When I was told to write a piece and be a slice of melon, immediately what struck me was to share “My tryst with God’s own country”. It dates back to mid July 2006. The traveler in me was not letting me stay in the professional bustle of Mumbai, moreover when monsoons were round the corner. My room mate and a great friend in Mumbai happened to belong to Trivandrum, errr….Thirvananthapuram. So for an experimental North Indian like me there was nothing best than to explore Kerala. My friend left for her hometown and the very next weekend I decided to pack my bags and land there too. In a week’s time cupid struck and my friend found her soul mate on one of the matrimonial websites and the day next to my arrival was supposed to be her engagement! So the trip was expected to be even more thrilling and purposeful.
Air Deccan flew me from Mumbai to Trivendrum in 3 hours and yes I was there in god’s own country! Way back from airport to home was enchanting and mystique even at midnight. I was thrilled to hear the sound of waves as we drew back home.
The adventure had to begin from the next morning. I had appam, idli and sambhar in breakfast. A bit disconnect to the taste buds accustomed of having vada pao, kanda bhajiya and parathas but I must admit it was sumptuous. We could foresee a busy day ahead so without wasting time we left home at as early as 9 am.
Destination 1 was the tailor shop who was to get my dress ready for engagement party in record time of 8 hours! As sun kissed sky and we drew within the city, I could see the habitation in bright day light. Unlike bustling high streets of Mumbai and other metropolitans there were small independent houses. The life slowed down exponentially as we drove further. And yes, I must not forget to mention the gold jewelry that was must for each woman. I was amused to see men riding bicycles in their traditional “mundu” and roads painted with famous actor Mohanlal’s film posters and grafittis.
India, criticizing government of the country. We might differ on different terms of cast creed religion and language but there is out pour of unity when it comes to criticizing government, it’s policies and nation.When it comes to fast south Indian food, it is nothing but the world famous Dosa, Idli- sambhar , appam , mendu vada etc, which has been derived by each state of the country in its’ own flavor. During the drive I was curiously peeping out of the window and did not waste any time by talking to my friend as I wanted to imbibe most of the city’s feel. Unfortunately I could not understand the language but that was not the hindrance to my spirits.The city had yet not woken up completely and thus the food joints were the only place where the crowd was seen thronging with the local newspaper. I am sure the topic of discussion would be same as across
It took us just 10 minutes to drive through the city’s heart, M.G. road and reach the tailor shop. After having stayed in Mumbai for long I had actually lost the habit of reaching destinations in real time. The experience at tailor shop was hilarious. Kanchipuram Saree clad dark skinned voluptuous women with white and orange floors adorning their long thick hair dominated the scene. The team leader approached us and greeted with a smile. She started conversation in her own language unaware of the fact that I did not understand any thing. My friend introduced me. She called me “hindi” and looked around smiling. She also shared this with her colleagues who all then delightfully looked at me. There was a pause of few minutes in their work and the sound of sewing machines reduced in the air making the conversation much audible. However for me it did not make any difference as the conversation was nothing more than rattling sound to my ears. She promised to deliver the dress on time. We thanked her for her services and left for the next destination.
Located amidst the wide spread green pastures and palm trees dancing on the tunes of the sea breeze. The weather on our side with clouds shadowing overhead and slight drizzle was truly captivating. Amidst the Travancore maharajas architecture, we opted to dally for a while. I was amused with carved wooden ceilings, marble sculptures. Inside we found Kathakali images, an armory, portraits of Maharajas, ornate thrones and other artefacts.
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It was lunch time now and my friend chose to feed me with authentic Kerala food.We drove to our food destination named “Kalavara”. Amongst the whole gamut of food, the menu also offered “Punjabi Thali” but I enthusiastically opted for “Veg-Kerala Thali”. By the time we settled and I looked around traditionally dressed men set the platter for us. By Jove! It was beyond my imagination of Dosa, Idli- Sambhar. A big Thali comprising umpteen delicacies was served. Few we relished while few were the surprise package for me. But I remember having thoroughly enjoyed the sweet dish called “Paysam”, kheer in North Indian parlance. I had stomach full and was about to roll!
We actually rolled over to the most exotic destination of the city, the Shankhmugham beach. Nothing could have been as appropriate as the weather there. With clouds playing hide and seek, the high tides gushing to the coast and cool breeze romancing with the palm trees, it was truly enchanting. There was no limit to my joys as I always feel connected to water bodies whether still or savage. Huge mermaid architecture opposite the beach was a huge tourist attraction. I also decided to click pictures there. It was a divine experience to sit on the beach and play touch and go with waves. The virgin waves white as snow and huge as a monster were coming every next moment. We could not stop ourselves from entering into the waters and finally stepped in. As the waves return they take the soil under the feet creating a hollow. It was scary but I loved it. I could only hear the clamor of water. We then walked by the beach for few miles. It was sparsely crowded and there were no vendors to bother too. The sun was setting casting golden lights on the waves which were then glowing like newly wed bride. I saw fishermen’s jetty and we reached there. There was also a raised platform like some old abandoned fort which was constantly battered by the strong waves. There sat few fishermen trying to get into waters but I was told that due to high tide it was not advisable to enter the sea at the moment. I realized I can sit there and gaze at waves for hours and it will cause me amnesia. But before I could actually amnesia my friend reminded me of her engagement the next day. The dream ended and we packed up from there and drove back to our first destination i.e. the tailor shop. The sun had almost set now passing the responsibilities to the moon.
We drove back to the city and reached tailor’s shop. The lady had kept her promise. My dress was ready. Needless to say it fitted well. We thanked her for her “instant” services and keeping her promise. She was more amicable to me than in the morning. I appreciated the gesture and we took her leave. We reached home, tired but contended. I had absolutely no scope to eat any thing. I preferred to interact with the family and participate in the activities for the following day. We called it an early day once all were satisfied with the preparations. It was surprising for me to relate it with the North Indian functions which involve lot of rituals and “sound”.
All woke up early next day and got dressed. The bride to-be looked damsel in her blue “non- kanchipuram” saree (it was a break through move by my friend to wear a non- kanchipuram saree). I also dressed up in traditional Kerala saree, matching accessories and “faux” long hair with flowers. Soon we were driven to the venue. The venue was exquisitely decorated with thick ropes of lovely flowers. Carnatic music played in the backdrop. I admired the whole set up which was not in congruence to what I have been seeing since childhood. My friend was busy interacting with relatives while I was lost in my thoughts. The much talked about phrase “unity in diversity” came in my mind and I realized how true it was. I was warmly welcomed by all relatives and soon I got friendly with most of her cousins. In fact my ensemble played a truant and guests mistook me as Malyalam speaking Keralite. On knowing the reality they were both happy and surprised. I could not comprehend what they were talking and they couldn’t comprehend mine but still we shared an unsaid relation and bond. Wide platter of Kerala cuisine was served and I relished them to the core. Unlike the North Indian function it was much subtle and focused. Respective parents formally announced wedding date, bride and groom exchanged rings. The elders bestowed blessings to the couple. Every one dispersed for lunch and the ceremony concluded after the brief photo session. In just a matter of few hours my friend was now engaged! I could see her happiness brimming out of her glowing face. We came back home. It was 2pm. We thought of escaping for a siesta but we were only given time to change dress and in an hour’s time we moved for Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple.
Centrally located, Sri Padmanabhaswamy Temple is Thiruvananthapuram’s spiritual heart. It is also known to be as city’s erstwhile guardian. The temple is 260 years old and widely spread. The temple is officially open to Hindus only with a dress code. The dress code is that all devotees should wear skirt/mundu. Without meeting the dress code the devotees were not allowed to enter the temple. Knowing the rul
e, beforehand we dressed accordingly. The car was parked at the parking and we had to talk few meters to reach the temple. The approach road to the temple was narrow and was crowded with the small shops selling pooja articles. As we entered the temple, I could see the glimpse of Dravidian architecture. We met groom and his family also inside the temple. All looked joyous and cheerful. Unlike west, In India marriage is a once in life time event and a great opportunity for the entire family to rejoice, re-unite and celebrate. We marched towards the main hall and after few minutes of wait reached the inner sanctum. In the inner sanctum, the deity Padmanabha reclined on the sacred serpent and immaculately done lotus flower in hand. The idol was huge. I am not sure if it was made out of gold but it glittered. We had nice “darshan”. The “pujari” distributed “prasad” and blessed the couple. All of us were very much contended. It was the time for sun to bid adieu now. The orange rays of setting sun were falling on one half of the temple and the intricate architecture of the temple could be seen clearly. We all came out of the temple. I managed to skip from the family discussions, had a look around the temple and bought some souvenirs too. Whole family exchanged greetings and hugs and parted the ways. By now we were tired and the euphoria had begun to subside. The moon had already taken the charge of sky now. We reached home and recapped the activities of entire day. The gifts my friend received were exquisite and comprised lovely temple border Kanchipuram sarees and gold jewelry. We settled down at home and soon realized we had morning flight back to Mumbai. This gave us jitters! We definitely did not want to go from God’s own country. However, the reasons were different for both me and my friend. Reluctantly we packed our bags and sat in the balcony facing palm grove fields. Moon light spread all over the pagoda-shaped buildings with red-tiled roofs lined in the narrow lane. I could hear a dull sound of far located Shankhmugham beach that had bewitched me yesterday. The cold breeze coming from the palm grove trees was refreshing. We chose not to talk and dosed off in our rocking chairs. After an hour Aunty, woke us up. I was left with last chance of having authentic Kerala food. I did not loose the opportunity and had platter full of Idli, Dosa and Sambhar. We finally had to call it day as the next day was going to be really fast and action packed.
We fell in deep sleep and did not realize when the night passed and alarm rang at 5 am. Oh! It was the time to pack bags and catch flight for Mumbai at 7 am. Soon we drove to the airport. Streets were barren and the cold breeze as we experienced last night continued. Sun was still not bright and shining. We passed by the beach and the mermaid. The waves were roaring now. I would have loved to stay back and experience the sun rise but it was Monday morning and I had to leave.
We reached airport and proceeded for the check-in counter unwillingly. Like every good thing comes to an end, my tryst with God’s own country also came to an end. We boarded the flight and it took off over the palm grove green pastures. I caught last glimpse before it disappeared under the clouds and mist.
—– Pratyasha Nath