Now that we have properly but reluctantly said goodbye to Cookie, let us return, if we may, to the southwest corner of India…
Sunday, Feb. 14, the last “real day” of our adventure, and I could sense things staring to unravel at the fringes. One couple left first thing in the morning for parts unknown. More important to the group, both Ari’s had taken off. But at least we found out where they were headed. They had received word of another small group, B’nei Ephraim, all the way up north, who were claiming some connection to the Jewish people. I don’t blame the two Ari’s one bit for deciding that they had to check them out. When would they get another chance? The two of them would rejoin us at the airport for the journey back to The Land, and with any luck, they would have something exotic to report back.
Those of us who remained, which of course included Ralphi and his son Aviad, would spend the day looking at more abandoned synagogues (which I’m not going to bother discussing) and taking a very different boat ride from the ones we had taken before.
The travel information we had been given mentioned visiting the Kerala coast – beyond that, I have no idea just where we were. We were divided into two groups to board two crafts smaller than the one we were on two days before. No staterooms, no toilets, just enough room to park ourselves and take in the sights. And, my, were there things to see as we passed along a route with lots of commerce and fishing but close enough to the shore to see the people who lived there. Things to see; lots of things to photograph. And so I did – as you can see from the samples below.
I was so engrossed in looking through my camera viewfinder, that I lost all track of time. We must have been traveling for an hour or two when our boats came to rest – not on the slopes of Mount Ararat, but at an Indian village. Our arrival must have been planned, because we were just in time for a festival of dance. If you are like me, you know zippo about Indian/Hindu culture (except maybe for the cuisine!). But since this was the second such display, I have to assume that this kind of art form is something important. Unlike the first performance in Imphal, this wasn’t just a few guys; here – as you can see – was a whole dance troupe in very elaborate costumes. The performance was held at an outdoor venue, and everyone in the area must have turned out to watch. I had the sense that the dance we saw, which lasted for maybe half an hour, was based on a Hindu legend/myth. What it was about was not explained to us. Just as well.
On our way back on the bus, we heard a presentation by a local guide, Martin. What he said will stick with me for a very long time. He told us that he is a Christian and that his family had been Untouchables. His description of the treatment of this group was even more appalling that what I have read on the Internet. The only people who provided any solace for this mistreated group were the Christian missionaries, whose vision of life was a lot more hopeful than the misery the Untouchables were experiencing.
Then I began thinking about the incredible paradox about religion in India. Here is one of the few places in the world where there has historically been no anti-Semitism – except that brought in by the Portuguese missionaries. Yet these same Hindus who have been so nice to us have been so oppressive to their own people. And the main outside group that has offered hope to the Untouchables is the same group of Portuguese Christians that hounded the Jewish people through four continents. If that is not a “go figure” moment, I don’t k now what is.
I think it’s pretty well understood that the remains of the caste system – even after the official abolishment of the Untouchable status – is one of the main obstacles to progress in this subcontinent. When we were in Bombay, Ralphy pointed out to us this enormous quantity of laundry near a body of water. There is a caste of local people who do the laundry in that city. They cannot read or write, but if you bring them your dirty stuff, they will return to you exactly what you gave them. Maybe the world’s biggest hand laundry. Not a job I’d aspire to, but for how many generations has this been going on and how much longer will it continue?
Monday morning. Time to pack up and get ready to leave. But no rush. We had the whole morning to act like people on vacation and enjoy a leisurely breakfast l and then do some last minute shopping. So all of us, in small groups, headed across the road to the narrow streets filled with shops. Sort of like Orchard St. in NYC on a bad day. For Barbara, that meant some choosing some textiles and searching unsuccessfully for some shoes. I had already purchased my tea, and all I needed to find was some saffron. (Much cheaper than here in Israel; unfortunately, Natania managed to spill most of it into a pot of cholent. Oh well.)
Finally, it was time to get on a bus for the last time. Heading to the airport in Cochin to board a flight to Bombay, where we would leave the airport designated for domestic flights and ride over to the new international airport to meet up with Ari and Ari and wait to board our El Al flight back to The Land.
Just so you know: the two Ari’s didn’t have that much to report. They traveled a long way to meet two different communities of B’nei Ephraim. Let’s just say that this group will not be making aliyah in the discernable future.
And then it came time. We all boarded the plane, which took off and landed safe and sound back home in The Land. Whereupon we all went our separate ways.
Before we went, all I had was the semblance of an itinerary. I had no specific expectations – except that I would be making Barbara happy (no small thing!). Now that I’ve had time to mull things over, what do I think? Everyone should go to India once in their lifetime. Certainly, everyone in Israel should go. And absolutely, positively, the entire Haaretz crowd, the left-wingers in Tel Aviv who have almost nothing positive to say about Israel ever, should be urged, cajoled, wheedled into going to India. It might help to create a little perspective. Both that enormous country and our tiny one became independent of the British at about the same time. Compare the two. India was left with an intact infrastructure: a post office, a civil service, railroads, and the like. All the British left us was the undying enmity of our neighbors. Who has done more with less? Yes, we have problems galore and a government that is mind-bogglingly inefficient. But India? No, no, no. Well, they are more polite.
Speaking of polite, it would be decidedly rude of me not to end this series of articles with some thank-you’s:
To all our fellow adventurers, for being top-notch people.
To the inimitable Ralphy Jhirad (and his family) for his unfailing good cheer and his incredible professionalism.
To Rivka Segal (and her husband, Yigal, our gabbai and announcer) for making certain that everything that went on was up to O.U. standards.
To Ari Greenspan and Ari Zivotovsky (and their long-suffering wives, Shari and Naomi) for their knowledge, their inspiration, and the long hours they spent ensuring the kashrut of what we ate.
To Barbara Casden, for being everything to me (and putting up with all my idiosyncracies).
Shortly after I sent out the article about Shabbat in Ernakulam, I became aware of this eight minute segment that aired on PBS – taken right before Shabbat started. Enjoy.