That morning we moved out into the new city and the new country we found ourselves in. Out new city was Trivandrum, the capital of the state of Kerala, one of the most southern states on the Indian subcontinent. The traditional name of this city is actually Thiruvananthapuram, although it is shortened for very obvious reasons. The city itself was pleasant enough, with plenty of trees and parks, an interesting mix of architecture and plenty of eating establishments and food stalls.
The main problem is that it was just messy, everywhere. And it’s not just rubbish either, although there are drifts of the stuff piled up on street corners, in the open gutters and in the roads. This city feels like one massive building site. There are piles of used and broken building materials lying in dusty pyramids at random points in the road. Various buildings have obviously had funding for them pulled halfway through and look as if the builders have literally dropped everything and left them as they were. The pavements are a mini assault course and a drunkard’s worst nightmare- rock, gravel, sewer, rubbish, food stall , the occasional beggar…
Emaciated cows plod up and down the roads chewing on bits of rubbish and crapping everywhere whilst Rickshaw drivers weave around them and onto the pavement. The drivers here are even more crazy than in Sri Lanka. A pavement becomes a road, a two lane road becomes a three lane road, busses don’t bother with doors or windows and there are no one-way streets. Crossing the road is pretty dangerous and not really advised. If you really have to, make sure to look left, look right, look left again, look right again and then run.
Every so often, dotted up and down Trivandrum’s main drag, we come across a battered, large speaker wired up on a stand by the side of the road. An ear-splittingly loud voice, babbling away in the local language in an almost MC-ing style would be seemingly be coming from nowhere, with the lead disappearing into the nearest pile of rubble, like some sort of 1984-style overseer brainwashing the common people. Cars would have the same deal on their roof-racks, crawling the streets at the same speed as your gridlocked bus and right at ear level while some guy underneath in the passenger seat reads from a piece of paper. Before long, I am resisting the temptation to end it all and remove my ears with the sharpened pen-knife at the bottom of my bag. I think it’s either Politics or Religion. Either way, it’s something these guys like to shout about.
We found ourselves with three hours to kill before our afternoon train over to Kanniyakumari departed, and we passed the time drinking lemon tea and eating curry-stuffed pancakes in a restaurant in a tall cylindrical building. Inside, the floor wound up around a central pillar in a vertical corkscrew-like spiral, with each table branching out like spokes of a bike-wheel, so that the poor waiters clop-clop-clopped up and down this steep, step-less slope with their heavy trays like Sherpas hauling curry up a mountain.
Later, on our way out of the station at Kanniyakumari we passed an enormous, bloated, dead dog laid out in the ditch by a busy junction. If it had been alive, it would probably have been one of the larger canines I had ever clapped eyes on, which made it all the more striking in its lifeless state. Its pale fur looked strangely unblemished or damaged and it had retained its shape and form perfectly, as if a stiff, stuffed specimen that someone had discarded in a sewer. The only imperfection was a deep, bowl-sized hole in its abdomen, exposing a bulging butchers-shop of purple and blue innards that was curiously devoid of blood or mess. The hum of flies that had been hard at work around it was occasionally broken as they stirred, disturbed each other and all shifted positions in an almighty hum and darkening of flies in the air around it, before they settled back down to work.