Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Farewell to India


(Feb. 15) Always interesting to return to where you started—the Cochin Airport—and feel how you have changed in just one week. Hit that traveler’s stride, acclimated mind and body, traded the excitement of newness for the comfort of familiarity. When we first planned this trip, I was worried about the length—was a mere five days in Kerala enough? As these entries show, each day was like a week or two of normal life, so dense, so intense, so filled to the brim. Of course, there was always more we could have done—sought out an all-night Kathakali, gone up to the Periyar Wildlife Preserve and Tea plantations, taken some more maddalam lessons. But it felt simply perfect as it was.

Kerala has long had some notable statistics. It ranks as the most densely populated state in India, the poorest, the most literate and highly educated, the best health care and the only one to elect a communist government (Images of Che are next to Krishna, Lakshmi, Jesus and more). But some statistics are deceiving. The poverty, both in the 70’s and now, did not feel like the grinding sort, shanty towns next to high-rise hotels. More like an across-the-board simple life style with mostly enough to eat and good shelter. I see more homeless people in San Francisco than I saw in our five days in Kerala. And no question that the population is dense—hardly a moment without large crowds of people. But again, not the overflowing cities and sparse villages, more like a steady stream of towns and villages, one running into the other. Most people we met had two or three children, so there seems to be a conscious effort to contain population. No doubt that the sheer number of people is a challenge that must be answered.

I’m trying to break my bad habit of romanticizing the places and cultures historically put down by “first-world cultures.” No place on earth is “THE model” for how to live on this earth—each has its gifts and shadow sides. But if Kerala is far from paradise, there is still much to admire. The connection to the land mentioned earlier, the vibrant art, music, dance and theater forms, the living festival life, the delicious cuisine, the relative harmony in which Hindus, Muslims and Christians live side-by-side, the kindness to strangers. I returned here worried that we would find the Kerala we loved irreversibly gone, We needn’t have feared. It is still there. It is a worthy name of a first daughter. 

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