Monday, April 29, 2019

Pralayam - Kerala after the Deluge

Houseboats waiting to go at 11:30AM

Last year the monsoons were disastrous for Kerala. For the first time since 1924 the state saw all its rivers in spate, most of its agricultural land submerged and thousands huddled in relief camps across the state. 

There had been talk of how it would take years to rebuild and recover from the "Pralayam" - not a mere flooding ("vellapokkam") but a calamity of epic proportions for which a more potent word had been drawn from Sanskrit epics.

Seven months after the floods there is little trace of the disaster that killed over 400 people, displaced 5 million and caused economic losses of over USD 5 billion.

At Kainakary the houseboat business is booming again. These boats are usually allowed into the backwaters only after 11:30 when the fishermen have returned with their catch. Only the larger, double-deck boats have to wait longer because the quays could not be dredged last year due to a funds crunch. The locals are upbeat - this year there has been no shortage of tourists either at the Ayurvedic spas that line the Vembanad lagoon, or the toddy shops or ice-cream vendors on boats.

Not far from the banks of the Pamba river at Othera, recovery is said to have taken place within weeks of the water receding. In the words of a resident relative, "Our house, along with about 200 others, was an island for 10 days. No electricity, no tele-connectivity, or access to supply of clean water. Helicopters hovered around dropping provisions which were piled up at local shrines...and often distributed amongst those who were less than deserving."

I had expected many of the houses to be in bad shape. While on a morning walk along some of the worst affected areas, from Othera to the railway bridge over the Pamba I came across only one houses that had not been repaired. Interestingly, the low-lying areas that had been home to the erstwhile low caste agricultural labourers is now populated by groups of migrant labourers from Bihar, Bengal, Odisha and Assam. Tiny old houses along Parayanthodukuzhi with its fallow paddies and broken boundary walls is now alive with the costumes and languages of the Gangetic plains.

An irrigation project too is underway to bring 33,000 KL of Pamba water, pumped across the undulating terrain, through canals and aqueducts to the fields of Pathanamthitta district.

Will the politics of flood relief have an impact on the ongoing Lok Sabha elections? Quite unlikely say the locals. 

However, one thing is for sure - it is a great time to be in the hardware and paints and waterproofing business in Kerala! 

Toddy Shop at Kainakary duly endorsed by an aspiring MP

Preparing the paddies at Kuttanad


Monday, April 15, 2019

Out of Africa - into Europe

This was an eye-opener, and a reminder about how little I know about Africa.

Having studied with a group of Africans I also find it surprising that even as a part of academic discussions at Tsukuba University on this very topic, there were no fiery discussions on the three key events mentioned by Dr. Arikana:

  • Berlin conference of 1884-85 for amicable division of Africa into European colonies - a meeting of 14 colonial powers for drawing of arbitrary boundaries, creation of countries that exist today.
  • The French government arm twisting its colonies to sign, during 1958-61,  a pact for the Continuation of Colonisation - "The Colonial Debt
  • 1963 - Addis Ababa conference that lead to the creation of Organisation of African Unity (OAU) by just seven states - Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Egypt, Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia.

Some of the numbers presented are truly cringe-worthy. As a repayment for "civilising" the Africans, for teaching them how to 'eat with fork and spoon', 14 French colonies were were required to deposit 80% (now down to 60%) of their bank reserves with the French Ministry of Finance. This self-serving arrangement enables France to extract no less than USD 500 billion from these 14 countries every year!

Since these 'Francophone' depended almost entirely on their former colonial master for marketing their minerals (first right of refusal), their military hardware, for their printed currencies, and for the education of their elite, the dependencies are almost hardwired. Countries that try to come out of the Colonial Debt are rewarded with coups (no less than 60 so far), assassinations and 'engineered chaos'.

On the 100th anniversary of the Jallianwalla Massacre, it does seem like a miracle that we Indians managed to get independence with just the partition of the subcontinent!

* The French African Connection -
* The Berlin Conference of 1884 -