With Max at school this morning we went shopping. The evening brought a heavy dose of Kerala tradition.
We had initially thought that we would not try and find a school here for him as it seemed difficult. But then we just kind of walked by one one day and they waved us in, so we hung around for an hour and Max behaved reasonably well so we agreed with the “maestra” that we would bring him a few hours a day for the time we are here. The fact that only the owner/head-mistress speaks some English and all the others plus the kids speak Mayalam only doesn’t seem to create a big hurdle. Max complained a little the first day but then just accepted that he would stay there and we would come later to collect him. We are only talking a few hours a day but – honestly – it’s a big relief.
Attention and …
Traveling in India with Max has been tough for a number of reasons. Although I don’t think he is an introvert, all the attention that is lavished on him is getting to be too much for him. He reacts by acting out, not greeting people, running way when they talk to him, starting to flail his arm and making faces when people want to touch him. I can’t count the number of photo requests we had with him and but for the rare occasion he does not want to pose for pics with strangers. If Uli lifts him up on his arms he will make a face and look away or hide his face in his hands or scream and kick – or all of these things at once. I feel terrible because everybody is nice and kind and wants to be friendly; people wave wherever we go and are – understandably – puzzled when they get a pouty face or a screaming child in return.
We tried everything from explaining, to asking, to threatening, to bribing – nothing has worked. So to everybody who thinks about taking a young child – who stands out due to whatever characteristics – to India: make sure your child will be able to deal with the attention because there is no way of avoiding it unless you spend your entire time in a foreigners only luxury resort – and then what would be the point of going to India, you can get that closer to home.
The second challenge has been the food. I think most kids would be fine but Max is extremely picky – to put it mildly – he hardly eats anything and only in tiny quantities – unless it contains absurd amounts of sugar or is fried in oil and is served with ketchup. This habit drives me almost insane during the best of times but when you travel in a country where “no, Ma’m not spicy at all” has a completely different meaning from what you would expect, his favorite sausages aren’t available, fried chicken or fish always seem to contain at least trace amounts of ginger and chilli, and pasta is rare and always contains veggies (which he won’t eat) you are basically royally screwed. Meal times are a nightmare, every single one of them with the possible exception of breakfast when he will eat egg and cornflakes. For the last two weeks the child has lived on french fries, eggs in every shape and form, the occasional piece of fish, a few shrimp and some pasta, cornflakes, milk and vitamin tablets.
Those of you who don’t have this problem probably think “just don’t force him if he is hungry he will eat”. Nice theory but unfortunately wrong. Yes, he will eat, like two bites of a banana or a spoonful of rice and once the most nagging hunger is gone, he’ll stop.
… and Getting Around
The third challenge is not specific to India but true for probably all large, hot cities with infrastructure problems: it’s just a drag to get around, its very dangerous to walk and there are only a handful of things to do that will entertain him. I understand that looking at temples is not the most fun of all activities for a 3.5 year old but occasionally it would be nice to actually see some of the things the country you are visiting is famous for, and not just the Childrens’ Amusement Park in all their faded glory. We were probably a little spoiled by Mexico where it turned out that he loved the ubiquitous pyramids even more then we did. The same is definitely not true for antique shops in Old Kochi.
So that was a long and ranty intro to what I actually wanted to say: we went to Jayalakshmi, the fancy sari store and bought – well – a bunch of them. The place is just stuffed with the most gorgeous of saris in the most dazzling of colors from cheap synthetic to the finest embroidered silk. This is where the well-to-do Indian women buy their wedding saris, party saris, formal occasion saris and it is utterly, completely impossible to resist the temptation. I wasn’t even the worst offender, I might have bought one, but Uli was just completely smitten but the colors and patterns and decided on buying two before I could even comment. The original excuse was that one or two of them would make nice gifts for friends in the US and Europe but the truth it, they are beautiful and I am not really sure that I am willing to give them away – at least just yet.
The sales girls had fun too, because Uli was the only male in the entire store who actually looked at the saris, all the other men were sitting around, drinking coffee and leafing through magazines with super-bored expressions in their faces.
In the early evening we went to a traditional Kerala song and dance performance called Katakhali (don’t hold me responsible for the spelling). It is basically a highly ritualized form of dance used to tell little stories along the line of “prince walks around forest and meets cobra and elephant, then fights demon and thus liberates an entire village of having to deal with the demon. Villagers are forever thankful.” There is some drumming and cymbal banging on the side and occasionally somebody will sing. It is an entirely male undertaking and the actors are very artfully made up with every line and color meaning something. The dresses are elaborate and so is the jewelry. In the olden days the Katakhali groups seems to have traveled the country up and down, stayed at temples and performed in the evenings.
I have my own theories why men would travel in all male groups and wear heavy make-up and elaborate dresses and perform for all male audiences – but I probably better keep those to myself. It was fun to watch for a bit, we went early to see the actor (just one in the case of this small theater) put on the make-up while “Dr. Devan” explained every color and stroke. To my great surprise Max enjoyed the actual performance quite a bit and so we got to see about 30 minutes of it. Needless to say I took pictures and so missed some of the overall impressions but since a lot of the meaning is communicated through the eyes (generally wide open with very exaggerated movements) my tele lens helped me to see that better.
Here are some more pictures: