Whenever a new venture is about to start in Kerala, be it grand or relatively modest, an inauguration ceremony launches the project.
Whatever the religious beliefs – or lack of belief – of those involved, fruits and flowers are proffered, and an oil lamp is lit:
a remnant, perhaps, of the persistent power of apotropaic prayer.
It is a custom which unites Hindus, Muslims, Christians, Jains and even the Marxist Communists of this state.
Picture taken at the inauguration of a new ayurvedic centre at Tom’s Old Mansion in Fort Cochin, Kerala
Wherever I go, I try to remember my camera.
I am fortunate.
Due to a steady flow of tourists, the local population are pretty inured to photographers capturing their images.
Tact and sensitivity are especially required, however, when taking pictures of women:
A male stranger attempting to photograph a woman can cause offence.
By respecting my neighbour’s customs and dignity, I have mostly avoided misunderstandings.
I get it decidedly wrong
And photograph a less than ecstatic subject..
Picture “stolen” in Palace Road, Cochin.
The monsoon has now departed.
At its height, flapping bamboo blinds on our roof terrace toppled and cracked some of the pots.
It is time to replace them.
An auto rickshaw brought us to the local terracotta outlet.
Distrustful of the weather, the lady shop-owner has left the larger pots still covered with tarpaulins.
A few are uncovered for my inspection.
Haggling does not come naturally to me. Leaving it to the experts is simpler.
I indicate to Anu, my houseboy, which items interest me. Then bargaining begins.
The process is light-hearted. Broad smiles, ham acting, much arm waving and laughter – all appear vital to a satisfying transaction.
The auto driver and I stand back to enjoy the performance.
Having negotiated a thirty percent reduction of the asking price, both Anu and the owner appear happy.
We are then wedged tightly back into the auto, amidst our fragile goods and cardboard protective padding. Pots and decorative finials are clutched between our arms and thighs. The driver very carefully manoeuvres us home, avoiding pot-holes wherever possible.
Somehow, we and our purchases arrive intact.
The pots are washed and put aside until roof terrace repainting is completed.
My dhobi visits unannounced, about twice a week. This always entails a short but tightly scripted ritual.
The dhobi returns a pile of newly washed, ironed and neatly folded clothes and linen, which he places on an armchair.
A basket containing my dirty washing is fetched from beneath my bed by Anu, my house-boy, who makes a quick dash around the house, collecting any other out-lying towels, sheets and linen.
All of my dirty laundry is brought down to the hall. It is then publicly shaken out and counted in front of Shaji and Dalila (the husband and wife, cooking and house-keeping team, who look after me), Anu and myself, before being packed away in a large cloth.
Having been informed how much I owe, I pass the money to Shaji.
He, in turn, solemnly pays the dhobi, who bicycles away with my dirty washing.
Following the dhobi’s departure, my house staff respectfully retire to the kitchen, allowing “Sir” to discretely remove his now pristine underwear from the pile. Only then, can they put away the bed linen, towels – and the rest of my clothing.
Modesty and decorum, of sorts, have been preserved.