Arun Zacharaiah:  Submitted Ph.D thesis.Post graduate in History and Education. Postgraduate diploma in Journalism and Counselling/Psychology. Numerous publications. Most recent: Chengannur Riot case 1938-   a warfront in India’s nationalist movement  that overcame the tactics  to divide minority and majority communities.Published in Malayalam by National Book House,which is the first publishing house in India founded and owned by writers (its a writers cooperative – under the cooperative ministry of Kerala. Freelance  researcher, coordinator.

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Hey shall we call this Mission “KFC global,” Kerala Finds Connecticut. I’m sure most might find the analogy (only in sound or pun) little distasteful as anthropologists go for preserving tradition and local values, and you guys are against negative impacts of capitalism and neoliberalism. Not West versus other model but rather mutual cooperation in this connected world to make it a better place than we got it.

First day walking in we met the group. I saw Dr. K in his usual cap, a bearded active guy (Nathan), and the Jr K. Then met Dr. Tom Hazuka and Mrs. Hazuka (Christine), April, and met everyone except tired Mike and Jeremy. What followed was ice-breaking and we discussed the schedule, going over each itinerary item, one at a time as many things in a day Dr K says. Made some phone calls, arranged auto rickshaws and left.

Next day met at 7;30 left for Velayani lake protection. On the way there was some slight confusion as I got a phone call from Biju, of the Aquatic Biology dept, saying he thought his talk was the next day. But he came and we had a boat ride. Collected floating coconuts (first natural souvenir). Intellectual discussion was followed up with philanthrophy-helping the little boy with kidney disorder, of the family who greeted us on shore.

Sorry I didn’t follow the whole interactive process (busy rescheduling on the phone owing to last hour cancellation). Next day we hopped on to Thanal zero waste centre and had a lively discussion with Usha and Jayakumar. Students bought recyled goodies sold at their office. In the afternoon they marched like soldiers and ate like commandos. Then we reached Kerala University to listen and discuss with Reghu, the Kerala encyclopedia director, a compendium of knowledge. The KFC’s behaved maturely in front of a God of Knowledge’ who has the power to give you more knowledge if you show patience on return. Then it was Puthen Malika royal museum (housed in an old royal house within the city – wherein royal family didn’t live long due to a bad omen. Dr. K and I drank tea while the group went on a short trip through Chalai, the oldest market in Trivandrum. We helped you catch a bus and there was rain and you guys realized the importance of wiper blades.

Last day of last year and first day of this was also hectic and meticulously planned and executed . Can we call it some kind of “utilitarian tourism”, i.e. visiting the maximum number of places in a minimal amount of time, and also getting the maximum benefit. Striking balance with touristic needs and local cultural needs, with care taken to maintain ethics.

The day began with environment versus development debate. Both speakers were passionate. Elias George, pro-commercial port lobbyist and Vizhinjam harbor protection group drawn from independent fisherman federation of Kerala; profit versus basic existence. According to Elias George, it was a question of how the new port would help society and people to realize their essential needs or, without the port, the hand-to-mouth existence of many would remain. But the fisherfolk would be directly impacted by the Vizhinjam International Port.  Fisher folk were happy with what they have and can not depend on promises of government, which has not even delivered pure drinking water to all fisher folk on seaside even after 60 years after independence. Both sides presented their arguments. We voted on the argument and in the end the concern for maintaining the cultural conditions of the fishermenthe prevailed over well prepared presentation in international language with real statistics. The independents who abstained from voting said if the fisherfolk had more scientific data, they would have voted for them. Returning from Vizhniam port we had lunch at Ammachiveedu (grandmas house) Thampurans (the  Royal), the second part of the name showing respect to royalty, yet an irony considering the facilities available were housed in a tin roofed shack. Don’t know how many have studied it from a gender empowerment perspective. The owner and “CEO” of the hotel who yells out expletives, is a widow who lost everything. Yet she is running the single room, one fifty square foot restaurant that is also her home at night. Then we had an elephant ride. Bit scary at times. But man conquered the nature / beast or man conquered his fear.

After… a new year party sponsored by Dr K  (kudos to your generosity), Next day shifted to city and had a ciy tour with things explained by Malayinkeezh, a retired ciy editor of leading Malayalam daily. Evening spent at Thozhuvankod devi temple. On the second of Jan the group visited Kerala university and interacted with faculty and students . The discussion of teaching versus lecture method in Kerala university was good. Lauren hit nail on the head with question on Socratic method vs Critical Thinking approach in education.

Dr. K, your ability at initiating discussion was, as usual,electric. But beware not to get small shocks, if you’re not prepared. I feel some Kerala students didn’t expect it.  But as you can see, there are some brave hearts (planted and spontaneous) everywhere (you saw that in the questions from Kerala students. Some would like to work in USA and the other extreme my family and immediate society would find it stressful / disapprove of a girl studying in Delhi or abroad India. Cultural aspects and Johnleia Lambert your observation at this point set up greater meaning that one could relate to. As expected, or was it surprising, to have convergence on issues or financial difference in purchasing power of people in two nations, difference in value systems and accepting it. Hazuka brought it up the homogenization of USA and how masses were misled on the wars. Jeremy, Kristen Frenis talked about being broke as students.

Thoughts on the group: 1) Elora stylish expressive dancing through the corridors of US power. Fastest on and off the elephant; 2) Stephanie-sensitive mind has lots of challenging questions. Queen’s English;  3) Zoila – stong willed. The elephant ride revealed it ; you are child like. 4) Lauren–culturally sensible. Sticks to the command. Very responsible. Always on time; 5) April – soft spoken. Your name shows your blooming nature. Good for anyone near you. Never knew you work full time. Your answers to Dr. K at interaction with Kerala university students were short, quick, and sensible; 6) Kristin- in search of things with a difference. Good communicator.  Good at negotiating Indian roads. Only one who remembered to carry bananas for the elephant; 7) Christine- multi talented. Down to earth. Great entertainer, she knows Indian dance. Adaptive. First to give compliments; 8) Johnleia-strong words flowing to Caribbean music. Cool customer. She is also a rugby player. Went through lots of cultural transformations in her life.  9) Becky – sprightly pecking. At times, she fires unexpected, insightful questions. 10) Raluca – the hardcore academic, excellent manager. The family dance with David and Daavid was very graceful; 11) Daavid – strong-willed little guy. Your smile is electric.  Cool that you shared your biscuits with the elephant. You will be strong like an elephant of the ipad generation; 12) Nathan – Dr K in-making. Not many would believe that you are taekwondo 4th degree black belt. Bundle of energy. Very friendly and funny. He loves freedom in being single. Great style, uppa gangnam style. Wants to bridge gaps and misunderstandings  between cultures -east and west. 13) Teige – baby of the group. Quite courageous to try the curry in grandma’s hotel. Slow to start. But then you get going when the going gets tough. You got some smart dance moves. Would like some partner. 14) Jeremy – big guy with equally big heart. I feel like a rugby ball when I’m in front of you.  Quite a “history” guy. Loves talking history.  You speak slow and clear makes it easier for the listener. Asking short direct statements or questions; 15) Mike – conversant in many things. There’s an entrepreneur in you. Wise like your second name. Tells he is fortunate to get the last minute entry in the group to India. Talks on anything can make you feel at home. 16) Tom Hazuka – fiction writer , reserved. scholarly, patient, professor. And Christine helped you on to the dance floor  and you danced well.  Good at getting details especially on camera; 17) David Kideckel – Dr K your students call you. An eternal student . Young-at heart, Very active. A heart of gold . You got to mine / go deep to get  it though. Forgives fast. Master organiser and task-master. I don’t know how he can memorize and retrieve past knowledge the way he does. Interesting, his brain wiring. Things just flash.

While at the discussion in Kerala university got a phone from the CEO of a small company with fewer than 20 employees to hear he is admitted in hospital. So had to contact other people. But we got something better.   Then we visited Technopark, the Silicon Valley of Kerala and had a fruitful discussion with Tata representative. Discussed international trade, labour laws, economic crisis competition, recruitment etc. At the Technopark foodcourt some submerged themselves in Subway and had a taste of home before heading back home – hotel. On the 3rd Jan, four groups and four topic-based site visits with cars. While in kovalam we had site visits on tuk tuks / autorickshaws, the 3 wheel wonders. Moved into the city and became contemporary in travel. Then in the evening we had a taste of traditional Kerala in the form of Theyyam. The perfomer, who turns god and gives blessings and foretells as well as observes, made both the foreign and indigenous in attendance to feel blessed.

Finally, Gopa Kumar’s critical look at Kerala model of development and migratio patterns of Kerala people. Then to politics, economics, society, development issues; howmigration stopped in India after Bangladesh. History: More than 655 independent kingdoms, federal linguistic nation with 22 languages constitutionally recognised, 159 sub dialects, 28 states and 6 union territories. India started with 16# states. 1:6j percent land area Kerala accommodates 4 percent population of India (34 million). How language unites Kerala. and that social development in Kerala is ahead of other states because of “the four Ms”: Monarchs, Missionaries, Movements, Marxism, and now Migration.

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David Kideckel:

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Theyyam. None of the students have taken it upon themselves to blog about Theyyam, the ritual that we saw at the campus of Kerala University on the evening of Thursday, Jan 3. Perhaps they feel the experience indescribable and I can understand that.  Still I wanted to go on a bit about Theyyam and our role in it. Shaji Varkey in a message to us describes the ritual that we will see, Puthiya Bhagavathy Theyyam. This is a ritual found mainly in North Malabar and is performed in temples, sacred groves, and households. It is much less commercialized than the famous Kerala dance form, Kathakali. Theyyam artists mostly belong to the subaltern classes. A performing Theyyam becomes god incarnate and therefore carries much respect, even though off stage, he is poor and socially ostracized. Theyyam requires thorough training from childhood in use of percussion instruments, makeup, mask design, dance, recital of songs and art work on young palmshoots.

The meaning of the ritual: The female Theyyam, Puthiya Bhagavathy was born from the third eye of Lord Siva. Her mission was to heal the Devas (those who live in heaven) when they were afflicted with small pox. Later she was sent to earth to heal human beings and her six brothers. The brothers were killed by Asuras (the evil gods). Puthiya Bhagavathy, in a fit of rage, kills the Asuras and sets fire to their fort.  Bhagavathy’s power multiplies when she kills a Brahmana and drinks his blood. She was requested to perform a homa (ritual sacrifice) at Moolacherry family. When she found that the mantras (ritual chants) that the family head (Name-Moolacherry Kurup) recited were faulty, she threw his son-in-law into the raging fire. Repenting his fault, Kurup instituted a temple for the Bhagavathy.

The Experience of Theyyam: Everyone was tired today at the University campus. Today was the first day of theme group work so the morning was very busy.

Taking a break and waiting for Theyyam

Taking a break and waiting for Theyyam

Nate, April, and Teige even returned direct to the U from their group and waited a few hours for the rest of us. Meanwhile, I herded everyone else to the Thampanoor bus stand and got them on a public bus (an experience in itself) out to Kariavattom. Then we heard a nuanced lecture from sociologist, Meena Pillai, on Kerala gender, before it was off to Theyyam.

With funds provided specifically by the CCSU Anthropology department, our group had commissioned the performance of this Theyyam and a troupe of five Theyyam artists and ther attendants had travelled some 400 km from Kannur in north Kerala to perform. By the time we arrived at 3:30 at the area in front of the Men Researcher’s Hostel, we were late to see the first phase of the ritual, begun an hour previous.  The Theyyam group consisted of six or seven men. When we got there, they were busy making a decorative skirt for the god from fresh palm leaves and many other decorations for the coming ritual. The breast -plate that would help transfigure the dancer into the female god caused a bit of comment, but mainly our people were looking dragged out. When I told them that the ritual would last until 8 or 9 in the evening, there was almost an audible groan. I foreclosed a rebellion by giving them the option to take some time off tomorrow, instead of leaving early tonight. So people agreed and then milled around…some visited the hostel to see how the young researchers lived while a bunch of folks took off with a KU student and Arun Zacharaiah to find some food in a neighborhood near the campus.

The god's raiments are made anew

The god’s raiments are made anew

It was at this time that the artists took the materials they had been working on to behind the neighboring building near the offices of the International Center for Kerala Studies. It was here that intense preparation of them would commence and the actual ritual performed. Our students and many Malayali students, university staff, and others (even police), also began to show up to observe the quickening preparations. Arun showed up with a bunch of food…oranges, bananas of a few different varieties including my favorite red banana, kapopazham. There was lots of water to drink as well.

We sat on the steps eating while members of the Theyyam group continued to prepare the ritual materials. Meanwhile a number of large bats slowly and ominously crossed the sky above us. Soon particular attention began to be focused on the making-up and dressing of the god-to-be. He lay on stage while an attendant applied layers of face make-up. The intricate patterns of whorls and dots and lines created an angry visage. As more and different layers and items began to be added on the man-god,

The god begins to emerge

The god begins to emerge

people began to crowd around him as if drawn by magnetism and devotion. The costuming was so elaborate and ritualized, as each item like ankle bells and rice grains on the god’s arms, was added one after the other. I began to feel a bit uncertain, though, when around the middle of the god a square armature was constructed of the four torches that had been soaking in a bucket of coconut oil. They were going to light these torches, though the god would be protected by the freshness of the palm shoot skirt that was not likely to catch fire, or so I thought.

As the sky was darkening, seemingly out of nowhere appeared three drummers and began the intense cadence of the chenda drums that were to begin the ritual

Chenda drummers beat out a furious rhythm

Chenda drummers beat out a furious rhythm

and then accompany the god’s dance. The drumming was fiercer than I had ever heard previously the many times I heard chenda performed, but after drumming for about ten minutes straight came to an abrupt stop. Silence and darkness overtook all of us, now waiting quietly in anticipation of the god and her. Little by little new items were added to the god’s appearance and then at last the elaborate headdress was attached and the torches surrounding the god’s body were lit as were the candles on top of the headdress, and the drumming began again.

The god aflame

Bhaghavathy in her splendor

Now, the god began her dance, alternately jumping and spinning to the sounds of drums and cymbals. The bells on her ankles kept furious time as Baghavathy swirled and traced the margins of the performance area with her footsteps. The fire on the torches and the drumming and the movement of the god were overwhelming. I remember crying out in emotion until someone tapped me on the shoulder to remind me of the decorum demanded of this sacred event. The torch fires ate away at the grass skirt of the god so a retainer continually walked near the dancing god to sprinkle water on its arms and on the grass skirt to keep down the flames. The dancing and drumming went on without stopping for close to half an hour. All of the fifty or so of us observing I think, were overcome with awe. Then as the torches died out one by one, the transfigured god ceased her dance and began to wish blessings on those of us who had witnessed her transformation. People lined up to deposit a few rupees in the god’s hand, who then shouted out more formulaic blessings on us and our houses. Most of the CCSU group came to be personally blessed by the transfigured god, and the success of our trip was further assured by the power of the transfigured deity.

As the ceremony ended Shaji Varkey said a few words of thanks to the Theyyam group for their activities on our behalf and also thanked CCSU for sponsoring the event. It turns out that this was the first time ever that Theyyam had been held at the Kariavattom campus, so that made us particularly proud. With the performance over, we walked a back path on campus to the front gate, crossed the still-busy street and waited together with Shaji and Arun for the bus to Trivandrum. We were fortunate to catch a “Fast Passenger” that had empty seats for most of us, and we travelled largely in silence back to the Thampanoor bus stand. None of us who witnessed this incredible ceremony are likely to be the same again.

Lauren Anderson:

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Last day. The day began with group presentations. Our discussions were so interesting and the information so important that it was near impossible to put a time limit on them. One universal finding, however, was that India with all of its beauty and charm, and with all of its own personal issues, is not as different from our own home as one might think. We have seen a great many things that will change us forever. We will, whether we realize it or not, reevaluate our entire lives from the experiences and observations we have had here. We have seen an entire other world, been overwhelmed by its splendor, and captivated and entertained by its inhabitants. I would venture to say that every one of us has changed as a result of this trip, the experiences, observations, discussions, and interactions.

Once we were able to pull ourselves away from our discussions, we finished up some last minute gift shopping, sunbathing, massages, eating, and enjoying it all. It was interesting to see how toward the end of the trip everyone seemed more comfortable. The girls gave no care to the gawking males on the beach, the shoppers navigated and negotiated like seasoned vets, and we had each picked out exactly what it was we needed to eat for our last meal in India. Even up until the last minute the trip was a learning experience. Most interesting to me was that the few shopkeepers we frequented had opened up to us as well. We had gotten used to each other. It is so easy to open up to something or someone if you give the chance and learn before you assume. While there will always be variations in mindset and routine across any culture, there will always be something to find comfort and similarity in.

We have been traveling now for about 16 hours. Everyone is exhausted, excited, sad, and hesitant to jump back into reality. What was comfort at home will be another culture shock as we adjust back into our lives. But I can say with great confidence that we will be returning home a great deal more knowledge, new friends, and perhaps even new ideals.

What a long strange trip it’s been.

Thank you to Dr. Kideckel and all who made it possible for us to be here.

Johnleia Lambert:

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The Kochi- Muziris Biennale art exhibit is a city-wide art show displaying the work of various international artists. The exhibition began in December and runs through the month of January, 2013. Located, in the city of Kochi in Kerala India, the exhibits are strategically placed in locations that go with the flow of the eclectic districts.  The outer wall of the Cochin Club displayed the HFV (Hypothetical Future Value) Project. Thirty-six light box digital transfers lit the pathway to the Cochin Club Beach. One panel that captured my attention was of a man in his late 20s. The distorted portrait created the dimensions for his perfectly slicked back hair and a chiseled jaw to mask his awkward ears and crippled nose. I reminisced back at Trivandrum when our trip coordinator Arun asked what “cool” meant. Lauren explained the term making a reference to James Dean, the classic 50s icon. The man had that same mysterious glaze and persona James Dean embodied that cultivated his charm.

Not fully gasping the concept behind the exhibit, I went back to the description and read “The project’s intent is therefore to capture youth at it’s best hour. Regardless of circumstances youth exudes a shared sense of extreme idealism that persists even after indoctrination by the laws and conventions of a society”. I felt that the artist, Ariel Hassan, captured the word “cool” in this digital transfer. A rebel without a cause; the essence of youth. Hassan could have easily represented youth using children as his subjects. Instead he capture youth at it’s best hour in 36 different people from various backgrounds redefining the word in an unconventional way.

I think my generation in America needs exposure to artists like Ariel Hassan; people who push the societal boundaries that defines us. We need inspiration to have Hartals (general strikes) and to not simply let the government dictate our lives. We may increasingly be a new model of development for Kerala but we can also take notes on their involvement with politics and ongoing struggles for social justice.

Jeremy Truex:

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Today was a pretty laid back, yet interesting day for our trip. Our morning started downstairs in the dining room of our homestay, with a nice home cooked breakfast of juice, toast, and eggs which were all delicious. After breakfast we dropped off our laundry to the owners and got our belongings ready for our trip of the day. We headed out at about 930 this morning on the bus, and after not being able to take the ferry to the location we were trying to go, so we had to drive around the bay to where our boat for our trip was. We arrived at the harbor about 20 minutes later, grabbed some water, and loaded on to the covered boat for a tour down the river, as well as a lecture on how the development of the area has affected the environment.

Once on the boat, our guide explained to us that all development was banned due a wetland protection act to prevent the destruction by the creation of buildings. Unfortunately, private contractors have bought land and are allowed to build close to the water due to a loophole in the law, letting them build these structures if they are within a certain distance of the main road. Also, we noted that there were many fishing nets that were apparently set up by the Chinese a few centuries back, and the process is still continued today.

Along our long journey down the river, we saw many docks that were at the end of roads are behind people’s homes. Attached to these docks were small boats, some motorized and some standard paddle boats that were used for traveling and fishing. Also, with the boats were these circular saucers like things, which were apparently boats. We saw these things in the water with people actually fishing in them and they proved to work very well.

After about 2 hours, we reached the destination where an environmental activist was supposed to meet us. Due to our boat running late he had left, but he returned shortly after our arrival. He spoke to us about the industrial plants that were right down the river from where we were docked, stating that over the past 30 years they have been dumping in and polluting the water in the river, affecting the health of everyone in the area. He said that over 10 million fish have been killed off and the amount of fish remaining is very scarce, as well as that the water is nowhere near acceptable to drink.

The people in the area are pushing for the factories to leave or change the way they run their production, as well as restitution for damages and health problems caused by the establishment and operation of the factories. However, we were told that the factories do supply fresh drinking water for the locals so that they can safely have something to drink.

The activist said that the 240 industries are worried about the protestors, not just because of the environmental and health issues they are talking about, but also that they are afraid that they are agents or spies for DOW chemical. Because of this, and the fact that many of the factories are government owned, and bring in many of their employees from outside of Kerala, they are trying to label the group as eco-terrorists to get them out of the way.

April Cibula:

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Today was the second day that the group separated into mini-groups of three to four people. The mini-groups focused on gender, labor, environment, and public health, all of which are topics of concern in a developing area. As for my group, environment, along with Teige and Nate we went an area where people were mining clay illegally. My first thought was that this mine would be far into a forest or rural area to prevent detection. Instead it was located on a side road, off a busy street, in a busy area. Immediately, it seemed suspicious. As we walked near the mines, it was a barren area. The area bordering the mine was surrounded by trees and a few factories. The whole are was white, with mounds covering the surface. In the middle of the area was a large crevice, the result of thirty years of mining. The bottom of the mine was pooling with dark, bluish water. The factory next to the area owned the mine, and the factory processed the clay. They produced pure kaolin clay, which can sell for 1000 Rupees a kilogram. From my experience, I know that this clay is often used in clay face-masks and other cosmetics, masking this clay highly desirable. The problem with this mine is the pollution it produces, along with water and air pollution generated by the factory itself and its heavy machinery. The dust alone has been detrimental to the public health of the people in the area, causing considerable respiratory problems. The ground around the mine is unstable, leaving the fate of the mine open to question after the clay deposits are played out. Housing cannot be put up because of the instability of the land. The land is also barren and so has no agricultural value. It will remain empty and barren after it is used up. On the upside the mine employs about 2000 people.

When we approached the factory to see if we could enter, we were denied entry. Altough I expected this, I still wanted to know what else they might be hiding. It was also hard for use to figure out why the mining was still happening since it was illegal. Also, the people who operated the mine made no attempt to keep it secret. People answered my question by referring to the notion that the mine staying open was a political issue. My guess is that the factory is paying off politicians, or politicians don’t care about the illegality of the mine, so long as it is providing jobs.

Michael Weiss:

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Today we went on a riverboat and heard a talk about how there is an exploitation of and manipulation of laws by land mafias. This in regards to building new apartments on land that was previously protected under law from being built upon but because of these groups generally ignore the law and sometimes blatantly build illegally. Land is a big issue here because of these kinds of special interest groups and more so because of all the pollution that has been happening as the state modernizes. Near where we were there were 242 factories and 48 of them have heavily polluted the river to the point that the surrounding area does not have fresh drinking water. So in a bit of irony the companies supply the locals with 400 L of fresh water a day because they ruined the water of these poor people. We also met an activist who has been agitating for the last twenty years and he told us about how in regards to the land grabs by the mafias and people being forced off their land. He even cited a case where they helped families get their land and this was a great case of the little people winning against the big evil corporations.