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From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 21, Dated May 29, 2010

An Aimless Gawker’s Paradise

Arul Mani
Columnist and teacher at a Bengaluru college

Grounded flamingo The mosque in Beemapalli has a fluorescent allure
Photo: AJ JOJI

imageI Travel only under sufficient duress. I have never understood why I am supposed to enjoy leaving behind a house crammed with all the things I need, to impale myself on the sundry pleasures of strange new places. this dislike has compounded into irritation over the years because everyone I know enunciates the word travel with unwholesome relish. When it comes to the institutionalised gallivanting nowadays miscalled travel, I demur.

It is with some embarrassment that I report an elevated heart rate when May arrives, bringing with it the prospect of a journey to thiruvananthapuram. I run an annual errand in that direction and over the last five years I have shamelessly slapped a day or two on either side of that three-hour job. If my inner curmudgeon goes ‘amma-jolly’, it is not entirely for reasons that look very good in print. yes, thirenthorum, to say it with the economy of phonemes the locals prefer, is drenched in myth and history, but those things don’t move me. It is crowded with museums and palaces and temples and beaches I have never given a second look.

Thiruvananthapuram’s chief charm is that it doesn’t seem particularly dazzled by itself, that it hasn’t od-ed on some spurious sense of its own importance. Its auto-rickshaw drivers will normally take you anywhere without a haggling preamble, and the food is always good, and cheap. you aren’t dwarfed by a landscape of glowering towers, and the streets are alive with a discreet buzz that encourages you to gawk or to saunter aimlessly. this is therapy — I live in Bengaluru, where choosing to be a pedestrian is both infra-dig and life-threatening. to set foot in this city is to experience a refreshing return to human scale.

Thiruvananthapuram has trading traditions going back to 1000 BCE. It was a trading post for spices, sandalwood and ivory
Nearest airport: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

All this and the humidity can cause strange eating enthusiasms. I remember wandering the streets one morning in pursuit of the perfect pazhampori— most people would look askance at ripe bananas batter-fried but that day I fancied I might find the exact combination of crisp and melting, and I did. I have, in different years, set out on similar quests for the perfect appam-and-chickenstew, the perfect beef fry, and the perfect nasraani meal, only to encounter a happy confusion of the senses.

The small in scale seems invariably to free the eye rather than constrict it. I have gawked unhindered at filmposters, wandered into political meetings, listened with growing amusement to ranting gospellers, found fluorescent lungis to inflict as gifts on friends back home, and ambled through the dC Books english outlet. the high point is the 12-km auto ride to Beemapalli, where a dozen shacks huddle around a pink shrine built in honour of an arab woman — this one-time contraband kingdom is the one place where I can be sure of finding every Malayalam film I’ve missed from its zenith in the 1980s. the evenings are perfect for gadding about thus and being useless.

The full extent of the tragedies that befell Walter Benjamin — who made the loafer respectable — becomes clear to me when I realise that he had probably never heard of this city.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 7, Issue 21, Dated May 29, 2010

The Morning After

The Fleshy Tones Of Real India
Amitava Kumar The author, most recently, of Evidence of Suspicion. Lives in upstate New York

Stone Chickens And Beach Resorts
Suresh Menon Bengaluru-based columnist, who often writes on cricket

Rafting Up The Valley Of God
Amrita Nandy-Joshi South Asian women’s rights activist. Moonlights as a freelance journalist and travel writer

How To Catch A Cloud
Deepanjana Pal Mumbai-based writer and author of The Painter: A Life of Ravi Varma

The One-Fourth Holy Land
Aruni Kashyap Assamese writer currently based in Delhi

The Torrential Luxury
Patrick Bryson Australian writer currently residing in Shillong, Meghalaya

An Aimless Gawker’s Paradise
Arul Mani Columnist and teacher at a Bengaluru college

Turban-Watching In Filmi Punjab
Annie Zaidi Journalist and author of Known Turf: Bantering with Bandits and Other True Tales

The Motorcars Of the Gopis
Arundhati Ghosh Arts management professional based in Bengaluru

Land Of Thread And Mirrors
Benson Issac Teacher at St Joseph’s College, Bengaluru. Also Freelance researcher and trainer

Goa, Be Kind. Rewind
Frederick Noronha Goa-based journalist and author

The Sands Of Time
Ramu Ramanathan Mumbai-based playwrightdirector and editor of PT Notes, a monthly theatre newsletter produced by Prithvi Theatre

The Refuge Of Small Mercies
Neel Chaudhuri Delhi-based playwright and theatre director and artistic director of The Tadpole Repertory

Harem Pants And Psychedelic Trance
Deepika Arwind Writer and journalist based in Bengaluru

Holiday At The High Wavys
Bijoy Venugopal Bengaluru-based journalist and biographer for the rock band Thermal and a Quarter

Tuning In With The Folks
Mrinalini Harchandrai Writer based in Mumbai

The Treehouse Fellowship
Mridula Koshy Delhi-based writer and author of a collection of short stories called If It Is Sweet

Romeo And Juliet In Freeze Mode
Amitabha Bagchi Professor at IIT Delhi and author of the novel Above Average

  Relax, It’s Just A Vacation
SANTOSH DESAI CEO, Future Brands, and author of Mother Pious Lady —Making Sense of Everyday India

  Candid Photographs

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