Close to eleven years ago, I wrote a post on this blog (before the blog even completely became what it has been for the past decade) about my Fascination with Kerala. Here, I elaborated on a preoccupation with one Indian state that even preceded my deep interest in all the films made in Bombay/Mumbai. In other words, even before I was a fan of classic “Bollywood,” I was a fan of Kerala. There are a few reasons for that and I spelled them out way-back-when. And people have been seeing this post (with those reasons given) ever since, mainly via searches. I am glad that people are still reading it, because all the feelings that I expressed in that post still apply today. But the post could use a few minor revisions and maybe a few amendments, coming from the perspective of what I know now, a decade later. I have therefore decided that I am going to revise it. I won’t change the content much, but I’ll add and edit a few things. This is going to happen within a number of days of the post that you’re reading now (as time permits).
I thought of holding the present post up until I had finished everything I wanted to do with the old one, but I am feeling a little impatient to get something new up on this blog. I also am feeling a little impatient in my desire to inform people about some interesting sites and links related to the event that brought Kerala back to the front of my mind – and to lots of people’s minds, actually – within the past couple of months. And that subject is the floods – the biggest ones that Kerala experienced in a century. Of course, this disaster caused much destruction and hardship. But it also led to some great stories showing the resilience, creativity, and general social goodness of the people who have coped with it.
I have seen quite a few fascinating posts on blogs and Facebook documenting the floods and their aftermath through writings and photos. But there is one site that I especially wanted to mention here, not only because it contains excellent writing and photos about the floods in Kerala, but because it is a marvelous site in general, one that everyone who is interested in the people and culture of India should know about. And that site is the People’s Archive of Rural India.
The article in this site related to the floods in Kerala that grabbed my attention most was Kerala’s Women Farmers Rise Above the Flood. As I originally said in Fascination with Kerala, one of the first things that caused me to have a strong interest in this state was the “social systems.” As I put it, I found out that Kerala had “developed a kind of decentralized, democratic socialism that didn’t exist in much of the world.” And as I look back on that statement now, I feel it is definitely an understatement. The movements in Kerala gave rise to a number of fascinating and highly progressive groups, a trend that continues to this day (which is impressive, considering many other, quite regressive, trends that have taken place throughout India in recent memory). This article is about one such group, Kudumbashree, a “massive women’s community network,” which, as the article’s author, P. Sainath (who is also the editor of PARI) points out, “could well be the greatest gender justice and poverty reduction programme in the world.” And here, I am tempted to elaborate much more on Mr. Sainath’s discussion of the details of Kudumbashree’s work, but such elaboration should probably be saved for a separate, longer post sometime in the future. Let’s just say that it is very interesting to see how – and how much – such a group deals with the aftermath of the floods. As Mr. Sainath says, “Restoring cultivation in this situation could dishearten the most determined… But not the women farmers of Kudumbashree.”
And there are a couple of other pieces about the Kerala floods – also written by P. Sainaith – that are definitely worth a vist: Saving Photos and Memories of a Flood – a good, short article about a woman’s efforts to do exactly that – and The Bank that Went Under – Almost, which is not simply about the bank of a river but a bank on the bank of a river – specifically, The Kuttamangalam Service Cooperative Bank, and its great efforts to recover records, etc. (This post, by the way, includes some very nice pictures, too.)
Before PARI published all these excellent articles on the aftermath of the floods, this site actually introduced us to a new song about the subject, “Song for Kerala: Rhythm of the calamity.” As the article’s author, Chittoor Gopi, explains, “A popular song in Malayalam, once sung by Usha Uthup to celebrate the riches of Kerala, has now been reworked to honour the lives lost and to mark the destruction caused by the massive floods last month.” The article contains a good video for the song, with a lot of fantastic pictures of Kerala – both with and without floods.
Of course, it was nice to know that a number of people who were in Kerala at the time of the floods made it out safely as well. That list includes two bloggers who have commented here a number of times, Madhulika Liddle and Anuradha Warrier. Anu visited Kerala, as she does periodically, because that is her home state (though she presently lives in Massachusetts), and Madhu (who lives in Delhi) “tagged along” with Anu for a visit to Kerala, right before the floods.
Curiously, this is something I once at least vaguely considered doing as well. If you go back to comments on my original post about my Fascination with Kerala, you’ll see an amusing conversation between Anu and me that occurred in 2012. To sum it up, here are the key lines in that exchange:
Anu: And if you ever want to visit Kerala, I offer you my parents’ or my husband’s home as your base. My husband and I visit every year if possible, so you’re welcome to tag along if you so desire.
Me: That is very nice of you and this is very intriguing… What time of year do you usually go? :)
Anu: Usually during the summer, Richard. This year, it’ll be August.
Me: Hmm, August in Kerala… That’s OK, I don’t mind a little rain. :)
Actually, as it turned out, when Madhu tagged along with Anu, she really did encounter only a little rain, getting out before the floods. During this time, she apparently had a pleasant tourist’s adventure with Anu, who was on her way to celebrate a large birthday celebration being planned for her father. In Blogland, this resulted in two very pleasant posts about the same trip (with a lot of focus on temples and food). Madhu wrote this part up in her post From Kumbhakarna to Baahubali In A Day, and Anu’s perspective appears in My Indian Adventures – Kerala. Both are good writers, so these are nice posts to read if you want to enjoy some very pleasant travelogues. But in Anu’s next post, More Adventures…and Some Misadventures, she tells a different kind of story, about seeing something she had not at all expected and unlike anything she’d seen before. And she gets pretty descriptive about that; for example:
The road (yes, that was a road) was now a river and they were struggling to evacuate over 750 families from the farmlands behind.
My initial reaction was astonishment. In all my years living and visiting, I’d never seen the roads flooded. When I went downstairs, I realised that our backyard was under water almost two-thirds of the way…
And then she had the hair-raising experience of having to get from the floods to one airport and then another (how many airports were there?) until finally, much later, settling back down in the U.S.
After reading all this, I had to ask myself, would I be willing to go through all that craziness in order to, finally, spend some time in Kerala? Maybe I would! But I doubt that if and when I do make my trip, I will face such an ordeal, given that this was the first time that Kerala had experienced a flood of that magnitude in 100 years. Though, on the other hand, this sort of thing might actually become more commonplace now that we’re going through climate change. And by the time I ever get the money together to make such a journey, we probably will have experienced a lot more climate change.
But in the meantime… If you can’t visit a place, the next best thing, I think, is to continue reading about it. The things that you read might turn out to be more interesting than any experiences that you’ll actually have if and when you ever make it over there.