In the meantime a new rule has come into action in our cellular jail. According to the rule, no personal mail can be sent out with an attachment using office equipment, so I had to full the jail authorities by sending the attachement using my official e-mail to my personal e-mail first and then forward it to all of you, my dear recipients. Apologies on behalf of Thomson jail Financial...
Yours as always,
Dear Ladies and gentlemen,
I have so many news to report this time, I guess I'll get right down to business
I still remember that the whole period of almost a year when I went to Himalayan mountains in June 2006, then got involved with the theater group back in Bangalore, resulting in our two hit performances followed by a trip to Thailand to extend Indian visa and finally to NYC to cool down a bit, remained uncovered. But by now all these news have lost their initial freshness and crispness, so I guess I'll go with the last-in-first-out scheme.
My most recent and fresh news is my 2 trips to Kerala over the last month. First was to celebrate Purim with the community of Cochin Jews, and second was all the way down towards the southern-most tip of India just to relax and unwind.
There're many facts about Cochini community which make it so unusual. One of them is that it consists only of 13 members (at the moment) out of which 4 are men, and so all synagogue services depend purely on visitors and members of another small community in a nearby town of Ernakulam. We were in luck on Purim, considering that the whole previous month of February there was never 10 men to conduct the services. Another interesting thing is the way they celebrate holidays in general and Purim in particular. There was no traditional masquerade, no drinking till you can't walk the straight line (or distinguish between Haman and Mordechai), no mouth-watering Purim sweets and no gifts to sent to friends and family. They have read the Book of Esther in synagogue, however without traditional noise and whistles while reading about Haman and his sons. Needless to say the tune of reading the scroll was totally Indian, and if not for words, I'd think they were performing some worshipping ritual in Hindu temple. The festive meal is a regular meal, which is the case anyway in India. Any festive meal, even wedding, probably the most important event in anybody's life in India, in 99% of the cases happens to be an absolutely ordinary one without any special "for weddings only" dishes, without 15 courses spread evenly over 5 hours and without a display of sweets which one can only eat with their eyes, but not otherwise, having survived the 15 courses:. But back to Purim celebrations and while everybody gives charity to poor, in case of Cochin Jews it's their servants who get the money, because every single member of the community has at least 3 servants working for them (to cook, to clean and to do other errands)
Two weeks later I was packing my bags again. This time we were celebrating Indian new year, which surprisingly enough always falls exactly on 1st of Nissan. Four days of long weekend were divided evenly between lazing in the shade on one of the best and quietest beaches in India and 2 even more lazy days sailing the backwaters in a house-boat. A beach is a beach is a beach. After 18 hours of shaking in the train it's always exciting to finally reach that beach, settle in that beach shack and fall asleep listening to the lullaby of the waves. It's so refreshing to get up early in the morning and feel the cool waters of Arabian sea, to hike over the cliffs to the adjacent beach for breakfast, to retire to the shade of coconut trees in the afternoon and watch fishermen spread their nets to dry, to meet other fellow backpackers coming from all corners of the world and walks of life over lunch and fall asleep swinging in hammock and reading that book. Writing about all these experiences one month later is almost making me jealous about my own vacations, and yet none of them made it to become the hi-lite of the trip. Then what did - you might wonder. Well, here goes. Kerala, a relatively small coastal state in South-West India, stands out for many reasons. It's the only state with 100% literacy and people speak English much better than national language Hindi. With education being of a very high priority and many people completing their graduate and post-graduate work, communism is the strongest political movement even today. Almost every family has somebody working overseas, which in most cases means Gulf countries or even the US. Therefore not only keralites are pretty much better off than any other Indians in terms of wealth and possessions, they also happen to be the most westernized ones. Each family has a TV and a fridge (sign of wealth in India), and even servants look healthy and happy, definitely not like they're living in slums or starving. Yet this state can arguably be considered the most conservative one. Girls aren't supposed to go for any degree studies unless they get married and their husbands approve of such horribly career-oriented move. Women aren't supposed to speak with men casually unless of course the conversation is absolutely necessary. Everybody is supposed to head straight home after work, no social life outside of your home premises. Women and men don't intermix on buses or bus stops (just like in Bangalore where there are seats allocated for women in front of the bus and for men in the middle and back). At the same time remarkably diverse population of Kerala with about third belonging to each of three major religions in India, Hindu, Christianity and Islam, has found the way to live in peace with each other. These friendly people live their quiet conservative lives, being happy with their lot and extremely proud of their state. "G-d's own country" is Kerala's logo and once you've experienced its beauty and serenity you would tend to believe so too. And above it all stands ayurveda, the science of life, prevention and longevity, probably the oldest and most holistic medical system available on the planet today. Ayurveda was put in written form in Kerala about 5000 years ago (according to ayurvedic books) by the sage-physician-surgeons of that time, deeply devoted holy people, who saw health as an integral part of spiritual life. Curious in general and especially when it comes to holistic approach to life, I've tried different ayurvedic treatments, getting more and more fascinated with the methods used and results produced. This time I ended up on the beach which could be easily named "Ayurvedic retreat" or something like this, because numerous hotels and beach shacks were almost outnumbered by the ayurvedic treatment centers and clinics, each offering a long list of procedures and promising an even longer list of diseases to disappear upon completion of a course of required treatments. Some of you might remember my very first experience with ayurvedic oil massage where I thought I was soaked in oil by the end of the treatment. Well, little did I know then what it meant to be soaked in oil for this time I've signed up for an oil bath or pizhichil. Here are a couple of excerpts which describe the treatment:
The continuous flow of warm oil over the body influences the health of the energy channels (prana), digestion and elimination, and the functioning of the mind. There is no wonder why Pizhichil is regarded as the ultimate treatment to renew vibrant health and happiness.
This treatment is effective in all kinds of skeletal and muscular diseases, rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, lumbago, sciatica, hemiplegia, neuropathy, etc. The patient is allowed to sit on the wooden board and the prescribed medicated oil is applied on his head and body. A piece of clean cloth is then tied around his head across the forehead to prevent oil dripping to the eyes. Warm medicated oil is poured on the body by dipping pieces of clean cloth in the oil and squeezing them over the body. The duration of the treatment varies according to the condition of the patient. The body is massaged lightly and the oil over the body is removed by wiping with a dry towel or giving a bath in warm water.
What can I add to this. It was truly ultimate, it was extremely relaxing almost on the edge of being tiring when after the treatment, steam bath and shower the only thing I could wish for was sleep. 3.5 liters of oil (almost a gallon) was used to drip all over me from head to toes and probably tenfold the amount of water to wash it all off.
The lady who massaged me, Jiji, a mother of 3 at her ripe age of 32 with her oldest being 14, a Christian who dared to marry a Hindu opposing her parents' will, a practitioner with 10 years worth of experience of treating people from all corners of the world who still barely speaks English, she had warm and strong hands and views on life which amazed me with their simplicity and harmony. I was totally taken aback by her charm and integrity. With all the foreign connections she's made over the years, she's had thousand opportunities to run her business in Europe, making about 100 times more money for each hour of dripping oil and rubbing it into refined white bodies instead of doing the same for peanuts in India. Like thousands other Indian girls she should've married someone of her parents' choice to meet their expectations (actually, in India marrying someone of your parents choice is not a "should've" - it's a must). She could've become more successful be it money or business or personal life, yet she chose to do what she loves doing the most, she chose to marry the one who she loved and she chose to live her life in the place which she loves, not the place which would be a better choice to satisfy materialistic cravings. By the way, she's been treating in different centers in Europe for few years as a visiting practitioner, but never agreed to stay there for more than a few months for the heart is where home is. She is happy with her lot and she emanates this energy of happiness to her patients. No wonder people come back for treatments year after year and along with them come all those business proposals to open ayurvedic centers in Europe.
All soaked in oil of happiness and relaxed to the bare bones, I took a shabby local bus to move on to the next hi-lite of my journey and probably one of my best experiences in India all together. House-boat, or kettuvalam is something invented by a very much business-oriented people (unlike Jiji). Years ago backwaters of Kerala, a system of brackish lakes and rivers connected by both natural and man-made canals lying parallel to the Arabian Sea coast, were sailed only by regular cargo boats to form an economical ways of transit and trade. With increasing number of tourists and locals who would use the boats as a convenient means of transportation, the first house-boat was born, and as they say, the rest is history. Today there's definitely more house-boats sailing the backwaters than anything else. Huge 3 bedroom, very big 2 bedroom and cozy 1 bedroom luxury houses equipped with all necessities like shower with hot water, snug bedroom with mosquito-net and a comfy sit-out of pillows and cushions in the front of the boat carry on board loads of those who can afford this heavenly treat, mostly foreign tourists. Boat's own chef cooks mouth-watering delicacies while captain shares secrets of navigation with those who can speak local language. With the average satisfactory hotel prices being around 1000 rupees per night and funky beach shacks going only for 100, 5000 for just 24 hours of heaven comes out to be a pretty expensive vacation for most Indians, even those from upper middle class. I must say, that pretty spoiled by my cheap vacations I was also having second thoughts about the worthiness of this trip. But as soon as I got onboard and was welcomed by an ever friendly and smiling captain, as soon as we set sails and immersed into beauty and serenity of the surroundings I knew every single penny was well-spent. Those of you who've met me in NYC recently, know that India has magically transformed a spontaneous, fast-paced and funky me into this quiet thoughtful and serene lady, well, pretty spontaneous nevertheless. I wonder what you'd all say had you seen me during these 24 hours. Well, don't get disappointed yet, in normal circumstances I'm still the one who can't be static for more than 45 minutes straight. But here it seemed like we were traveling through a timeless zone were only surroundings were still floating back quietly and gracefully passing by our kettuvallam. Banks of canals embraced by coconut trees, local kids jumping out of the water to greet foreigners, fellow house-boats equally slowly drifting towards us, still fishermen managing their huge nets with enormous grace… Time kept growing thicker and fatter. It almost came to a complete halt at some point, when BIG BANG!!! All of a sudden the surroundings stopped moving and time jumped right back to its maddening run of ticking away. The journey of floating through the timeless zone while eating delicious Kerala food, sleeping all you want and gazing around became history (recorded in my journals) and shaking for 18 hours on train to reach Bangalore became a new reality. Maybe thinking about going back to myriad of problems in the office was so saddening I fell sick. Which brings us to the end of this chapter and next update to follow(hopefully this year : ).
But in the meantime, I'm sure you've already drawn some mental pictures of the house-boat and backwaters embraced by coconut trees and maybe my wooden massage table? Well, here's something to help you check your mental images against the reality :)