Steel Notes Magazine December 2016 - Page 124

December 2016 Steel Notes Magazine Journey to India Chapter 5: Varanasi to Goa Rex Maurice Oppenheimer Leaving Varanasi I spent the next few days on the train. Sleeping on my wooden plank, reading, writing, smoking hash and looking out the window as India rolled by. Winter was coming, and I was heading south on my journey to new territory and warmer climes. My sights were set on the Malabar coast, namely Cochin, Trivandrum and Kovalam Beach. After a night in Madras, I spent another 30 hours on the train to Mangalore, where I killed five hours before catching a train down to Calicut. There I spent the night before catching another train further down the coast to Cochin. I stepped off the train in Cochin at midnight and into a thundering tropical storm. With my pack on my back, I was skirting deep puddles and wading waist deep through others, in search of cheap accommodation. My spirits were high, and singing in the Malabar rain, I just took things as they came. I was feeling easy about things like not knowing where I was going to sleep that night. I was enthralled with India. Here I was in a place where one could easily say I didn’t belong, culturally , ethnically, but where I soaked up a feeling of serenity. It wasn’t that my surroundings were peaceful. No matter where I went in India, and no matter how jubilant or joyful the environment, there was always life’s struggle and much suffering, from poverty, but also from petty cruelty and human injustice, on display. Maybe it was that I was adrift, detached from any semblance of what would have been considered normal life back in my homeland and any responsibility or expectation I would have felt back home. Walking through this primitive world, among people living on a simple level of bare existence, I felt a sense of comfort with my own imperfect self. Calicut and Cochin, both facing the Arabian Sea along the Malabar Coast in the State of Kerala, were important ports for the ancient spice trade. They offered a free and secure port for Jews, Arabs, Phoenicians and Chinese merchants, who traded for spices like black pepper and cardamom beginning about 2,000 years ago. Europeans discovered the trade routes to the Malabar Coast in the 1500s. Leaving the hotel to wander on my first morning I was taken by how modern Cochin seemed compared to the places I’d been living in India. Although plenty of primitive India was still apparent, there were proper streets lined with shops, all with glass, showroom style windows. I was used to people squatting in the street with their goods laid out on the ground or propped on a shelf stuck in beneath someone’s windowsill. 124 Steel Notes Magazine