Monday, February 15, 2010

Week 10: Northern Kerala

Pictured above is the Beach Hotel/Heritage Inn in Kozhikode (previously know as Calicut), in northern Kerala. Built in 1890 to house the Malabar English Club, over the years it has seen the birth of the Indian Muslem League, and has served people like Somerset Maugham, Indian Prime Ministers Jawaharala Nehru and Indira Gandhi, as well as the Sonnleitner family. Yes, the infamous Sonnleitners celebrated the 22nd birthday of Shaman there for three days last week. He cared less about the history of the place than the fact that it was located across the street from a beautiful Arabian Sea beach and had a fully functional bar on premises!

All travel expenses for the 3 of us were covered by The Mathrubhumi (a malayalam language newspaper which means The Motherland) and is known for its patriotic and anti-American sentiments. A reporter had covered a talk I gave at Kerala University (in Thiruvananthapuram)last month -- on The Green Movement and Gandhi -- which apparently had impressed the organizers of an event in Kunnar commemorating the historic visit of Gandhi to the newspaper main office 75 years ago. I was one of two primary speakers who would have 20 minutes each in a program devoted mainly to honoring about 30 Freedom Fighters from the Independence Movement (all of whom were aged 80 or more). The Mathrubhumi (circulation 1.2 million, with a readership estimated at 8 million), gave front page coverage to the event in its Sunday newspaper.

I confess to being surprisingly moved by the presence of the Gandhian Freedom Fighters. As these nonviolent soldiers sang out LONG LIVE MAHATMA GANDHI, it was as if I were for a moment transported back to the pre-1947 struggle against British colonialism. These Freedom Fighters had suffered for that cause, while refusing to inflict suffering upon their oppressors. They had emerged victorious, inspiring with hope nonviolent movements all over the world ranging from the civil rights movement in the U.S. to the overthrowing of dictatorships in Chile, Poland, the Philippines, and Serbia. They had earned my respect and I felt very humbled in their presence.

After my short speech, in which I described Globalization as a new colonialism which requires a new (and word wide) Independence Movement, several people described themselves as moved to tears (with one person telling me while he had hatred for America, he could no longer feel hatred for all Americans). Gandhi, I reminded the crowd, would hate no person, but would oppose policies deemed to be evil through disciplined nonviolence. Noting my own hypocracy by displaying a Samsung cell phone made functional by Reliance Corporation (a huge Indian multinational corporation), I challenged others to see that countries and corporations are not the primary problem – if we as consumers continue to cooperate with their often inflated profits. Given the reality of our ecological interdependence, in short, we must seek to live more simply, that others may simply live. The International Green Movement may well evolve into a new Independence Movement in which not our liberty is at stake, but also life as we know it on this planet.

Dear reader, please forgive the extremely serious tone of these comments. Survival is at issue, especially for the 2.8 billion people in this world (700 million in India) who live on less than $2/day – and this is serious for us all: as Martin Luther King Jr. would say: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere... That said, cannot we take time also to enjoy life? Neither King nor Gandhi require us to be sour-faced. Let us take time for needed relaxation and laughter too – or the world we may successfully save may not be one we want to live in (ha)! Three nights at a fancy hotel on a beach (with a little ice cream for when temperatures top 100 degrees) definitely helps restore a smile to an otherwise sweaty face!

So it is that the trip to Kannur included three days at the beach in Kozhikode, with my participating in a Gandhi Seminar at Calicut University and an International Seminar on Technology Enhanced Language Learning (where yes, I provided a Gandhian critique of reliance any exclusive upon programs offered by Rosetta Stone and the University of Phoenix). Thankfully, Kris and Shaman can pick and choose what events they care to attend – and do not have to get sick of me talking too much.

Having now returned to Pala (via a 9 hour train ride), it is safe to say we are all exhausted – and seriously overheated with high humidity too. Today I purchased another fan, hoping it might allow for better sleep tonight – if the power does not cut out due to too many other people plugging in more fans too (ha)! Global warming is very real here, with even the locals sometimes finding it difficult to cope. No need for hot showers though: the cool water is mosty welcome relief. It would seem wise now to continue my writing duties (as requested by those for whom I spoke last week), in the relative cool of the morning. Tonight will be time for me to take advantage of a neighbors TV set to see some of the Winter Olympic Games. Need to think COOL....

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