It starts as soon as I open the door: that bizarre, enigmatic sensation of being somewhere utterly contradictory. The Subway restaurant on the edge of Trivandrum’s Technopark campus is the only American chain restaurant for literally hundreds of miles around, and this makes it both the starkest example of Western influence on life in Kerala and the most jarring collision between that influence and the steadfast conservatism of this corner of India. The restaurant is right next to the building in which I work, so today I’ve decided to spend my lunch break there.
The music always hits me first. No Bollywood vocoders or Malayali whistles here: the dial is always tuned to an American radio station, generally near full volume. As I walk in, a track by one of my favourite groups, Arcade Fire, blasts out of the PA – a group I don’t think I’ve even heard in restaurants back in NZ, let alone in India. “I woke up with the power out! Not really something to shout about!” shrieks singer Win Butler as I walk to the vegetarian counter. Living as I do in rural Kerala, this line is peculiarly apt.