An aimless gawker’s paradise

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THIRUVANANTHAPURAM

Arul Mani
Columnist and teacher at a Bengaluru college

Grounded flamingo The mosque in Beemapalli has a fluorescent allure
Grounded flamingo The mosque in Beemapalli has a fluorescent allure
Photo: AJ JOJI

I Travel only under sufficient duress. I have never understood why I am supposed to enjoy leaving behind a house crammed with all the things I need, to impale myself on the sundry pleasures of strange new places. this dislike has compounded into irritation over the years because everyone I know enunciates the word travel with unwholesome relish. When it comes to the institutionalised gallivanting nowadays miscalled travel, I demur.

It is with some embarrassment that I report an elevated heart rate when May arrives, bringing with it the prospect of a journey to Thiruvananthapuram. I run an annual errand in that direction and over the last five years I have shamelessly slapped a day or two on either side of that three-hour job. If my inner curmudgeon goes ‘amma-jolly’, it is not entirely for reasons that look very good in print. yes, thirenthorum, to say it with the economy of phonemes the locals prefer, is drenched in myth and history, but those things don’t move me. It is crowded with museums and palaces and temples and beaches I have never given a second look.

Thiruvananthapuram’s chief charm is that it doesn’t seem particularly dazzled by itself, that it hasn’t od-ed on some spurious sense of its own importance. Its auto-rickshaw drivers will normally take you anywhere without a haggling preamble, and the food is always good, and cheap. you aren’t dwarfed by a landscape of glowering towers, and the streets are alive with a discreet buzz that encourages you to gawk or to saunter aimlessly. this is therapy — I live in Bengaluru, where choosing to be a pedestrian is both infra-dig and life-threatening. to set foot in this city is to experience a refreshing return to human scale.

All this and the humidity can cause strange eating enthusiasms. I remember wandering the streets one morning in pursuit of the perfect pazhampori— most people would look askance at ripe bananas batter-fried but that day I fancied I might find the exact combination of crisp and melting, and I did. I have, in different years, set out on similar quests for the perfect appam-and-chickenstew, the perfect beef fry, and the perfect nasraani meal, only to encounter a happy confusion of the senses.

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TRIFELS
Thiruvananthapuram has trading traditions going back to 1000 BCE. It was a trading post for spices, sandalwood and ivory
Nearest airport: Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala

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The small in scale seems invariably to free the eye rather than constrict it. I have gawked unhindered at filmposters, wandered into political meetings, listened with growing amusement to ranting gospellers, found fluorescent lungis to inflict as gifts on friends back home, and ambled through the dC Books english outlet. the high point is the 12-km auto ride to Beemapalli, where a dozen shacks huddle around a pink shrine built in honour of an arab woman — this one-time contraband kingdom is the one place where I can be sure of finding every Malayalam film I’ve missed from its zenith in the 1980s. the evenings are perfect for gadding about thus and being useless.

The full extent of the tragedies that befell Walter Benjamin — who made the loafer respectable — becomes clear to me when I realise that he had probably never heard of this city.

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