Letter from India: Kalarippayattu

Note: This is an on-the-road blog post. To find out more about why I am on this trip, please read, Next book: From Kerala to Shaolin. In the interest of clarity and transparency, although I wrote most of this letter when in India, I am actually clicking “Publish” when in Singapore. I am back home now for a few days break.

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A continuation of Letter from India: Trivandrum

India is helping me slow down. On Day 1 I am frustrated when I find out it will take three days to get my Indian SIM card. On Day 5 I hear that the new estimate is one week. Babu Uncle, in a rare rationalisation of Indian delays, says something about terrorists and cellphone-activated bombs, but all I can think about is the Roaming Charge Bomb that Singtel will dispatch in three weeks.

Moreover, it’s getting embarrassing and tiresome responding to well-meaning folks who repeatedly ask, “You don’t have a local number?” For writers working abroad today, a local cell number is essential, not only for convenience’s sake, but also because it symbolises, in some small way, a semi-permanent, serious kind of scholarship, as opposed to parachuting, fly-by-night analysis. Continue reading

Photos from India: Kalarippayattu

Note: This is an on-the-road photo journal. To find out more about why I am on this trip, please read Next book: From Kerala to Shaolin. Importantly, these are just some simple photos taken by yours truly. The really good photos on this trip are being taken by Kirit Kiran, a Delhi-based photographer and filmmaker. The best will appear in the actual book.

Massage oils

Massaging oils before practise, CVN Kalari, Trivandrum

Young fighter

CVN Kalari, Trivandrum

Continue reading

Photos from India: Trivandrum

Note: This is an on-the-road photo journal. To find out more about why I am on this trip, please read Next book: From Kerala to Shaolin. Importantly, these are just some simple photos taken by yours truly. The really good photos on this trip are being taken by Kirit Kiran, a Delhi-based photographer and filmmaker (photo below). The best will appear in the actual book.

People

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Vasantha, a helper, and amachi, Babu Uncle’s mum, world-renowned chef. They took good care of Kirit and I for a week. Continue reading

Letter from India: Trivandrum

Note: This is an on-the-road blog post. To find out more about why I am on this trip, please read, Next book: From Kerala to Shaolin.

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As soon as I board the plane in Changi, I regret not having bought duty-free booze. Half the Malayali men around me are carrying sealed plastic bags full of whisky and beer. “Don’t bother with Changi, just buy my Heineken beer in Trivandrum airport,” was the message Babu Uncle delivered, in his desire to minimise my beer-carrying time. “Buy as many as they will sell you. Remember, Heineken.” Sure enough, when I get to Trivandrum’s DFS shop, they have only Anchor.

Food and drink is one way to delineate the two sides of my Indian heritage. My maternal relatives, Hindu Marwaris from Rajasthan, are vegetarians who don’t drink and generally lead austere lives. My paternal relatives, Christian Malayalis from Kerala, are prone to imbibe every delight known to man. I like to joke that when I visit Kerala, my uncles won’t let me into their cars until I’ve handed over the Johnnie Black and Dunhill. The next morning, the seven cans of Anchor are still sitting on the backseat of his car. Continue reading

#FreeMyInternet: My statement at Hong Lim Park

Dear friends, unfortunately, I was not FreeMyInternetable to be at Hong Lim Park on Saturday, June 8th, to join the protest against the silly new Internet regulations in Singapore. I have just embarked on a seven-month trip across India and China, to do research for my second book. (Click here to read about my new project.)

Andrew Loh, the organiser, asked me to send him a short 200-word statement for him to read out. Thanks Andrew, appreciate it.

Here is the statement:

Dear friends, whatever our political beliefs, we should collectively oppose this regulation. Nobody should tell you what news is good and what is bad. That is for you to decide.

Some people will say, “Nevermind, it’s only 10 websites.” But that’s only the beginning. You give one inch, eventually they take one mile. Never let the authorities believe that they are more enlightened than you.

This new ruling will feed self censorship in Singapore—definitely in all those 10 websites, but also amongst other online writers.

Self censorship is a terrible thing. It infects a writer slowly, subconsciously. All of us in Singapore are affected by self censorship. It prevents us from having a richer, fuller dialogue.

Although we disagree with something someone is saying online, we should fight for that person’s right to say it.

Even if you trust the current government and the current MDA to do the right thing, do you trust tomorrow’s government? Do you trust tomorrow’s MDA?

You may hold the majority opinion now, but one day you might be in the minority. When that day comes, you will be thankful that we have a Free Internet for you to speak your mind.