Homestaying Kerala: Kannur

Between the beach and the backwater is Blue Mermaid, our host at Kannur, Kerala.

Krishna was an anytime errands boy  for everyone.  He could fetch or fix anything anyone at the Homestay wanted. A bunch of techies from Bangalore, out on a boys weekend out, wanted a case of beer bottles. Kathy needed help fixing her baby’s mashed potato meal;  we had Krishna tell us how to get solar heated water running in our bathroom tap.

And then the electrician from town (some 7 kms away) who came to do a repair job in the afternoon had left without connecting all wires. The snag was discovered only after dark and frantic calls to the electrician went unanswered. When they failed to get someone else,  Krishna,  though not an electrician,  offered to give it a try. His effort worked,  and that was how we got the power back that night.

Set up a couple of years back the 8-room Homestay facility – Blue Mermaid –  is comfortable,  if you can put up with occasional power failure –  declared and unscheduled.  Hostess Indu Pradeep Kumar  says they have plans for back-up power generator to ensure uninterrupted power supply. I don’t think they have WiFi coverage,  though they happily let you use their office desktop.  I made full use of  Indu’s office computer to upload loads of pictures from camera to my pen drive.

For a place that is still a work in progress Blue Mermaid attracts a steady flow of guests,  notably from abroad. During our two-day stay there,  we had as guests a family of six from Paris,  a British couple with a 16-month old son,  and a group of techies from Bangalore.  A UK tour operator’s rep. on inspection trip of homestay facilities in India was given the only available bamboo cottage, normally reserved for honeymooners . India,  he says,  is  getting to be , increasingly,  a preferred destination for tourists from the UK and Europe.

Dining table chat that went on long after our plates got empty was, for me, the CSP (core selling point) of this seaside homestay at Kannur. – Photo – Lakshmi Krishnan.

If I were to list  Blue Mermaid’s CSP (core selling proposition)  I would place dining table chat with guests  above all other factors.  Wife and I spent hours  at the table,  chatting  with the French family of six ,  of which four are children aged between 13 and five. They are on a 10-month vacation,   away from home in Paris.  The French couple have taken long leave from office  –  he is a company executive,  and she is into advertising.  Their children carry their school in an iPad.  They get their course material online;  and the children have permission from school to do their term exams online,  from wherever they are.

The 13 year old  appeared for her last exam while vacationing in Goa.   She gave a 0ne-hour  biology test, online,  during our stay at Blue Mermaid.  Her father says he can’t remember the last time he had spent so much and such good time together with his family,  uninterrupted by office work –  ‘on leaving Paris I handed in to my office ,  not only my car key,  but my  Blackberry as well’.  They told him he could keep the  B’berry – ‘I told them, no, thank you’.   The company executive from Paris says he has been able to do very well  without a phone and the Internet. If the French couple with whom we spent so many hours  talking remain unnamed, it is because  it didn’t occur to either of us  to  find out  each others names.  We exchanged e-mail IDs,  just in case their wanderings brought this French family to my patch of the world, Chennai.

With the British woman,  Kathy,  we talked of  bamboo bikes.  I mentioned about my meeting in Wayanad with bamboo craftsman Lenin , and our chat on the possibility of fabricating bamboo-framed bike in his workshop.  Kathy evinced such interest that she went into online research on bamboo bike manufacture in the UK. Marketing is not Kathy’s line of work.  Having spent the past year in setting up an NGO-run school at Palladam, near Coimbatore,  Kathy and her husband are on their way back to Britain.

Meanwhile,   she is doing a course on partnership counseling. Kathy referred to the need for  ability to  give a hearing to  others’ viewpoint,  to sustain any relationship , particularly, of  man-wife relationship. At a study group in the UK,  a group of  young married couples were tested for their propensity to listen to one another, at least  for 60 seconds without interrupting. It  found the participants  averaged no more than 17 secs. of uninterrupted listening to each other.

I asked if Kathy,  as partnership expert,  had any  advice to offer to a couple,  married for four decades  (42 years, said wife, correcting me)  Kathy said she wanted to interview us,  to know our secret.   If every marriage lasted as long as ours,  Kathy would find herself jobless.  Which is , presumably, why she looking at the UK for a career.  As she said,   nearly 50 percent marriages in Europe ended in divorce.

Related YouTube clips:
Indu, the hostess – 2.31 mins.
Krishna, anytime errand boy – 3.10 mins.
Techies, weekending – 1.28 mins.
toddy tapper Asokan – 1.09 min
Kathy & Rex – toddy-tasting – 4.05 mins.
Lenin, bamboo craftsman – 1.03 Mins.
Kathy’s take on bamboo bikes – 5.47 mins.
Stony path to the beach – 0.38 min.
Stonewall view of beach – 2.07 mins.
Setting sun – 1.11 min.


Homestaying Kerala: Wayanad

Our homestay  host   Sunil, with mother, wife Reena, children Meenakshi and Suryakiran readily agreed to my request to pose for this shot.  Sunil had earlier taken  our pictures for his album – ‘we keep photos of all our guests’.

I sensed in it a personal touch.  And I guess it is the personal touch that makes  a homestay  different from a hotel  stay. Our hostess Reena’s parting words to my wife were –  ‘do visit us again’. Whether or not we do,  the words had a sincere tone, and gave a personal dimension to what is essentially a hospitality business model.  Which, they say,  has worked very well in promoting Kerala tourism, particularly,  among foreign visitors.  They rely on Trip Advisor or word-of-mouth recommends.

Wayanad district alone has 136 homestay units,  says Sunil, whose two-cottage homestay – Treasure Trove  –  is located within a family-owned coffee/rubber plantation at Meenangadi .  Sunil’s family has owned the 25-acre plantation for three generations,  but it wasn’t until two years ago that Sunil ventured into this line of business.  It wasn’t that Sunil didn’t think of homestay on their premises earlier – ‘when I suggested it to our family nearly a decade back,  elders simply wouldn’t listen’.

I discovered Sunil –  rather his homestay was discovered for me,  by Shivya Nath of  India Untravelled.   Shivya was his guest and Sunil recounted how she used to stir out into the plantation after dark,  to listen to the forest  sounds  and to look for god-knows-what.  Sunil led us through the same path around the plantation that Shivya took,  but we did it at an early evening hour.
Sunil also took us to Uravu – a bamboo crafts centre – where they turn out an amazing range of bamboo products.  Uravu is also into developing bamboo processing skills among rural women through training programs and introduction of appropriate tools, technologies and processes.

The bamboo cottage in which Sunil put us up was designed and built by craftsmen from the Bamboo Village.  Asked if they could make a bamboo bike,   master craftsman Lenin agreed to give it a try.  I promised to send him,  via Sunil,  relevant info.  that is available on the Net.  The bamboo products they make at Wayanad are handcrafted,  and, in many cases, made to order.  Sunil said, if they accept our suggestion, he would book the first bamboo bike for use of his guests at Treasure Trove.

OnYouTube :  MyTakebyGVK

Should Padur go the Pallavaram way ?

Muthukkadu Lake on ECR, as viewed from Mantri Synergy on OMR

Pallavaram municipal chairman has been directed by the national green tribunal not to dump garbage into Pallavaram Lake. A Madipakkam resident S.P. Surendranath Karthik, who petitioned the tribunal has also claimed damages under the ‘polluter pays’ principle. But then the civic body would argue that dumping has been happening for decades. Besides the municipal waste collectors aren’t the only culprit.  Decades of dumping  truckloads of trash from elsewhere may well have contributed to the current mess.
Upshot is: Pallavaram Lake, spread over 300 acres, is shrinking, and whatever remains of the water spread, in the southern part of the lake, is said to have turned toxic. The  lake is the prime source of drinking water for residents in neighbourhood localities.

Padur people on Chennai’s  OMR  source their water from a neighbourood lake,  which  is getting smaller, and increasingly polluted. The issue, if left unaddressed any further, can only get worse,  at a faster pace.

The case before the green tribunal ought to serve as a wake-up call to Padur-Kelambakkam residents on OMR.  They need to take steps to prevent Padur and Muthukkadu lakes going the Pallavaram way. Stakeholders – developers,  residents associations and panchayat bodies – should come together to explore possibilities. Which include a co-ordinated approach to 1) check further lake pollution through people-panchayat monitoring system; and 2) evolve effective waste management and sewage processing/recycling system to cover the residential areas around Padur and Muthukkadu lakes

OMR Greens, a community service initiative, can play a role in facilitating  the process of mobilising public awareness and in connecting communities to work out a joint programme to address issues of common concern.

Cross-filed from OMR Resident