Why do Malayalees like Mangalore so much

India insights


Ajji is happy about the money for the services she has provided (veena has generously topped up the amount) and the food that we no longer use, which we leave to her. She smiles her fine smile goodbye and waves to us - santosh picked us up with the rickshaw - again.

We are standing in the dust with our luggage on the main street of Saligrama. Two or three other passengers are waiting with us. It doesn't take long for our bus to pull up. You have to get on the bus quickly - the express bus has the movement, not the stop in the gasoline ... But we are helped, and the stress of getting inside and getting a seat is limited.
The two-hour drive to Mangalore can hardly be described adequately - you have to experience it. It arouses associations of a thrill run in the europapark and lets the adrenaline level shoot up again and again. (For the other passengers, including many school pupils, this does not seem to apply, however, they seem unmoved.) I sit at the very front and watch the driver from the side. He is a rather skinny spectacle-wearer who never grimaces. The gears have to be switched by hand, but the man seems to have three hands: One operates the horn almost continuously. Full throttle, brake, full throttle, brake. Hair-raising overtaking maneuvers. Again and again, oncoming vehicles are pushed halfway into the ditch or are forced to stop. Veena is talking to a young doctor who is sitting next to her. He says that it is nothing, she must then see how things are going in kerala. (But that's a typical legend: in kerala later on i didn't see a bus that was as breakneck as ours in karnataka ...) it screams at the few stops ticket collector uninterrupted: "Manglur, manglur, expess bus manglur!" And on we go on the ghost train through the Indian traffic hell ...

The train station in Mangalore (Central Station) is a cute little gem: nice and clean. It looks like hergé, the creator of tintin, drew it. We eat in the small restaurant on the first floor bangda fish (mackerel) and rice.
Two young women are out and about with a gigantic wet vacuum cleaner and are cleaning the platform, which is already quite clean. While one of the two is lying around litter sucks up, the other leads the ultra-long hose and periodically empties the dirty water onto the track.

Leaving Mangalore, the train crosses a wide river. The parallel run of rails does not have a solid, solid substructure, it looks as if the rails are suspended in the air. Surreal.
Veena points to a huge property on the riverbank: it is the residence of the mother of veena's friend catarina. The serai-guimão family owns the largest brick factory in india. You half belong to Mangalore, says Veena. Before she met Catarina, she interviewed her mother. We could have spent the night in the property, the mother was friendly to her friends, catarina veena had said. Catarina is in the clinch with her family; the mother gave the entire inheritance to her sons. And the daughter's mother doesn't even want to pay for an apartment in bangalore. Catarina is determined to sue - and at the same time to set a precedent. She lives modestly as a salaried doctor in adelaide. (Veena thinks Catarina won't stand a chance. Her sisters aren't interested - they're all married to rich men. And no lawyer would burn their fingers - or risk their lives - and mess with such a powerful family.)
We get into conversation with a fellow traveler, a young man who looks very neat and very intelligent. He is on his way to his family in northern kerala. He is traveling with a friend who is also going on the christmas holidays. Vedesj is studying computer science at a college not far from Saligrama. He has a passion for journalism; as a schoolboy, he got himself into trouble because of a critical article in which he denounced the high-handed tendencies of the communist party ruling kerala. Vedesj took critical thinking from his grandfather, who was an atheist. We learn that the father is an engineer and the mother works as a zoology teacher in Mahé. Our train will pass mahé - the city belongs as an exclave to the former french colony pondicherry (pondicherry is on the same latitude on the other side of the subcontinent ...).
Vedesj's buddy drives a few stops further than his friend - and also further than us. We have placed the suitcases near the exit so that we can get out faster; the train only stops briefly in the small provincial train station in koylandi. The boy is stocky and - you can put it this way: fat. The first Indian of such a stature that I meet. It stands casually in the open door - an Indian bad habit. If the heavy door slams for any reason, the man is gone. And such accidents actually happened, Veena knows. The boy says something to me that I don't understand in the noise of the traffic. I nod my head and he continues. He doesn't seem to mind that there is no real dialogue, he beams at veena and me, he is the cordiality in person. When we arrived at our destination, he assiduously helps us unload our luggage and waves us from the departing train - from the open door, of course.

A man with gray and white hair is standing in the station concourse and examining me. That must be ammad, the friend of veena's friend Chalam. He greets us and guides us to his car. Ammad doesn't drive himself; for trips he hires a young man from the neighborhood. The young man hasn't been driving long, ammad has paid him the driving lessons. Ammad suffers from copd; the lung disease forces him to refrain from physical exertion (even driving a car would be too strenuous).
Before we really start, we stop at a shop on the corner of the street. Ammad buys coca cola and soda water for us.
The first part of the trail in ammads village is on a good road; this leads us to the wrong assumption that the streets in kerala are better than in karnataka. But the further uphill it goes, the more bumpy the path becomes; the driver cleverly dodges huge potholes. Dense green surrounds us. We are immersed in a dark coconut palm forest.

Then we are there. The car turns into a narrow driveway, and before our eyes stands the elegant house that ammad built two years ago on the site of his parents' house. A loud, polyphonic bird choir welcomes us - jungle sound. From the balcony of our room on the second floor we look out over a dreamlike landscape, over which the dusk slowly falls: towering coconut palms form a dark gray-green tropical forest behind a small clearing, which rises on two sides to a hilltop. An image and a mood for gods.

At dinner we get to know ammad's wife nafisa and the mother of our host. Nafisa works as the secretary of the (communist) local council of kozhikanur, the village where ammad and his family live. She understands english, but cannot express herself in the language. Ammad comes from a mapla family. Mapla is what the muslims resident in kerala are called. Ammad is not a member of the communist pertei like his wife, but an enlightened, modern-minded man. Instead of praying, it would be better to spend your time getting involved in a community service, he says. Ammad's mother is still a traditional Muslim; she also wears a headscarf in the house. (And she doesn't speak to us.) The sale of a piece of the family land enabled her to make the pilgrimage to Mecca - another part of the proceeds went to the new building of the house.
Nafisa serves dinner, but we eat alone with ammad. There are various snacks, but that will be remembered kanji, a drink with the consistency of thin porridge made from ground red rice, jeera (cumin) and coconut milk.
Ammad is a film lover. When he was young, he and friends founded a film club in Calicut. After work, he worked as an outpatient surgeon and showed the films that the flimclub had procured in the area's cinemas. We're watching the first part of a film that the club's collective produced themselves at the end of the eighties and which was then shown at various festivals.



The breakfast - rice cake, chicken curry and for the guests from europe toast, butter and jam - let's take the three of us again. Now is the time to explore the surroundings of the house. On the small plantation, which is terraced towards the hill, bananas, tapioca and some vegetables are grown between coconut palms. There are mango, teak, jackfruit and guava trees around the house. Black pepper and betel herb wind up on some trees. Ammad's father laid out the terraces. At the age of 105 he still walked it every day ... And the father still has his shotgun on the roof of the house tigers (I suspect they were leopards) chased away or shot.
From Ammad's house you can see another house, half hidden. Kozhikanur is a settlement scattered in the forest, a somewhat invisible village in the middle of nowhere. But there is no middle of nowhere in india and so it is better to speak of nowhere in the middle ... (Ammad's plantation evokes an old memory image in me: A simple house emerges in a similar-looking clearing on the border between yucatán and guatemala in my inner eye the morning fog.)
Ammad worked as an engineer for the national telecommunications company in calicut until he retired two years ago. He says he has alienated himself culturally and mentally from his neighbors. He feels a little lonely and thinks about how he could break through the isolation - also health-related. He's not lacking in ideas: a terracotta workshop, two or three cottages that friends could rent (we have registered our interest).

We accompany ammad to his club in calicut. The film club has recently mutated more and more into an exhibition space. Today is the last day of the current exhibition, the artist will be present. On the way to the city, 30 kilometers away, we cross two large rivers lined with jungle. A great sight.
We continue to the sea. We stop at a small promenade. It is here that vasco da gama set foot on indian soil for the first time 500 years ago and - by means of a treaty with the local ruler - laid the cornerstone for portuguese colonial rule.

In calicut we eat in the traditional hotel amaravati. The seer fish is delicious. Veena orders beer: two bottles and three glasses. But Ammad doesn't want any beer; Finally, four glasses of beer are brought ... (What we only find out later: Ammad quietly ordered and drank a vodka. He didn't want the boy who chauffeured us to find out that he was drinking alcohol.)

On the way to Ammad's film club, we pass a large bazaar where only metal goods and spare parts are sold.
The club - a medium-sized, somewhat messy room - is located on the first floor of a commercial building. We talk to the artist who is only too happy to show us his pictures. With his narrow face and long beard he resembles an emaciated sadhu. In his paintings he has implemented religious motifs, which he explains to us in detail. The type of representation reminds me of anthroposophical painting.
Ammad has made an appointment with an artist who still has money from an earlier exhibition. When will he come? We don't want to just stand around idly, so Veena suggests that the driver could meanwhile drive us to the temple that Veena would like to show me. Ammad agrees; but it soon becomes clear that it is not right for him: the young man makes no move to set off with us. Finally, ammad changes his plan and comes with us contre coeur. On the way to the car we meet the man Ammad wanted to meet. There will be a short rencontre; but obviously ammad was able to do what he intended and everything is fine now ...

We didn't find the temple straight away. In a narrow alley, some baskets of vegetables have to be moved so that we can drive through. The young driver is visibly nervous. Too badly last, he touches a parked bicycle with the outside mirror, damaging the mirror.
On her last visit to the temple - she was accompanied by catarina - Veena saw a ceremonial procession with elephants whose heads were magnificently decorated. She would now like to share this experience with me. But I am not allowed in - only dhoti-wearers are allowed, men in trousers are not allowed. But i'm not missing anything: there are no elephants in the temple today.

The drive back to the village is difficult. As skilfully as our young driver dodges his local pot holes, he is just as unsafe in urban traffic. We learn that there are also rules on India's streets (and not just the one, stopping at a red light). Woe to him who does not keep them! Our driver wants to turn left at an intersection, but is in the right lane. His attempt is acknowledged with a merciless horn and a torrent of swear words, a bush driver even hits his fist several times on the sheet metal under the open window. We have no choice but to continue straight ahead - a good two kilometers before we can turn around. Later, due to the unsafe driving style of our driver, we only miss two collisions. The young man doesn’t show anything, he seems to be calm. Veena explains this by the fact that he is currently undergoing the ritual of the ayyapa pilgrims. Hindus from all over india make a pilgrimage to the ayyapa swami temple in sabarimalai in kerala in january. Before visiting the temple of the boy god, do not eat meat for at least 40 days, abstain from sex and dress in black.
A demonstration train stops us one or two kilometers from ammad's house. Chanting slogans, the hundreds of young men and women march to a meeting place further up the street. There is a stage with the emblems of the communist party. We cannot find out what it is about and what the requirements are. Ammad doesn't know either.

After dinner we discuss political, aesthetic and ethical issues with Ammad - based on films - whereby “discuss” means a lot. It is more of a monologue: On the one hand, ammad speaks in a more typical way malayali-art very much and very long, on the other hand, the English of this gentle man with the quiet voice is not easy to understand, even for veena ...
The police operation in delhi is on television. An out-of-control demonstration was bunched up. The country is in a double turmoil. Everywhere in India people take to the streets after a bus driver and his five cronies raped and half killed a young girl who was traveling with her boyfriend. (The girl died a few days later.)



Sitting in the waiting room of the Koilandy train station is a goddess. The young, almost unreally beautiful woman exudes regal dignity and sublimity, she seems to have been transported straight from the mythological world into our present.

We have tickets for the trip to Kochi first class non ac Bought. The comfortable first-class wagons without air conditioning with sliding window panes are almost no longer there, you can only find them in individual trains. (The first and third class have been abolished, so the whole of India drives second class, whereby this is also graduated again.) The call sounds almost uninterrupted "Chai, chai, chai !!" or "Coffee, coffee, coffee !!" the tea and coffee seller. When you go to the toilet, at least as a non-Indian, you have to be careful that you stay in the middle - the drawer doors are open on the left and right ...

We drive past dry, brownish rice fields (planted in January) and coconut groves, a typical Kerala landscape. The vegetation is less lush and green this year, says veena. The monsoon rain has partly failed to materialize.

Across from us sits a young man with an open, handsome face. He's on the phone non-stop, alternately using two cell phones. During a break he asks us where we come from. And we ask him if he's on the phone for business. Yes, he says. He's in the cement industry.

Our friends saul and ilona arrived in the old port city from switzerland the evening before.We take the aperitif (a bottle of Indian whites) on the terrace of the old lighthouse, the best beach hotel in town. We find it difficult to find a place for dinner that meets the various needs of our small group. Finally we end up in the noble garden of the harbor hotel, the first evening is going to be very expensive ... The third bottle of wine that saul ordered to take home also contributes to this. The end on the terrace of the homestay our friends turn into a disaster: in the frontal attack of the mosquito flight squadron, the party drunk after a few sips in the mood that has fallen to zero.
We believe we know which route to take to get to our hotel. But then we suddenly lost our orientation ... The streets are deserted at one o'clock at night, and there are no rickshaws either. The emergency reception of a clinic is open. But they can't help us there either ... But then veena reaches john, the owner of our hotel. He guides us using his cell phone, and in five minutes we'll be where we want to be.

It was a long evening. We are all the more looking forward to a “deep, healthy” sleep. Everything seems to be perfect in the brand new, designer homestay. But although it shouldn't have one, it does have them: mosquitos.



The night is so bad that the desperate veena, who has lost her sleep, calls ammad in the morning and asks him if he knows anyone in Kochi who could take us in. (We later find out that the only guest who stayed in our room before us, the Brazilian artist ernesto neto, also had a mosquito problem.) On our urgent advice, john procured - the warm young man has wakeful dark eyes that I always do have to watch again - for the next night "Good knight" plug in, an electric mosquito protection.
The opulent breakfast (including a large bowl with juicy pieces of papaya) that john and his doe-eyed wife prepared for us awakens our limp spirits. The young couple, who have brought their six-year-old baby to their pension, go to great lengths to pamper us. John, who is under pressure to succeed due to the investment made, is hoping for well-meaning publicity from veena. John worked in oman for a few years and earned good money; he raves about the country. After washing up, john has to go to mass, his family is catholic; among the ancestors are portuguese.

Today (and the following) belongs to the kochi-muziris-biennale, the first international art show in india that takes place every two years. We start our tour in the aspinwall house. (Yesterday, when we registered, we took a quick look and exchanged a few words with bose krishnamachari, the artistic director. He recognized veena and approached us.)
As with others venues - pepper house, moidu’s heritage - the aspinwall house is also a former trade in spices and wood heritage warehouse, which lay fallow and has now been made usable again in the course of the biennial and at the same time has been upgraded. A couple of strong video works, two or three installations that leave you in awe of admiration, and a couple of exploits: Veena and I agree (and thus agree with the new york times) that the first edition of the biennial will also be in the international comparison exists and is a credit to the curators and the country. - Exhausted from looking around in humid and warm rooms, we treat ourselves to one masala chai (black tea with spices and milk) on the terrace that overlooks the river, which here looks more like a bay.

We want to buy beer and rum. You can't do that on every corner, and certainly not in the supermarket. In an auto rikshwa we drive to one liquor store, a shabby, only dimly lit shed - the alcohol sales outlets have a felty touch in many places in india. A long queue of men is waiting to get their "stuff": in fact, these liquor stores are like fixed rooms. Anyone who queues here is very likely to be an alcoholic. Ladies first: women - do women even shop here? - don't have to queue. Veena is allowed to push past the queue without triggering a complaint; supplied with booze, which will serve as a "mosquito antifreeze", we drive back to our homestay.



We change the hotel: the orion homestay is cheaper and also a house in the traditional style. Mr. thomas, the owner, lives with his family on the ground floor. He shows us the rather luxuriously furnished apartment and the very beautiful garden. There are three cars in the parking lot next to the house, including a new mercedes. In addition to the homestay, Thomas runs three shops, as he tells me. He trades in cement, wood and (somewhat surprisingly) guitar parts that he ships to the United States. Thomas’s wife is a lawyer and notary. Mr. thomas ’family belongs, so we learn later from his mother, one of the twelve protestant communities in kerala, namely the - you read carefully - malabar basel german mission church. Mr. Thomas, as he says, prefers foreign guests. Why? "They don’t give you a headache." And he's just fired his managing director. It is difficult to find reliable staff, he explains.
While we are unpacking the suitcases, “Silent Night, Holy Night” sounds in English from somewhere.

In the late afternoon we walk along the beach promenade. We meet Saul and Ilona, ​​who independently of us had the same idea. A few art installations belonging to the biennale can be found scattered along the promenade. Saul takes a closer look at it - he is an art critic and will report on the biennale. The promenade resembles a landworm made up of humans. All of India seems to be on the move here. It's sunday and it's christmas time. Veena pushes it away from this crowd, she feels uncomfortable. But we have no choice but to swim another piece in the stream of people. We are rewarded for our patience: a glimpse of a large tongue of sand that grows out of the beach opens up. The panorama, consisting of countless people dressed in all colors, who fill the beach and its extension, fits in beautifully with the biennale: it looks as if the photo artist gurski had arranged the picture.

We enjoy a wonderful sunset on a sofa in the garden of the old lighthouse hotel - without consuming anything. For us for the last time this year the sun takes a bath in the foam-crowned arabian sea.

Before dinner in the much-visited restaurant "dal roti" - lonely planet- moderately good - we're just in time for a Christmas performance in the courtyard of the basilica santa cruz. Mary and joseph bend over the child jesus while the three kings pay their respects. What makes veena's heart warm, however, is the dance of a little girl appearing as an angel who accompanies the scene. Saul captures the whole thing in a video film.



We visit the synagogue with its impressive chandeliers in mattancherry in the former jewish quarter of Kochi. The street where the church is located still breathes the jewish spirit, although only three or four jewish families still live here. On the way back to the center, we stop at moidu’s heritage. We look at ernesto netos from sacks that exude the scent of pepper, assembled installations in the attic - to be able to see (and smell) them, you have to climb a ladder. We are enthusiastic about angelica mesitis' wonderful video work about three extremely extraordinary musicians.

On the way to the david hall, another exhibition space of the biennale, we pass an inconspicuous location that looks like a small waiting room open to the street. Three men are reading the newspaper, sitting on wooden benches against the walls. Such locales are traditional in kerala, explains veena. The newspapers - left sheets - are available free of charge. A strong culture of debate is part of (popular) reading (Ammad gave us a little bit of it.) There are no cows on the streets of Kochi. For (not holy) goats. On the pavements (sidewalks in the non-strict sense…) a few crowd each other; they rarely seem to move and avoid the street. As I walk by, three kids are suckling their skinny, dusty mother's teats.

The david hall is run by a cousin of bose krishnamachari. He did in the former mansion a library set up in colonial style, which consists of his impressive collection of art books. The house has a beautiful garden with a small café. Our admiration is awakened by a mighty, fruit-bearing chikoo (sapota or pear apple tree) and jackfruit treeon whose trunk countless fruits hang like large pumpkins right down to the bottom. The crown is also full of fruits. I check the weight of a single fruit - it should be two or three kilos.

After a feudal dinner in the “seagull” restaurant on the river bank, on our way home we pass the basilica santa cruz again, where the midnight mass is being held. The church in which Vasco da Gama was first buried does not have room for all visitors. The gates are therefore open and more chairs have been set up outdoors. Many people just stand there and look inside like we do. In the church, where white and blue tones dominate the picture, large neon chandeliers dazzle the eye. We hear the last part of the chorales. Then there is a short break. But breaks want to be filled. A cascade of crackers starts just a few steps behind us. (Two years ago, Saul in Bombay suffered permanent hearing damage due to a crash that was ignited in the immediate vicinity.) So Jesus is born with a deafening noise. After this episode, which for us was more than strange, the fair continues. In a strange, strangely melodious English, the good news of the Incarnation of God as a baby sounds in the stable in Bethlehem.
Then there was also noise in the shabby little house opposite our homestay. A man insults his wife as a whore. In the afternoon two kittens lying close together on the wall in front of the house took their sweet-it-is-a-hot-day-and-nothing-can-disturb-our-peace-nap.



At my suggestion and request, we also take a look at the durbar hall, the exhibition venue of the biennale in ernakulam, on the mainland, together with ilona and saul. The ferry is packed with people. If there weren't any (much less long) ladies ’queue - Thanks to this sensible facility, veena was able to buy tickets for all four - we could have waited a long time to get into a boat.
The sight of an "island" made of seaweed and floating debris rotating on its own axis, on which large seagulls perch as if they were sitting on a carousel, is unique. Standing, the seats are already occupied, we swing towards the mainland. Saul photographs and films in all directions - several times his objective captures me too ...
At the ferry station in ernakulam i meet the first beggar on my journey. He looks at me blankly and indignantly when I give him nothing (I have no money with me and veena is not around). The durbar hall, built in 1850 by the maharajah of cochin (kochi) for the royal court, impresses with the generosity of its shiny white rooms. I am particularly impressed by the ceiling rosettes. While saul is talking to acquaintances (an art critic and a diplomat) whom he unexpectedly met in front of the building, and veena and I take a lot of time inside, ilona takes pictures with her self-made pinhole camera. (Taking photos with the primitive device is part of a project. Ilona uses the camera as an instrument to come into contact with people who want to know what “that” is and to document their reactions.)

We spend the evening of christmas day in the “seagull” again. (After we were first referred to a table inside the bar, we got a seat on the fabulous terrace.) For the second time in a row we dine on a grand scale. Saul chooses the most beautiful red snapper that the restaurant has to offer. We grill one half, the other half cooked as a fish curry kerala style. We drink several bottles of Indian white wine with the fine fish and other opulent dishes. The “christmas dinner” on this “least christmassy christmas i have ever experienced” (as saul notes with satisfaction) costs the equivalent of half of veena's last month's income as a reporter for the times of india (2004, but at least), which veena does not little irritated, even if this content was very modest. Eating, drinking and celebrating at the next table, like the evening before, bose krishnamachari and jyotihi basu, one of the artists from kerala exhibiting at the biennale, together with young women. (We owed our place on the terrace yesterday to the intervention of the two of them. Perhaps they stood up for us today too.)



A loud noise penetrates our room, which at first sounds like someone is chopping wood. Here, however, wood is not chopped, but laundry is beaten in the old-fashioned way.

No hangover the day after, but we have to classify and process the time we spent together with saul and ilona and what we experienced together. This includes not only the massive overrun of our budget in the last four days, but also the discussions that were stimulating and sometimes slightly disturbing. Saul's critical remark that the indian art scene is a closed circle of members of the brahmin caste makes me pensive and denies access to outsiders. I also think about his characterization of the better Indian society, whose sophisticated feudal culture of being served is unique. (Feudal here means something like using services almost for free). According to Saul, Indian tourists are even less popular in Switzerland than Russians - the latter would at least give generous tips, while for the Indians any service is a matter of course.)

It is only a quarter of an hour by boat to Vypeen on the opposite bank. But the atmosphere in the village, which is inhabited by simple Christians, is very different from that in Fort Kochi. You don't see any tourists here, not a touch of sophistication can be felt. But it can be seen - on the other bank… A short, narrow, recently built beach path ends abruptly. We come across a piece of wasteland into a labyrinthine settlement with narrow streets. We feel a little like intruders. But the few people - a mother with her child, a scooter driver, a man who travels alone - smile at us in a friendly way. (On the other hand, the seller in the newsagents in the building of the ferry station on the central square, when we asked where there was a beach, was very unfriendly.)
Before we take the ferry back, we buy yogurt and fruit juice.

We spend most of the hot afternoon in the garden of the david hall. Not far from there we witness a film shoot. A five-second scene is filmed: a man with wounds on his back (painted on a t-shirt) falls over to the floor next to an unmoved, unmoved woman. The young beauty, we learn, is represented by the miss universe from kerala. Members of the crew willingly give us information about the shoot after we have changed the side of the street at your request so as not to fall into the picture.

Before dinner in a simple eatery I take one last shower in the guest toilet of our homestay. I don't need to dry myself off, just put my clothes back on and that mosquito repellent apply ...

Our charming auto rickshaw driver - a student - makes a short stop on the way to the train station in ernakulam so that we can get to the edge of one of the big ones parade grounds can admire the christmas tree standing by fort kochi: a huge rain tree decorated with white and blue lights.

On the platform, the mosquitoes eat me despite the repellent. In a passing train, passengers sit on one of the steps; that's an increase: they just stand in the other entrances ... Entering the air-conditioned wagon turns into a cold shock. After stowing my luggage, I immediately put on something warm; But you get used to the cool climate surprisingly quickly. And when we get out after twelve hours, the morning bangalore seems cooler to us than the inside.