The last time-- and only time until this week-- I was in Kerala, a long skinny coastal state in southwest India, was 1970. I had left Goa, after a fantastic couple of months of recuperating from the arduous drive across Turkey, Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India, and was headed towards the island paradise of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka). Kerala is between Goa and what was then the ferry point you could take to northern Ceylon (long closed due to a civil war that raged for almost the whole time since I left until very recently).
I only remember 5 things about the week it took me in 1970 to traverse Kerala, not counting how abysmal the roads were. I remember the state was lush, green and gorgeous with incredible unspoiled beaches and no tourists. I remember visiting an old French colony called Mahe in the northern part of the state which was administratively part of Pondicherry, the 3 scattered ex-French enclaves in India, and that it was far more orderly than the rets of this chaotic and completely dysfunctional country. I remember that the spicy cuisine was delicious and simple and served on banana leaves (although some rudimentary roadside slop houses weren't high-falutin enough for banana leaves and would put the food directly onto the wooden tables... pretty revolting and seared into my memory. I never saw any silverware in Kerala.) I also remember visiting a shuttered on Jewish synagogue in Cochin that some local boys opened up for us but they couldn't speak much English and we didn't learn much other than that the Jews had all gone to Israel. And finally, I recall that south of Trivandum, the state capital, some inept dacoits (bandits) tried to waylay us with a giant boulder rolled into the middle of the road. There was enough room to drive around it and escape.
Kerala has come a long way since then. It's a relatively wealthy state now and has been successfully promoted the way Florida was in the U.S. in the 50s and 60s-- a beautiful, unspoiled tropic vacation paradise. The explosively expanding Indian middle class likes vacationing here. So do Europeans. When I checked out the best hotels on Ft. Kochi, one of the islands that makes up Cochin-- the best of the islands-- they were all over-priced and booked up. Our first choice in any case is to rent a house. So we did. This one is a brand new apartment overlooking the Arabian Sea, a little way (5-10 minute walk) from the hustle and bustle of the real touristy parts of the island. It's nothing too fancy but there are two bedooms, with their own bathrooms, a kitchen/dining area, a living room and air-conditioning units for each room. The owner, a young guy, Varghese John, somehow pronounced Valdez, lives downstairs and is a perfect host-- as well as a great cook. A lady comes in and cleans every other day and does the laundry, changes the bedding ,etc. The hot water works and so does the wifi-- more or less. The electricity goes out for half an hour twice a day-- from 7-7:30 every morning and from 9-9:30 every evening, but that's a function of Kerala, not the house. His e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org/ If you want to visit Cochin and stay here, mention this blog or my name to Verghese and he'll give you a 10% discount.
Roland and I are only the second guests to have stayed here; it's that new. Two weeks ago Cochin had a big music festival-- it's in swing 'til March-- and M.I.A. (Maya), a U.K. pop star/rapper-- from Sri Lanka-- headlined and she and her family stayed in our house. They were the first guests. Her father was a well-known Tamil activist. She got into some kind of twitter argument with Anderson Cooper after she felt he implied she's a terrorist (which she isn't). Her 2007 second album, Kala a U.S. dance-electronic hit, went gold. Outside of the underground dance world she's best known in the U.S. for having written "Give Me All Your Luvin'" with Madonna and for performing it at the Super Bowl XLVI half time show. This video isn't that. "Born Free" is considered, like M.I.A. herself, controversial. I wonder how she went over in sleepy, very Christian Cochin.