Thursday, December 13, 2012

The answer is: Indianize!

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That's how to survive happily in India: Indianize. Watch and learn - crossing the road, navigating crowds, queueing, eating thali and a hundred other things: when in Kochi do as the Keralans.

Previously in India I have chosen a spot where I can chill out and do the Indianizing at a gentle pace. First time: Kovalam beach; second time: Varkala beach; third time: Bharatpur Bird Reserve. Not so much this time. Objective 1 being to sort out my teeth, I came straight to Cochin/Kochi. Not too challenging in fact but not a beach resort or a nature reserve - in fact pretty urban, particularly on the "mainland" side.

Indian Eyes: hmmm! How easy to forget their power; how quick to be reminded. No wonder they're highlighted in film, no wonder they're exploited in life. Including in reproof: a woman on the train stretching her eyes at me across 10 metres of compartment as if to say, I assume:"You're staring". Honest, ma'am, I wasn't - just half-asleep after a long flight and moving slowly, eyes, everything!

Arriving in the middle of the night worked out quite well. India in my face (from the moment I stepped from the terminal and into the hordes massing around the arrivals exit) but muted being 4-ish in the morning. Streets empty but looking like a war zone. Railway station floor like a night shelter dorm: bodies everywhere. Long queues at the ticket hatches, even before 5 a.m., but moving along well. Lucked onto a train almost immediately, although its progress north from Trivandrum was spasmodic at times. No matter - time to really land, time to snooze, attune, adjust to the "ambient pace", wake slowly to a fiery dawn over the backwaters and coconut groves half hiding their gaudy villas - and get caught "staring".

A lot has changed in 7 years, a lot has stayed the same. The change is that some people have money - cars, motorbikes, iphones, smart clothes. The same is what you might call eternal India, except that some things (the rubbish!) only accumulates. The change and the same was symbolized at the airport: large slick new building but behind the doors, in the loos, nothing was working!

Kerala still seems gently good-natured, educated, happy. People look well, almost glossy with it. Me, however, I'm half-way to a bit-part in a horror movie, the prep part for my dental work being half finished. I keep the fang stumps hidden in case of emergencies - a quick snarl might unsettle the unwary. Another day or two of tooth torture (9 teeth in all) and then a few days waiting for the caps to be made. A gamble I know: I remember that it takes a while to adjust to a friend's new look even when changes to the familiar "mask" are ever so slight. Unconsciously we seem to store quite a precise image of our nearest and little changes still register. In my case I will look at bit different whatever but 9 teeth up front were getting pretty distressed and worn down. Hopefully by Monday I'll be fit to smile properly again.

On the move, more things seem to happen (chatting to a 28 y-o authoress on the plane, getting into trouble with security guards on the beach when I crossed some invisible line, people-watching on the sunset promenade, finding one's way on unknown paths, watching the white herons perched on floating weed as their vantage point or some likely lad videoing the passing water on his smartphone, oblivious to the risk of sudden loss into the wake of the ferry, reading the unintentionally amusing notices e.g. some tour recommended by Risky Agency, Finland etc., 100 little incidents every day. Oh yes, and on the flight Abu Dhabi to Trivandrum, someone tried smoking in the loo. Guess what nationality! I was in there right after him: phew! He got soaked by some automatic sprinkler facility: ha!) Of course things happen at home but, because they're familiar and habitual, they don't figure as happenings, I suppose. The lesson is being in the present, I know, but ..

Suffice to say I'm happy to be back again and not just to be out of the ice and into the swelter, although that helps too.


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