kerala

India 2: Portraits from Kochin, Kerala

Sarah Auntie is a ninety-two year old Jewish lady who lives in a clean, bright room next to a shop selling traditional Jewish lacework. She welcomes visitors to the shop from her chair next door, allowing you to interrupt her reading her morning prayers. She speaks both Yiddish and Malalayam, the language of Kerala. She survives her husband, and has no children. In her youth, she taught many locals the fine art of Jewish lacework, and is now looked after by the locals and a good friend who runs the lace shop. She was born in Kochin, met her Jewish husband in Kochin, and now has retired here. She is one of six remaining Jews in Kochin.

It is believed the Jews came to Kerala as early as 587 BC, following the destruction of their temple in King Solomon's time. After settling in Kochin, relations were very favourable. A Rabbi was made a Prince. And the land dedicated to the Synagogue was promised to them for as long as the sun burned in the sky. And so, the Jews came to Kerala and found refuge that still lasts. Until Israel was established as its own nation in 1947, there were 1000s of Jews in the city. After Israel's independence, most left. And now, there are only six Jews, including Sarah Auntie, living in the city. The Synagogue remains, in all its ornate candlelit beauty.

                          watching & preparing the morning's catch, fisherman & cats near kochin

                a traditional ayurvedic pharmacy, kochin

India 1: Kochin, Kerala

Kerala is the sound of crows in the trees at 3am. It's the smell of ayurvedic oils and incense. It's the sight of bats as big as gulls slowly flapping over your head amidst the bustle of a night market. It's masala dosas and chai for breakfast at 7am, drinking cold coconut coffee to the soundtrack of Freddie Mercury in a Kochin art gallery café, a thali platter and parrotha for dinner. It's persistent sticky heat and overhead fans, lazy mosquitos and inquisitive eyes following, the organised chaos of drivers, the precarious carefree pedestrians taking centre stage in the road, the honking of the car you're in, the honking of the motorbike that rumbles by loaded with a family of four. It's women wearing saris, the chatter of many school children, talking to your driver about arranged marriage, comparing cultural differences and learning never to get married on a 10th age (20, 30, 40 and so on). The word Kerala comes from "coconut", which you discover to your delight is in everything. Kochin gets its name from the Chinese, along with its fishermen's nets. Christianity landed here in or around 7AD and is embraced with the same colourful passion as Hinduism. Mother Mary, Krishna and 7pm evening calls from the Mosquie exist within metres of one another in peace. Kerala is green and gold, the contrast of life-giving colour and happy disrepair. Backwaters, sprawling jungle greenery and palm trees, beaches, street dogs, street cats and bats. Kerala is surreal and sublime.