Bengaluru and Thiruvananthapuram – South India

Today is our last day in India with a farewell dinner tonight, and all of us are a little sad to be leaving but also excited to be heading for Sri Lanka tomorrow morning. This week, we’ve been in southern India, which differs from the north in language, food and culture. We spent 3 days in Bangalore and now 2 days in Thiruvananthapuram.

Our stay in Bangalore was kind of surreal because it was so short to begin with, and then our activities were disrupted by the terrorist attacks. The afternoon and night of the bomb blasts, everything was closed, but things pretty much returned to normal the following day. We heard later that another bomb was diffused the day after the original bombings, but there were no more injuries where we were. Sadly, though, more and larger bombs were set off in Ahmedabad, a city in Gujarat further north, the day after those in Bangalore, and at current count 46 people have died. Not only were bombs set off in heavily populated areas, some of them were set off in hospitals about a half hour after the original attacks, causing even more damage. I can hardly believe the cruelty of timing more attacks at places where the injured would be taken.

One of the Fulbright staff traveling with us made a very humbling comment. When asked if he had any family in Ahmedabad, he responded very sincerely, “All humans are my family.” Overwhelmingly, the people in India we have encountered are loving and tolerant people who are proud of their country’s religious diversity and who genuinely care about people regardless of religion. It makes me sad to see extremists causing pain and fear here. There have been some threats that more bombs will be set off in Kerala, and it said in the newspaper that security has been tightened throughout the region, but in our sheltered world of the resort that all seems distant. We do have to arrive at the airport a full hour and a half earlier tomorrow than scheduled due to security measures.

On our first afternoon in Bangalore, we had the pleasure of watching a performance of Yakshagana dance, the traditional dance of Karnataka. The dancers wear ornate costumes with bright colors and bells and tremendous headpieces and tell stories from classical texts. When I get back I’ll post some video so you can also get a sense of what the music is like.

The definite highlight of our stay in Bangalore was a home visit. In pairs, we had dinner with a family in the Bangalore area. I went on my visit with Yael Irom, another teacher in my group also from the Bay Area. Our hosts were a sweet Bengali woman named Sukla (pronounced Shookla) Data and her husband. Suklaji is a teacher at a primary school in Bangalore, and her husband is an engineer with Goodrich. They also invited over some guests, Suklaji’s boss, his wife, and their daughter. Yael and I had the best time. The Datas were so kind and intelligent. We talked about schools and food and the media, and we were completely at ease the entire time. And the food as amazing! Suklaji worked really hard to provide us with an impressive spread of Bengali food. Then, since I mentioned in my bio that’s in the Fulbright brochure about our group that I enjoy singing, and since our host is himself a musician, after dinner he pulled out his massive keyboard and harmonica and we sang some songs. I sang a couple of songs – a little Joni Mitchell is always a crowd-pleaser, and they busted out some Hindi songs, and we were all clapping and singing and laughing. Yael and I literally smiled for hours and could not stop grinning when we got into our car to take us back to the hotel. It was an excellent way to finish off our stay in Bangalore, especially given the darker events during our stay.

We are now in Thiruvananthapuram. The British, understandably having a hard time with the pronunciation, shortened it to Trivandrum, a name which Indians still use only to be kind to foreigners.  I can already say it like a pro.  Thiruvananthapuram is the capital of the state of Kerala (pronounced with the accent on the first syllable, CARE-a-la), which is in the very southernmost part of India along the Arabian Sea. Kerala is well-known for its beautiful beaches, and there are many resorts along the coast. As you fly in, there is forest as far as you can see, and as you get closer you realize that it is all palm trees. We are lucky enough to be staying at the Taj Green Cove Resort in Kovalam, just outside of Thiruvananthapuram, and it is amazing.

The swimming pool at our hotel with view of the Arabian Sea

Kerala is distinctive in India for its social development. The people of Kerala boast the highest standard of living in India as well as the highest literacy rates, at 91%. Kerala is also the only communist state in India, and you see the communist hammer and sickle painted on walls along the sides of roads, repeating one after the next for long stretches. This morning I saw a water truck with three symbols painted on it side by side – the Christian cross, the Om sign, and the Crescent moon.

Streetside in T-town

This morning, we had some lectures at the Center for Development Studies, a research and education facility, and all three provided us with a lot of information, but I was most interested in the presentation by J. Devika, who spoke about the many similarities between Kerala and Sri Lanka. She also spoke on how Kerala has changed in many ways over the past half century in terms of gender roles. Traditionally, Kerala was a matrilineal society with the woman as the head of the family, but no longer.

Kerala is also the setting of The God of Small Things, which is interesting for me. Tonight we’ll be attending a kathakali performance, the dance form that Rahel watches in the novel, which I’m looking forward to very much.

This afternoon, most of our group went on a canoe ride, but a few of us made arrangements to spend the afternoon with the hotel chef and had a little cooking course with Vineesh and Anbalagan. We learned how to make a few Kerala dishes – a fish curry, coconut rice and appamkadai, a bread similar to a dosa. Especially with the monsoon bringing heavy rain every couple of hours or so, it’s nice to stay in, sweat a little in a hairnet, eat some amazing food and to work a bit on my blog. Now, I’m going to go have a swim in the pool overlooking the Arabian Sea and generally be grateful for being here.

me, Daniel, Julie and the chefs

Bangalore police motorcycle

Scaffolding, old school

At the Science and Technology museum

Another lovely reading moment, in the back corner of a museum in Bangalore

2 Responses to “Bengaluru and Thiruvananthapuram – South India”

  1. Barbara Says:

    I’m so happy to hear that the home visit was so special – I smiled when I read you sang some Joni. The view from the swimming pool is amazing.
    To be able to see the Arabian sea must truly be breathtaking.

  2. Melissa Says:

    I just saw your readings page… might I suggest A Fine Balance, by Rohinton Mistry, set in Mumbia? A heartbreaker but fine book!

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