Yes, we are back in Cochin, Kerala where we spend our winters away from the frigid temperatures of Virginia. I start every trip with a sense of dread over the the long flight from the US to India – a good 17 hours of flying time – but once I am here there is almost a sense of exhilaration. This is all the more remarkable given that I have spent very little time in India over the course of my life and even less time in Kerala. So I am not able to explain the attraction that Kerala has for me. It is clearly not just the warm weather – since there are other places in the US and elsewhere that offers the same.

With each trip there is exposure to the positives and negatives of living in Kerala. I am overwhelmed by the friendliness of relative strangers who I encounter during my morning and evening walks – not just friendliness but a warmth that is just extraordinary, especially for someone who has spent much of his life in the West. We routinely get invited by strangers we meet to come and visit them at their homes – and these are not just courtesy invitations but are quite genuine. When we have occasionally responded to such invitations we have been treated with a warmth and hospitality that clearly suggests that they are glad we came to visit them. On a train journey from Cochin to Trivandrum, I was seated next to this middle-aged gentleman and while conversing with him he informed me that his daughter was getting married in about a week’s time – and not long thereafter he invited us to attend his daughter’s wedding and the reception indicating that it would be an honor if we would join them for the happy occasion. We declined the invitation pleading a conflict but the invitation was sincere and I was a little flabbergasted by it – again relating it to Western norms where such invitations are given quite selectively.

My natural sense of caution when I receive such invitations causes me to wonder whether there is some hidden agenda ….. and I am pleasantly surprised to find there is none.

Then there are the more “interesting” situations which would be viewed as offensive in the West but is accepted as the norm in Kerala. I was walking one evening shortly after we arrived here when we ran into one of our neighbors originally from Tamil Nadu who greeted me warmly and smilingly proceeded to tell me: “you have become fat!” – and asked me whether I had stopped walking regularly like I used to do. He was certainly correct that I had put on a few pounds and he certainly did not mean to be offensive – it was his way of telling me that I’d put on a little weight since our last visit! But I do recall a second generation Indian teenager and US resident who was hugely offended when relatives would comment on her somewhat plump appearance in quite candid terms.

Our stay here which has so far lasted a mere ten days has been fairly busy in that I had my sisters Fifi and Ashwathi visit us with their families and stay with us – the former lives in Australia and the latter in Chennai. We had a wonderful time with them reminiscing over old times and chatting about life in their respective abodes. It was also good to have Ashwathi visit us for the first time since we bought the flat and offer her a small measure of the hospitality that she routinely accords to us when we visit her in Chennai.

We were fortunate in having bought a well-located flat with a great floor plan that has a terrific view and is in one of the more desirable areas of Cochin – an area called Panampilly Nagar. It helps to make our stay more comfortable. It is large by Indian standards at 1900 square feet although small in relation to our house in the US. It does make us realize that we have way too much house in the US and that one can be very comfortable with a lot less space.

View from our flat in Cochin

View from our flat in Cochin


As is the case with everything in India, there are a fair number of frustrations usually in the context of the bureaucracy and getting things done. Punctuality is non-existent for the most part and given that I am somewhat compulsive about punctuality, it can be a shade unnerving. But like I say to others who ask me about the adjustments involved in residing here after spending time in the West, in some respects India is very service oriented. Yes, it took a week to get our TV service back on after the cable service went digital during our absence – and this was after numerous promises that it would be taken care of immediately – but OTOH, we had our internet restored within a couple of hours of calling the ISP to resume the service!

The bureaucracy in India is mind-numbing. Forms are routinely filled in triplicate at a minimum and just about anything of any consequence requires one to provide a passport sized picture to accompany the application! This is so whether it is obtaining a mobile (cell) phone or opening a bank account or getting a connection for cable service! They also require a copy of some proof of identification and in our case the only thing that seems to suffice is a copy of relevant pages of our passports. It is not just wanting to see ID as happens in the US but they actually need a copy of the ID for their records! I have often wondered what happens to these multiple forms that are collected. Does anyone ever look at them again? The requirement for a picture is so pervasive that we both literally have several copies of passport pictures on hand to satisfy the requirement of those who need one for whatever purpose!

I am told that one of the frustrations of living in Kerala is the need to conform – in a way that does not exist to the same extent in other cities. Apparently not doing so can make one a pariah of sorts – and at the least it causes one to become the topic of gossip. It is not something that I have experienced first hand – and not a lot of what I do conforms to accepted norms here. When I tell people this they say that it is because we are here for a relatively brief period and so there are not the same expectations of us that there would be if we lived here permanently.

Getting and keeping domestic help in Kerala – or “servants” as they are referred to in India – is said to be very difficult and challenging. Again, we have not found this to be an issue much to the surprise of people here. In fact, the help we have is the same person who we had last year when we visited – last year prior to departing from Kerala, she told us that she would be happy to come back and work for us. It was not something that we took very seriously since there was little incentive for her to leave other employment and return to us for just a couple of months. We were surprised when she phoned us in the US and asked when we were going to be arriving so that she could make arrangements to work for us! Now admittedly we pay her about 10% more than the going rate but the warmth with which she greeted and hugged Mini on seeing her was more like meeting a long lost friend! I think a lot of it has more to do with the way she is treated – when she was told her compensation, she actually said that she was expecting less and would work for less – and that her returning had less to do with the money and more to do with the fact that she liked working for Mini!! This is doubtless, at least in part, hyperbole but there is likely an element of truth to what she said – at least I’d like to think so.

Acronyms seem to be all pervasive in India – prominent people are referred to by acronyms as are political parties, governmental entities, etc. On each of my visits to Kerala I learn a little of the terminology used here. Recently, I was reading an article that talked of the increasing incidence of “quotation murders” in Kerala – and there was no explanation of the term which suggested that it was of sufficiently common usage that an explanation was not needed. It aroused my curiosity sufficiently that I researched the term and ascertained that it was the equivalent of taking out a “contract” on some one. Incidentally, the article said that young women – some in college – and from respectable families were active participants in these crimes. Although the specific article dealt with a murder, it would be more accurate to describe them as “quotation crimes” because most of these crimes don’t involve murders. Apparently, it is used to collect debts, to intimidate business partners or others with whom there is some sort of relationship usually involving money or occasionally even to deal with personal grievances. The perpetrators quote a price for the “service” and hence the term “quotation”. Often the police and law enforcement may be involved with the perpetrators in the case of crimes that don’t involve murders and so they get away with it. I suspect that “quotation crimes” are still relatively infrequent otherwise I’d likely have heard about it before.

Incidentally, if you want to know why Kerala is called “God’s own country”, you will find there are a variety of explanations offered that range from the mundane – such as a marketing ploy to promote tourism – to explanations in the context of Hindu mythology. I am not sure that anyone really knows the origin for the phrase. Whatever it be, there is no doubt that Kerala is a place of amazing beauty ranging from its oceans to the backwaters, the greenery, the wild life preserves, very scenic areas such as Munnar with its tea estates, etc. I have traveled to a lot of places around the world and I’d have to say that Kerala must rank very high as a place of stunning beauty.

Anyway, just a whole bunch of sundry – and somewhat disjointed – thoughts on our return to Kerala all written after a couple of cocktails!

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