The International Writers Magazine:International Travel: India
me South India any time
windy, cold and damp. Apart from a few days in July or August,
this just about sums up British weather. So you can imagine how
South India may appear to someone like me. Its hot all year
round and is pure exotica with its coconut trees, banana plantations
and rain forests. Somehow the British equivalent of lettuce fields
and cabbage patches blanketed by frost in the middle of winter
South India is exotic in a way that North India is not. The Himalayas
are fabulous and Rajasthan is amazing, but by and large my impression
of the North is one of too much dust, pollution and overcrowding. I
can certainly leave the North behind in December, with its chilly evenings.
Delhi records nightime temperatures of below 10 degrees at this time
of the year. Much too reminiscent of the UK.
Give me the South any ime. Its more relaxed and pleasing on the
eye. I love Munnar, Kodaikanal and Ooty. Memories of tea estates, wooded
hills and the toy train are always just a thought away. But its
not just the geography. Being a foreigner in India attracts quite a
bit of attention. The North can be quite intrusive Whats
that in your pocket?, Where are you going?, What
are you carrying in your bag?. Just a few examples of the type
of inquisitiveness I encounter in the North. The South is different.
I am more or less left alone. The people are definitely a more genteel
lot. The harshness of the North is lacking.
And the food unlimited vegetarian meals served on banana leaves,
and idlis, sambar and dosas. Wow, thats a pretty exotic list for
any foreigner used to the delights of bangers and mash in
bleak mid-winter. To use an inappropriate and very Western metaphor
South Indian food rocks. With an increasing encroachment of Western
style fast food joints you know the ones, the Macs, the Huts
and the Kings I sometimes see a highly synthetic future where
the banana leaf in South Indian restaurants will eventually be replaced
by the plastic imitation variety. Outside Central Station in Chennai
there is already a plastic coconut tree, which stands out like a sore
thumb. Maybe its a sign of the times; a sign of things to come.
The exotic lure of the international world of plastic.
I may be a secularised Westerner, but I never really realised what worship
was about until I came to South India. I once visited Trichy at the
time of some religious festival. Id never seen anything like it.
The British truly come to life when watching their national sport, football.
The passion inside any stadium throughout the country on a Saturday
afternoon can be somewhat unnerving to an outsider. But on that day
in Trichy passion was redefined. From Chidambaram to Kumbakkonam to
Rameswaram its quite astounding how temples still dominate
the towns of the South, harking back to a time in Europe when church
architecture and religion dominated.
Over the years. Ive estimated that I have travelled over 70,000
kilometres overland within India and apart from the Taj Mahal, Varanasi
and the forts of Jaisalmer and Jodhpur, most of my abiding memories
are of the South. And to be sure my better experiences have been in
this part of India.
So as a new year dawns, perhaps it is an appropriate time for me to
look back and say thanks for South India or more aptly,
thanks to South India. Ill never forget you.
© Colin Todhunter Jan 2005
(Written before the late December tsunami disaster that hit the Tamil
Nadu and Sri Lanka terrorities)
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