Kids Corner


Postcards From The Road:
Lush Green Cochin, Kerala





Chennai sangat sevadar S. Jasbir Singh, nephew of S. Sangat Singh ji of Malaysia, and Chennai Gurdwara General-Secretary S. Balbir Singh, took great pains to ensure that we would have everything arranged in Cochin and Kerala.

Jasbir’s business associate and friend, Sri Kapil Nagpal, a property developer, took us under his wing to ensure that the Cochin sangat could derive maximum benefit from us and that we could optimise our stay in Kerala.

Cochin was a 16 hour train ride from Chennai from 3 am to 7 pm.

Vegetation changes almost dramatically on crossing the border from a parchy and very hot temperate to a lush green tropical humid. Coconut trees galore, paddy fields, large stretches of water, rivers and what Keralans call 'backwaters' which are actually inlets of the Arabian Sea.

The other point of interest is that whereas one sees fairly slummy wooden thatched clusters of huts in Tamil Nadu, the houses even in inland villages in Kerala are generally brick, cement and have 'pekay' (tiled) roofs. Kerala generally appears a richer and greener state with plenty of water. It is the closest state in greenery and vegetation and weather to my birth place Malaysia.

I feel at home.

I am here also because some friends in Aussieland have asked me to check out ayurvedic treatment for general health, detoxification, weight loss, joint pains and so on. The view being that we could, into the future, consider doing a 'Sikh couples camp' with naam simran, kirtan, discourses in Sikhi, plus ayurvedic treatment, yoga exercises, massages and long walks.

I am more than happy to play guinea pig and initiate such Sikh holistic camps.

Sunday, July 13, 2014, was a meet-and-kirtan-hazri for the sangat of Cochin. An hour-long kirtan program turned to one and a half hours with requests for our Mool Mantar rendition followed by 'jo tau prem khelan ka chao' especially for the kids who apparently are pretty conversant with our melodies and shabads. The visiting raagi jatha kindly consented to join us.

Kapil Nagpal is one of those rags-to-riches stories. His parents arrived from Pakistan penniless as refugees and settled in Agra. Kapil found himself in Cochin initially selling auto parts, using his car as a delivery vehicle and working 12 hours a day, six days a week. A chance investment to build some houses on cheaply purchased land started him on a roller coaster property development ride. He has now developed numerous properties and owns a fair amount himself. His attention to detail and non-compromise on quality are his hallmarks of success. More importantly, he is still a very down-to-earth gentleman and a humble sevadar of the gurdwara.

He comes from a Hindu family which for generations always ensured that the eldest son was raised as a keshadhari Sikh. A number of his older brothers are Sikhs. Kapil has promised to sit with me for kirtan at our next programme. He has never done that before.

I think Kapil and I will be friends into the future. I have taken a great liking to Kerala and its sangat and the possibility of doing a weekend Sikh family camp.

Cochinites who have to deal with multi-barrelled names like Thiruvananthapuram (formerly Thrivendrum), Marothichoddle, Sasthamangalam, Kirakumbullum Thiruvairakumalan, Pathanamthitta and many many more such, woke up one morning a few years ago and decided that Cochin was too long and complicated a name -- and changed it to... Kochi.

Want some more to practice your diction? Here are some local festivals ... Sahasrakalasabhishekom, Ashtabhishekom, Udayasthamanapuja. And one more: Pushpabhishekom. No wonder Keralans are considered arguably the most educated and bright Indians. If they can pronounce such long winded names they have to be bright!

Meanwhile, they left Kochi to the rest of us!

Now they will spend millions, or as they say here, lakhs, nay, crores of rupees to change all the signs in the city to reflect that new name. At present, Cochin is still preferred but for a start the airport is Kochi and newspapers of course refer to it as Kochi.

The Sikh sangat of about 500 strong families is augmented by stationed 'naval' families. Cochin is the naval base for the southern command of the Indian navy.

The gurdwara is well attended but, once again, nothing is specifically planned for the children. Though the sangat is mainly keshadhari, from experience, there never is a guarantee that the next generation and the next will follow suit unless some form of affirmative action is taken first by parents and second by the collective community focusing on youth.

A second kirtan hazri for August 3 has been planned. Meanwhile, we were considering a visit to Hyderabad but a better offer has come up.

A two week Ayurveda retreat, thanks to my good friend Kapil Nagpal. I shall save that as another instalment for

I shall use that as a special plea to all readers not to take their health for granted. In an environment full of chemicals, with hidden chemicals added to fertilisers and hormonal treatment of meat and even vegetables, special care needs to be taken of the physical body.

I have been promised weight loss and a complete detox. Time to pamper the ageing body and perhaps set an example.

More of that in my next postcard.

July 20, 2014


Conversation about this article

1: Sangat Singh  (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), July 20, 2014, 3:10 PM.

Wherever you go a turbaned Sikh is your 'bandhu', a friend, a brother, who has a roof for you without any booking. He is also a friend of a friend and instantly offers a home away from home. Dya ji, good to know that my nephew Jasbir Singh Narula was able to run into your embrace with a single line from me. Talking of South Indian names, years ago I had a friend whose short name was PPNV Raghvan. When asked what PPNV stood for, here was the mouthful and expansion of the equation: "Pillai Pakam Natu Veeran Ragvan." When commented that it was a tad long, his answer was: "It also contains my postal address." Said I, "Thank God, but you forgot to put your zip code". Dya ji, you are our roving ambassador and may your diocese ever increase. If someone were to ask "Where is Dya today?" I would consult his time sheet and say, "If it is Tuesday, then he must be in Rome."

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Lush Green Cochin, Kerala"

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