None of the bustle of Calicut is apparent on the road along the northern stretch of the beach and, when you turn right from it onto the not-too-wide nor-too-long Bhatt Road toward the Kazhassi Raja Museum, that stretch is quiet also. Cars and rickshaws and trucks and buses come into you with, it surely seems, full intent to mow you down if you don’t get out of the way. Being an outsider lacking equal courage, you yield to the very edge, almost scraping the compound walls rising from the streetside. There are no kerbs on Calicut’s streets. Folks in this ancient trading town are civil and dignified and as honey face-to-face, but when they drive they’ve as much heart as a battering ram.
The museum is the crest of on peaceful East Hill where no noise rises from below. It’s a tidy affair with exhibits as you’d expect in a town: A few coins from various local dynasties and from Tipu Sultan’s time, from British times, some sculpture, a few slim but serviceable swords and, strangely, a range of handcuffs hung up there by the Excise Department. They’re irons for small wrists, super-tormentors of the thick-wristed. Across from the handcuffs a few pieces of miniature art in ivory are what I liked best there. Such items were in my grandmother’s possession when I lived in her home while at university — dice, deities, and boxes. I cannot aspire to own any such in these days, but long live the elephant.
In the rooms in the back are megalithic remains, chiefly burial pottery, and on the way out you pass a wooden palanquin that once carried a king. The museum is rich in wood — this is God’s Own Kerala, with wood aplenty for felling.
It’s cool, the museum. Literally. The tiled roof and intelligent ventilation and cool flooring calm the heat of Calicut. Upstairs, they have a collection of paintings by Ravi Varma and Raja Raja and Bengali artists. These art are prized posessions: A guard opens and shuts the accordian shutters at the entrance all the time, closing it when the room empties, opening it again when a visitor arrives.
On the promenade by the beach the crowds are thick in the evenings, but it's not noisy in spite of the numbers of people. There are men, women, and children sitting and strolling and playing on every inch, but in the mornings the place is taken almost exclusively by walkers and runners who are mostly male. The women are perhaps at home, doing duty to husbands and brothers and children. Mornings too, people are quiet while they go about their thing, and group-walkers are hushed as they talk-while-they-walk. You can hear every breaking wave.
Which made me think the average Keralite is a pretty decent guy. I spoke this at the restaurant in my hotel, and the captain fell silent, turned thoughtful, and agreed: "Yes, the north-Kerala people are very nice." And he went on to describe their honor, their conduct, their every virtue.
A couple of mornings I turned away from the beach and walked in the streets and lanes. On Silk Street which gets busy with school kids, there’s a statue of Chinamen holding up silk: itinerant Chinese traded their silk here for Malabar’s spices for centuries, even until sixty years ago. Roundabout this street and along the seafront are low sprawls of buildings whose birth is ascribed to the Dutch, Portuguese, and, of course, the English. Anyway, I noted the tall Portuguese Matri Dei Church near there with its Romanesque dome, and the ancient Mishkal Mosque built in Hindu-Chinese style, and, one serene morning, turned nearby into a neat-looking and particularly inviting narrow lane. Mistake. Even as I entered, folks from a plastics industry swept their last day’s waste into a string of small heaps separated by a dozen yards or so, and set fire to them. I choked and doubled back, unable to breathe, in that place right by the sea.
On the beach as well, sewers from town had been led out into the sea; the covers on them were terminated well before the edge of the water. So the refuse fluids from town travel the final lap to sea in the open, and they’ve cut a wide path in the sand. Walkers and runners measure their laps from one sewer stream to the next, doing an about turn each time they hit the curving path of the stream.
I went there mornings because the doctor had advised me to be active all day long. I was The Taj Gateway, enrolled for a two-week Ayurvedic package that promised to lift mind and body in a holistic programme that involved drinking rough-mixed herbal drinks thrice daily, a therapeutic massage in the morning, yoga in the afternoon, and meditation, and such. There wasn’t time even to read a novel I’d opened when I arrived.
It’s the end of two weeks now, and I’m hoping the well-being I feel isn’t from a placebo effect. Anyway, of three allopathic tablets prescribed me ten years ago, I’ve dropped one with no consequence. I’ve been promised the other two will go as well, and for that to happen, I’ve been given assorted bottles of liquids and herbal pills that I must grind and mix with the liquid medicine. In time, I’m told, I can drop even these last elixirs.
These millennia-old remedies take time to yield results, I've been cautioned. That's fine, I'll wait.