Thoughts on Kerala’s Ecology, Pre and Post Floods.


Kerala’s vibrant heritage and ecology failed to impress me as a child. I never liked going there, usually driving down in our cramped Maruti 800, forced to acknowledge the beauty of the Western Ghats or else. My only thoughts were when do we reach, and after we get there, when do we get back home? It was hot, the well water tasted funny and the ancestral cottage was home to every exotic critter: pointy millipedes, great big pregnant spiders, neon caterpillars, vicious red ants, fuzzy moths and house lizards that had fattened up on them.

The middle room, the one that my cousins claimed was haunted because it had once housed a dead body, was occupied by Kalama, the housekeeper who was too old to perform any duties but still shouted instructions from her bed. The electricity would go out at 7 p.m. every day and we would light candles, then we would wait for the whizz and snap of a kamikaze hoard of beetles to come through the windows and hit us like hailstones. The ones that didn’t die underfoot crawled under your shirt and stayed with their legs firmly hooked though the cloth. If you wanted to make sure you were sleeping alone, you had to turn over the sheets to examine them first. If you wanted to wee in the middle of the night, the toad from the garden, who was a regular night time visitor to the bathroom, would croak at you like a melancholic drunk. The red ants made a meal of you even if you were minding your own business. The people shook their heads at my lack of knowledge of my native tongue and well, general lack of, and stared at us everywhere we went like we were prize zoo animals. I was repulsed by Kerala and the lush, uncontrolled natural life that spilt into the sacred confines of the home.

What I didn’t know then, and would have been the least bit impressed by, was that the plump red rice we ate came from our own fields, that our ancestors had been farmers, and that every harvest my grandma would be cooking vats of food for the hired field hands after they’d returned from the fields. I didn’t know that the rabbits I made friends with were destined for curry, that the fried chicken on the table came from our hen coop, and the eggs we ate came from the train of emerald-necked ducks that waddled around happily with their ducklings. Coconuts fell from the sky and so did a variety of ripe mangoes. I also failed to be affected by the fact that we literally cooked food over a fire using coconut husks as fuel—everything my hippie ass would be just fascinated by, had I lived there now.

Front yard Mangoes.
Turmeric plant in my Aunt’s backyard

My last couple of visits were not as bad as I’d anticipated. I decided to keep an open mind while visiting a different set of relatives who still lived off the land and were very happy to see me, despite my complete lack of comprehension as to what they were saying. I was thoroughly enchanted by the small home business one of my aunts owned, the industrious use of everything that grew there, the uncle peeling nutmegs in the garden, the cow in the backyard and the compost pit where we threw our leftovers after eating on banana leaves, from the turmeric plant to the pepper creeper to the exotic fruits brought in from South East Asia that grew cheerfully in Kerala weather. This summer I came home with a treasured haul of mangoes, organic turmeric, pulli (‘sour’), organic pepper, and organic coconut oil from the backyards of various aunts and uncles. We had even been convinced to carry some eggs with us, no surprise to the airport authorities, who are used to passengers trying get through all manner of odd things out of the state.

So let’s say, from my personal observation, Keralites have managed to stick to the old ways despite the influx of multinationals and haven’t completely sacrificed their ecology for the sake of progress. The post-flood analysis says differently, and there are several pockets of poisoned groundwater due to the overuse of pesticides that the state has addressed multiple times, but have come to no concrete application despite the attempt to ban 20 known toxic pesticides several years ago.

And just look at what the Malayattoor river turned up after the flood:


Let’s say a major win was kicking out Cola-Cola, a supreme effort on the part of the tribals of Plachimada, Palakkad being known as the rice bowl of Kerala, in a protracted legal battle that took up to 12 years. If they actually had to pay for the ecological damage that they caused, business wouldn’t be as profitable and cola not so cheap. I speak from the pov of ancient respect for land and staple food sources: the water in the paddy fields, as my dad told me, is never to be touched. They touched it.  Pepsico, hopefully, would be next.

But what about the rest? Let us consider the hydel power project in Athirapally which required the clearance of several hectares of forest but which is neither economically nor ecologically viable. Progress isn’t any good if the eventual costs are too high. We have less than 12 years to act on climate change, and what’s sad is we’ve had the means within our hands for several years.

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The capitalists meanwhile, the uber-rich, the ones who have us convinced that it’s all good, are planning an escape hatch to sky and I’m imagining a scene from A Canticle for Leibowitz, one of my favourite sci-fi novels, or possibly every disaster movie that predicted that a patriarchal hegemony that loves war, thrives on the accumulation of wealth and hates the planet, plans to leave us all behind.

I think about those pesky lizards, the neon caterpillars and melancholic toads thirty years ago that were perhaps the signs of a healthy planet and I think of me, repelled by it yet concerned about its possible, eventual demise, and wonder what’s in store for all of us.

















The Secret Life of Cats

Cats are the queens of the internet, supposedly because in its nascent days the people behind all those web sites were socially inept cat lovers. Another theory goes that we never really stopped worshipping them.


The internet is playing favourites with a lot of other animals now. My daily feed consists of adorable animal gifs and videos, mostly cats, but also ‘birbs’, dogs and an assortment of zoo animals. I could while away half an hour every day watching Reginald get his first mani-pedi or Lo on guard duty, safe from behind my computer screen.

Discovering that I was a cat person took me a good many years. My neighbours owned seven cats with eyes like emeralds and shiny, black sinewy bodies that would have been apt next to a witch’s cauldron. My parents considered them a nuisance because they turned our balcony into their toilet and the cacophony of demonic mating calls in the middle of the night could make anyone grumble. I secretly petted them and fed them cream from my hand.

I was told that cats weren’t just dirty, they were bad luck, so when I tried to bring one home from an abandoned litter that my friends had found, the answer was no. We had to deal with the demise of the litter at the claws of an adult cat. Turns out in cat world, the law of the jungle prevailed.

I was pretty much done with kittens… or so I thought.

Turn the clock a couple of decades and I rescued my first stray. I was still clueless as to how to look after animals and poor Moon-Moon (named after a popular Tumblr meme) had to deal with being kept at arm’s distance for two months before I found an adoptive family for him.


While the local animal feeders preferred to deal with dogs and ignored the kittens, I managed to find a couple of people who were willing to help: one nice lady who accompanied me to all his x-ray appointments and another nice lady who gave me sample size kitten food, a litter tray and lots of much needed advice. I visited her house to see her prized rescue cats: Sheru, Chutki and Lola Kutty, well-fed beautiful things with shiny coats and glimmering eyes.

Sheru had been a miracle kitten, delivered to Mrs. R a week after the untimely death of her original cat, a white stray to whom she had been very attached and whose demise had left her feeling so depressed that she swore she would never keep another pet. She was a regular animal feeder in the area and the guard on duty called her to say one of the building dogs, Sir Sits-a-Lot (or something, I forgot his name) was hiding something and not allowing anyone to come near him. He did allow Mrs. R however, and between his paws nestled a little ginger male that she was compelled to adopt. She swore Sir Sits-a-Lot had gifted the kitten to her because animals are capable of sensing depression. Chutki came along after that and then it was Lola Kutty, who had been run over by one of Mrs. R’s relatives. After many visits to the doctor, Lola managed to recover completely, her slightly misshapen ribcage the only evidence left of the accident. Mrs. R’s relative was ready to take Lola Kutty back because they felt responsible for her after the accident, but she couldn’t be separated from Sheru because ‘they were in love with each other’.

Cats fall in love?

“Yes!” Mrs. R insisted emphatically.

Lola Kutty was maturing and Sheru had been sterilized, so he had to bear the rage of her frustration—scratches, swipes and bites–because he couldn’t perform. Chutki, meanwhile, was intensely jealous of Lola because she didn’t understand why this new young thing ought to have any hold over her old mate Sheru.

I liked to think cats possessed as dramatic a love life (despite the missing parts) as we humans did and began to sense the tension in the room with the three cats in it. Sheru began to paw at me and Mrs. R told me to leave the room before Lola Kutty went apeshit with jealousy.

So Moon-Moon, by a stroke of luck, got adopted by a lovely Bengali family who lived five minutes away and happened to be looking for a kitten on the internet.



My second, Flash, was rescued from the gutter where he had been hiding from the neighbourhood strays. When I brought him home I left him in a cardboard box on the stairs, but he meowed so loudly that a local tomcat came to investigate. I opened the door to the stairwell and found Mister Tomcat staring intently at the cardboard box in which I had hidden Flash. After a long staring match between us, he turned around and left, much to my relief. I didn’t think I could take the sight of another mauled kitten.

Flash turned out to be so feral that it was impossible to handle or feed him without two layers of jeans on and pair of thick gloves. He was built for the streets, ferocious little kitty with the sharp little claws that had to be unhooked from one’s flesh. I managed to keep him for three months before he got too big to handle and then, failing to find a family for him, I got him vaccinated and let him go in the fish market, hoping that perhaps he would find his way back to me with a promise that he’d behave himself.

Well none of that happened.

By that time my family had had enough of my animal social-service and luckily, I didn’t come across any more abandoned kittens to prey on my conscience. For a brief time, and because I had plenty of cat food left, I fed a cat name Pookie who turned out to be the most adorable stray I’d ever met. He’d take a bite of his food, return to rub up and meow lovingly against my ankles, then take another mouthful, return and rub up again and so on. He loved a good petting, but I didn’t like the idea of taking him away from the territory he’d gained in a colony overrun with strays. Plus, if I came home with a full grown unneutered male stray I was pretty sure my family would lose its marbles.

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After that, I was packed up and ready to move cities when I heard from my vet that a nearby Persian had whelped a litter of furballs. I couldn’t resist and just had to pick one. Timo was welcomed because he was a domestic breed and cute as a button. He is the worst of the kittens I’d dealt with when it comes to potty manners and I had to change his feeding pattern several times before I figured what his delicate inbred constitution required.


I heard from Nice Lady No. 1, who had helped me rescue Moon-Moon, that Pookie was, of all things, fostering a male kitten and sharing his food with him.

Pookie’s foster son

This was unusual for a male cat and just proved that Pookie was angel sent from heaven in cat form. The youngster that he fostered didn’t make it though, and I’d like to think Pookie might have mourned his death just like Mrs. R had done for her beloved kitty.

Drowning in the Wonders and the Was


Back when we were in our late teens the future hung on a precipice and one’s mental health as well. What we made of ourselves was our primary focus and some handled it better than others. Some were born with silver spoons in their mouths and weren’t as obsessed with success as the middle-class kids. We didn’t have an open relationship with our parents, there were things you just didn’t tell them: failure, harassment, the decisions we made purely ruled by tranference; kids who came from divorced parents, the ones who had lost someone important along the way, the lower middle-class ones with no money to spend, the targets, the narcissists.

Books and music were a substitute for therapy. I still have a tender spot for all the musicians from the 1990’s who saved me but I don’t do that anymore, not so compulsively. If I had a time machine I’d go back and tell myself and everybody else to chill, but I do miss the riot of emotions and the solipsism that came with every indulgent music binge, lyrics from the cassette case clutched in my fingers.

I’m gonna make a mistake/ I’m gonna do it on purpose/ I’m gonna waste my time…

An artwork of a woman with her calves crossed to the viewer, playing with her tresses and the lyrics to Fiona Apple’s Mistake scrawled around her body adorned the door of my room, scandalizing my hostel warden, and when I moved back home, my dad, who asked me to take it off the wall. When she played, I’d have someone begging me to turn her off. Others, mildly interested, pointed out how this woman seemed to have been through every kind of relationship on the planet. The moodiness, the sound of her piano was like tumbling down the stairs of a haunted mansion–her crooning was both sonorous and soft and somehow effortless.

Oh, you creep uplike the clouds/ And you set my soul at ease/ Then you let your love abound/ And you bring me to my knees

Many years after I had gotten over my rock/pop obsessions, she managed to find her way into my Tumblr feed. This post was a quote from an article on her in Spin magazine, 1997:

[…]She’s standing there, staring hard at the photographer, who’s saying, “Give me sexy, seduce me.” I can see why she hates photo shoots.  “There’s no hope for women, there’s no hope for women, there’s no hope for women,”she says during a break, like she’s the white girl rapper speaking out for her homies[…]

The reporter tries hard to fit her into a box. He is, however, perceptive enough to point out how no one is really in control of their own exploitation, or how their sexualized image will be perceived by anyone who sees it. Now that I’m smarter about that sort of thing, the Criminal video resembles an American Apparel ad: Fiona vulnerable on the kitchen sink, Fiona vulnerable inside the closet, Fiona in the middle of motionless teenage bodies in their underwear. Fiona in her underwear in the backseat of a car that reminds you of a flashy paparazzi shot.

She was way too young to be in any sort of control of that image. So what purpose does Criminal serve anyway?

These ideas of mine/ Percolate the mind/ Trickle down the spine/ Swarm the belly, swellin’ to a blaze/ That’s where the pain comes in/ Like a second skeleton/ Tryin’ to fit beneath the skin/ I can’t fit the feelin’s in

Let’s say you’re drawn by the wink of a diamond in a deep dark cave. That’s Criminal. You go closer and you discover the cave is stacked from corner to corner with gold, rubies, emeralds and diamonds. That’s what Tidal was. They did try to package and sell her like a pop star, but the waif-like sexy image faded quickly because her music was so strong. Now I see her, twenty years later, banging away at the piano or dancing with her dog and being the genius weirdo that actually she is.

The Terror – TV Series


On 19th May 1845 a crew of 129 men set out to brave the icy chill of the Arctic in an attempt to find a shorter sea passage to the orient. The voyage of the HMS Erebus and HMS Terror was doomed to fail, as, caught in the ice for years, the journey ended with the remaining crew ridden with lead poisoning and scurvy who eventually, as the marks on the bones found in 1997 suggest, resorted to cannibalism. The location of both wrecks were accurately theorised by Inuit historian Louie Kamookak, who died this March at the age of 58, with information gleaned from oral tales told by his elders about the white men and their ships.

If the mystery of the doomed voyage is not fascinating enough, add a supernatural element and a brilliant cast brought together in the TV series, based on the book by Dan Simmons. I loved it so much I binge-watched the first five episodes on Amazon Prime until I was fog-brained and would have ploughed on had the remaining episodes been available (and when they did arrive I watched them with extra dedication). I googled a few screen shots to put together the fan art in the image above. Jared Harris, whom I remember as one of my favourite characters from Mad Men, brings a layer of charisma to the role of Captain Francis Crozier. I can’t say any of the other actors failed to live up to the their characters either, especially Adam Nagaitis, slinking about as the thoroughly unlikable Mr.Hickey.