Thursday, February 11, 2016

What We Talk About When We Talk About Coorg


Those of you who haven't met me in person have probably never heard of Coorg. Those of you who have are probably still somewhat unclear or what, where and who lives in Coorg.

There's a pretty thorough Wikipedia entry on Coorg that you can read if you're interested in things like square miles and average yearly rainfall. But here's the stuff you really need to know (i.e., an abbreviated version of the debriefing I gave Chris before our trip):

We eat meat, drink and don't have horses at our weddings
Coorg's official name in Kodagu (the British renamed us, as they're apt to do). Coorg is the least populous district of Karnataka, the state most Westerners know of because the capital is Bengaluru, formerly Bangalore (again, the British and their renaming thing), the Silicon Valley of India. The people of Coorg are called Kodavas.

There's a lot of varying accounts as to from where the Kodavas originated. Some say Greek soldiers from Alexander the Great's army set up shop here. Others say that Arabs crossed the sea fleeing Islam and trekked across the land to set up this community in the foothills of the Western Ghats.

Either way, because we're in the mountains, the culture here developed pretty independently of the rest of India. There are few Brahmins; most of us are Kshatriya because of the heavy martial culture. Pork is the traditional dish that is served for breakfast, lunch, and dinner -- and at weddings. (We also don't have the groom arrive on a horse during weddings, which seems to really disappoint white people.) Women wear their saris with the pleats in the back and the pallu tied across the shoulder -- this supposedly made it easier to pluck rice from the paddies that dot the Coorg countryside.

The differences in Coorg culture from the rest of India make me an outlier among other Indians in the US, which is why I thought it was important to bring Chris here. It also means that when non-Indians try to mansplain Indian culture to me, I reply, "I'm not that type of Indian."

(Question: Is there a better word than mansplaining for when people not of your culture condescendingly explain your culture to you? I need this word! It happens to me all the time!)

Leave your city-folk values at home
Coorg's main economy is coffee production, and the entire district, except for some small towns and city centers, are lush with coffee plants and shady, tall trees. Most Kodavas make a living by owning an estate. Other communities live in Coorg and provide labor, but are not considered part of the Kodava lineage.

There is almost nothing to do in Coorg but watch the coffee grow and socialize with people in their homes. There is no movie theater, no pub, no mall, no bookstore. That makes drinking and gossip the main form of entertainment.

Which is why I couldn't bring Chris to Coorg until my parents' house here was completed. If he and I stayed in a hotel while being unmarried, it would be considered quite scandalous. Chris suggested I just tell people he's a raging atheist (which he's not, really). I said, "What's religion got to do with it?"

"Isnt' that why they would be upset -- it's sinful to share a bed before marriage."

"Oh no, premarital sex isn't really forbidden in Hinduism. We're not organized enough for someone to make rules we should all follow. Premarital sex is just considered immoral. Like, even if you're an atheist, you'd probably still consider it wrong to steal. The same way, it's just considered unethical."

My brother had a Muslim friend once who commented, "Muslim girls don't sleep around because it's against their religion. But Indian girls don't because of morals. It's so weird."

An unrequited love for Coorg
Coorg is undoubtedly beautiful. It's the #2 tourist destination in India, after the back waters of Kerala. So, it's always worth the trip for me, despite the number of socio-cultural hurdles I have to overcome or overlook.

However, my love for Coorg is a bit unrequited. Because my father is a Kodava and my mother is Punjabi, I'm not always considered a full Kodava, And people like to tell me I'm American (in Coorg -- or just in general -- including Chris sometimes), which then makes me feel like Rachel Dolezal, the white president of an NAACP chapter who desperately tried to "self-identify" her way into black culture.

Also, because I'm 38 and unmarried and childfree, I'm a bit unrelatable at best, and a cautionary tale at worst to many people in Coorg (and possibly beyond). Even well-meaning people have trouble making conversation with me. It's hard for them to comprehend the fullness one can feel from a life rooted in social justice, creativity, and travel.

Lastly, while I love Coorg -- and many other people and places in my life -- my love is rarely blind. Unlike Chris, who's Godfather-loyal and would "never take sides against the family," I sometimes do. This does not make me popular. (I'm convinced it makes me a better writer and a wiser person. But if you're going to practice honesty, you better bring gratitude and forgiveness along for the ride, otherwise you're going to be one misanthropic pill. I admit I can fall into the latter category on a bad day.)

It's hard to love something so much that doesn't love you back quite as much. Coorg seems to tolerate my presence -- like a funny uncle or wallflower cousin at a wedding. Which is why, when you find someone who's lay-down-in-traffic loyal and tells you you can stop self-improving, you become willing to look past the fact that he's never left the country and is still unsure how to do online banking. Or that he likes taking photos like this:



Chris gives Coorg a Thumbs Up!

Now, for Your Questions!

@TheSexauer asks: Is it a dry heat or wicked humid?

Chris answers: Wicked humid.

@TheSexauer also asks: You have a lovely guide who knows the language & customs. Could Seneta and I survive there on our own?

Chris answers: Survive as in "not die" -- probably. Survive as in do anything else -- No.

If you have a question, send it via Facebook (look for Minal Bopaiah or Chris Price), or send it via Twitter or Instagram to @mbopaiah. (Chris is not on Twitter or Instagram because his mobile skills stop at Facebook. I still can't get him to sync his email to his phone.)

3 comments:

Crowhill said...

I believe the word you're searching for is asshole.

Good post. Very interesting.

Minal Bopaiah said...

Hey Greg, thanks for reading! But I want a word that shames the behavior not the person. Culturesplaining. Whitesplaining? Privilegsplaining? There's got to be something more succinct and witty!

Wendy Krehbiel said...

Hi Minal! Very interesting article! Hope you are doing well; haven't seen you for some time. We should get together again. :-) I like the word culturesplaining - more clear than mansplaining, and less offensive than white/privilegesplaining. Nothing like a living, breathing dictionary, huh?

(Wendy Krehbiel)