Kerala waits for its Christmas chill (Letter from Kerala)
Christmas is typically slightly nippy, especially in the early mornings and late evenings, in Kerala as the temperature dips at this time of the year. Otherwise this state, its southernmost tip just over eight degrees from the equator, is not known for its chill.
Christmas is a keenly awaited festival in Kerala, and not just by its large number of Christians. About 22 percent of the state's 32 million people are Christian but even those of other faiths take part in the festivities - and await the Christmas chill.
"This year, it's not quite like the typical December. Across the state, those taking a morning walk could be seen rubbing their hands to beat the chill. But we are still waiting for that chill this year," says Thomas Joseph, a 70-year-old retired teacher in Kottayam district, told IANS.
Children too are remarking the difference: "I called to ask my grandfather how it is back where he lives (in Kothamangalam, about 200 km from the state capital). But even there, it is not as cold as it usually gets. Hope things change in the days left for Christmas. There was a time, I hear, when the family would head straight to a bonfire in the morning to warm up," says 10-year-old John Jacob who lives with his parents in the state capital.
The boy was not the only one to remark about the 31 degrees Celsius of Saturday.
But the weather is not the only worry. Many Christians in the state are involved in rubber plantation and Christmas revelry, especially in the thickly populated central districts of Kerala, is linked to the price rubber fetches.
Rubber is the main source of income for a large number of households in central Kerala.
"Rubber prices are in free fall compared to last year. The price (in December) has dropped by Rs.20 a kg and is now just Rs.134. But prices of essential items have shot up by more than 40 percent. So for the average middle income households, a lot of sheen has been taken away by the dip in rubber prices. We are stocking our rubber and we are told that prices might pick up in two weeks. When that happens, festivities too will pick up," homestead rubber farmer Mathew Kurian of Ernakulam district told IANS.
But despite the problems the Christmas star has been hung up on many porches and twinkles merrily at sundown.
Churches are also gearing up for the festive season and many parishes have decided to take carol singers around to homes earlier this year.
"We would go to the homes of parishioners during Christmas week, but in previous years we found that many people would be away on tour if we did not catch them early. Carols bring in additional revenue for churches. (Each family, at the end of a session of singing, offers a donation to the group that goes around singing the Christmas songs.) We visited the homes of 18 parishoners Friday, and collected Rs.12,000. If we delay our visits, our collections will drop," said a carol troupe leader in the capital city, who did not wish to be identified.
For bakeries this is the season of brisk business and many of them have already begun baking a large variety of cakes.
"The going so far seems good. Compared to last year, given the hike in prices, cake will cost about 20 percent more this time. We have cakes that range in price from Rs.200 to Rs.2,000 a kg," said the owner of a leading bakery and ice cream shop in the capital.
And there is no festivity in Kerala that the state-owned Kerala State Beverages Corporation would not gear up for: The corporation is the sole wholesaler of liquor and beer in the state and makes sure that revellers do not go thirsty.
"We expect that during this month, on account of Christmas, there should be some positive growth in sales. There is a two percent negative growth in sale of liquor this fiscal," said a senior excise official.
Meanwhile, hotels and resorts in the state too have announced Christmas plans and bookings for tables for Dec 24-25 and 26 have started already.
(Sanu George can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Posted on 15-12-2013)