the sign across the mall from the cybercafe (Jeevan Homeo Clinic), the cybercafe’s own sign (Christ Internet Solutions) and a wall sticker for ‘Cyrix Systems and Solutions, KHB Shopping Complex, Kattappana’.
I admit that these are only transliterations and that going from spoken to written Malayalam is still nearly impossible for me – for example, there’s no difference I can hear between what are referred to as ‘da’, ‘ta’, ‘tha’ and ‘double-“tha”‘. However you may be interested to know the following transliterations:
- frogs = waalimaakri
- insects = cheevithu
- fireflies = minaminungu
- ettukali = spider
- poocha = cat!
On the bus back to Nedumkandam, I talked with a student whose parents are cardomom farmers. In the past 3 years, he tells me, prices for cardamom have fallen to a tenth of their former value (from Rs1000/kg to Rs100/kg). He told me that many people are turning to drink even though toddy, the cheapest alcohol available here, looks and tastes like fermented semen. I tried to ask if many people were tempted to grow other, potentially more profitable (but illegal) crops. Either he didn’t understand or didn’t want to say.
Back at Nedumkandam, there was a series of mix-ups as Ajeesh and I tried to meet up to go back to the house. However, it transpired that I may have made the first mistake by leaving Mini’s cafe, even though I phoned Ajeesh to tell him I was doing so. (She had a stormer of a headache, so I bought her some paracetamol and then left, thinking she would close the cafe.) Also, Ajeesh was suddenly called away to deal with another medical problem. He did try to phone me to tell me about this but apparently couldn’t get through.
We arrived back at the house after 10pm. Fortunately Jaya wasn’t awake or I’d have almost certainly received a ribbing for arriving much later than 9pm (as I’d told her earlier). I’m not bothered by being ribbed but I would have been bothered if she’d stayed awake to feed me or otherwise been inconvenienced.
Kattappana’s still diskonnekted so I’m slowly grunting though the greenpeace website at dial-up speed.