Kerala State in Southern India is known as God’s Own Country. It has all the delightful features of other parts of India; temples, music, colour, great food, agreeable and helpful people, luxuriant vegetation, wonderful flowers… I could go on, but the thing it does have, unlike many other parts of India, is a sufficiency of Toilets. You may wish to call them bathrooms, lavatories, washrooms, but they all amount to the same thing. It has an adequate supply of reasonably clean sanitation. Kerala’s toilet coverage is almost universal – 97 percent. This is to my mind a key indicator of the way people are respected there.
What might explain Kerala’s peaceful and secular coexistence? There are many possible reasons but one striking thing that may offer an explanation is its near-universal provision of public and social services. Kerala’s literacy rate – 94 percent – is in the same range as much richer areas like the Gulf, China and Europe. The state’s infant mortality rate is 12 per 1,000 births, compared to 40 per 1,000 births for India as a whole. Earlier this year, Kerala became the first state in India to achieve a primary education attendance rate of 100 percent.
Shopping in Kerala
Three main religions live in harmony in Kerala. Hindu about 55%, Muslim 26%, Christian 18%. Roads lined with colourful mosques lead on to others lined with large Christian churches. On our way to the airport along the Beach Road on a Thursday night they were all jumping. One large Christian church had a colourfully robed priest delivering a sermon from a pulpit through a loud speaker in a large open marquee, his attentive congregation mainly women, seated on the sandy ground in vividly coloured saris. Hindu temples start earlier in the day and are always noticeable for their vivid colour and endless chanting. Most days around 5 am we were woken by chanting and drumming, amidst the endless mournful cry of the koel. December to February is summer there and is the Hindu Festival season. We were lucky enough to come upon a Shiva Festival in a small village. They had several elephants, and male goddesses in colourful paint and makeup. They were preceded by bands of old men and young boys, drumming ferociously. No actual women seemed to play a part.
The Goddess Shiva
The coastal areas of Kerala, where we were, comprise systems of lakes and canals, feeding into the sea at various points. Fishing is one of the main occupations. It is also possible to tour round the canals, observing life on the islands,from time to time being dazzled by a brilliant kingfisher.
We were taken in a canoe for four hours by our guide Mr Kunjachan, a remarkable sixty- eight year old man. We breakfasted at his home, and after our tour had a late lunch there again. He lives in a simple concrete house by the side of the canal amongst the palms.
across the rice fields
men’s voices rise
an axe bites
a rooster crows
we glide along the canal