Posted by: cochinblogger | July 10, 2009

The Blue-Veined Beauty

Hi, this is Cochin Blogger at your service. I’m based in a town called Cochin (officially, Kochi) in the state of Kerala, which is perched at the southern-most tip of India. It’s just a stone’s throw from Sri Lanka, and is famous for its unique natural beauty. Kerala is a slim, blue-veined beauty, with canals, backwaters, lagoons, rivers, lakes, ponds, and puddles galore, a thin strip of land caressed by the waters of the Arabian Sea.

Kerala’s trademark is tropical fecundity. It’s a paradise that is still largely unspoiled because of the low level of industrialization. Kerala first hit the international headlines when it voted the communists to power in 1957, this being only the second time communists anywhere in the world have formed a popularly elected government (the first time was in the tiny republic of San Marino).

Right, I’m signing off now. I’ll be sure to keep you posted. 🙂

Posted by: cochinblogger | June 26, 2017

Eid Mubarak 2017

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Posted by: cochinblogger | June 21, 2017

Relentless Search for the Perfect Adjective

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Posted by: cochinblogger | June 16, 2017

The Reluctant Spidermen

Houses in Kerala have traditionally been built with sloping tiled roofs. Then the British came and built their bungalows the way they did back home, with flat roofs. The result was perhaps predictable: flat roofs became a status symbol. Locals began copying this new style, and houses with flat roofs proliferated throughout the state. However, it soon became evident that the flat roof was an unwise choice: rainwater accumulated on the roof, causing seepage and leakage problems. Our ancestors must have learned from bitter experience that in a wet state like Kerala, the sloping roof is a wise design choice.

Our house is old and has a flat roof, with the result that we had a serious leakage problem on our hands after we moved in. Water dripped onto the dining table, and walls became damp. We called experts, who came brandishing magic potions which they applied on the roof, but nothing worked. Water invariably found an invasion route. Bitumen sounded promising, but its application was a prohibitively messy affair. Finally, I took the easy way out: an aluminum super-roof was erected over the flat roof. This was a technique that was then becoming popular in the city as a reliable solution to the leakage problem in houses.

The man who fabricated and installed our aluminum roof, Joseph, did it single-handedly. Today, more than twenty years later, the roof is still going strong, and I have not had to repair it even once. I'm thankful to Joseph for his recommendation to use the more expensive aluminum rather than iron, on grounds of long life. A neighbor has had to replace several sheets of his iron roofing on account of rust; I thanked Joseph mentally as I saw this work in progress.

Joseph was a small-statured man, very nimble on his feet. He sprang and swung like a monkey around the roof as it came up. I remember the alarm I felt when I watched him once walk on a newly erected sheet to its very edge, lie down, and work on a truss below, more than half his body dangling over the edge, sometimes holding onto a post with one hand and sometimes wedging a foot behind it. He had no safety equipment. When I asked him about the risk, he just laughed. This is typical of the lackadaisical attitude to safety in India: we'd rather cut a few corners than do it the right way. Joseph, thanks to his years of experience, could get away with it, but the construction sector in Kerala today employs young migrant workers, many of whom have very little relevant work experience and are trained on the job instead. Sadly, tragic accidents happen regularly. A momentary lapse of concentration, a misstep, a sweaty palm — any of these can precipitate a deadly plunge from the heights. Joseph operated on my roof like the man in the photo below, who is doing the same job: erecting a metal rain shelter for the house.

The photo that tops this post shows a young worker at a dangerous height without safety equipment. This is not bravado; he has no choice, as he has a living to make. If he is a migrant, an outsider, he is at the mercy of the contractor and is even more helpless than a local. Today, migrants make up much of the labor pool in the state. With the current construction boom, all you need to do to spot a reluctant Spiderman when walking the streets is to look up.

And the rules on worker safety? Ha, ha, ha! They are not worth the paper they are written on; contractors flout them with impunity, and those charged with enforcing the rules must have been given good reasons to look the other way.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | June 13, 2017

A Conclave of Monsoon Clouds over Willingdon Island

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I shot this from Subhash Park. Yes, the monsoon is well and truly here!

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Posted by: cochinblogger | May 31, 2017

A Game of Chess on Marine Drive

Posted by: cochinblogger | April 30, 2017

Mobile Bath

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We are in the midst of a burning summer in Cochin. Many rivers have dried up, and the state has been declared drought hit. The land of 44 rivers is parched. That one of the wettest states in the country — indeed, the state where the monsoon is born — should be reduced to this ignominy underscores the seriousness of the problem.

In this kind of weather, one must be careful about venturing out without protection. Heat stroke is a real danger. I always carry an umbrella, and on a hot day when the autos were on strike, I had to walk to a distant shop to make some purchases and then return home on foot. It was a daunting prospect, and as the first wave of heat hit me when I stepped out, I felt like turning back. But I was on a vital provision-stocking mission and so had to plough on. Provisions purchased, I was trudging homeward, perspiration seemingly pouring from every pore in my body, when I spotted the van (see photo above).

My first thought was these good samaritans were offering baths to people like me battling the heat on the roads — and indeed, if that were the case, I'd have signed up for a mobile bath, so great was my need for relief from the relentless heat. However, after reading the fine print, I wised up. No, the van was on a mission alright, but not the mission I'd imagined. The van, operated by the Sehiyon Missionaries (a Kerala-based ministry, as I learned by Googling), offered a bath and haircut to the homeless on the street.

Within a few minutes, I was witness to the operation, as illustrated in the photo below.

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The poor chap seemed grateful for the haircut. After the haircut, he would be treated to a bath in the van and a change of clothes. Truly a noble endeavor!

A few years ago, I'd posted on something similar: The Hobo Washers. I now regret the critical tone I used in that post.

As long as the haircut and bath are not imposed on a person against his or her will, it's a service to those whose home is the streets.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | March 28, 2017

Viva Fidel!

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Fidel Castro is hugely popular in Kerala, so this should not have come as a surprise. Still, it was an unexpected, startling sight. I pass that building often, and the last person I expect to see on the balcony is — Fidel.

I applaud the creative spirit of whoever placed it here. This looks like a scene from Havana. The dilapidated building adds to the effect.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | March 21, 2017

The Art of the Whistler

Reading this article on whistling (see linked article below) reminded me of my father, who was a skilled whistler. He used to whistle when he’d finished with the newspaper, and when he needed a break from reading a book or his research work. His repertoire consisted of film songs and national anthems. There is this to be said for whistling: with the exceptions of the lusty wolf whistle and the peremptory whistling of uniformed authority in the person of the policeman, security guard, and bus conductor, it is nearly always cheerful.  No wonder my father sounded happy when he whistled. I, alas, am no whistler, though I did make valiant attempts as a boy.  

I’d no idea that a “whistling community” and whistling clubs and international whistling competitions existed, but what do I know? Very little, I think. For example, it was only today that I learned from a television program that there is a species of monkey with blue testicles, a stand-out vivid blue. It makes me happy to know that people with this skill (just to be absolutely clear, the skill I refer to here is whistling, not the sprouting of blue testicles) band together and celebrate their art with get-togethers and competitions. May a wave of public interest catch these whistlers and lift them to recognition, fame, and fortune. One breakout performance on TV may be all that it takes.

An excerpt from the article and the article link follow:

Last July, the country’s whistling community had one of its proudest moments; many Indian whistlers—including seven from the IWA and four from Whistling World, another organisation—travelled to the World Whistlers Convention in Kawasaki, Japan. Three Indians won awards there: Tarkas in the contest for senior citizens; Nikhil Rane in the “Hikifuki” category, in which one must accompany one’s whistling by playing an instrument; and Shweta Suresh in two categories—including one for which she whistled while dancing Bharatanatyam. 


http://www.caravanmagazine.in/lede/india-competitive-whistling

Footnote: Why, oh, why did evolution deprive us humans of that potent style statement, a pair of blue testicles? They would’ve added much-needed color to a man’s life — besides attracting wolf whistles.

Posted by: cochinblogger | March 20, 2017

No Open Trails, Please

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 Mysterious notices have always intrigued me. The imperative in the above notice, “do not trail open place,” threw me off for a couple of minutes. Then the light dawned. 

Can you figure it out? Treat it as a challenge in visual detection. To help you, I’ve left in some clues in the above photo. Familiarity with Indian English will help. 

Note the setting. The clothes strewn carelessly on the bench and the “SIZE 40” indicate that we are at a clothes sale. That’s an important clue to help decode the baffling word “trail” in the notice. Got it? The notice writer was aiming for “trial.” The space curtained off to the left is a makeshift trial room where prospective customers can try out clothes. Is the meaning of the notice clear now?!

It’s interesting sometimes to think about the event that led to a notice being put up. Drafting a notice, printing it out, and putting it up consumes time, energy, and money. A good reason must exist to justify this investment. Why would the proprietor bother to put up such a notice? You see, there would usually be a queue in front of the trial room, and some impatient types must have not bothered to wait to get in. I doubt if anyone would have dropped their pants, but not all bare hairy chests evoke the body beautiful. Perhaps a sensitive lady complained. This is the kind of thought experiment I embark on sometimes when confronted with notices on doors, walls, and notice boards. 

On the door of a college staff room I once saw a notice typed in big bold capital letters: “DO NOT ENTER WITHOUT KNOCKING.” I could not help but wonder what event triggered the notice. Did a student walk in without knocking and stumble upon an embarrassing scene? 

Maybe even a compromising scene??

Posted by: cochinblogger | February 25, 2017

The Pink Patrol

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Kerala sets itself unapologetically apart from the rest of the country in more than a few ways. One, a long-standing cosmopolitan tradition, thanks to well-documented flourishing trade ties from time immemorial with Rome, Greece, China, Arabia, Africa, etc., has vaccinated the region against the kind of reflexive cultural insularity that is the norm elsewhere. A snapshot of Kerala society taken a few centuries CE would show a vigorous multiculturalism, with Jainism, Buddhism, Hinduism, Christianity, Islam, and Judaism, besides the nameless ancient Dravidian religion that predated Hinduism, both living and letting live as well as competing — largely peacefully, if not creatively — for influence.

Two, it is a curious fact that Kerala alone among all the Indian states has more females than males in its population. This, I think, is atypical in any part of the world; the general norm is for males to outnumber females. When viewed against the backdrop of the grim situation in some other parts of the country, where the preference for the male child is so well entrenched that even abortion of the female fetus and infanticide are accepted, this achievement is even more remarkable. It is also a fact that women in Kerala have many laurels to boast of, from the first female judge in the country (Anna Chandy) to the first woman Surgeon General of India (Mary Lukose). There are also outstanding achievements in athletics. However, perhaps most noteworthy today is the banding together of women into the collective called Kudumbashree, which empowers women through self-help income generation activities. The project has proved to be a stupendous success, and government officials come from all over the world to study its functioning.

However, Indian society is conservative and patriarchal, and Kerala is no exception. Women are largely subservient to males in the social sphere. As in all conservative, patriarchal societies, female sexuality is strictly controlled, and so free mixing between the sexes is looked upon with suspicion. The result is a population that is sexually repressed, a repression at odds with the blatant display of sexuality today in cinema, advertisements, television, and the Internet. A spurt in cases of child sexual abuse, sexual harassment, molestation, stalking, rape, etc., is a country-wide trend. Crime against women is, of course, a worldwide phenomenon, but some horrific features of such crimes are seen only in India (or perhaps in other Southeast Asian countries too). One is violence by a jilted "lover" inflicted on a girl who has rejected his suit. The punishment is often death, but sometimes acid is thrown on the girl's face, disfiguring her for life. It is difficult to believe love was present at all when it can morph so quickly into this kind of bestiality. A root cause of this thirst for revenge on the part of the male when he is rejected is the sense of male privilege that is inherent in conservative, patriarchal societies. An excerpt from this article on stalking (Lurking in the Shadows) hits the nail on the head:

Jaishankar feels the patriarchal structures in the value system of certain countries allow stalkers to rationalise their actions. "Even if the west is patriarchal, it is not in the same sense. Here, there is a preconceived notion that women are inferior," he said. "That is fostered from childhood. If the boy in the house wants a sweet, his mother and grandmother make it right away. He is prioritised over his sister, because she will go off to another house, whereas he is the one who will transmit the genes to the next generation. So when he likes a girl, he thinks of her as the sweet-and when she rejects him, his ego cannot handle it. He wants to destroy her by taking her beauty with acid, or her life."

One response of the authorities to the vulnerability of women has been to pass laws that prescribe stringent penalties for crimes against women. In this category would come The Protection of Women from Domestic Violence Act, the expansion of the definition of rape in 2013, the banning of fetal gender determination, etc. Another woman-friendly measure that was recently adopted in some Kerala cities is illustrated in the photo that heads this post: the Pink Patrol. These patrol cars are operated by specially trained women police officers, and their role is to respond to threats to women in public spaces. An example of how this works: Driver Charged for Passing Lewd Comments on Woman.

One thing is certain: nothing fundamental will change as long as the sense of male entitlement instilled in boys in childhood by their families remains intact. It is their upbringing that needs to change.

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