Tuesday, February 17, 2009

India 5: Calicut aka Kozhikode

From Wayanad, we took the bus to Calicut, which is more properly spelled Kozhikode. You have the rules of Malayalam romanization to thank for that - I understand the zh is pronounced somewhat like an English r, for example.

On our way there our bus passed a demonstration of some kind in a Keralan city:

I still don't know what that was all about, but massive demonstrations are nothing unusual in Kerala. The state is heavily politicized. Demographically, Kerala is much more Christian than India at large. Kerala is also much more Muslim than India at large. And Kerala has a long tradition of far left-wing politics, including outright Communism.

Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, Castro, Che, Mao - all their faces are common sights on political posters in Kerala. The hammer & sickle logo is stenciled on walls and sidewalks in the cities.

One time I saw a political poster from a bus window that appeared to show Saddam Hussein (as he looked at his trial, after he was overthrown). At first I was highly confused, but then I convinced myself that it wasn't Saddam at all, but rather just a local politician who happened to resemble Saddam.

A couple of days later I read in a local paper that some Communist posters in Kerala really had appropriated Saddam's image, using the logic that because he opposed the U.S., he was a friend of the Communists. (This is, of course, silly. Saddam was not at all supportive of the Communist Party in Iraq, and during the later years of the Cold War he was cozier with the U.S. than he was with the Soviets.) So that really was Saddam's picture I saw; at least plenty of Indians were just as puzzled by his presence as I was.

Calicut turned out to be a pleasant little city that I wish we'd scheduled more time for.

We explored the old Muslim neighborhood, which contains several nice old mosques. As a non-Muslim woman, Jenna wasn't permitted to enter these mosques and I didn't particularly feel like leaving her behind, so we just admired them from the outside.

This extended family invited us into their sprawling home for a chat and some Tang.

The large market in central Calicut, which sells all kinds of goods, particularly textiles and other clothing.

As I've said, Calicut is one city I feel we could have scheduled more time for, although most of my regrets are food-related. Calicut's got close economic and cultural ties with the Gulf states and apparently there is a tasty fusion-type cuisine you can get here. Calicut's also known for its locally made halwa, which is one of many Indian sweets I never got around to trying in India.

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