A fantasy dinner party set in New York
Talking Location With author Adam Clapham – South India
11th March 2019
#TalkingLocationWith…. Adam Clapham, author of A Village in South India
There are over six hundred thousand villages in India and a quarter of them are home to fewer than five hundred people. The village is the optimum unit for self-help and the kindness of neighbours. Certainly in ‘my’ village people live in harmony, comforting each other through the hard times and rejoicing together at festivals and weddings. My India is the west coast, way south of Goa. Karnataka and Kerala boast over five hundred miles of unspoilt sandy beaches shaded by coconut trees.
Most of my working life has been spent making documentary films for the BBC and Channel Four. Of course you don’t just start off by making films. First you learn what will work on the screen, what events should be covered to illustrate the documentary’s theme and how to choose the right people to interview. In the later stages, once the director is on board, it is a collaborative effort turning the written documentary proposal into a living, breathing film. I swiftly mastered the art making my written research documents so attractive that even the gloomiest of directors would be raring to go out and shoot a cracking good film.
Now many decades later I find myself living in the middle of a tiny village on the West coast of India. I rapidly got to know the life stories of the villagers – how they make ends meet, how they pay for their luxuries, for weddings and funerals. And it is a riveting story. This time I have no back-up – no camera crew, no researcher, no director. So I have reverted to what I had taught myself many decades ago and I wrote a research document about the village – what I would have given to the director had we been making a documentary. And I have happily turned it into a book, A Village in South India, with wonderful pen-and-ink drawings by Dinesh Holla, an artist and a leading environmentalist.
The village is made up of small farmsteads, up to an acre or so of rice paddy where, in the fallow season, vegetables can be grown, the chickens can peck and the cows graze. But the real cash comes from the coconuts which still fetch surprisingly high prices and India harvests 11 million tonnes of them every year. The tender coconuts make the most delicious drink which is sold on every street corner. The cosmetics industry depends on the oil and the husks are used to make ropes and matting. And, as plastic waste becomes less and less acceptable – thanks in no small part to Sir David Attenborough – coconut products are available in huge quantities to replace it.
After the harvest, when the work is done, there’s much merry-making and friends and relatives from surrounding villages come together for Kambala, buffalo racing and Kori Katta, betting on illegal cock fighting. And at sunset the spectacularly colourful dance drama, Yakshagana, echoes through the surrounding countryside,non-stop until dawn.
But there is another side to the coin. Although the villagers can live off the land, the important extras of life like weddings and funerals, private education and health care, motor scooters and cable television, depend on outside funds – and that means at least one member of each family will probably seek work in the Gulf to earn good money and send most of it home. The young are often eager to go overseas but sometimes less happy to return to the monotony of village life.
To those of us who have come to love south India, with its five hundred miles of deserted beaches, superb facilities for wildlife and wonderful mountain walks in the Western Ghats, the urge to leave this wonderful place and go abroad seems eccentric. But when you learn of the miniscule salaries and convert those paltry sums into pounds, euros or dollars you understand the pressing need for someone in the family to venture abroad.
I don’t see tourists very often because I am well off the beaten track but close enough to the main road to reach Mangalore and its airport within the hour. Recent figures show that tourism has recently been on the decline in this part of the world. Whilst Goa and Kerala have a high international profile, Karnataka is slow off the mark. It has fabulous architectural treasures like Hampi but the coastal area is much neglected and therefore welcomes few visitors from abroad. Friends from London who visit me understand at once why I have settled down here on my huge veranda, overlooking the Arabian sea.
Thank you so much for to Adam for sharing such wonderful and inspirational insights into his new life in South India.
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