John L. Paul
These management students have come to experience rural life
KOCHI: As many as 105 management students from Harvard Business School had a different taste of rural India at Kumbalanghi, the first model tourism village in the country, near here, on Monday.
They saw crabs being caught, coir being spun and coconut fronds being woven, and also went on a ride on a country boat; some of them pulled Chinese fishing nets - all these in three hours.
In no one rural setting elsewhere in the country did they go into such a wide repertoire. The evening, they spent at the six-hectare Kallencherry Retreat, under a canopy of coconut trees.
The visit was part of their two-week tour of urban and rural areas in the country. Walking over a kilometre through narrow roads, they checked out life away from the city, sipping tender coconut water, in between.
A tourist guide described to them how coir was made by soaking coconut husk in water for six months before being spun. Women showed them how the ropes were made.
The students were told that all of a coconut tree had uses, with the rib of the leaf used for making brooms and even for cleaning the tongue.
What awaited them after this was an encounter with mud crabs, each weighing nearly a kilogram and a half. The hosts caught at least half-a-dozen crabs and offered them to the guests. With most students wary of the fearsome claws, the crabs were handed over to them tied in ropes. "The female crab is quite colourful," the guide said.
The students wanted to know how much a crab costs, how many are reared in the pond, what is used as bait to trap them and so on.
"I have seen crabs in Ireland, but not so big," said Eoim Ohogain from Ireland, a second-year management student. "The weather here is great, and Kerala is, definitely, cleaner than other parts of India. I had always wanted to visit Kerala after I heard about its charm from the Malayali diaspora in Harvard."
His friend Beth Myrusk, from the U.S., was fascinated by the crabs. "People out here are very friendly," she said, Hardly had she spoken this when a coconut fell from a palm, missing the group by a few feet. Of course, that too is a facet of Kerala.
While some in the group tried their hand at pulling the Chinese nets, others relaxed under coconut palms in hammocks and bamboo chairs. One was seen reading The God of Small Things. A few others checked out the swings.
"This is the smallest fish that I have ever seen," remarked another, as fishermen exhibited their catch from the Chinese nets. When dusk fell, the students were treated to tea and kuzhalappam, a local delicacy.
The Indians in the group, Nishanth, Vijay and Shivanshu, played a vital role in arranging the fortnight-long India tour. "The objective is to expose people to the cultural ethos of the country. A trip to India is the most popular in Harvard. Our idea is not to check out monuments, but to meet business and political leaders," they said.
Benjamin Wall from the U.S. said their India sojourn was interesting. "Back in our institution, we heard about how India's economic clout is rapidly growing. But we are here to see cities and small towns in India and the lifestyle of 'everyday' people. I was struck by the poverty levels in Mumbai. Kochi has been blessed with plenty of natural beauty. People are kind and treat you with warmth," he said.