India 20A - Our Peace Corps Group


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Served 1965 - 1967   

As Time Goes By

Members of India 20A are starting to return to India for extended visits. Their observations are filled keen insights into the changes that have occurred in India since the time India 20A left the country in 1967. This section provides the written and photographic summaries of their visits

The Chester and Joan Noreikis Trip - November 2007

Chester Noreikis, one of the mainstays of  India 20A, and his wife Joan  visited  India from early November to late December 2007.  Chester is the first India 20A Peace Corps Trainee I remember meeting at the University of Milwaukee-Wisconsin on August 31st, 1965.  I remember him distinctly, because he had long hair (at least one inch longer than every other man present ) and he wore sandels.  I was impressed!  We  follow their journey across India from their letters (oops, I mean emails).  Reading their email is almost like being in India with them. (R.A. Smith)

Here is their first communication:

From: Joan Noreikis
>Sent: Nov 3, 2007 11:39 PM
>To: cae90rae;  perlanger; rjnoreikis;" peter.luce" ;ktbrooks; dsorano;jhboyette;jlazarus;jsotrugman;susanschol; frankfurter ;asegurado ;>


Subject: Mumbai
>Well we made it after 24hours of travelling.  Left on the 1st and arrived on the 2nd.  Mumbai is busy, teeming with life and commerce, both macro and micro. We are having some trouble opening e-mails at this internet cafe...don't know yet what the problem is, but will work on it later.  Weather is a bit steamy.  Smog is considerable.  Keeping a journal, so we can share our experiences day by day when we return to the states.  Don't yet know when that will be.  Leaving for Goa on the 6th (flight) then on to Mangalore and then Kottayam.  From there we will get into Kerala and visit Chester's friend, Namboodiri who is looking forward to our visit.
>Eating light...watching hygiene...enjoying the experience of being loose and free on the road.
>With love to all and gratitude to those who helped prepare us for this journey.
>J and C


Re: Your India Trip

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Joan Noreikis

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 10:50:48 PM

To:Richard Smith
It is fine to include our letters on the website.  Currently, we are in Panjim...flew in on GoAir yesterday.  Most budget rooms already taken due to Diwali festival.  We were waiting in the vestibule of a small inn that was already full...waiting out a thunderstorm which welcomed us to Goa when we met a French couple who had a cell phone.  Summoned up the vestiges of my school French, and when they called Panjim Inn, there were two rooms left, and they were kind enough to reserve both.  I had a feeling that we would be fortunate in Goa, and providence once again smiled upon us!  Sometimes I think it best to have that attitude...things usually work out if one takes ones self-inflicted obstacles out of the way.  This place is expensive by Indian standards, but very clean with solicitous staff...can't even pour your own coffee or juice at the buffet. We are in process of determining our day's events...There is a bird sanctuary accessible by boat that C and I would like to visit, as both of us are armchair birdwatchers.  We saw a large either raptor or scavenger over water yesterday  with white head and scarlet shoulders and some of the pin feathers.  If anyone out there on the site knows what this bird is, let us know.
More anon.  Blessings and good health to all!
Joan and Chester
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Joan Noreikis
Wednesday, November 14, 2007 9:00:10 AM
Left Mumbai for Goa on GoAir...decent flight.  Landed outside Panjim and took a taxi into Panjim. Found a room at Panjim Inn, a 300 yr old manse that the owner has restored and turned into an upscale, by Indian standards,hotel.  Town was jammed with most hotels full as it was just before Diwali, the New Year's festival.  Got lucky and got one of the last 2 rooms in town.  Visited an organic spice plantation in the ghats whose demonstration garden is open for tours...lunch and snacks provided.   Spices spendy at their little retail counter, but bought a few things anyway.  Pollution evident even up in the ghats.
Portuguese influence still very strong.  Seems to be slightly mixed up with Hindu.  Stayed a few days--the inn was so nice--and then took the train to Mangalore, Karnataka.  Air conditioned car with Brahmin couple who were quite reserved at first, but somehow the ice got broken, and we talked thereafter for quite a while, sharing photos of our home and families with them. When we were departing the train, both reached out to shake our hands.  Very surprised! Konkanady station was unlike anything Chester remembered from 1965...clean, tidy with refuse cans in evidence.  No smoking allowed in or near the spitting either.   One rupee required  to use the urinal.  Bathrooms were rather clean, although none of the 3 faucets in the women's toilet were serviceable.   Train was 3 hours late leaving...arrived Mangalore after 11:00PM rather pooped, and found a room without a reservation.  On phone from Panjim, were told that the room would be 375Rs...arriving, we found that the room was 756Rs.  Would counsel dear readers to either insist on a price with reservation at Hotel Manorama or avoid it altogether.
Found 2 friends from Kumbla, Kerala, living in Mangalore after going to Kumbla to look them up.  Funny how life happens!  One, K.B. Rao and one A.N. Shenoy.  Wonderful seeing them both.  Raoji took us up to his home to meet his wife who had prepared a glorious Indian feast for us.   Spent the 14th of Nov with Shenoyji who went with us by bus to visit a Jain Temple about 50 KM east of Mangalore.  42 foot tall statue of the 24th Jain saint made from one block of stone...very impressive.  Erected around 1430 something.  Shenoy is 74 now, with the constitution, mind and energy of a 20 year old.  Nimble, quick witted, chatty as ever. (for those of you who were fortunate enough to have made his acquaintance) He retired from the health service at age 55, and has been on a spiritual quest since 1982.  Seems like he found what he was searching for.   Very centered, loving, accepting of the vagaries of this convoluted existence and at peace.  A joy to share his company! 
Have been invited to a wedding in Kumbla...the youngest son of Chester, Peter, Sue and Susan's landlord during their PC stay there.  The family was delighted that we visited, and insisted that we attend the wedding. Treated us like royalty with fresh juice, and insisted on feeding us even though we had eaten not too long before.  There was no refusing their hospitality.
We leave tomorrow for Kasseragod, Kerala, where we will contact P E K Namboodiri, an old friend from Kumbla days.
The traffic here is organized chaos...lots of cars, autorickshaws, taxis, motorbikes and pedestrians...lorries, buses...but there is no road rage...a game of chicken without the macho...we have not seen a single fender-bender.  Horns continuously blaring...some lorries have signs on the rear, "horn use OK"...U-turns by autorickshaw possible at any time...whatever lane markings might exist are ignored in favor of getting to one's destination as quickly as possible.  Very skilled drivers!
The  pollution in the ghats is heavy, obscuring long range view...the cost of progress in this country...50 KM inland there are brand new petrol stations, STD telephones and television, and plumbing that works.
We are so happy to be here.  This country is full of incongruities and wonders!
More from Kerala.
Fondly, Joan and Chester
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Joan Noreikis
Friday, November 16, 2007 11:57:30 PM
To:rasmith 10
Hi there...can't quite remember where we were in our journey last we sent a message.  Found Mr Rao and Mr. Shenoy in Mangalore...old friends of Chester's from Kumbla.  We went to K looking for them, and they were in the same place we were staying!  But it was interesting to see what Kumbla looked like after 40 years....K has expanded 6-10 times.  Paved main street with turning circle...telly, plumbing, gas one at the health center from the old days, but the ctr is still there.

Took bus to Kasaragod a couple of days ago.  Enjoying being in a smaller town, although there are many motorbikes frequently parked on sidewalks, as the parking facilities have not kept pace with the proliferation of motorized vehicles. A young Muslim man has adopted us...met him less than 2 hrs after our arrival when he stopped us on the street and told us he wants to practice his English with us...he has been showing us around.  Took us to Bekal Fort, built circa 1919 that is on a promontory overlooking the ocean and some of the tourist beaches. Took us to his school to meet his class...all men...and had his classmates pepper us with questions for 2 hrs.  They were interested in how we met, wha dating was like in America, and one fellow asked me why I gardened!  Told him that we liked fresh organic food to eat, and that I liked to play in the dirt.  He probably thought I was a little crazy, but was nevertheless deferential. We are on the 6th floor of our hotel in the coconut treetops, and are unable to see the ocean  less than 6Km away due to the  "fog"...even the newspaper refers to what looks like smog as fog.  Paying the price of   progress.

We will visit an inland village 20Km from Kasaragod with one of Abdul's (our guide) friends.  He said tht his village only has 1000 residents, and perhaps I can get a glimpse of the India that Chester saw 40 years ago...Probably depart for Payyanur, Kerala on Tuesday to reconnect with schoolteacher friend from Kumbla.

More to come.  Best wishes to all.  Namaste.

Joan and Chester


The continuing adventure...

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Joan Noreikis

AddTuesday, November 27, 2007 6:01:55 AM

To:rasmith_10@; perlanger@; randall.giles@; meadowm@; muffy@; dougva@; ifish@; dvaudrey@; hollysil@; cdollar@; kimmysilver@; katrinafjohnson@... more

Cc:frankfurter@; solarrichard@; rnoreikis@



Good day, Mr. Richard,

Take your seat! 

20/11 Packed up our kits and headed south to Payannur by bus.  Twice we hit ruts so deep that my tush was jarred 6 inches into the air...ah the effects of the monsoon....At one high point on the road, we looked out at a sea of coconut palms stretching to the horizon. Many small towns along the way, each with its mosque quite visible.  We thought we had made plans to be met by Mr. P.E.K. Namboodiri, the old schoolmaster from Kumbla days...he wasn't there when we arrived, so we called him and he dashed in by rickshaw, took us to a very new, westernized hotel for lunch, and off we went by taxi to his home in a small village where he was raised call Mathil....don't bother looking for it on the map!

Mr. N is the vice-president of the Panchayet, equivalent to our county gov't.  Elected as a member of the communist party, as are all other 12 members.

He lives in a modest home amidst coconut, aracanut and rubber trees.  There are also bananas aplenty, vanilla vines and pepper vines, which really look aggressive.  He married his wife, Savi, when she was 14 (no longer allowed) and he was 24. He is now 70 years old.  They live on his pension, which he says is adequate for their needs...spends most of his time on political activities.  Garrulous as ever, quite energetic, a dynamic speaker, and still able to climb 60' coconut palms. His wife is the closest thing I have ever seen to an enlightened being...she has lived a life of selfless service to her husband and her family since she married.  Raised 5 children, kept house, cooked food that is very time consuming to prepare, hauled water for some of those years, helped on the plantation....all with a smile that would light a small city.  Her husband has purchased a sponge mop and a washing machine for her, but she prefers rags for the floor and hand washing in a bucket.  She is one of the happiest, well adjusted people I have ever met.  Her husband has offered to buy her new sarees and gold bangles, and she says she does not want these things, that life is good just as it is. 

We stayed until the morning of the 27th.  It was like living in paradise.  Neighbors would stop by with milk...if a papaya was needed, they walked to the neighbors and were given one.  Coconuts all over the place. Our second night in Mathil we stayed in a house built in 1931 by a very wealthy family with 8x8 teak ceiling beams, wooden ceilings, an atrium open to the sky with a catch basin with copper downspout, pillars of carved stone at least 7' carved from single stone.  Handcarved door frames with many sacred friezes carved into the lintels. Son-in-law calls this house "naturally air conditioned", and indeed it is!  There was a large latterite block pool behind the house for bathing and doing laundry.  The family also uses it to teach the children at the nearby school how to swim.  C enjoyed the pool greatly, and got to see a beautiful kingfisher.

PEK N made arrangements to meet with children at 5 different schools--his family is teacher top-heavy-- to speak with the kids and answer was, needless to say, delightful.  We were quite the novelty.  Some schools are gov't funded, where the kids get a simple but nutritious meal midday at no cost.  Went to one English immersion private school also.  All the children wear uniforms.  Really takes a lot of distraction out of the air...esp with the high schoolers.  Children always asked about Bush, the condition of the Kerala roads, what life was like in America, and if we liked Indian food...We were surrounded by children seeking handshakes and autographs at the end of the Q and A. Such beauties!

Stayed with Mr. N until the 27th...a full week.  Our room and bathroom were well supplied with frogs, busy eating mosquitos. Indian version of Integrated Pest Management!

Had 2 tank shirts made of woven white cotton at a tailor shop in Mathil...all for 40 Rs, or the equivalent of $1.10...

Had a call from the police one afternoon.  Apparently we were supposed to let them know where we were...and the word was all over the little village grapevine that there were these 2 Americans in town...Chester gave them the info they wanted, and our host, Mr Vice President of the Panchayet, was able to call and verify that he was watching over us.

Went by rickshaw to an area inhabited by native hill dwellers.  They are stocky of build with wider noses, with hair that was coarser than Malayalis.  One young man from their compound took us to their sacred forest of 120 acres.  Outsiders are forbidden to enter this place or take photos.  It is an untouched jungle of native trees and vines where the Devi resides (Earth Goddess).  In past times, these folks lived off small animals and vegetative edibles in the forested areas of Kerala.  The gov't is now trying to "improve" their lives, and their culture is beginning to unravel.  Sound familiar?

One evening, our hosts took us out for a walk under a full moon to a rice paddy nearby...crickets and frogs and egrets ...took Chester back 40 years...a magical place.  We walked on to another neighbor's house where their oldest dtr (16) sang traditional Indian songs from memory for 30 minutes or more.  Then she sat, and the younger kids in the family sang a song with her leading them, keeping time by slapping their thighs whilst seated crosslegged on a mat on the floor.  Extraordinary performance! 

While visiting one of Mr N's daughter's house (described above) we saw 2 flying foxes (fruit bats) on our way to a small temple compound in their neighborhood.  To reach the 5 small temples on the property, you have to cross a small stream and a lashed aracanut tree trunk bridge.  There was a menu of available poojas posted, each with its own price.  Priests have to eat, too!  Mr N's relative is the head priest, and earns more than a teacher in the public schools.

Bird watching here is glorious...their songs are the first music of the morning along with dew dripping off the wide bananas leaves and plunking down onto the carpeted plantation floor.  Spiders here are most beautiful...some of them very large with yellow stripes on their abdomens with webs 5' across. (More IPM!)

On our last night at Mr. N's, two of his daughters showed up, one with her dtr, the other with her husband, and within 2 hours time, some of which consisted of many people talking at once, our travel plans, or what we thought were plans, were totally altered.  We are being accompanied by the Namboodiri clan in a hired van to visit another of the daughters and her family near Cochin and other sights in the ghats over their Christmas holiday.  So, we now are getting ready to plan our time between now and the 22nd of December, when we are apparently giving a command performance back in Kerala.  We have been welcomed by all members of this remarkable family as family, and are treated with such great care and respect and love by all of them, that is feels like we do indeed have a family we are a part of in dear Mother India.

There is, of course, so much more we could time, perhaps we will get the opportunity to do so, at least with some of you...I will surely be leaving a part of my heart in Kerala forever.

We will head to Kannur (Cannanor) tomorrow for theyyam and then on to the southern tip of the subcontinent where we will we watch the sunrise from the sea and the sun set into the sea from the same rock.  We will be at the confluence of the Arabian Sea, the Bay of Bengal, and the Indian ocean; surely one of the great energy vortices on the planet.

For now, we hope you enjoy this tiny bit of this miraculous experience we are blessed by.

Love to all. Namaste.

Joan and Chester

Phillip S will be happy to learn that we were awakened at 5:30 AM by the loudspeakers of the nearby temple. 


Update and reality check
Joan Noreikis

Saturday, December 1, 2007 1:07:50 AM


Hello all.  December 1st in the western ghats, after some travels by bus from Payannur to Kannur to Kozhikode(Calicut).  Travel days are a bit more draining...first due to the condition of many of the Kerala roads after monsoon, and crowded buses...not to mention dragging our big packs and day packs along. 

Whilst in Payannur, we attended part of a theyyam festival at the local temple.  Started at 7PM and was planned to go through the night until perhaps midday.  When we arrived at 8PM, there was a band of brothers playing drums and brass cymbals---amplified, no less.  Drums were suspended by cloth straps and slung over the shoulder. They played for 2-2.5 hours like men possessed, including some sophisticated syncopation.  Most folks sat or stood respectfully...we wanted to boogie! Of course, we limited our movements to head and neck so as not to offend. Appeared to me that the drummers were summoning the god, as soon after they finished, a solemn procession to the steady beat of a larger drum filed in, led by torch bearers, a man with a liver statue of the god on his head, a parasol of green velvet follwed him--looked like something straight out of the days of the Raj--a couple of old brahmins in white dhotis and then a man holding aloft 2 large circular fans...He was followed by another gent hold a brush-like item in each hand.  Much chanting ensued...We strolled the courtyard of the temple in which was an ancient tree protected by a wall.  Several teens stopped and namasteed the tree.  It was so appropriate...truly a being deserving of reverence.

On our way out, after walking the temple grounds, including nearly being deafened by the generator supplying the event, we walked by a room off to the side where the drummers were gathered.  One of the two lead drummers spotted us and immediately came out to greet us and summoned his buddies.  We thanked them for their inspired performance and namasteed them.  I don't think they understood the language of the spoken word, but they received out message of thanks loud and clear.

Now to the reality check portion of this epistle before I get carried away by the myriad delights of this country....

The "posh" hotel we stayed at in Payannur had fleas--perhaps in the bedding?  It could have been worse, but I got a few bites and was kept up at night fending off the six-leggeds.  We also got bitten up at the temple...many lights were on, and the no-seeums and mosquitos seem to be attracted to the new taste of western flesh.

The roads in Kerala are enough to cause spinal injury...there were signs of maintenance and repair going on, but as most of the work is still done by hand...progress is slow.  The two lane blacktop up into the ghats was in excellent condition. We are finding that any town over 100,000 is almost uninhabitable due to diesel fumes, cooking fire smoke, auto exhaust and a constant cloud of dust raised by incessant traffic, including foot traffic.  Walking the streets is difficult, as the "sidewalks" have gaping holes in them and motorbikes and autos parked across them.  No apparent provision has been made for the explosion of vehicles, even in the cities.  The noise and very heavy pedestrian traffic also makes it hard to negotiate the streets...not to mention the heat at the lower elevations.  Consequently, we are trying to avoid large cities, although that is where the bus and train connections are, and somehow make connections in smaller towns. How successful we will be remains to be seen, as the guide books and main transportation centers focus on urban areas.  We are enjoying the ghats, as it is comfortable sleeping and a bit cooler.

On the way to Kannur (Cannanore), we were stopped briefly by road work.  Men and women were carrying baskets on their heads full of various sized rocks and dumping them in the roadway, where others were adjusting them by hand to fill the potholes.  Filthy work on dusty roads in the hot sun. Tar was spread by hand and raked. The bus we travelled on was so colorful...garlands of artificial flowers festooning the front window and the shrine which was behind glass. Conductor was a young chap, who virtually sang his information.  Never did "hurry up" in Malayalam sound so lovely. There was radio music as well...sounded like Indian pop. Stored our packs at the luggage holding room at the main bus station in Kannur and went on the hunt for lunch, which was reasonably priced and delish. Rickshaw to rail station to book for Calicut (Kozhikode).  A shopkeeper we asked for info and the info officer at the rail station were both incapable of giving us correct info, so we ended up buying tickets for a destination way too far south our intention.  What's a few rupees here and there?  By the time we reached Kozhikode I was drenched in sweat despite numerous fans in the railway car. Any hotel in the Lonely Planet guide book was going to be OK with me.  I was dusty and dirty and eager to just get my tush into a clean room and a shower...even hot water didn't matter.  We found a hotel that was a ways away from the incredible hustle and bustle of the city, and which was clean and very pleasant, and spent the night. Rs 1000.  The Lonely Planet guide we are using is two years old, but is very out of touch with current prices.  Of course, we are travelling at the peak travel time of the year...that likely makes some of the difference. But, be prepared to spend at least $65/day if you want halfway decent accomodation.

Up the next AM, packed our kits and headed to the bus station to catch a bus for Lakkadi, up in the western ghats.  Again the travel gods smiled upon us, and we got seats.  Of course, partway through the trip, C had to surrende his seat to a woman and her companion, leaving me with both packs and a bench seat designed for Indian sized folks and three of us trying to sit.  The only solution was to put C's pack on the seat and to stand for the rest of the journey up into the mountains.  Actually, cooler standing up. Bus let us off at a stop with nothing else in sight.  Oops...we thought we might be a bit out of luck....but just as a local local us there were no rickshaws, one stopped by and took us to the first hotel we spotted...another one designed for westerners, but not yet completed.  No AC rooms, as the gov't power authority hasn't granted the permit for the hotelier to install it.  Aryuvedic treatment area in same complex along with a couple of shops with snacks as well as Keralan handicrafts.  The trip up into the ghats was full of switchbacks--any of you ever drive through the Rockies?--we saw a few monkeys, lots of plantations...banana, coconut, aracanut and terraced tea plantations. 

We stayed the night and both had Aryuvedic massage followed by steam bath and shower in the morning before breakfasting, sharing our photos with our host, and hopping in a rickshaw for the short hop to Kalpetta, where I sit this very moment in the lobby of our rather posh hotel (actually living up to its billing--even has TP on request), tiring of typing and eager to jump into the pool.

Of course there is more to tell about Kalpetta, Lakkadi and our trip to a wildlife preserve yesterday.

More to follow when the spirit moves. 


J and C 


The continuing saga...

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Joan Noreikis

AddSunday, December 9, 2007 11:46:37 PM

I'm sitting here in Chennai, where we have been for the last 3 days, soaking up the smog, but visiting with a friend of friends in Portland, OR with whom we have been corresponding prior to our trip.

But back to the ghats....

On 2 Dec, we hopped a bus from Kalpetta to Sultan Bathery whose bus station was rather minimalist and had a group of monkeys who were quite brazen at times looking for refuse or handouts. Then the 5 hour bus trip to Ooty, which is quite a journey on roads with hairpin turns that were so narrow that the buses had to plan their turns.  Guardrails seem to be unknown here.  The dropoffs in the ghats are very steep.  We got into the midst of Army convoy of 8-9 trucks that were transporting water tanks, mules and horses, and kicked up quite the dust cloud.  We ate dust for hours--wet hankie over the nose is essential--and arrived looking like "Pig Pen". Ended up at a decaying Raja's summer home...not his palace, but probably a guest house.  14 foot ceilings, a huge room...but in a state of decline.  Call it "decaying elegance"...we stayed one night and moved on...price was too steep.  65 Rs to have the servant build a fire of small sticks in the fireplace...the only heat on a night that required long johns.

Drive to Ooty was rather spectacular...tea plantations, eucalyptus plantations, bananas...and coffee which petered out at the higher elevations.  Some of the steeper slopes with tea required dry stone walls along the contour to keep the hill from sliding down in the rainy season.

When riding a bus in the ghats, your life is in the hands of the driver. It was intense at times when rear wheels came perilously close to the edge of various multi-thousand foot drops while listening to what sounded like major metal components clanking and slamming against other major metal components...all these sounds coming from beneath the floor boards.

Ooty is quite beautiful.  For those interested in agriculture, there are beautifully terraced hillsides mostly planted to raised beds of carrots, with some cabbages, red and green, potatoes and beans.  Even saw some artichokes.  Even some of the weeds were familiar! The veggies of Ooty are highly sought after throughout much of the country.

As soon as we left Kerala, we noticed that the roads were in worse shape...

Tamil Nadu...people are darker complected tends to be slightly more coarse and more curly in some folks.  They are strikingly beautiful people.

Visited a tea factory up in the hills of Ooty, and had a short, but informative tour...and of course the obligatory sales area before you exit.  We were greeted by a fellow who had an ear-to-ear grin, and was one of the most accomplished salespersons I've ever encountered.  We bought white tea...the top bud of the plant...supposed to be the delicacy of teas...we'll find out when we get home. Tea seeds were originally brought from China, as it was not known at the time that it was native to Assam. A huge business in this area.  We saw huts near the roadsides of the tea workers...can only be described as squalor...but these tough folks manage...and there are lines of clean laundry outside each palm-frond roofed or tin roofed shack.  Nice botanical garden in Ooty...a lovely place where the grass is mowed by scythe and the clippings raked up with a broom. Met a little gem of an old man in the fern house there, who looked rather frail, but knew all the botanical names of the plants under his care, and appreciated my interest.  Took his photo...he asked for some $ "for my tea"  whih I gladly gave, as he had been so helpful....and he looked like he could use it...probably not paid very well for his efforts.

One day, while waiting to order lunch in a restaurant, 2 unknown Indian couples asked if we would mind posing for pictures with them...they too were on holiday, and for some reason, westerners are desirable subjects...trophies?  Who knows.  We were, of course, happy to oblige.  A word of caution here...yesterday we were visiting ancient temples near the coast south of Chennai, when our friend, Randall, was also asked to pose with a group of young men...and almost got his pocket picked as they crowded around him with their arms about his shoulders.  He got savvy before any damage could be done...but there's a lesson here. 

Ooty is definitely set up for tourists...chocolate shops abound...but just off the main streets, you are walking through something that appears just this side of medieval...women getting water from gov't supplied tanks...washing clothes on the street stones...half naked kids about.  Goats browsing through garbage...we ran across a laundromat...3 flat washing stones mounted at 2+ feet and a woman beating the soaped clothes on them...probably the wash from the hotel occupants.  Another recommendation for those of you interested in travelling India...Jain restaurants and hotels are assiduously clean and tidy...pure vegetarian, of course...not even eggs, but safe and well maintained.  Saw what looked like an ancient woman one evening on a coffee prowl off the main road...she could not stand in the little stall...and had a couple jars of pickled somethings she was offering for sale.  Anything to earn a few Rs here...

Many Tibetans in Ooty...they even have their own market with very repetitive merchandise..but the prices seem reasonable unless you want 100% wool or cashmere...6 million folks left Tibet in 1959...many of the folks we spoke with had been born in India.  They do not feel that they can return to their land unless the Chinese gov't is drastically altered.

More about Ooty and the bus station to follow...need to get on the move.

Namaste to all readers,

Joan and Chester


Ooty onwards                                                                 Saturday, December 22, 2007 12:22:24 AM

Joan Noreikis


Hi Richard.  Been awhile since I had both the time and inclination to create a goes!

Back to Ooty...

On our last day there, we walked through the veg market and were given a taste of a custard apple...first time for both of us...what a delight. The meat cutters were using huge, worn stumps and had very large hunks of cows they were cutting up. In addition we saw whole goats or lambs hanging along with some very well-cleaned chickens.  Saw at least 10 different grades of rice for sale along with hard red wheat from Punjab. Some of the vendors brighten up the environment with come-hither songs as they try to attract customers. So many of the stalls are stocked with identical merchandise, that it is a wonder that any of them can make a living.

 Came across a laundromat in a stepped alleyway off the main road...consisted of 3 flat stone slabs and a woman beating the hell out of the soaped up clothing...strings hanging against the wall opposite for drying.  Seems to work well, and not so terribly hot for this type of work up in the ghats in Winter.

Passage down the east side of the ghats to Coimbatore on a air bus, which, if you have to take a long ride, I would highly recommend.  Roads were in better shape, however.  Large Catholic influence up in the hill country...also evidence of some inroads by Pentecostals. Arrived to find the hotel we had tried to book online was full.  Once again, the travel gods smiled on us--was it that Ganesh that I bought that morning?--and we found a hotel within walking distance--the Naveen--and booked an AC room for Rs650, which these days is pretty cheap.  Went to a nearby bar for a beer--once again, I was the only female in the joint--and toasted Jude, my son, when one of the muchies served was boiled peanuts. Coimbatore is rather industrial.  Lots of textile mills, none of which we contacted were open for viewing.   We did manage to find a museum of textiles and art on the outskirts of town, and had a lovely female guide who was quite taken with our rudimentary knowledge of her country, esp the struggle for independence. Incredible, old stone carvings and bronzes (lost wax) as well as an interesting collection of hand spinning  tools and explanations of methods and an old English made spinning machine called a "mule", which likely drove a stake in the heart of the cottage industry spinning in India for a while. Saw, but couldn't touch 400 thread count muslin which looked like silk. Textiles rank right up there with other basics of life like food and wonder that Ghandi recognized the importance of preserving that part of India's economy..

To Chennai on the night train and grabbed a taxi who took us many kilometers to the wrong MGM hotel.  They fed us free of charge from their brkfst buffet, and then we had to backtrack to central Chennai...the travel gods must have taken a holiday..Got ahold of our new friend, Randy, whose lodging was right across the street from the hotel, and he graciously received us.

Went to Mylapore temple with R's driver..some kind of special day that occurs 2X/mo, so the place was pretty crowded...had an old man guide us around, but he didn't mention that he expected to be paid...another word to the wise here...the priests will expect a donation to the temple...this fellow wanted money for himself.  We decided to donate $ to the temple which feeds the poor daily, and told him that if he was really hungry, he could come and eat there.  He wasn't too happy, but couldn't make headway with any of the three of us...

Places toured with Randy...DakshinaChitra, aplace established by the wife of a deceased physician for the express purpose of preserving the old architectural styles of southern Indian states and cultures...having the houses moved onto a 20+acre site and open to the public.  Also an arts colony and preservation and training in weaving, painting, stone cutting, etc.  Nice gift shop.  Mamallampuram, known as Mahabilipuram, where there are huge, ancient stone temples with excellent scarving work, some of them dating from the 6th century AD. Stone appears to be granite with rather large crystalline structure. One temple excavated at least 20 feet into the rock!  Next day hit Fort St George which is a bureaucrat's wet dream and St Mary's Church on the same grounds which dates from mid 1600's. Courtyard was made of slabs of stone carved with names of the British dead that used to be buried beneath...later we found out that the remains had been moved to consecrated ground. In the museum, we saw exhibits of the outfits the Brits were wearing in India...head to toe red and navy wool! insane!  It is a wonder that most of them didn't die of heat stroke. Something to be said for flexibility, neh?

Chennai is very dirty, dusty and busy, although you can see blue sky here, which we never did in Mumbai.  We found out at a party, that the hotel we are staying in is often renting rooms by the hour...little did Randy know he was booking us into a cat house! was very dirty and poorly kept, but we trained the "boys" to bring us hot water to bathe by tipping them.  Got a small rate reduction when we left.

Night train to Madurai.  Got into a bockety bogie (apologies to Frank McCourt), so it felt like we were in a cocktail shaker most of the night.  Made the mistake of taking the rickshaw whose driver approached us in the station....Rule 1. Don't take the auto whose waala leaps at the chance and is looking for whites in the station.  Rule 2. Bargain for the price.  None of the rickshaws I saw in Madurai had meters, and if they did, they were "broken". Paid Rs100 for the fare...should have been Rs50. Stayed at the Tamil Nadu Theological Seminary, an enclave out of the heart of the city which  was protected and very pleasant, although fully endowed with mosquitos. We taped the cracks in the windows and weren't bothered.  TTS appears to be doing some good work...there was a Ration shop, a Dalit resource center, sewing and typing education, herb garden, playground for the children, and they had recently gotten hooked up with a computer with internet access which was inexpensive to use. The down side is that you need to be referred by someone with connections.

Main attraction in Madurai is the Meenakshi temple, and it is worth the trip there to see. Main tower is 40 feet tall and covered in statues that are gaily painted all the way up to the top.  Compulsory demons looking down on you from all sides.  Site is at least 16 acres.  Some parts open to the public...some restricted to Hindus.  If you get a chance to get into one of the buildings across from the temple, and get up to the roof, you can get a feel for the enormity of this colossus. Another interesting site in Madurai is the Ghandi museum. Reinforced my suspicions that Ghandi was indeed a saint, and that the world is a better place for his having walked among us.

Next leg...Kanyakumari...until then...


Joan and Chester


Re: Ooty onwards

Joan Noreikis <joanandchester@>

To:Richard Smith <rasmith_10@>

Many of our friends are following our trip on the website.

Wanted to let you know that we tipped a cold Kingfisher in your honor last night at the Sea Lord in Ernakulam.  There are several tall buildings now which obscure much of the view of the water...Ernakulam has a regular skyline now.  New construction of glass and steel, as well as concrete.  The mosquitos were anxious to feast on western flesh last night, which somewhat took the edge off the experience...but you were fondly remembered by one Chester.

Off to Munnar in a day or two with our friends from northern Kerala. 

Actually, I have already filled one journal and am starting on a second one...good thing I brought them both...

I'm not sure where you are staying at the moment, but if you ever get a hankering for the West Coast, rest assured you have a place to stay 3 minutes walk from the Pacific Ocean...with organic food, no less!

Happiest of holidays to you and yours...celebrations are all the rage here as you know.

Fondest regards,


 From: "Richard Smith" rasmith_10@com
To: "Joan Noreikis" <joanandchester@com>
Sent: Sunday, December 23, 2007 11:03:51 PM (GMT+0530) Asia/Calcutta
Subject: Re: Ooty onwards



The Sea Lord Hotel is the one place in Ernakulum that I remember the most clearly. I'm sure Chester told you that India 20A people used to gather there when in town, sit on the roof top terrace, drink fresh lime sodas or beer, and look out over the water which at that time was just across the street.  Of course, at that time, it was a very fancy and expensive hotel so we could not afford to stay there.  Pete and Sue Luce included a picture of the Sea Lord on their description of their journey to India a few years ago. It, of course, looked a bit run down.  Were you able to sit on the roof top terrace or is that gone now?  Is the bar still on the roof or has that moved to a different location?  At that time, 1965-67, there was no skyline in Ernakulum nor any thought that there might ever be one. 

Did you receive our "Holiday Greeting" with the Family Letter email?  I think I may have sent it to your old address.  I'm attaching a copy "just in case."

I think we would love to visit the West Coast and eat organic fund.  In Texas we eat mostly Bar-be-que and drink Lone Star Beer.  Some folks once opened an organic food restaurant in Houston, but it had to close for lack of customers since the local population considered it the work of the devil.



Richard A. Smith


----- Original Message ----
From: Joan Noreikis <joanandchester@com>
To: Richard Smith rasmith_10@com
Sent: Tuesday, December 25, 2007 5:41:09 AM
Subject: Re: Ooty onwards

Merry Christmas...and yes, the rooftop bar is still intact...that is where we tipped one up in your honor.

The Sea Lord is rather chi-chi at the moment and clean...and probably too expensive for us stay in even now, altho we didn't explore that possibility.

Some might believe we have a bit of the devil in us...esp the
Evangelicals who are sure we are headed for his/her company despite our organic veggie outlook!

Happiness to you and yours in the new year...more to be written for the website when I get a chance.

Today, we are in Munnar with the Namboodiri clan--two rented SUV's with drivers no less.


Joan and Chester

From: Richard Smith

To: Joan Noreikis

Sent: Thursday, February 14, 2008 8:29 AM

Subject: Re: Ooty onwards



What happened to your emails from India?  I haven't received anything for a month and a half.  Are you still there?



Richard A. Smith
Houston, Texas 77071


From: Joan and Chester <joanandchester@com>
To: Richard Smith rasmith_10@com
Sent: Thursday, February 14, 2008 6:54:22 PM
Subject: Re: Ooty onwards

Dear R,

Kind of fell off the wagon at the end of our trip.  We returned home on the 3rd of Jan, after an 18 hour train ride to Mumbai, a couple of days in a hotel near the airport, and then >30 hours in transit to get to Portland.  I had picked up a respiratory infection that was causing periodic paroxysmal coughing fits, and C spent a good deal of his time worrying about me.  We did manage to stay a few more days with Namboodiri, and attended a birthday party at one of his son-in-laws houses for a 2 year old, which was quite remarkable....none of the fluff and nonsense that we do for kids here...just a feast on banana leaves seated on the floor of this rather commodious home surrounded by all the sibs and their sibs and spouses....and blessing of the child whilst he ate by taking a small amount of rice and placing it on his head with both hands.  Then we were entertained by one of Ravi's brothers who is a professional musician.  He sang a sacred Rama, I think.  All in all another remarkable experience.

I have been planning to do a reflections article for the website, but have been overwhelmed with culture shock on the return home, and catching up with my life and volunteer work...I will get to it one of these days to tie things up.  I have gotten a good deal of positive feedback from my postings, which is gratifying.  Been in e-contact with Peter and Sue Luce lately.  C called Judy Jones and shared a bit of our experience with her.  Also talked with Katie.

I apologize for being remiss in my communications with you.  The invite still goes!




End of email trail.  February 16, 2008


One last email

Long time coming
Joan and Chester <joanandchester@>
ViewTuesday, June 10, 2008 11:10:29 AM
To:Richard Smith <>
Dear Richard,
I suppose I have egg on my face for leaving my missives unfinished for so long a time.  Needless to say, we have both been busy getting reoriented to our 'normal' lives, although we did experience culture shock upon returning home.  The streets here are so quiet and sedate...devoid of the stream of humanity we saw everywhere in India.  It felt like we had returned to a morgue.  The streets in India are so inviting despite the crumbling sidewalks, cars parked on what remains of the sidewalks, plastic trash.  Vendors are chock-a-block in front of the shops and hotels.  Women in colorful sarees and shalwar kameez look like flowers on legs.  I never saw 2 outfits that were identical the entire time we were there.
We were drawn out into the street despite the fact that one is breathing a 'soup' of polluted air from the 2-stroke engines powering the autorickshaws, wood smoke from cooking fires, and dust which seemed ubiquitous, even in the cities.
I have come home with a longing to return, especially to visit with our Namboodiri family friends, despite returning home with bronchitis, likely from breathing the air in the cities.  Fortunately, a short course of antibiotics did the trick in a very short time.
The most lasting impressions I have are of the generosity, genuine care and concern extended toward us even by strangers in railway stations, the simplicity of their lives which are far less encumbered by 'stuff' than ours are, and the presence of a spiritual life that seems much more immediate than that which I experience here.  Yes, the temples and sights were astonishing, but far more awaits the visitor on a human scale rather than an architectural one. 
 We were serenaded on two occasions by teenage girls who had studied classical Indian music without any hesitation or bashfulness on their parts.  It was hard to imagine our teens performing for strangers without something of a struggle with their parents.
The children appear to be much better educated than ours.  Indeed, by fourth grade in Kerala, all of them are studying a minimum of 3 languages: English, Hindi and Malayalam.  Sanskrit and Urdu are electives that can begin in grade 5.  The country kids are well behaved and respectful of adults and teachers.  The only unruly children we encountered were those of westernized professionals on holiday, and they seemed much more like many of the children here...whiny, demanding, etc.  When we visited a government elementary school, the children invited us to share their lunch with them without prompting by any of the adults. 
Enclosed find a photo of C and myself with Joyce Horton-Sherman and Mike Sherman when they visited us last year.  Thought folks might like to see it. 
Hope all is well in the great state of TX, and that you are enjoying your lives.         
Look forward to hearing from you.
Joan and Chester

Peter and Sue Luce-Returned to India in January of 2005

Back to India: Some General Observations by Peter Luce


Many people have asked for comments on what has changed in India. Here are some brief observations from the perspective of a two week visit. The Elderhostel program Sue and I attended was South India - History and Culture and we both recommend it highly.







Peter and Sue Luce


First, just a quick overview of where we went:


In Tamil Nadu:







In Kerala:



Thrikunnapuzha Island (Mid-way between Alleppy and Kollam)


Kumbla (our village)





So what has changed?

Much has changed in the last 37 years and much has not.


All of you have read about macro-level changes in India in recent years. The country has a robust economy growing at 7%+ each year. It has enjoyed significant development in industry and manufacturing. Annual income from information technology businesses and software exports exceeds $6 billion. India is self-sufficient in food production and in fact now exports food to other countries in South Asia. Economic development has allowed for significant growth in the Indian middle class.


Despite these notable changes, if you were to be transported right now to almost any spot in India and you looked around, it would probably look exactly as it did in 1967. Our 2-week stay, while brief, did allow us to look beyond the superficial and to see some more micro-level changes that have occurred in everyday life.









When we were living in Kumbla there was one telephone in the village at the post office. Today, many people in Kumbla, as in the rest of India, carry cell phones. No panoramic view anywhere in South India is without cell phone towers. You see them everywhere including rising up out of paddy fields. There are more land lines as well. The house of our former landlord in Kumbla has 3 telephone lines. Perhaps this is a practical necessity of the extended family.


Making international calls is much easier today and can be done from almost anywhere in India, big city or small town through privately owned STD/ISD call booths.


The Internet

Most hotels offer Internet access through computers in their “executive centers” and some have broadband connections in each room. There are many “Internet browsing centers” and “Internet cafes.” For example, the one I used in Thanjavur was a second floor walk-up called The Net Café Internet Zone. It actually was an Internet hole-in-the-wall with one room about 5 feet wide and about 7 feet deep and 6 old computers filling up almost all the space. However, the computers were reasonably fast for e-mail and the price was certainly right at Rs. 20/hr (46 cents).

 Advertisement seen in Kerala – “Broadband, Rs. 199/month”  (That’s $4.60)



It is no surprise that there are many more private cars and motorcycles than there were in the 1960s. Gas stations seem to take up broad expanses of land (one is reminded of photos of gas stations in the southwest during the 1950s). Each gas station is staffed by young men wearing unique uniforms.


There are many more auto-rickshaws. Most are owner-operated and are operated 16 hours or more each day driven by 2 or more family members. These 3-wheel vehicles are much as you remember them. One innovation, however, is something I call the “stretch” rickshaw. Most rickshaws have a single bench behind the driver. The new “stretch” rickshaws still have 3 wheels, but they have 3 benches behind the driver.




The newly arrived "stretch rickshaw"









The bicycle rickshaw has almost disappeared. We saw less than a handful in our 2-weeks of travel.















Most Indian roads are 2 lane and in very poor condition. These roads are shared by a wide variety of motorized and non-motorized vehicles-men pushing carts, auto-rickshaws, bullock carts, bicycles, motorcycles, cars, trucks and buses. Sharing the road by this motley assortment has developed into a high art captured in two words, “Sound Horn.” When a faster vehicle overtakes a slower vehicle the horn is sounded and the message, in effect, is “lookout, I am coming by.” This system works reasonably well, except that when one vehicle pulls out to pass there is usually another vehicle in the opposite lane that has pulled out at the same time to pass a slow moving vehicle in its lane. For the uninitiated riding on Indian roads can be quite harrowing. The only thing that prevents more crashes is that the speed of most vehicles is relatively slow thus allowing a passing driver to get back in his lane just before crashing into oncoming traffic.







The Ambassador car is still being made in India and some very old ones are still running. It is interesting to note that air conditioning was added to the Ambassador before turn signals. As a result, you see the following message painted on the back of some of these cars:


“AC – No Hand Signals”  (Translation: I’ve got air conditioning so don’t think for a minute that I’m going to roll down my window to signal my turns.)


As economic conditions in India improve, traffic problems will only increase. I fear the day when people now riding motorcycles buy cars and when people now riding bicycles move up to motorcycles.



More motor vehicles of course creates more pollution. The worst we experienced was in Madurai. We went for a short walk one afternoon and returned to our air conditioned hotel with burning eyes and sore throats. As we walked back, we noticed young children on their way home from a nearby school and the many people in open air shops and markets along the road - no escape for them.



Our stop at this Madurai snack bar was quick due to polluted air.








Trains: The romance (and grit) of the steam engine are gone, diesel engines have replaced almost all steam engines on the Indian railway system.















Much of India continues to appear to have been built up over a giant solid-waste disposal site. It is worse now because of “advances” in consumer consumption. Most trash piles now consist of plastic bags and plastic water bottles, items natural scavengers such as cows, goats, crows and wild pigs do not, as yet, enjoy eating.



Cities and towns have cable TV. Along with many Indian channels, these systems also offer CNN, BBC, Animal Planet, MTV, ESPN and more. Our village Kumbla used to feel like the end of the world (remember getting Time Magazine a month late), now you can watch North Carolina vs. Duke in real time.

I do not know the extent of cable’s reach into rural India. I did notice satellite dishes and also yogi antennas (directional antennas to pick-up TV broadcasts) in small villages in Tamil Nadu.



You will remember that India’s population passed 500 million during our stay. You will also recall the press of people then and long discussions on how India could possibly survive unless it controlled its population growth. Well, during the past 37 years, India’s population has doubled. The population is now at 1.2 billion! The country survives.






A notable change in dress has occurred with the adoption of the North Indian salwar keemez by young women in Kerala and Tamil Nadu. And I must say that these young ladies look great in those outfits.






A very positive change is that the current generation of young Muslim women in Kerala and Tamil Nadu has escaped purda. As part of the Elderhostel program we visited with a middle class Muslim family in Trichy. The head of this extended family, Abdul Basheer, worked on the railway as did his father. Basheer’s sons have received technical educations and two work in the Gulf. But, the most interesting story is that his daughters have also been educated and work outside the household as teachers. While the previous generation of women in the family would have followed the rules of Purda, these young women go out wearing a sari or salwar keemez. They only wear burkas for weddings or special social events. However, these burkas are high fashion. They are made of beautiful material and are long and very elegant looking. A head scarf is worn, but the face is uncovered. The designer burka, what a great idea!


Our visit with this Muslim family made me wonder about changes in our home village of Kumbla. We lived in the compound of the K. Mohamed Kuni family. In the 60s, all the women in this family over the age of 13 wore a full burka when they went out of the house. After living in close proximity to them for almost 2 years, it was not until we took some photos on our last day in Kumbla that the women would appear in my presence uncovered. I wondered if this practice had changed in that small village. When we finally got to Kumbla, I was delighted to see that the women in the family had indeed adopted a more modern practice. The tent is gone!


Economic Conditions in Kerala

Compared with Tamil Nadu, Kerala appears much cleaner and much more affluent. As we drove through the Ghats into Kerala and on to Alleppy and Cochin/Ernakulam, we saw many new homes, office buildings and several new and very large Catholic churches.

(Note: Construction sites in India continue to look like they have been abandoned for at least the last 30 years!!)


The North/South coastal road in Kerala was the best road we rode on during our entire trip. It is well constructed, wider and very smooth. In some sections, this road is also 4 lanes with grass dividers.


Ernakulam is very impressive. It is very much a modern city with tall buildings, attractive retail shops and nice homes. It is starting to look like a small Mumbai (Bombay). I would have liked to have spent more time here to absorb some of the changes.



A toy store in Ernakulam


Many Muslim families in Kerala are enjoying economic prosperity as a result of family members working in the Gulf region, primarily in Dubai. This is true for the Kuni family in Kumbla. Currently four of the men in the family are working in Dubai. (During our visit, calls were made to the Middle East so Sue and I could talk with the family members working there.)


Almost every state in India is working to attract Western tourists. This is especially true for Kerala; its tag line is God’s Own Country. While high-end hotels have been built, many little things get neglected which would make the country more attractive to tourists.


The Coir Village Resort a high-end hotel in Kerala built in recent years


For example, clean and adequate public facilities, inconsistent hot water, difficult to control air conditioning systems and even the consistent lack of hand towels and wash cloths.





The Sealord

The Sealord Hotel in Ernakulam holds a special place in the hearts of the Kerala volunteers. It was a place of refuge, cold beer and camaraderie. People have wanted to know if The Sealord was still open and if so how it has survived the past 37 years. Before leaving for India, I found The Sealord web site confirming, at least, its existence. The hotel is listed in Lonely Planet’s South India and notes that is starting to look a little seedy. We could not spend much time in Ernakulam. It was a transit point for us between bus and train travel. I did have our driver go by the hotel so that we could at least take a look. We stopped briefly and took a couple of pictures of the outside. I have to admit that compared with the many new buildings in Ernakulam, The Sealord looks a little run-down. I would have liked to have gone inside, but there just wasn’t time.


One other thing about The Sealord, it is no longer near the water. In front of the hotel is a very busy 4-lane divided highway. Between the highway and the water is a string of high-rise office buildings. I doubt that many guests of The Sealord have much of a view of the water.



Some years ago the Government of India passed some very strict laws banning smoking in public places as well as limits on advertising and where tobacco could be sold. Now one would expect that laws such as these would have very little effect in a county like India. Surprise – the laws seem to have worked, we observed very few people smoking during our stay.



Almost every young child (age 12 and under) we encountered in both Tamil Nadu and Kerala asked if we would give them a pen. No adult we asked could explain why. One person thought that since Indian pens go dry quickly, the kids wanted an American pen which would last longer. Another person said that it wasn’t an American pen the kids wanted, but any pen. How did children in small villages spread across two states learn to ask for a pen? Nobody knows.



Pete Luce

February 2005


Return to Kumbla February 2, 2005

Pete and Sue Luce Return to the Village in Kerala Where They Served as Peace Corps Volunteers

Finding Our Way

We hired a car and driver through the Taj Manjarum Hotel in Mangalore to drive us to Kumbla, about 18 miles south. When we were in India in the 60s, there was no direct road between our village and Mangalore. Several large rivers had not yet been crossed by bridges. Now the bridges are in place and the north-south coastal road is quite good by Indian standards. However, it still took us about an hour to drive the 18 miles. It is hard to get up much speed when sharing the road with bullock carts and 3-wheeled auto-rickshaws.


We were surprised to find that Kumbla has grown from a sleepy village into a town. There are many new buildings, houses, temples, shops, a multi-story hotel, an office “complex,” -even a large “Kumbla City Hall.” The village (now town) center has become a hub which has developed out along the three roads which spread out from the center.


We had the driver drive south out of the center while we looked for our old compound. All the old landmarks were gone, moved, covered or hidden away. We could not find where we had lived. So we had the driver drop us at the train station (The station actually looked totally unfamiliar. I suspect it had been rebuilt and slightly relocated since we left.) However, the station offered a point of departure since it was located between our compound and center of Kumbla). There was so much new construction, that even on foot we had trouble finding the compound. Finally, through a gate to the left, well off the road, we saw an area of coconut trees that looked vaguely familiar. We turned in and passed thru a car wide gate which said  “K.S.V Compound.” As we entered this area, I looked to my right and noticed a narrow opening in the laterite wall that looked familiar. Finally a landmark! I recognized the narrow opening as the old entrance (now no longer used) to the compound. It was an entrance thru the wall that we had used hundreds of times during our stay.


“…I am Hameed”

We turned our attention back to the houses about 70 yards away and just then two men appeared to our right and approached us rather quickly, wondering, perhaps, who we were  and what we were doing there. As we got close, I said that we were looking for Abdul or Mustafa, two of our former landlord’s sons. One of the men who approached us said, with a big smile, you are Mr. Peter and you are Miss Sue, I am Hameed.” The last time we had seen Hameed, he was around 8 years old. Soon everyone in the compound had been alerted and gathered round and, as we were to find out, calls were being placed.


It turned out to be a wonderful return visit after 37 years. The K. Mohammad Kuni family was as happy to see us as we were to see them. K. Mohammad was into a number of small businesses in the 1960s including ownership of a beedi “factory.” I also seem to remember that when we needed some goat meat, he usually had a source.We always referred to him as “the landlord” and his wife, of course, as “the landlord’s wife.” They had nine children, several of whom were born after 1967. We found out that “the landlord”  had died 14 years ago, but that his wife was still alive and looking much the same as she did 37 years ago. Well, we met or met again, aunts, uncles, sons, daughters, wives, husbands and children. With some basic, but limited English on their part and no Malayalam on ours, we generally got caught up on the family. Most interesting in this process was meeting the adult children of family members who were children themselves the last time we saw them.


Dubai and Cable TV

Four of the men in the family are now working in Dubai, including Abdul (the oldest son) and Mustafa  who we had asked about as we entered the compound. Calls had been placed to Dubai to inform them of our arrival and we were soon summoned out of the front room to talk with two of the brothers on the phone. It was at this point that we discovered that the family had 3 phone lines into the house. This is either a practical necessity for a large extended family or a hedge against unreliable Indian phone service. We did not learn if the other 3 houses in the compound, all lived in by family members, also had telephones. In addition to the land lines, some family members also had “mobile” phones. When we left Kumbla in 1967, there was one phone in the village at the post office.


We learned some tragic news, Ramla, the landlord’s granddaughter, had died of accidental drowning at age 18 just 6 months after she had married. Ramla was the daughter of Khadja who was 16 when she was born. Sue had helped Khadja prepare baby foods for Ramla and the good health of the baby led to her being referred to as “the American baby.” This news was very sad for us and for Sue especially. Although we did not discuss it, I think we were both looking forward to seeing Ramla grownup. The family showed us her wedding pictures and she as indeed a very beautiful young woman.


Khadja no longer lives in the family compound, but lives with her younger sister a few miles north of Kumbla. (The younger sister was 40 days old the day we left Kumbla.) Sue was called to the phone to talk with Khadja whose English is very limited. By this time we had moved into the house and were sitting in the front room drinking tea and eating those wonderful small bananas that, despite the marvels of modern global shipping, seem to be available only in India while a soccer game on BBC was blaring on the television in the other end of the room (BBC, CNN, MTV and ESPN have all arrived in rural India).


We became aware that the rest of our day was being planned. When we asked what is going on, we were told that they were trying to arrange for a car to take us to see Khadja, Sue responded that “we have a car and driver waiting for us at the train station.” At that point one of the nephews was dispatched to go to the train station to bring the car back to the house. The driver arrived, was offered tea, and we continued to sit with no movement toward the car. Finally, Aisha and her brother, Sue and I were ushered into the car and we were off to Khadja’s house. At this point I was reminded that in social situations Indians generally have a plan, but don’t bother telling you what is going to happen or when. Guests are informed in stages as the next activity is about to begin.



The New House

The new house where Khadja and her sister live was the first evidence we saw of the prosperity coming to Kerala through employment in the Gulf. According to Lonely Planet’s South India, “some estimates suggest that Gulf remittances may be as high as a staggering 40% of [Kerala’s] total domestic income.” The new house where we met Khadja and her sister was palatial by Kerala standards. While still constructed of laterite brick, the house was huge, two stories tall with VERY large rooms. The floors were marble and the doors and wood trim were all beautifully hand-carved. The kitchen, complete with electric oven and refrigerator, was nicely appointed with the same colors and wood trim found throughout the house. However, we were shown, with a wink, a second kitchen behind the new kitchen which had none of the color and trim of the other. We had the impression that this was where the cooking was actually done. I have seen formal dining rooms and formal living rooms in American homes which look great, but are seldom used. Well, I have now seen my first “formal kitchen” in rural India of all places.


A full tour of the new house revealed a large room with a PC on a desk and almost nothing else, a western style bathroom, and a solar panel on the second floor to provide hot water. Finally, it was time to return to Kumbla, since we could not all fit into the car, it was decided that Aisha and her younger sister would come by bus.



Bye-Bye Burka

We had quickly noticed a positive change, the women in the family no longer follow the strict laws of purda. In the 60s, the women of the family would not leave the compound without a full burka. After living in close proximity for almost 2 years, it was not until we took some photos on our last day in Kumbla in 1967 that the women would appear in my presence uncovered. This is no longer the case. The younger women wear the salwar keemez and the older women wear either saris or very stylish full length garments with a head scarf – with the face uncovered. When a man who is not a member of the family looks at them they no longer scurry for cover as they once did. The tent is gone!



Back in Kumbla, we found the table set for a meal which proved to be quite outstanding with two chicken dishes and several vegetable dishes as well. The meal was so good that we wondered what it would have been like if the family had known in advance that we were coming. When Aisha finally arrived, we gathered everyone outside for some group photos.










We exchanged addresses and agreed that we would stay in closer contact. Then it was time to say goodbye. It had been a delightful day for us and I think for them.


Peter Luce




© R.A. Smith