Back from Thiruvanantapuram
I just returned from a two weeks business trip to Thiruvanantapuram (“Trivandrum”, as the English colonialists referred to it to simplify it’s name), the vibrant capital of Kerala. It is located in the southernmost part of India and on the shores of my beloved Malabar Coast. Since I am responsible for a team located there and working for my company the occasional visit every now and then is required to keep up a vivid relationship. This is already my second functional team leadership and from the previous many true friends have remained with whom I am still in close contact.
This time my visit was a special one since I arrived one day short of my 50th birthday, so I planned a surprise dinner … I asked my friend Jaise to invite a bunch of people from my previous team for a dinner in a restaurant without revealing the reason. He told me later that he really enjoyed the attempts to guess the story behind … My current colleagues and myself met a little earlier and hid in a separate room until on the other side, in the garden, the gathering was complete. While Jaise asked them to guess the reason for it we appeared out of thin air … the reaction was overwhelming and really moved my heart. Find a photo of the crew above …
Why I love to be there
It is difficult for me to put all my feelings towards people, culture, food and geography into one Blog Posting, but I will try nevertheless.
There is basically only one thing I don’t like when I am there – the ubiquitous pollution. Everything else is so loveable, heartwarming, bright and positive that it’s a real cure for the dark German’s soul to be there. People show real affection and curiosity, nobody is cool in the negative meaning of the word. Tolerance is deeply rooted in the cultural DNA of a densely populated area; Hindus, Muslims and Christians live together peacefully since centuries. The food is *delicious* (Kerala has been the world’s capital of spices growing and trading for millennia) and plays a central role in the daily routines. The weather is … well … warm.
The Arabian Sea is warm as well and a dangerous challenge for a swimmer (depending on where you try it) – strong currents, often not visible on the surface, can make it an exhausting exercise to return to the safe beach. An unforgettable view is the Arabic Sea at night time: Hundreds of fishing boats line up on the horizon, visible as pearls of light. This time I was there in the dry season, only a little rain fell every now and then during the night. But make no mistake: For a middle European rain feels like a warm shower at a temperature of 30°C.
For somebody loving water as much as I do Kerala is the place to be. It features a long coastline towards the Arabian Sea on the one side and the Backwaters on the other side. The latter are large sweet water lakes connected by channels. Besides that there are many waterfalls coming down from the Western Ghats …
… all those together ensure that the humidity of the air never falls short of 100%.
Talking of warm showers – that’s the feeling listening to Malayalam creates inside me: Warm water trickling over my skin. It is one complicated language, belonging to the Dravidian family of languages. They have 13 vowels and 36 consonants (numbers differ according to whom you ask). Only the occasional english word and some grammatical tricks make it possible to at least understand what is being discussed (most of the times it is food anyway).
After the working part I reserved a few days for travelling and exploring some sights. I visited Fort Kochi which was the first European trading post in India. It was erected by the Portuguese and later taken over by the Dutch, before India became a part of the British empire. Christianity entered India from here and in the local museum many artefacts from those times are exposed. Since most Indians are deeply religious – regardless of what they believe in – Catholicism had a stronghold here for centuries.
On the more earthly side especially the Chinese fishing techniques (flat nets moved with a crane) are a local speciality here and always a scenic motive. Long before the first European set foot here Kochi (previously Ernakulam) was a trading portal towards the Arabian and Chinese world. Not so scenic, but strongly recommended by Muju, the Auto Rickshaw driver, was looking at carpets. I complied, but did not buy one and he – hopefully – got his provision …
The next day I spent in Alleppey with my friend and colleague Anoop – an Alleppey local – and partly with his wife and daughter. He took me to a Toddy Shop in the Backwaters which was only reachable by boat. As always we had delicious food and, a small exception from daily routine, alcohol (Toddy is a very light wine made from palm juice).
And then? … Home to freezing temperatures, snow and German winter darkness …