I always looked forward to the trips to Kerala. It has been that way since I was quite young and it still holds a similar fascination for me. As a child I always looked forward to the summer vacation, which mainly entailed playing with my cousins literally all day or till exhaustion. Now, the anticipation is still there but the reasons are different. Going to Kerala still brings the same happiness to me. That was what I felt when I was going to Kerala a few days after my exams finished. Also I was going to get away from Ahmedabad’s blistering heat for at least a month, which was a cool (pun intended) bonus. I hadn’t been to Kerala in 3 years due to all the exams and entrances. This was a huge gap for me, as I had managed to go every year till 11th started, making this a very special trip for me.
I reached early in the morning and there was a different feel to Kerala, a feel that I had missed all this time without even knowing it. It was like breathing again after being underwater. I decided then and there that I would make sure to see Kerala, to inhale its essence. I reached my grandparents’ home, which had changed a lot, with flyovers now knocking on our doors. Getting off the taxi, I was filled with a feeling that I have yet to place, it was something I had felt since landing but it really took a hold of me when I reached home and settled. It was a sense of belonging. I met all my cousins. It was as if I had never been away. They welcomed me back as if I had been gone only a weekend and not years.
Everything had a special Kerala feel to it. There was greenery everywhere and the air was different, very different. There was none of the dust and pollution I had to go through in Ahmedabad. The smell was also subtly different in a very pleasant way. The water was sweet (read not salty). The food was simple and yet deliciously mouth-watering. You could find a tree a stone throw away in any direction no matter where you were standing. The houses lined up in a row, connected by roads so narrow that cars had a problem moving around. Then there are the buses that somehow manage to move on roads that narrow. There are so many other tiny little things that make Kerala what it is and they can only be seen and experienced, jotting them down would not have done justice to them.
The essence of Kerala. Wanting to capture it by the time I left, I never said no to anything that anyone wanted to do. I was always willing to do things. Someone wanted to go to a neighboring town to see a two month old baby, I was ready. Someone wanted to play cricket under the scorching sun, I was game for it. Someone wanted to have a discussion on something but another wouldn’t hear of it in a family setting, I was ready to battle it out from both sides. Someone wanted to learn to drive, I tried to help. Everyone wanted to do everything in the vacation. After all none of us knew where entrances and internships and placements would leave us the next summer vacation. I tried my best to say yes to everything.
Apart from the new things there were a lot of things that had sort of become rituals for us. We did them every vacation. They were constants during all the new experiences. They made me reminisce about the ‘old days’ when we were kids with no worries. They left me nostalgic, thinking about the days when we used to climb to the top of tress with abandon. The sight of elephants at temples during the poorams. The art of travelling in the rain. When we could play all day without bothering about academics. When there was no Facebook or Gmail, when we didn’t even have a proper presence on the internet. It was all about sweating it out and winning today’s game, whatever that was. That was a level of happiness that only children can reach. Those days were in many senses the best.
I can talk a lot about what I wanted to do and what I managed to do–which wasn’t a lot– but the feeling of being in god’s own country is what I want to write about but I am not able to convey it. It is a mix of all the new experiences and the memory of the old ones. Those times without electricity. The times when I had to wait a long time for buses or walk a long way. The humidity. All these things are also a part of Kerala. These things keep it real. These little things can’t be expressed, you have to be there, doing it, to know.
Overall it was a great trip. I didn’t get any life changing enlightenment or learn how to swim. I did learn to read and write Malayalam but the thing that I feel most happy about is that I found out that the essence of a place—now I am wondering if it is even called that—can only be found by living there the way people normally live. It can’t be found if one had gone and booked some houseboat on backwaters. There is something in embracing the lifestyle of the people which gives one an insight like nothing else can.
Every little thing done differently, every dish cooked in a particular way, every lack or abundance of resources, every single thing is makes Kerala what it is. It isn’t only the backwaters and greenery. It’s these tiny things. And even if that had been the only thing that I learned from the trip it would have still been worth the month I stayed there.
Photo courtesy: Raghu Varma.
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