RANDOM STUFF

THOUGHTS AND MUSINGS ON GOOD FRIDAY

ERNAKULAM

DECODING STREET SOUNDS

MAHATMA GHANDI RD. ERNAKULAM
Streets in urban India are essentially wall-to-wall noise in addition to wall-to-wall vehicles and pedestrians.  Ever present noise stems not so much from vehicle engines  (those too) but more from the cacophony of horns – bike horns, rickshaw horns, scooter horns, motorcycle horns, bus horns, lorry horns – used to communicate among the vehicles’ drivers.  During my first visits, it sounded to me like a crazy hoard of banshees tuning up for some last ditch,  “straight from hell” heavy metal concert.  Over time, though, I've been able to decode the short high pitched beeps, the moderate warning blats and the all out “Look stupid, I’m on your right so stay in your lane!” full blown screechings.  Interpreting this off-key telegraphic symphony is essential for the successful art of driving.  Now I can recognize scooter horns from rickshaw horns and I’m pretty good at deciphering the impatient Maruti sedan’s fast, repetitive screech behind my rickshaw meaning that we are going too slow: “Move over!” it bellows in no uncertain terms.   I’ve gotten used to it over the years although I’m still momentarily startled at the stillness (“What’s wrong? Bomb Threat?” Terrorists?) as I enter an air-conditioned restaurant or hotel from the street.   The eerie quiet is momentarily unsettling. 

By the way, don’t ever challenge a municipal bus.  Those guys rule the roads and are not afraid to demonstrate their superiority over all other forms of transportation.


GOOD RELIGIONS

INDIAN NAVAL BASE IN KOCHI
Kerala is in many ways a very strange place.  The Communist Party – there are two branches CPI-1 and CPI-2, nothing in India is simple – have basically ruled the state since just after independence in 1947.  In the state elections two years ago, however, they lost seats to the Congress Party and are now ruling by coalition.  (By the way, the advantages of the Parliamentary system are legion particularly when compared to the gridlock our own Congress is locked into.)  Through that comparatively long history of rule, Kerala has the highest rate of literacy among the Indian states and also boasts the third largest port facilities after Colcata and Mumbai, a roaring economy and brand new, giant malls popping up throughout the state and Ernakulam, the states largest city and a ten minute ferry ride away from us here in Fort Kochi.

What’s kind of odd to me though, is how polyglot is Kerala.  It’s an incredible mixture of Hindu, Moslem and Christian religious communities who have never, unlike so many parts of India, suffered from sectarian strife.  I’ve asked several long time residents here if there has ever been any such strife and after scrunched up faces lost in thought for a moment, the answer has been a solid “No.”  (Compare that to the Middle East right now.) 

This morning, Good Friday, I was reminded of this rather gratifying situation in human affairs, when – as usual – the Muslim morning call to prayer* was sounding from the neighborhood mosque while at the same time the sounds of choir hymns were wafting through the air from nearby St. Thomas Church.  There isn’t a Hindu Temple close enough to us for any sounds to reach Good Karma Homestay, but yesterday was a Hindu holiday, so rest assured that bells, gongs, chants and prayers were vigorously splitting the air in Fort Kochi. 
CHARAI BEACH

But then this is India’s South where folks are calmer, less rushed and quieter than their northern peers in Delhi and Mumbai.  They smile a lot.  I’ve never seen folks arguing in the streets. In all the time I’ve spent here, I’ve only witnessed one “road rage” argument that, trust me, is pretty dammed phenomenal give the conditions of roadways here. (See above.) I guess that’s why I like it here so much despite the heat and the mosquitos and the long, slow, lines to buy ferry tickets from the one ticket window at the boat jetty.   



* Our neighborhood Mosque and Islamic Center was just renovated and is looking quite spiffy.  Before we heard the calls to prayer somewhat muted as if from a long way off.  The facility is only about one-quarter mile away from us.  Well the renovation included a new sound system as well so now we hear the five daily calls quite clearly.  Including the Friday sermons.   Like right now, as I’m writing this.


KERALA: "GOD'S OWN COUNTRY"






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