From Kochi we have headed south. Kerala is a beautiful place, all lush and green. It was lovely to journey through the small roads with the coconut palms and glowing green foliage. Not entirely different from other parts of India but it feels quite a bit more tropical anyway. Certainly the heat and humidity is cranking up although that is largely due to the change of seasons. I have been in north India before around April/May and I know it gets hideously hot. That’s something to look forward to, not.
Among the many sights that is striking is Indian men often hold hands when they are walking together. This is not a sign of a same sex relationship but quite a common thing, more an expression of friendship. It is a strange thing at first but easy to get used to. It is common in many cultures around the world and was once quite common in Western societies especially in the nineteenth century. It can look a bit incongruous when you see a man in western dress holding hands with his friend wearing a short mundu (local skirt).
The mundu or its close relatives, the dhoti and lungi, are very common dress in Kerala. I’m not sure if I have an exact handle on the difference among them. It probably relates to length, style and colour. “When unbleached, the mundu is called “neriyathu”. In modern times, two types of mundu are prevalent—the single and the double. A single mundu is draped once around the waist, while the double is folded in half before draping. A mundu is usually starched before use.” Then we start on the lungi: “In Kerala the Lungi, locally known as Kaili or Kalli Mundu, is worn by both men and women. It is considered a casual dress or working dress of labourers. Most men in Kerala use lungi as home dress or sleep dress. Lungis are generally colourful, and with varying designs. Lungis are not used during occasions such as weddings or other religious ceremonies.” Thank you Wikipedia for that info, further reading is here. I’m still confused personally but suffice to say that blokes in this part of the world wear skirts and seem to prefer it to western trousers most of the time. This is not surprising considering it is stinking hot. I don’t think I’ll be making the switch just yet.
Indians in the sea are an ongoing source of fascination to me. I think I have written about this before. As an Australasian, I have a distinct relationship with the sea. I love to swim in it, preferably playing in the waves. That is in my DNA, from childhood that was our beach culture. Swimming was regarded as a life skill that everyone should learn. It was funny to see Europeans in Goa lazing endlessly on their beach lounges just looking at the sea. They only occasionally venture into the sea and only when it’s not too “rough”. That is when there are waves of any sort. I struggle to spend hours at the beach as much as I love it. But it is nice to enjoy the sea. Indians on the other hand are a different bunch again. Many of them can’t swim of course and to see them in places like Goa and Kerala as visitors borders on the comical. Beachwear is pretty much unknown to them so they frolic in the shallows in their clothes. I loved to show off in the sea by catching wave while bodysurfing which is often met with gawping stares by wading Indians. Also at the pool in our apartments I would jump in and do a four lap medley again to gawping stares.
Kerala has had Communist Party led governments on and off since the 1950’s. They are certainly influenced by these ideas but function mostly as a reformist, democratic socialist style government. The flags with hammers and sickles can be seen in many places and there are some more festive and stylistic interpretations to be found on the walls in some villages. The history is rather convoluted with various factions and splits of the Indian Communist Party forming coalition fronts with other left wing parties to form governments over the years. Either way, Kerala has the highest literacy rate in India, 95% vs 74% for the country as a whole. Overall, Kerala scores relatively high on the Human Development Index compared with many other states in India and other countries. The reasons are mixed and debatable. Left leaning governments have focused on healthcare, education, women’s rights, basic infrastructure and sanitation with consequent positive results. But Kerala appears to have strong grassroots organisations that are active and successful. Many Keralans have benefited from working in the Gulf however their success there can also be attributed to higher standards of education.
Kerala is a lovely part of India for a variety of reasons but it has an interesting political history and has achieved some success in human development that outstrips much of the rest of the Indian subcontinent.
See photos of Kerala at https://easytravellerdotnet.wordpress.com/kerala/