Tag Archives: Kerala

Wedding Carriage of The Week

It was not quite the entrance they had anticipated, but Akash and Aishwarya, healthcare workers at a hospital in Chengannur in the Indian state of Kerala, made the best of what would otherwise have been a bad job.

The torrential rains, which have wreaked havoc on the state, causing flooding, landslides and at least 27 dead, left the streets surrounding the small temple where their ceremony was to be held, flooded. Unable to get there by car, they decided that the only way to get to the temple on time was to sail.

The only problem was that they did not have a boat. Showing the innovative spirit for which the Indians are renowned, they used the next best thing, a large aluminium cooking pot. Video footage shows them squeezed tightly inside the pot while two men and a photographer paddled them down the submerged street.

All’s well that ends well. They arrived safe and dry at the temple in Thalavady, which too was partially flooded, where they exchanged the floral garlands that Hindu custom demands.

Love will always find a way.

Surprise Of The Week (2)

Kerala is a beautiful place to visit but one thing the intrepid visitor should know is that alcoholic drinks are difficult to find outside of 4 and 5-star hotels.

Imagine the surprise, then, of the residents of a block of flats in the Thrissur district of Chalakudy one morning on finding that when they turned on their taps, out flowed a smelly liquid, reeking of beer, brandy, and rum.

It emerged that a local bar had been raided and their hooch confiscated. Officials buried some 6,000 litres of the confiscated alcohol in a pit. Unfortunately, the alcohol had seeped through the soil into a well, the one that supplied the residents with their drinking water. The smell, fortunately, had put them off using the tainted water.

This Keralan version of Adam’s Ale did mean, though, that water supplies were suspended for a while.

Cake Of The Week

News has reached me that members of the wittily named Bakers Association of Kerala (BAKE) have just smashed the world record for the longest cake in the Keralan city of Thrissur. The previous record holder was a cake made in China in 2018 which was a measly 1.98 miles long.

Hundreds of bakers from the state descended on the city and baked away. The result of their endeavours, a vanilla cake, four inches wide and thick, weighing around 27,000 kilograms and topped off with a chocolate ganache, was stretched out on thousands of tables and desks.

The icing on the cake when a representative from Guinness World Records measured it at 5,300 metres, or 3.29 miles in old money, comfortably claiming the record.

I assume it was then eaten. There would have been plenty to go around.

On My Doorstep – Part Eighteen

Colonel John Pennycuick (1841 – 1911)

Walking through the graveyard of St Peter’s Church in Frimley a few months ago I noticed a new addition to the burial spot of John Pennycuick, a stone plaque donated by the grateful peoples of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Kerala is one of my favourite spots in the world and my interest was piqued to find the connection between a man in Frimley and the states in the southern tip of India and why he had earned their undying gratitude.

And quite a story it is too.

The Periyar river rises in the Western Ghats and descends into Kerala, irrigating the fertile lands as it makes its way to the Arabian Sea. Kerala’s lush green countryside and wonderful backwaters are testimony to the importance of the river to the area. Those who lived on the eastern side of the Ghats were less fortunate. The Vaigai river that flowed from there to the Bay of Bengal was smaller and less reliable. Indeed, in the 19th century the soil was dry and unfit for agriculture. Locals were reduced to stealing grain and cattle from neighbouring villages just to scrape a living.

Plans to divert some of the waters of the Periyar into the Vaigai were mooted as early as 1789. In 1808 Captain J L Caldwell did some exploratory drilling in the area but concluded that any such project was “decidedly chimerical and unworthy of further regard.” The first attempt to dam the Periyar was made in 1850 but soon abandoned because the workers demanded higher wages to compensate for the unhealthy living conditions they had to endure.

In 1882, minds perhaps concentrated by the terrible famines six years earlier, the construction of a dam was approved and the military engineer, John Pennycuick, was appointed to bring it to fruition. Work began in earnest in May 1887, using troops from the 1st and 4th battalions of the Madras Pioneers and carpenters from Cochin. The dam was made with concrete made from a mix of lime and surkhi, burnt brick powder mixed with sugar and calcium oxide, and was faced with rubble. It was a gravity dam, meaning that the force of gravity was deployed to support the reservoir, giving it extra stability in extreme weather conditions and in the event of earthquakes.

Situated some 3,000 feet above sea level in what was dense, malarial jungle, the dam, known as the Mullaperiyar Dam, is 176 feet tall at its highest point, 1,241 feet long and holds up to 15 thousand million cubic feet of water. It was an astonishing accomplishment, dubbed as “one of the most extraordinary feats of engineering ever performed by man.

And that’s not all.

At the northern end of the dam a mile-long deep cutting was excavated for the water to flow through, then via a 5,704-foot tunnel and then through another cutting to reach and augment the waters of the Vaigai. It transformed the land to the east of the Ghats, making it almost as fertile as Kerala and allowing sustainable agriculture to flourish. Work was completed in 1895 and the dam was inaugurated by the then Governor of the Madras Presidency, Lord Wenlock. Penicuick had won the undying gratitude of the locals, not only at the time but for generations to come, an example (rare as it might be) of the positive effects of the Raj.

But the work came at a cost. Often rains and torrents from the swollen rivers would wash away the temporary structures as the dam was being constructed. At one point the project was perilously close to running out of money and legend has it, although there is no firm evidence to support it, that Pennycuick sold his wife’s jewellery to keep the work going.

And there was a human cost. 483 people died of disease during the construction of the dam, most of whom are interred in a cemetery to the north of the works. It is also claimed that but for the medicinal properties of the local firewater, arrack, the work would never have been finished.

A sense of the enormity of the achievement and the difficulties Pennycuick faced can be gleaned from this extract from his obituary in The Times; “under his direction the work was carried to completion in the face of numerous difficulties, the country being entirely uninhabited and most inaccessible, the climate malarious, while labour, transport and technical problems daily presented themselves for solution.”

Pennycuick, who was born in Poona in India but schooled in Addiscombe in Surrey, retired to Camberley, presumably because of its military connections, after leaving India and advising the Queensland authorities on how to control the Brisbane river. He settled down in Silourie, which was on the Branksome Park Road in Camberley, between Upper Park Road and Crawley Ridge, serving as a member of the Frimley Urban District Council, chairing it at the time of his death in March 1911, after a long illness.

A truly great man.

Some People Are So Poor All They Have Is Money

Losing my religion

I’ve seen the future and it’s a golf ball.

Imagine there’s no countries/ It isn’t hard to do/ Nothing to kill or die for/ And no religion too/ Imagine all the people/ Living life in peace.

I’ve always been mildly irritated by John Lennon’s tiresome, idealistic nonsense but about ten kilometres north of Pondicherry in the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu is to be found a curious and rather disturbing manifestation of the chanteur’s vision. Auroville, the city of the dawn, actually predates the song by some three years, and was founded on 28th February 1968 when a crowd of 5,000 including representatives of 124 countries bearing gifts of soil assembled around a banyan tree.

During the inauguration ceremony, the soil was tipped into a lotus-shaped white marble urn, which sits in the centre of the golf ball aka the Matrimandir. The aim of the community is to be a universal town where people from all countries live in peace and harmony, rising above all creeds, politics and nationalities. Its purpose is to realise human unity.

It has been going for 50 years and has had oodles of money pumped into by the Indian government and various United Nations’ funds. The tenets by which the adherents abide, currently around 2,500 representing 49 countries, were established by the Mother.

It was impressive in an oddly cultish, 1960s sci-fi movie sort of way but it seemed to me that all they had done was swap established religions for a bizarre set of tenets. Disturbingly, there seemed little way out of the community for any children born there. Child abuse of the worst sort.

The Mother was a French woman, Mirra Alfassa, who became interested in spiritual development. When she visited Pondicherry in 1914 she met up with Sri Aurobindo who, whilst banged up the Brits for agitating on behalf of Indian independence, saw the light and devoted the rest of his life to yoga and inner meditation. A PhD thesis can be written on which was the worst outcome.

Anyway, these two set up an ashram in Pondicherry – we visited it, as you do – and the very profound sense of calm there was only disturbed by the ring of the cash register and the swipe of the credit card machine.

The Mother was a prolific writer and her books, a mix of the bleedin’ obvious and the bonkers, seem to sell like hot chapatis and fuel this very obvious money-making machine. But, fair play to them, they saw a gap in the market and went for it.

If I felt the need to buy a golden ticket to ensure my admission through the pearly gates, I’m not sure I would have thrown my rupees at the grotto which graces the rear of the grounds of the peaceful church that is St Mary’s on the banks of the backwater at Champakulam in Kerala, standing on the site of one of the seven churches that St Thomas is reputed to have founded in 427 CE.

It is hard to describe how truly grotesque it is with its blue boulders that look as though they have been made out of fibre glass. It is modelled on the grotto at Lourdes, I’m told. The religious icons housed in it draw quite a crowd of devotees each day.

If I was St Peter, I would have a list of the subscribers to the grotto at the ready and if any of them had the audacity to show their face, I would direct them downstairs.

There is only so much one can take, after all.