The rickshaws of Kochi

Ashraf with his rickshaw on Princess Street in Fort Kochi

There’s Ashraf in the first picture. He’s been driving a rickshaw for thirty years. At first, he had his own rickshaw. Now, he rents – it’s cheaper and without having to handle all the hassle of maintenance, insurance and paperwork, he says. I met him in Fort Kochi my first morning there, on Princess Street. Ashraf greets me with his big, warm smile for no particular reason. He exudes ease, and calm. I’ve gotten many big, warm smiles in Kochi for no particular reason. I love it.

And then there are a multitude of other rickshaws this next morning, in Ernakulam, across the harbor from Fort Kochi. I’ll be taking a rickshaw from the ferry jetty in Ernakulam to the train station. From there I’ll catch the train to the backwaters of Allepey, south of Kochi.

The first guy at the ferry jetty at Ernakulam will not take any customers until he completes reading his morning paper. So I go with the next rickshaw. My homestay host in Fort Kochi told me it would be forty rupees to the train station.

Kochi rickshaws are wider and more comfortable than the ones in Mumbai. And more colorful. They drive slower too, even though traffic is light this morning.

All adding to the sense or illusion of peace and serenity…that old saying seems to be true – the outer world is a reflection of the inner world. I’m feeling generally very peaceful and happy here in Kerala, even though it’s been just two days.

I get to the train station in about ten minutes. My rickshaw driver tells me it’s sixty rupees – from my rucksack and my travel shorts, he must know I’m a traveler, not a local. I calmly and serenely tell him it’s forty rupees, which I hand to him. He calmly and with apparent serenity takes the money without any argument.

Off to Allepey now and to the backwaters.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

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It’s just the simple things…

Darkness at Fort Kochi beach, Kerala, southern India. It’s half past eight. The extreme humidity of the day has subsided. The beach is quiet. Except for waves loudly lapping the shore – high tide is still some time away. Chinese fishing nets sit silently against the Kochi harbor.

Shaheer, the owner of a fish stand on the beach suggests butter fish, a local specialty. Price 200 rupees, just under $3. Shaheer hands the butter fish to Fakhruddin M Y, the chef at Cafe Balbba, a busy kitchen shack on the water, just behind the fish stand. Fakhruddin will grill the butter fish, medium spicy, with local herbs. For 150 rupees, just around $2.

The view of the Chinese fish nets, the waves lapping the shore and the sand below my feet make it the most satisfying meal in two days in Kochi. Even with the mosquitoes around. And far more satisfying than the unappetizing food and ambience at the expensive and highly rated seafood restaurant in the heart of Kochi. It’s just the simple things…

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

Project Good Earth in Kerala

Nature put on an early display of the monsoon in the middle of the night. Pouring rain, thunder claps, the skies opened up in the dark.

Morning arrived, and with it, nature’s soothing alarm clock. Project Good Earth, well known to the Ancients, continues to deliver its promise of nurturing nature.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

It’s raining outside. Can you guess where I am?

I couldn’t wait for the monsoon to arrive in Mumbai. So I’ve headed down to Kerala, God’s Own Country, all the way in the south of India. It’s been an exciting and delightful first day, heat, warmth, smells, sights. But I’ll cover that another time. For now, enjoy the sounds of my first taste of the monsoon here in Kerala, outside the window of my homestay in Fort Kochi.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

No red carpets here

A brown carpet made of jute fabric sort of says Welcome to My World on a road being dug up in Sherly Rajan, Bandra. Mumbai. Maybe all the digging is for a telephone or television cable, maybe it’s for a water main, maybe it’s for construction.

Or maybe it’s just because in Mumbai, utility companies and their contractors love to dig up roads perennially to keep themselves in business.

IMG_8983A steamroller is parked not far from the action, its driver engaged on his mobile phone. Maybe he’s chatting with his family, maybe he’s watching a movie, maybe he’s gossiping with other steamroller drivers.

Further down the street, a bunch of managerial level utility company employees debate the pros and cons of the ditches they’ve dug, after they’ve dug it. First dig, then discover. Life, unfiltered, in Mumbai.

 

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

Reach

 

tactile bravery

mental hope

things unsavory

emotional grope

reaching out

to Reach within

letting go

and letting sin

 

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

What do you do when they come for you?

A yoga class to help me see where I am, to help me be where I am, and where I’m not. Happy with where I am some days, not happy on other days. It feels hard, it feels challenging, it feels right.

A WhatsApp message from a friend, a forwarded message saying with anguish that human beings aren’t supposed to work so hard and wait for another life to live — its energy as tortured and aggressive as the modern life against which it rails. So many people trying to help, so many people telling you how a better life is to be lived, so many anti-modern life people vomiting from the mouth, vomiting from the liver. So much anger. As much anger as some modern life people spew from their intellectual minds, their clever, social media savvy minds. Both enervating energies stridently staking a claim to the truth.

I met a man when I was in a dark place in my life. He was an empowered man, comfortable as himself, comfortable in himself. He showed me around, a brief guiding light. I grew from the interaction. But, he would not let go. He saw me once as struggling. That’s how he continues to see me. Needing his help, dependent on his wisdom. I have my own wisdom. My silent words ring true for me. I was stuck once. Now, he’s stuck, unable to see another as empowered. What then will he do? What role will he have left? He tells me, I love you, brother while he offers me unsolicited sympathy. Camaraderie — he calls it.

I met another man many years ago, a healer, a brilliant man. Everyone said he was evolved. A helpful man. Until I saw he needed to save me more than I needed saving. He railed against therapists. They’re a crutch, he said, they want to make you dependent on them. While he offered me friendship mixed with dependency, anger, misogyny and homophobia. When he told me he’d met a reincarnation of Lao Tzu, I knew I’d arrived at the outer reaches of sanity.

I met a recovering alcoholic. His recovery and his identity depended on convincing every person he met that they were alcoholics waiting to happen. He, too, wanted to save me. He tried hard, and, while freely quoting Machiavelli, he tried to rent out his dank, dark basement to me. I’ll give you a deal, he said. I passed.

I met a man who warned me about the dangers of Ayurveda and alternative remedies. He’d never tried any. He was convinced they had no utility. Unproven benefit, he said with definitive finality. Give me three days of yoga training and I’ll master it, he said. Be careful, he said about alternative remedies, don’t say I didn’t warn you. I felt he was issuing a fatwa against Ayurveda and alternative remedies. Like people who burn books they’ve never read. Because it could be dangerous. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’ve met several men like these over the years, and sometimes, women. Whose identity depends on saving me, saving you and saving the world with their intellectual wisdom, keen on telling me and you that their intellectual wisdom should be my intuitive wisdom and your intuitive wisdom. I know my intuitive wisdom. I experience it, and it evolves. And I’m fine with it. Mostly, it tells me to not accept another’s intellectual wisdom as my own truth.

I continue to meet people like this. There’s nothing to do about it. Just watch, breathe and let them go on their way.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

Nature in motion, with no dress rehearsal

Migratory Indian flamingoes are spending the remaining days of May in the Thane creek, an hour and a half from Mumbai. They are from the state of Gujarat in western India. Every year, in the month of November, the flamingoes fly south to the waterways in the Greater Mumbai area. They return to Gujarat at the end of May.

Here, the flamingoes put on a performance against the mangroves in the Thane creek. They had no dress rehearsal for today’s performance, nor was there one for the amateur photographer observing them.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

 

To an unknown man wearing a blue shirt and a warm smile

Toll

Airoli bridge toll booth

It was a long, plodding ride in bumper to bumper traffic on a tropically hot Saturday afternoon. I was on my way to the Coastal & Marine Biodiversity Centre in Airoli, Navi Mumbai (New Mumbai), an hour and a half from Mumbai. To see flamingoes from a boat in the Thane creek. Before they head back to Gujarat, the state in western India where they will stay until winter.

The Thane creek is the largest in Asia, extending 26 kilometers and separating Mumbai from mainland India. Part of the creek has been declared an eco-sanctuary and is home to life-sustaining mangroves, and host to hundreds of migratory birds each year including the iconic flamingoes, which were lovely to watch from my boat.

Today though, I will not document the beautiful, graceful flamingoes or the egrets or the rare bird species I witnessed up close.

Today is dedicated to an unknown man, a working class toll-booth attendant in a blue shirt who stands in the hot Mumbai sun in the middle of May, readily offering his warm smile to motorists along with the change he dispenses.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

Lakhan the traveling bamboo chair seller

 

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.