Finnish journalist Mikko Zenger is a frequent visitor to Kerala. Over the years, he has introduced many Finns to Kerala and her culture

Nokia phones may have got many Malayalis connected to Finland, as the telecommunications major's base is a town of the same name in the Scandanavian country. But much before mobile phones began to ring in far reaching changes in India, Mikko Zenger, a Finnish journalist, got connected to the sub-continent and Kerala.

His first trip was in 1975 when Mikko was on a quest “like so many European youngsters of those times. European politics scared and worried me. Some of us went to Israel, some came to India.” He adds that unlike many flower children, he was not in search of spirituality. “But whatever it was I was seeking, I found it in India and Kerala and that something has brought me back several times. It is my favourite State. In this small State you get to see all the best that India has to offer,” he adds.

Travel company

Over the years, it motivated this scribe to form his own travel company called ‘Risky Tours' and bring down groups of travellers to Kerala. He firmly believes there is no gain without any risk.

The group of 10 comprises the editor of a magazine, a professor of Turku University, former librarians, engineers and teachers. Instead of limiting the trip to the mandatory tour of the backwaters, Kovalam and an Ayurveda massage, Mikko tries to ensure that each group of visitors get an idea of the social and economic canvas of the State.

So, every day, in addition to visiting places of tourist interest, they also meet people from different walks of life who share their experiences with the tourists. The topics range from caste, politics, religion, god men, literacy levels, position of women and so on.

In turn, the Finns, in good English, describe their country's societal, political and economic landscapes. As you compliment their fluent English, Pinkko Saavalainen, a former teacher tells you that all Finns learn three languages in school (sound familiar?) – Finnish, Swedish and English. She and her husband, Jussi Saavalainen, are on their first tour of India.

Smacking their lips, another couple say the food in Kerala is “just great” but the coffee is very bad. “We drink copious amounts of coffee and it is very good. But, here it is difficult to guess which is coffee or tea. Both are so milky,” says, Issa Fellman, an art teacher.

“But, the people are very kind and friendly,” she adds with a smile while her soft-spoken husband, Trgyve Sodalong, editor of a Swedish magazine founded in 1907, nods his head in agreement.

No corporal punishment

Talking about teaching and children, Pinkko says that teachers are held in high esteem in Finland. “There is absolutely no corporal punishment. Even parents are not allowed to smack their children or even box their ears. It is punishable by law,” adds Raila Junnonako, a high school teacher of biology.

Mikko adds that India is quite ‘in' in Finland. There is even a romantic novel that narrates the story of a Finn and a young Indian girl from Kerala called (no guesses) Sonia! He adds that the book will soon be translated into Malayalam and “perhaps Mammootty will act as the hero,” laughs Mikko.

While Veikko Anttonen, a professor of inter-religious studies, wants to know more about status of god men and women in India, Trgyve, whose magazine published mostly “essays on politics and culture,” tells you about Tarja Halonen, the woman president of Finland and that many women were making inroads in journalism too.

The group's plans include a visit to meet Uthradom Thirunal Marthanda Varma, head of the ruling family of erstwhile Travancore, Mitraniketan, the public library, a visit to a newspaper office, a book shop and then to Kochi.