Tag Archives: travel blogger

The sounds we make, the stories we share…

The sound carries from the street below in this suburb of Mumbai, all the way to the top of the sports club, to the second-floor men’s locker room where I am. The rhythm of a one-sided conversation traveling upward – something about a car – reveals an aural pattern rich in its display of class and status. Little boys in the locker room, intrigued by the events unfolding outside, head to the window to watch. A woman of high social standing is loudly berating a lower-class man – a parking attendant with the club. His voice can barely be heard , the woman will not let him get a word in. He’s subservient, patient and accommodating. Patience with the rich is the key to his future.

In the locker room above, an older man tells a little boy, “See there? See what’s happening? Women always create tamasha (drama). Always.” His voice gets throttled when he says the word always, as though another part of his anatomy is being throttled. A couple of other men in the locker room laugh and nod in agreement.

The woman’s arms are gesticulating, her right index finger accusing the man. She’s furious that the valet wasn’t able to retrieve her car in less than five minutes. She yells at him in Hindi, “I almost missed my appointment because of you. You know how long I had to wait for this appointment?! I’m telling you for the last time, you keep this up, we’ll see if you have a job tomorrow. Understood?!”

Fifteen minutes later, the public scolding continues. The often hostile, sometimes matter of fact condescension of the upper classes in India does not shock me anymore. Growing up in India, I’d seen it close at hand – in family, extended family and in the well-to-do middle-class society I once believed was the entire world. But the condescension of the upper classes is universal – it’s the same no matter what country I’m in, no matter the races involved, no matter the ethnicities, no matter the religion.

It’s the same in America and the rest of the West, once the much-touted facade of dignity of labor, diversity and inclusiveness are discarded – when no one who really matters is looking. It’s there in New York, that liberal bastion where corporate America and start ups have monetized newly discovered pretend equality. In London, in Paris, in Germany, and also in the foothills of the Himalayas – in the tourist lodges owned by rich Indians and foreigners. And in the villages of India where village elders hold the power. Power and money talk, bullshit and lower standing walks, or so the saying goes.

It’s also quite likely the same in the numerous parts of the world I’ve never been – the rich and the well-to-do talk down to the poor, the poor keep quiet in their silent, resentful contempt of the upper classes, the poor aspire to become rich, the newly rich repeat what they learned when they were poor. While everyone cannot stop talking about inclusiveness and diversity.

As I step out of the building, I see the woman, unrelenting. A doorman looks at me, smiles and says, “Yeh roz ka story hai, saab. Mian hai, aur kya bolega – This is the daily story, sir. She’s a Muslim, what else is there to say?” He grins at the wisdom he’s sharing with me. I’ve seen this kind of grin before.

I calmly correct him in my not-very-proper Hindi, “Yeh mussalman ka baat nahin. Hindu log aisa bhi hai, Christian log aisa bhi hai, Sikh aur Parsi log bhi aisa hai – this has nothing to do with being Muslim. Hindus are also like this, Christians are also like this, Sikhs and Parsis, too.”

It’s not the commiserating response he was expecting. He looks away sheepishly but doesn’t really care for my perspective – there will be someone else who’ll agree with him. This is not new for me, either – I saw this growing up in India, as a little boy and also as a teenager, when the grown ups around me, grown ups of all religions, disparaged other religions with completely malicious lies. All who belonged were special, all others were the cause of the world’s problems.

Today, India, like much of the world, has moved extremely rightward. Over the past fifteen to twenty years, the politics of religion and unwanted people – the other – has become a powerful driver for big corporations that align themselves with the forces of ignorance and hate. And people are poisoned and made to look away from the active role that class plays in controlling it all from behind the scenes, with just a little bit of a nod and a wink.

In America, too, where big corporations and politicians across the political spectrum manipulate people in the name of religion, race and victimhood. And Europe. And Asia. And Africa. And South America. And on, and on. Can’t eliminate it totally, I don’t think, or at all.

I could, however, endeavor to continue to calmly decline to partake in the madness. Just as calmly as the Hindu doorman at the club slandered all the followers of Islam. Just as calmly as a Muslim or Christian or Buddhist or Jewish person in some other situation, some other part of the world might slander the followers of another religion. As calmly as a deeply racist person might make bigoted statements about other races just because he or she can. As calmly as an older man indoctrinates a young, impressionable boy with the belief that women create problems. And as calmly as the parking attendant observes the situation in silence and declines to add fuel to the self-righteous anger of the outraged person talking down to him.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

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Refuge

It’s 32 degrees Celsius (90 degrees Fahrenheit) on a sweltering Friday afternoon. Mumbai in May is more intense and humid than any other time of year. The monsoon next month will bring much needed relief. Even the birds in the trees seem to be saying so.

I’m early for my physiotherapy appointment – after years of sitting behind a desk for a living, I’ve recently exuberantly embraced a rather intense level of physical activity. My body is not fond of the enthusiastic embrace. “No thanks, buddy. What’s the hurry?” my body’s been telling me. “After being sedentary for so long, how about we ramp things up a little bit slowly, yes? Then we can get intense, okay?” But I didn’t pay much attention.

After a couple of months of sending fairly clear and polite signals, my body says, “That’s it! Enough.” And with all the clarity in the world, it pulls the slow the f*** down lever. It usually wins this exchange. I’d like to continue to be in a healthy relationship with my body for a long, long time. Rest of my life is what I’m thinking. So, here I am at the front door of the physiotherapy department at Holy Family Hospital in Bandra, Mumbai.

Just outside the front door, a dog is taking shelter in the shade provided by an overhanging construction canopy. I’ve seen this dog before on the hospital grounds – in the evenings, I’ve seen it hanging out in the parking lot. During the day, it takes refuge from the heat under a canopy like this, or below the trees near the main gate. It’s calmly asleep amidst the noise and bustle from the hospital grounds. Feet kicking slowly in a dream, peacefully asleep.

Unlike me, this dog will not be going through those doors for a physiotherapy session – it has already learned to listen to its body when it speaks. But I don’t feel hopeless. I’m actually feeling quite fortunate – here’s this dog showing me how to be long after I’ll be done with physiotherapy. It’s a very good day.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

The Monsoon in Kerala – at 6,000 feet

At a height of nearly 6,000 feet, the monsoon in Munnar, a verdant hill station covered with tea plantations and coconut palms in Kerala, South India feels more intense than the rain at sea level in Kochi. The monsoon here owns the sky and the earth without permission or apologies. No thunder, no lightning this afternoon, just a trickle for a minute and then the sky opens up. And then some more. And then, even more. Until it stops. And then resumes.

Now, there’s no place to go around and be a tourist. The choices are limited to simple ones…sit like a cat in the window, howl like a dog at the rain, read a book, sleep, or stare into the misty rain until my vision gets as blurry as the heavy, foggy mist that fills the skies for a long, long, long way. One way or the other, respect is demanded by the rain gods.

© 2019 Marlon de Souza. All rights reserved.

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.

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.