February 16, 2020
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A Secular Gulp

A Secular Gulp
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Kerala, or as the tourism brochure advises us "God’s Own Country", is a tranquil, gentle state of indescribable natural charm. Missing is the loud aggressiveness of north India. Present, instead, is a polite, cultured society where people display grace, good-manners, a ready smile and an extraordinary willingness to go the extra mile in order to please the visitor. In museum after museum, near closing time, we were told not to hurry. Tell them how much you are enjoying your vacation in their state and their eyes light up. No one pushes, no one shouts, no one shoves. Queues are formed obediently. I detected only one beggar during my week-long holiday.

Off Kovalam, I watched two portly gentlemen polish off half a bottle of whisky in under 15 minutes (watch out: the Kerala peg puts our Patiala cousin to shame), one small sip, then one gulp and the glass is empty. Yet this copious tippling was done noiselessly in the "family room" of a restaurant. By cow-belt standards, everything is astonishingly clean. Toilets, parks, roads, buses, are a sight to behold. At Thiruvananthapuram railway station, I stood transfixed: the station was spotless.

No communal riot, big or small, has occurred in Kerala for the past five years. Churches, temples and mosques stand shoulder to shoulder (Christians and Muslims constitute 40 per cent of the population) and one evening at Kochi, I heard temple bells and the muezzin’s call to the faithful go up simultaneously. Adjacent was a church blazing with the star of Bethlehem, and the sound of carols. For pseudo-secularists like me, Kerala lifts the spirit.

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