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The Streets of Trivandrum

From the Airport to the Hotel – Trivandrum, January 1999
This follows on from This is India, where we had some Indian chaos at Trivandrum airport, but eventually got through and made our way to our hotel, and had some socio-political ponderings on the way.
We changed money at the airport with uncommonly little fuss, then off to see the package tour rep who told us to go to bus number 4. This was a bit of a walk and not at all visible from the terminal buildings, but we found it and then once all the required people had been collected up, and sufficient hangers-on had climbed into the front part of the bus, off we went through the bumpy, noisy, dirty, busy, narrow Indian streets, past the little stalls selling a few bottles of water and bananas; the stalls selling betel nuts; the stalls selling glasses of tea; and the stalls where it was not entirely clear what they were selling. Past the dogs and cows and people living on the street. Bumpity-bump out of town.
In the hot, sunny weather with the windows open, remembering constantly that if the driver braked hard, there was a sharp metal window-catch right by my head.
No Full Stops in India
Out of town we see an elephant – a working elephant – and we pass people picking coir (the coarse fibre obtained from the tissues surrounding the seed of the coconut palm), a bit like the Victorian picking oakum in essence, and spinning it, and we pass many, many stonebreakers. Again this had a Victorian feel, or possible pre-Victorian, men and women, sitting by a pile of granite-like blocks and hitting them with a hammer made of a piece of stone tied to a stick to break them into pieces small enough to be used as road stone. Bash, bash, bash all day long under a coconut-matting sunshade.
I am reading Mark Tully’s No Full Stops in India in which he argues that the western idea of technology and consumerism is not appropriate for India where they have such an abundance of labour. It’s all very well for him to say that, he doesn’t have to spend his days breaking stones for a living. To be fair to Mark Tully he does recognise that he is able to live a privileged life among people who are in poverty, but his arguments sound so much like those that might have been made by the wealthy of the time about the working class in nineteenth-century England that I am very suspicious of his theories.
We learn later that stone-breakers earn ‘good money’, one hundred rupees per day (£1.50 at 1999 rates) and that they are employed by the road contractors at this purported high rate because the work is dangerous and flying stone chips often injure their arms and legs. The stone-breakers only make the coarse stone, the finer stuff for the road surface is done by machine.
Pondering on whether it is better to have a dangerous or demeaning job which has no future or no job at all, and thinking about how the British version of the caste system, the class system, was so similar to that described by Mark Tully as forming a social cohesion and belonging among people of a common caste or class, and how that needed breaking down in Britain as it I’m sure it does, despite Mr Tully’s views, in India and for the same reasons, we arrive at our destination. Almost. Where we are staying does not have a road to it, so porters arrive and take our baggage and we are led down a narrow rough track to our guest house; the moustachioed owner shakes our hand.
Our Accommodation and Surroundings
We have ordered a ‘high’ room, or rather it has been ordered for us, so we are up with the tops of the coconut trees, which turns out to be good fortune as it is very hot down below at the lower levels.
First thing: some sleep. We eschew the ‘welcome reception’ at midday local time, though it seems that the rest of our group went to it.
Waking about 4pm we walked to the beach to find people sunbathing and swimming in the sea. We walk along the beach, over the sewage outlet, and along another beach. Time for a drink in one of the numerous cafés that line the beachfront, most of themn propped-up on ill-disguised sandbags.
Our beer and Coke came to 169 rupees, and this included a wonderful onion pakora and tomato salad. £2.30 the lot. 70 rupees to the pound at the moment. We’ll come to see this as inflated tourist prices in India, but not yet.
Back to the quiet guesthouse for a cold shower – no hot water in this cheapo guesthouse – then out for some dinner.
All the beachside restaurants have fresh fish on display and it seems we choose perhaps the best in terms of price and quality. Barracudi and Butterfish on a sizzling platter. And the chips are so good, presumably because of real potatoes.
Will we eat fish and chips for a fortnight? No, because we are off travelling; we had only intended to stay in the guesthouse for the first night and we are running at least one day late on account of the delay in Bahrain.
The story continues with A Beach Tourist Experience.


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