Meaningfully Mute with Wordless Expressiveness...

  • Michelle Thomas
  • 19 Dec, 2010

Tuesday, January 6, 2004 Travelogue:  Excerpts from past impressions and experiences in India (see the first travelogue segment we posted)

Karnataka, India

I walk the streets of India oftentimes in this very state.  Traversing India is like taking a river swim – the fantastic part about being here is that you never know if you’re going to have to swim upstream or down.

In Kochi we “floated” rather carelessly downstream – we fit in well w/ all the other moneyed western travelers; we celebrated Christmas in style; there was real filter coffee to fend off grouchiness and plenty of Kashmiri import shops eager to sell us Christmas gifts.  Here in Bangalore the mood is more of an upstream fight to keep our heads above water.  A daily battle for survival, as Jonit likes to call it.

We prolonged our stay in Kochi to await Alya and to see a real KATHAKALI performance.  Kathakali is an all night affair – a dance held in a Hindu temple beginning at 10:30 PM and traditionally going until sunrise.  The performers are decked out – faces painted in bright greens, yellows, reds, blacks and whites – all natural colors made of chalky rock mixed w/ coconut oil.  White and black paper designs are glued to their cheeks to accentuate certain characteristics.  The costumes consist of Southern belle style short hoop skirts w/ pants underneath, ankle bells and great headdresses.

Musicians sing the story while playing hand cymbals and drummers keep the beat for the performers, who do not speak but instead use sign language to accentuate the story’s meaning.  The performer’s main role is to commit extremely minute and intricate facial movements while pounding their curl-toed feet in rhythm to the music.  The eyeballs are dyed red and small actions such as eye-rolling or figure-eighting w/ the eyeballs are sustained for long uncomfortable periods of time.  The performance is completely captivating, and the best part is the graphic violence that normally brings the story to an end.  We saw a character disemboweled – fake blood, eating of red-string guts and all – and a violent beheading complete w/ screaming actors running through the crowd brandishing weapons and fangs at everyone in sight.

Tradition is sunk into every part of life here.  We met the 1984 National Yoga Champion (Peter Nixon) and he was still struggling to perfect the same yoga positions that have existed for hundreds of years.

We welcomed the New Year on the beach in Varkala, celebrating in the Scottish way, carting around an extra bottle of whiskey and a collapsible cup in order to hand out shots to all our new waiter and shopkeeper friends.  Both the Muslim people and the Hindus seem to have no real aversion to drink.

The 16 hour train ride north to Bangalore, in the state of Karnataka, wore us out despite the fact that I slept heartily in my clothes w/ the help of my earplugs, eye patches and neck-pillow.  We were in second class sleeper – no aircon, open berths, and eight people to a berth.  We had the compartment to ourselves for most of the ride and in the morning were besieged by a delightful two-year old and his father, who as imaginary vegetable vendors sold us pretend tomatoes.

Bangalore truly is the New York City of India – yesterday we were invited into our first Muslim home.  An auto rickshaw driver we befriended named Iliaz had us over for sweets and coffee to meet his mother and sisters.  The Muslim women stop their education for the most part at age 16 and wait around for two years until their marriage is arranged.  They dress in sari or salwar kameez but when they go out do cover themselves completely in black.  Iliaz’s father died five years ago and he is solely responsible for caring for his entire family – he is in his mid-twenties.  Muslim women are not allowed to work under any circumstances – if Iliaz’s family did not have a son to support them they may well be out on the streets starving.

I must escape this internet cafe.  Take care y’all.  I’m anxious for more news from home!  Happy 2004 and keep in touch.

Michelle

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