Category Archives: Tales from the Motherland

Kerala Trip 2010: The Hunt for Hamburger

At some point during every trip to Kerala, I crave Texas barbecue and hamburgers. Knowing Texas barbecue will be impossible to find, I head to the local bakery in search of a hamburger.

The Kerala hamburger resembles nothing found in the states, but I’m a fan anyway. I sink my teeth into two pieces of sweet bread hugging a spicy cutlet with raw onion, tomato and Kerala-style cole slaw.

Kerala Hamburger

Kerala Hamburger Half Eaten

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Kerala Trip 2010: Breakfast

Mornings are awesome because a full meal awaits.

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Race is a Human Construct

I honestly think some of my cousins in India think I am a complete numskull.

Pluralism/diversity causes misunderstandings. An inability to understand the world, thoughts, worldview of someone from somewhere else. It causes conflict in the states. But I enjoy this diversity. I enjoy growing up with so many people and knowing their heart and their mind. When you know someone, you don’t think about their skin color or worry too much about “where they’re from.” You just appreciate them as a person, as someone like you.

Race is a human construct. Latino is not a race or even a color. Neither is the state of being black. News anchor Soledad O’Brien is culturally black, even though she is not deeply pigmented as such.

“Don’t let them tell you you’re not black,” her mother tells her. “Don’t let them tell you you’re not Hispanic or not Cuban.”

I don’t like checking my “race” on surveys. It waters down, mocks and misrepresents who I am.

I want to tell you who I am. Part of who I am. My roots. Raices.

I admire culture and the sense of community and resourceful engendered by many cultures. This is potentially my ignorance speaking, but I see most countries as very similar. Most countries outside of the United States and Europe. I see a sense of understanding of community. This exists in small towns in the states, too. I enjoy talking to people who grew up on a farm. It whispers parallels with my forebears in India with their chickens and goats and crops all around.

My India is not your India. It’s like the parable of the elephant and the four blind folks. One feels the trunk, the other feels the feet; one feels the tail, the other feels the belly.

Everything is different in Kerala, isn’t it?

 

I stood on a hill in Kozhencherry with my cousin Tijo. As we overlooked the city, I told him, “Do you realize you live in the most beautiful place in the world?”

I never wanted to be anything but what I am. Of Indian descent. Though I did want to be black for sometime. I think you end up wanting to be the people you’re around. I loved dark skin. Keralites were known for their dark skin. Mine wasn’t dark, though I wished it to be. It wasn’t until later I realized that some people are taught to look down on dark skin, which to this day I do not understand. It wasn’t taught in my household.

I remember the first time I learned about skin color.

Image Credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/andreanna/2779781360/

A tree is falling in the forest.

If your identity is taken away, are you left with nothing?

If a people’s history is not written down, it’s as if it never happened. They are redefined to suit someone else’s whims.

I’ve always described India as a different planet. Every corner might as well be it’s own nation, with the mishmash of customs and dialects. You can’t look at someone of Indian descent and know their story.

India is snow-capped mountains, steamy nights, tropical paradise, scarcely bearable oppression, freedom of the highest kind, democracy, caste, religious oppression, religious amity.

India is diaspora.

Everyone is looking to go somewhere else. Or they have no idea a world exists outside their few kilometres.

Memories of a Nature Untainted

Kerala is a radically different place today than from my first visit in the early 80’s. Bullock carts and transport trucks ruled the streets. Then motorcycles started butting in. Cars were few and far between. It was no surprise to see the occasional elephant hauling lumber.

We awoke to roosters crowing in the morning and headed outside to brush our teeth on the front porch and spit into the gravelly earth. We relieved ourselves in a hole on the bathroom floor with with the pop-a-squat method. Forget about toilet paper. My mom said Indians thought it was gross how we used toilet paper anyway. A good splash of water gives a deeper clean. But once you go toilet paper, you never go back.

Just outside the house was the cow. I always wished I could hug it and tug at its horns but was never allowed to get too close. They said the cow might gore me. I couldn’t understand why our helper lady could lead it around on a rope, while I couldn’t even give it a little pat.

Chickens owned the yard. My cousins could catch them with no qualms. I was too scared of their beaks, claws and screams.

I loved prancing among the rubber trees when the ground wasn’t too muddy from the rains.