Travels in Kerala – April 2010

The wind had lifted and the waves were loud as they syncopated against the side of the boat. I was watching the world slip by as we passed green feathery paddy fields and palms that yawned over inky water. Four bright green waterlily shoots approached, bobbing along by the side of the boat. Their tightly curled, bright green leaves sprang from swollen bulbs with earthy roots that hung into the water below. They would soon find others in this aquatic wilderness and weave together to form the swirling, floating islands that were refuges for birds, fish and, these days…. plastic bottles.

I have been seeing India through a haze these days. Its beauty is as startling as ever but sometimes I feel as though I am having to peer through a veil to see it; a veil that is increasingly obscuring the view. Let me explain. Have you ever noticed how you shift your camera ever so slightly right or left to squeeze out unsightly objects from the most picturesque of views? You might remove a telegraph pole in front of a mountain, the concrete building on a hillside, a rubbish pile next to a flower stand or a 4×4 parked next to a statue. I’ve done this countless times and have been noticing the frequency grow. It’s as though as we look out into the world, we consciously choose what not to see.

As a case in point, our journey from Cochin to Alleppey was bathed in incense. But it wasn’t the sweet jasmine or gentle rose of the temples that pepper the country; it was the strong, sickening smell of burning plastic. Plastic coats more and more of India’s landscape now; from the fields of rural Rajasthan, to Kerala’s roadsides and waterways – a modern day snowfall that is harder and harder to ignore. It is not only seas of plastic that we passed on the way, with fires dotted along the way to transform this pile up into toxic smoke (a homage to the non-disposability God), it was stagnant pools of water and bottles bobbing in the rivers.

It’s the case the world over; perhaps in our chic highrise megacities most of all. What would happen, for example, if waste collections stopped in London? Behaviour would change fast, that’s for sure. No-one wants mountainous, unattractive rubbish tips building up in their gardens or outside their house-fronts. Yet it is made so easy for us to shift the frame away in cities today as rubbish trucks faithfully chug waste away to “somewhere not here”.

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Mr. Kaur

December 2008 

His wooly jumper was bobbled round the edges. Striped and worn, with holes in the elbows. I love my taxi driver, Mr. Kaur. He’s so honest and kind. I love how he tells me everything as it happens.  ‘Airport passing on the right Maam. That’s the flyover for the Domestic airport’. ‘Big runway being built.’ ‘We’re at Ixzit five now Maam’ ‘78 kilometers on the clock now’. He provides live updates. Gently reminding me he is there.

As we drove towards Gurgaon, jagged sculptures appeared from the smoggy mist like silent giants. The developing satellite to Delhi is beginning to thrive and find its own identity. I could see his furrowed brow in the rear view mirror, sweating slightly in the winter sunlight.

‘What do you think of the recent terrorist attacks?’, I asked him.

This had been on my mind.

I woke up last night heart beating fast. I had heard a bomb going off — at least I thought I had. I haven’t been nervous about this stuff in the past, but last night I found out that a bomb had been disarmed across the road from my cousin’s house, in the heaving colony of Kotla, soon after the Mumbai attacks. This was that bit too close to home.

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