Posted by: cochinblogger | July 31, 2017


I was in a bar. Sitting opposite me was a regular with whom I had developed a casual acquaintanceship, amounting to nothing more than a few words exchanged each time we happened to bump into each other at our favorite watering hole. Bars used to get crowded in the evenings (no longer true with the semi-prohibition in force today), and one often had to share the table with strangers — which is how conversations began, sometimes producing a companionship of sorts.

The man opposite me was describing the virtues of the bar we were in, contrasting it with the bar we used to visit before the advent of the semi-prohibition, which restricted most bars to serving nothing stronger than beer. "The touchings here are great!" he exclaimed. I was puzzled. It wasn't a word I was familiar with. He must have read my face, because he elaborated by listing his favorite snacks served in this bar. It was then that I understood what "touchings" meant. Food. Subsequently, I heard others use the word and was able to home in on a more precise meaning: "Light snacks." The precise English equivalent, I suppose, is hors d'oeuvres. "Touchings" is the word below "CLOCK" on the signboard in the photo above.

One of the favorite English words used in Kerala in everyday conversation is "glamor." It is the word tossed teasingly — sometimes even mockingly — at someone who is dressed to kill for the evening. "Glamor" is a right-proper English word; "touchings" is not in the dictionary. I wondered about its etymology. Why "touchings"? Perhaps because they are typically small pieces picked up with the tips of the fingers and deposited in the mouth in one rapid movement; so quick is the passage from plate to mouth that the food is barely touched in the process.

Hence, touchings. If you have a better explanation, I'd like to hear it.

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Posted by: cochinblogger | June 26, 2017

Eid Mubarak 2017


28 June Update:

It occurred to me after posting this that the photo tells a little story. The man looks away from the camera. He seems a little aggrieved. Moments earlier, camera in hand, I'd asked his permission to take a photo. A little aggressively, he asked: "Why?" I smiled to try and disarm him and said, "You all make such a nice picture." He then gave his grudging assent and nodded to his sons to look at the camera. But as is clear from the photo, it is an instruction he himself did not follow.

The boy at the extreme right is not looking at the camera either; he is looking at his father for guidance on what he should do. He knows that his father is not at ease. The youngest boy, in the center, is not sure what to make of this unexpected entrance of a stranger-cameraman in his life, but he gazes at the camera with the innate curiosity of the very young of all species. He is reassured by the firm grip of his father on his hand. The boy on the left is secure of his place in the universe — he welcomes this deviation from the routine with a warm smile.

Let me make it very clear that I am not annoyed bythe father's "civil disobedience" — I would be as suspicious if I were in his place. One cannot be too careful these days. I thank you, sir, for rising above your natural caution and allowing me to take this beautiful photo of a father and his three young sons, resplendent in their new clothes, on their way to a prayer or celebration on an Eid morning.

Eid mubarak!

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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


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


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.


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!


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.

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


 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??

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