It was such a sudden decision to pay a visit, one of those “F-it! I’m going” moments. So I dropped off a few emails, had a Facebook wall-to-wall conversation, picked up my bags and off I went. The b4Ur27 thing from SriLankan is still on, so you can gets a return ticket to Cochin for about 12,000 LKR including Taxes. I was planning returning from elsewhere, so my ticket was a bit more.
After about an hour’s flight I arrived in Cochin sometime in the morning, The Cochin airport is quite nice, having seen the one in Bangalore, (which frankly looks like the fort railway station) I’m pleasantly surprised. They seem to have got everything in order, a nice duty free section, mobile service providers, money exchangers..the works. I approach the money exchange guys and they put on an animated show calling to their booth, it’s as if I entered the Sunday Pola (market), I grin to myself – I’ve arrived in India.
The most depressing thing about traveling to India these days is the exchange rate. The Sri Lankan Rupee is one of the few currencies in the world which is actually falling against the dollar. When I first traveled to India sometime in 2006, I could get 1 INR for about 2.2 LKR. Now I have to give 2.8 LKR to get the same rupee, so every time I spend cash I keep multiplying it by 3, India is no longer a cheap place for Sri Lankans. The cause is of course those morons at the Central Bank print too much money to finance Mahinda’s spending habits; and no, having one of his buddies as the head of the CB doesn’t help either – at least for the rest of us. I’m increasingly of the view that we should abolish the central bank (or radically reform it), more on that later.. some other day.
Anyway, after reminding myself a few impolite details about Mrs. Cabraal(snr) I made my way outside the airport building. I was late for the seminar I was here for and the taxi fare from the AirPort service didn’t sound reasonable so I was looking for an ‘Auto’ (that’s a tuk-tuk for the rest of you) There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot outside, but I manage to catch one autowallah (3-wheeler buggers) roaming around the premises. I tell him the location I want to get to and he breaks into a long monologue in what I presume to be in Malayalam, the local language. I have two options, one is to confess I’m a Sri Lankan, speak to him in English and pay the premium for foreigners.. or speak in my picked-up Hindi and make him think I’m from up north. I go for the latter and to my relief, his Hindi is not that good either. This works to my advantage as I manage negotiate a decent fare, and get in the black and yellow Tuk-tuk.
Soon we are in a slightly bumpy road with a lot of greenery either side, people were right – Kerala is a lot like Sri Lanka. The autowallah tries to pull me into a conversation on what I’m doing in Cochin and where I come from, after trying my best to keep up with the little Hindi I know, I finally confess I’m from Sri Lanka. He asks me whether I know Tamil, I tell him I don’t. He asks me how I know Hindi, I tell him “Bollywood” which is only partially true. Come to think of it, it is rather embarrassing I can understand/utter Hindi better than I can speak Tamil. In my defense, they didn’t teach us Tamil in School, and when they finally figured out they should in about grade 9, I couldn’t be bothered. Hindi on the other hand is naturally closer to Sinhalese, it’s of the same Indo-Aryan roots and we’ve got a lot of common or very similar words and phrases. Plus of course there’s Bollywood and unlike Kollywood- the south Indian version, they make good movies. So that, and the fact that I seem to visit India often and the few English words they use when speaking in Hindi, I can pretty much understand or at the very least get a general idea of what they are talking about when somebody speaks in Hindi. This doesn’t quite work for Tamil.
We approach the city and the Cochin traffic makes me talk less and look around more. The place look like a busy section in the outskirts of Colombo, lots of people, dust, tuk-tuks and at one point I see one bearded politician-bugger dressed in white in front of a picture of a modern train. I could have been home. The only difference seems to be random cut-outs of (I presume to be) Malayalam actors, kind of fat fellows in silly looking pants and sunglasses with fair women. I pass by some communist graffiti and I’m reminded that Kerala is governed CPI(M) and I’m actually in commie country.
The drive is taking about an hour now and I’m fast getting bored when I suddenly spot we are passing the place I’m supposed to get down, I yell Rukoh Rukoh!! (Stop!) .. I’ve made it.
End of Part 1... Continued in Part 2