The rains and political rhetoric are loud in Kerala. The rains run off into the sea; the rhetoric floods minds with the emptiness of it all
IN God's Own Country, two things rule: cell phones and politics. Mobile phone chatter has grabbed the soul and psyche of the south Indian state of Kerala with a vengeance. Not much of a surprise there. Here is a state that prides on words - the meaning and meaninglessness of them all.
Which is why, there is so much of empty rhetoric parading as hard news in Kerala, now. Here, hard news means political statements. Mr A whines about Mr V, Mr V moans about Mr O and Mr A and the media, unable to decide who is friend and who is foe, who is right and who is wrong, dances to a tune that is their own making.
So we have otherwise aggressive journalists playing smart cards of silence - perhaps to appease political masters. Indeed, newsmakers are making news in Kerala, like never before. Sadly, it doesn't make a pretty sight.
This monsoon-rich state was once a must-go itinerary for the world's true travelers and documented with awe by the likes of the famed Arab traveller from the Tangiers, Ibn Battuta.
Those travelers came uninvited, discovered the riches of Malabar, and also took home some. Today's travellers are the weary backpackers who do a backwater, a Kochi on foot and catch the next flight to Goa or Mumbai. For them, the state presents caparisoned elephants and floral competitions, perhaps unaware that tourists cannot be lured by gimmicks.
Despite boasting no other economic rider today other than Gulf money and tourism, Kerala continues to thrive on a self-defeating, dispirited nonchalance to modern day realities. That comes as no surprise, again. Here, everything is decided by the colours of political ideology - or the lack of it.
Where is the land for anything at all, one may ask.
Indeed, where is the land? The state cannot feed on its own any more. Farm lands are fast shrinking, the alleged real estate mafia is sitting on prime land around proposed development projects, and everyone is talking of 'shopping complexes.'
Four single shutter shops make a complex, and name it after one of the long-deceased forefathers, and you have a 'memorial complex' that doubles as a commercial entity.
Seasons have gone for a toss. People say, Kerala now has nine months of uninterrupted rains. Once, you could predict the change of seasons watching nature. The bright yellow Cassia flowers heralded spring - today, they flower and wither by end of February.
Rains are playing havoc with agricultural crop cycles and farmers tend to take the easy way out - stop farming. What once used to be rich and prime agricultural land, today, it stands water-sodden and weed-infested. No one cares. It makes sense not to.
The Indian railways sit on prime land - as governmental authorities tend to do all over India. Much of the rest of prime land has been grabbed, recovered partially by the state, or awaits judicial verdict.
The roads are potholes and needed the interference of the court, again, for routine repairs. Fever is rampant, and they come in all types. On the flip side, this fever is a sure guarantee to weight-loss - that is, if you survive the joint pains and burning temperature.
For people, the relief continues to be movies - crass ones, mostly - and gold. Jewellery hoardings have taken up much of Kerala's air-space. Beating them for visibility are mobile phone transmission towers.
Somehow, with so much of negativity to be imbibed from around you, it doesn't surprise that Kerala celebrates 'spirituality' to the extreme.
There is political spirituality, where logic and common sense are defied if only to stay aligned to the whims of political masters. There is spirituality, as defined by the Books, and thousands congregate for quick-fix solutions from haloed masters.
And then there is the spirituality of the masses, where the operative word is 'spirit.'
Serpentine queues form before shops that sell 'the highs' and the smile on the face of those who clinch the priced booty wrapped in a piece of black plastic cover, and walking triumphantly away, does make room for some much-wanted comic relief.
But for all the negatives, there are little mercies.
The absolute green that washes the state, the heartening sight of children diving into water bodies, the goats and cows that laze around in utter contentment, the jostling of school children down the roads....
Yes, Kerala is poor, damp and its walls algae-ridden.
Yes, Kerala thrives on the perils of petty politics.
Yet, it is hard not to love this land.
RAJESH IS from Tamil Nadu, the neighbouring state that could easily serve as a role model for Kerala on many counts.
For several people like Rajesh, Kerala is the 'Gulf' that the Arabian Gulf is for most Keralites. This is the land to their riches and dreams.
Rajesh has a dream. He needs about Rs2 lakhs (Dh20,000) to make his way into the police force. For that, he works as a marble polisher in Kerala. He receives more than double the wages he can make in his own state.
Like the 'Gulf Malayalis', he too returns to his home on vacations - smaller ones that last at most a week.
For him, Kerala is paradise - on several counts. The state earns him a livelihood, for one. He knows that perhaps if he meets the right people, can afford the right money to spare, he too can get to the actual 'Gulf'. After all, he sees the flourish of 'Dubai money' around him.
He turns to ask: 'What do you do?'
'I write for a living,' I say, but do not add, 'in the Gulf.'Somehow, there is a fleeting sense of guilt. And I know the reason why.