June 28, 2011

Vintage India - Kerala

 This set of vintage pictures is from the state of Kerala, which will forever be my definition of a tropical paradise.  While living in the dorm at the University of Mysore, I became friends with a lovely woman named Bindu, who invited me and Pam (another foreign student) on the spur of the moment to travel with her for a long weekend to her home in the hills of  Malappuram.  She was homesick, and when we arrived after a lengthy bus ride, I could see why.  There she is, graceful and elegant in the picture above, with her father standing behind her.  Below is a view of a corner of her home, and if memory serves this woman was the cook, who really had a way with okra curry:
 Bindu's Amma (mother) and Appa (father) took us in as though we were their long-lost children, and as the weekend turned into an extended week and a half sojourn, I began to feel as though this really were my home, and only an accident of birth had originally landed me on the other side of the world.  They were Christians who proudly traced the origins of their faith back to St. Thomas, and we attended church with them.  The experience was made all the more interesting by their request, close to an insistence, that Pam and I wear our jeans, whereas we felt it would have been appropriate to dress up in skirts.  It became clear upon arrival at the church that the jeans enhanced our cache as exotic, blond, pants-wearing American women--I'm sure we were the talk of the village!
 The family was relatively well-to-do for the area, as they owned and ran a plantation.  Appa  piled us in his car and had his driver tour us around, showing us crops being harvested, tapioca being ground into a slurry and dried in the sun, and other tropical agricultural wonders.
 Here is Bindu's brother, who helped manage the family business.  Very handsome, no?
 The pay off, for me, of the jeans-in-church incident came a few days later, when we were called to the gates of the complex to meet an unusual visitor.  Bindu explained that he was from a tribe that lived in the forest and rarely ventured out.  (I believe in retrospect that he was an aboriginal man, an Advasi).  He had heard that there were blond women visiting and had come to see.  There was a language barrier, as he spoke only a few words of Malayalam, so mostly we stood and smiled and gestured.  I was struck by the realization that for him, Pam and I were, and would likely remain, the sole representatives of our race and nationality he would ever encounter, and vice-versa.  I smiled and gestured with extra enthusiasm, in an attempt to convey my goodwill.
It's a moment that has stayed with me, and one of the reasons there's absolutely no room for hatred or bigotry in my personal world view.

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