Category Archives: India

The Spirit of Giving

If you’re gonna choose one charity donation site at which to throw down your hard-earned, choose GiveIndia. This was hastily posted so that American donors could get tax breaks by donating before the end of 2010; nevertheless, it’s the most impressive charity site I’ve come across.

I injected myself into the story by recounting my meeting with a friendly, unassuming Texan in Subway.

Don Iverson was tall, bearded and topped by an impressive wide-brimmed hat, but from the moment he introduced himself, ‘cowboy’ was the last word on my mind. He told me that he was a businessman and artist, visiting India from Tennessee, and listened intently to my story of what I was doing in Kerala.

After some time, he somewhat bashfully revealed that he and his wife have established orphanages in south India, and that is his main purpose for being here – and what keeps him coming back.

Read more at The NRI…

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A Muslim Marriage in Kerala

I’ve been to more weddings in Kerala than I can count, but probably the most memorable was the single Muslim marriage I attended. Apart from the fact that it was of a faith that I have had little contact with, there were a few other things that made it stand out to me personally.

All the preparation was done with an overriding calmness and lack of fuss, even by Shibu as he flitted from station to station checking on progress and performing all unfilled tasks. This carried through to the next day, when I was asked to join the men of the family as they travelled to the groom’s house and formally invited them to come for the ceremony. Before that, however, came an important prayer to remind everyone that we owe all of this to Allah and hope that he will bless the occasion. A priest led our select group, sitting in a rough circle on plastic chairs in Shibu’s yard, his voice deep and barely above a whisper. As he gently intoned his words of praise, the other men quietly responded with ‘Insh’Allah’ and other phrases where appropriate. These were a few moments of near stillness and utter peace; all sounds in the neighbourhood seemed to cease.

Read more at The NRI…

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Do You Understand Malayalam?

My efforts to learn Malayalam have been pretty minimal. In two years, I know maybe 100 words and about three points of grammar. This isn’t because it’s one of the hardest languages in the world to learn, as I am often told; it’s because everyone speaks English. Thinking about my (lack of) Malayalam ability led me to consider its wider value, and also to think about how there is one language I have picked up since being here: Kerala English.

If I speak with my normal accent – Kiwi with flat vowels and mumbling at a mile a minute – very few are likely to understand. Instead, I’ve adopted a kind of attempted Malayali accent, and often seek assistance from my colleagues in perfecting it. For example, the number ‘twelve’ more closely resembles ‘toll’, while ‘po-TAY-to’ becomes ‘PO-te-to’ (needless to say, these are very rough approximations). It’s a source of great amusement for the others at work, and a genuinely valuable communication tool when speaking to a stranger or asking for something in a shop.

Read more at The NRI…

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Mumbai’s Dark Glory

This is a new one, published Today Itself. My first night in Mumbai, we went down to Colaba and visited two of the city’s most emblematic landmarks, the Gateway of India and the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel, both of which were stamped with violence on 26 November 2008. The city gave me a small lesson that night.

This was in early December 2010, just over two years since the terror attacks in South Mumbai that have become known as 26/11. Not such a long time, really. “Imagine, they came right up through here,” said Isha, looking through the arch to the harbour on the other side. “And over there,” said Jag, pointing off to the left at a small mooring on the edge of the concrete expanse. It was, in fact, very difficult to imagine. I’ve never had to deal with any kind of large-scale violence in my life; my only frames of reference for gun-toting commandos on the charge come from television news and action films.

Read more at The NRI…

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The Indian North/South Divide

It’s a bit like the difference between the North Island and South Island in NZ. Or Eastern and Western Europe. India has an arbitrary border somewhere in the middle; what lies to the north is designated as North India, while everything south is considered to be South India. Yeah, there are differences, but should we really be that bothered?

Living as I do in Kerala, I have picked up many more arguments for the South than the North. For example: The North is dirty; the South is clean. The North is more poverty-stricken; the South is more affluent. The North is more illiterate; the South is more educated. The North is corrupt; the South is… less corrupt. On the flip side: the North is more liberal and varied; the South is more conservative and uniform. The North is more cultured; the South less so.

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The Competitive Indian

One night after our finishing our dinner at a ‘kwality’ dining establishment in Kazhakuttam, near Thiruvananthapuram’s Technopark, my colleague and I were waiting in his car for a break in traffic. In the twenty seconds we were stationary, I saw:

  • a motorcycle in the centre of the road whip across in front of a speeding bus;
  • an Ambassador taxi, with its wheels half on the road and half on the dirt beside it, speed at 60 km/h alongside the slighty slower-moving traffic;
  • and an autorickshaw drive the wrong way down the highway until it could pull across to the correct lane.

I remarked to my colleague that people sure are in a hurry in India. “Mmm,” he acknowledged thoughtfully as he inched the car backwards into the chaos. “We’re so impatient,” he said, forcing a space in traffic by jutting the rear of the car out into the road so other motorists had to veer around us. He turned to me and laughed. “Even I am like that! And I don’t know why.” The way somewhat cleared, we sped off on the way back to work.

…read more at The NRI…

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The Kerala Wedding Experience II: Christian

My mind soon drifted away from comparisons as I understood that in Kerala, a Christian wedding is all about devotion. It is less a celebration of two lives and families coming together as it is a testament to God’s glory at allowing them to reach this point in their lives. No less than four priests held court before the happy couple, all dressed in flowing robes of white/black/red and suitably official headgear, as verse after verse was recited to the letter. The church itself was grand in that impeccably Christian way: imposing purely for the height of its ceiling, all angles, points and wings, but certainly not wanting for ornate carvings and elaborate stained glass windows.

…read more at The NRI…

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The Land of Open Expression

Over in the central Palace Hall, there seemed to be more of a calm that befitted such a princely and tradition-filled room. I remained there for the rest of the weekend as part of an extraordinarily varied audience. There were: distinguished local retirees with a passion for language; twentysomething Malayali men asking me for my mobile number within minutes of meeting; young tourists in summer dresses and sunglasses; local professionals, well groomed and dressed; adolescent children sitting unusually still; fellow resident foreigners of all backgrounds; and many of the authors themselves, catching another speaker’s session.

…read more at The NRI…

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Your Moment of Horror is Waiting

It begins with a gold-tinged scene of a waterway at dawn. Burnt-out husks of dead trees rise from the water like the Devil’s fingers – and after more than ten seconds, one of them moves! The landscape is alive! Run for your lives! It is in fact a humanoid figure, long-legged and brandishing a spear. There are no signs that it will be aggressive, but one senses that it might become so at any moment.
WHAT THIS MEANS: Welcome to Kerala.

…read more at The NRI…

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Being Changemakers with CRY: Child Rights and You

The biggest barrier to undertaking activism often isn’t a lack of desire. For example, India is a nation of desperate and disadvantaged children, but the apathy towards their dire situation isn’t based purely in a disinterested and uncaring middle class; it’s also the product of a society who have given up on idealism, perhaps wanting to help but not seeing any practical way to help, and ultimately hoping that somebody else will clean up the mess. With millions of children in need on the streets of India’s metros and all over the country, airline purser Rippan Kapur decided he wanted to do something about it. He decided to found an organisation that wouldn’t simply get their hands dirty for the sake of child rights; they would provide a base for volunteers everywhere to effect positive change. In 1979, with six friends and a base fund of just 50 rupees, he set up CRY: Child Rights and You.

…read more at The NRI…

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