This is blog is delayed because we went to Varkala, a resort town further south in Kerala.
So, we basically went from India to every Westerners idea of India.
Or at least that is how I perceive Varkala – I guess nobody can ever accuse me of not having strong opinions. To do truth justice we have actually never been to Varkala proper, we have been hanging out here at the hotel by the pool or down at the beach with all the other tourists in the Tourist beach section (with the exception of a trip to the temple, where we were the only Western tourists).
I am sure Varkala itself is just as “Indian” as every other Indian town but this here is “tourist land” and has all the makings of a Westernized imitation of India. Mind you, the cliff is very nice (if they just stopped tossing the trash down in the evening) and the sandy beach is every toddlers dream – including our’s. The sand comes in a very fine black and a coarser yellow variety which makes for an interesting marble effect and is actually perfect for building vulcanos spewing different kinds of lava or – the latest obsession – to build “firecrackers” made of black and yellow gunpowder. The water of the Arabian Sea is warm, even at night, and Max is having a blast with the waves which are high and challenging for him but not so high to be dangerous. The sky was overcast for the last couple of days which I actually welcomed because I am recovering from a major sunburn. In my haste to get Max all lathered with sunblock and taken care of the first day I completely forgot to put sunblock on myself. Now I am suffering the consequences, me, the person, who hasn’t left the house in 5 years without wearing at least SBF 15 on my face – rain or shine. About 10% of my body surface are of a deep and unflattering pink and hurt like hell.
Anyway, I was going to rant about the tourists. There is a disproportionate number of men with long hair and woman wearing these big bulky “Indian” pants that at least in Kerala I haven’t seen anybody else wearing – ever. Wherever you turn there is a “Ayurveda Beach Resort” most of them neither on the beach (nothing really is because of the cliff) nor looking remotely like a resort. There is an abundance of yoga classes, meditation classes, cosmic and crystal healing, naturopathy (what??), self-finding instructions, and a lot of other stuff I haven’t ever heard of and can’t remember. I have to admit to being the probably least spiritual person you’ll ever meet so this falls right into the category of major pet peeves for me.
All these mainly European (Americans are scarce but do exist) accountants, students, office managers, or whatever sitting around in baggy pants, playing the drum at sunset by the beach and thinking they are grasping the meaning of several thousand years of Indian history and philosophy with Heinz from Güthersloh and Frits from Antwerpen sitting next to them humming and Anke and Rosie hopping around in circles. The guys seem to think it is cool to walk around with no shirt but some length of cloth wrapped loosely around their heads and the woman seem to think that wearing skimpy see-through dresses somehow makes the whole experience even more “spiritual”. We seem to be the only people neither sporting a tattoo nor a piercing and not juggling on the beach, making some show of meditating, playing the saxophone, or hula-hooping (another grand old Indian tradition, as it seems) and having a smoke while doing so. To me, who feels like I had a glimpse at “real India”, talked to real people and been to temples with no other western tourist this seems as fake as Disneyland when I first went there in 1991 and discovered to my horror that everything was fake, from the smiles to the goldfish.
This is how Western people idealize India and the Indian experience, it’s as fake as the Lederhosen-and-Dirndl numbers they pull on tourists in Bavaria or whatever “indigenous tribe” shows, dances and rituals one sees on booked tours to Africa only that this time the tourist seem to create their own reality with the locals as willing suppliers rather than the other way around. It seems to me that the tourist arrive with a preconceived notion of how proper India ought to look like which they probably derive from their local “India Store” and then came to Varkala (and I am sure Varkala isn’t alone) and began to create that “reality” complete with outfits no Indian wears, food that is neither Western nor Indian (I couldn’t get a real raita in this town, trust me, I know how real raita tastes, it’s basically all I lived on for the first semester of B-school, that and nan) and a whole subculture around “releasing the true male/female in yourself or some such BS.
Okay, I am overdoing it; I love hyperbole, but really I am not oversimplifying all that much (at least I don’t think so). Every personality profile I ever took attested me – if nothing else to write home about – a very fine sense for authenticity and good intuition. It took me but a minute to intuitively know that this was anything but authentic. I hardly took any pictures here, they few I took where of Max and the sunset (something I normally completely abstain from, the sunset, not Max) because I felt there was really nothing these pictures would add to my Kerala portfolio.
Having raved and ranted now I have to admit that it was a worthwhile experience for more than one reason. First, I simply love to have something to rant about, really, how boring would life be without a good rant once in a while. Secondly, Max loved the beach, he is so happy and satisfied there, it’s a pleasure to watch him dig around the sand for hours not ever getting tired of it, completely engrossed in whatever little fantasy-world of exploding firecrackers he is building himself, and thirdly it gave me an even deeper sense of appreciation for the “real” India we were lucky enough to experience when hiking the Western Ghats or milling around the Children’s Amusement Park in Ernakulam.
With just a few more days to go I am ready to leave India, I am ready to leave the house without breaking a sweat (or getting out of the shower without breaking a sweat for that matter), I am ready for a steak and less chaotic transportation but I haven’t regretted a second that we came here, I am glad what we did, how we did it and when we did it. And I am sure one day in the not so terribly distant future we’ll be back here exploring other parts of India.