[Note from December 2018, nearly eleven years after I wrote this post: I am glad to see that people are still finding it on searches, etc. I have written a few more posts about Kerala, including quite a few references to the Kerala People’s Arts Club and the film Ningalenne Communistakki. My knowledge about arts and film from this state has advanced, as it most certainly has with regard to the rest of India. But my opinions expressed in this post have not changed. I do think, however, that it might be useful to add a few short amendments, now that a decade has passed. In fact I promised to do so in a recent post, but that was at the end of October. I am finally getting to that promise on December 15! And I may add a little more here and there as time goes on.]
I haven’t mentioned this before, but if and when I ever make my trip to India, I’d like my first stop to be Kerala, a state in southern India that’s fascinated me for a while. Some people might wonder what’s so interesting about Kerala? (especially if you are from Kerala, no doubt). Well, I can think of a few things:
1. The social systems – Years ago, I was very interested in social-political “models” around the world. (I suppose I should have become some kind of academic, but that didn’t happen – oh, well.) And I read a bunch of stuff about the social systems in Kerala; i.e., how in this state there developed a kind of decentralized, democratic socialism that didn’t exist in much of the world. The first, and most interesting, thing that I learned about regarding Kerala was the famously egalitarian bidi rolling coops, as discussed in a paper from Drs. Richard W. Franke and Barbara H. Chasin, which I first saw at an event in 1997 called the Socialist Scholars Conference. (Although – incidentally – I hope that nobody reaches any conclusions about me based on the fact that I went to an event with that name. I can assure all the readers out there that I am not a scholar!) I’ve been meaning to get back to Franke and Chasin’s work, because it still looks very interesting to me. I also read a book called Kerala: The Development Experience, edited by Govinda Parayil. This book dicusses, very informatively, how and why (to quote the back cover) “Kerala’s 30 million people” who “may not have experienced rapid growth in GDP” had nonetheless “for the past several decades, achieved a remarkable social record in terms of adult lieracy, infant mortality, life expectancy, stabilizing population growth, and narrowing gender and spatial gaps.” I’ve heard that some of Kerala’s economically egalitarian tendencies have been challenged in more recent years, due to pressures of globalization. Additionally, there are some fairly negative things about the place, such as the old caste system (dramatized extensively in the novel I that I’m listing next) and communal violence (which might be on the upswing). But its recent history still probably makes for a very interesting study, at least for those of us interested in such things. In any event, I’d love to hear more sometime regarding these social systems and how they’re functioning in Kerala these days.
[Note a decade later: Kerala seems to be holding up pretty well against the right-wing onslaught that has taken place in India since the election of Modi. The Communists have been pretty successful lately, and especially in light of the other choices, I am rooting for them. Communal violence has remained at a relative minimum, and many of the social indicators remain higher in Kerala than anywhere else in India. Kerala still has the highest life expectancy at birth and the lowest infant mortality of any state in India. It continues to have the highest literacy rate as well.]
2. The God of Small Things – I’ve always thought Arundhati Roy’s novel was her best work (at least that I’ve read). I mean, all the power to her in fighting the good fight in her political writings, but I wish she’d finish that next novel arleady…
[Note from December 2018: Well, she finally finished and published that second novel, about a decade later (and 20 years after The God of Small Things). The new novel is called The Ministry of Utmost Happiness. Unfortunately, I don’t like it as much. In fact, I couldn’t get through it. From the small amount I read, I found it to be a bit too rambling and I thought it could have used a lot more structure. And, of course, the focus is a bit different, and that part doesn’t appeal to me as much, either. (Though I am sure that if I continued to read it, I would agree with much of the politics, at least.) All that having been said, I still think she is an admirable writer and would still credit her with influencing my interest in Kerala.]
3. Scenery – This nice video below (made by someone calling herself Ukiahhaiku, aka Elizabeth from Sweden) shows some of the beautiful scenery of the place. (By the way, I stumbled upon it because it was also (somewhat deceptively) called The God of Small Things.) I’ve seen films and videos made in Kerala before, and the place always looks so beautiful (though it must be awfully hot there sometimes).
4. Padmini – Kerala’s pride, as I understand – she was quite something, wasn’t she?
[Note written some years later: This is a later copy of the original video that I had put on this post. I have included others over time because the original disappeared, but I have found it again. Of course, it is a Tamil video, and it might be more appropriate to include a Malayalam video instead, but I’m happy to keep this one because it’s so great!]
[Note from December 2018: Of course, as people who’ve read this blog know, I haven’t ignored the other Travancore Sisters, either. They were all great. But I still consider Padmini to be the greatest (as I think a lot of people do).]