A Trip to Kerala
by Vimala Ramu
Aaah… Kerala!!! It was a long cherished dream of mine to visit Kashmir and Kerala. While the former required a long term planning, the latter happened on the spur of the moment, as it were.
The year was 1979. I was a 42 year young mother who had just then married off her 20 year old daughter. The fact that my husband was between two jobs and between two cars had made the preparations for wedding all the more exciting. Just the two of us would go everyday leisurely on our two-wheeler and would make all the purchases for the marriage. The marriage itself was a smooth affair as Ramu’s and my siblings all pitched in.
Just as the wedding festivities were coming to an end and the daughter was packed off to her in-laws’ place, someone mooted the idea of going to Kerala. Just relieved of my great responsibility, I was more than ready for such a trip. So, we 5 sisters –in law (wives to 5 brothers) decided to take off for a week to Trivandrum where my brother-in law Narasimha was working.
Accommodation was no problem as the hotel in which he was staying was prepared to give us a big room with 3 cots to accommodate 6 ½ of us , the half being Rekha and Narasimha’s 5 year old daughter Prakriti.
My mother was flabbergasted that I was taking off without bothering to observe the follow-up rituals compulsory for a new mother-in law. But, I was bent upon not missing such a rare opportunity. Promising to be back after a week, we pushed off gaily like liberated souls, leaving a houseful of children and basketfuls of wedding goodies in charge of our highly co-operative mom-in law.
Let me tell you at the very outset about us, the 5 sisters-in law. We were not the usual bickering and back biting lot. We bonded very well and loved each other’s company and so we looked forward to the trip eagerly.
Our journey to Trivandrum began at Bangalore Railway Station. Though Kerala was famous for its greenery, the train journey was extremely hot and humid being the month of May and it was just before the onset of monsoons.
We were met at the Trivandrum Station by our brother-in law who took us to the Railway Cafeteria for lunch. I believe that was the only place which served rice cooked from ‘raw’ rice. Rest of the places served only ‘boiled’ rice which was not to our liking. I marveled at the way mounds of rice were shoveled on to the banana leaves of the customers and polished off by the latter, enjoying 3-4 such helpings! I concluded that the secret of the famous Malayali brawn was Rice, rice and more rice.
The room on the first floor at the hotel was not only spacious, it even had a balcony surrounded by fronds of thick green coconut palms which made it a cosy place for our chatting sessions, which we did non-stop, free as we were from all the household duties.
In the middle of the night, there was a sort of subdued commotion. We were told secretly that the salesmen with the smuggled goods had come for business. They had watches, gold, synthetic fabrics and apparels and electronic goods from Middle East for sale. I continued sleeping, satiated as
I was with shopping for the wedding, but my sisters –in law had a dekko at the attractive items.
Next day as we set out in the morning, I could feel the all-pervading
holiness of the temple town with the loud speakers resonant with the chanting of mantras from the temple of Lord Padmanabha.
We visited the ancient temple itself where the reclining gigantic idol of Lord had to be viewed through 3 different doors, one for head and the thousand headed snake Anantha, one for trunk and the third for Lord’s feet.
Like all other Kerala temples, this temple was also lit with oil lamps and not with electricity. We even happened to see the Maharajah, a pale thin man in dhoti, alighting from his car for his ritual visit to Lord Padmanabha.
While shopping, we realized that our hopes of easy communication in the state of highest literacy proved wrong, because the literacy was all in Malayalam, the state language. We had to take the help of a Tamil translator to do our work.
Triumphantly celebrating our freedom, we would visit the ice cream parlors without male escort. We even got a group photo taken in a studio to have a memento of our memorable trip.
During the week end, our brother –in law took us for a long boating trip in Nayyatinkara (Nayyar’s dam) where we saw illicit liquor being made in the coves.
We also visited the local zoo and Chitra Tirunal Art Gallery where we saw Raja Ravi Verma’s paintings. We also saw the famous painting ‘Lady with the lamp’ in which the lady is lit up by the light of the lamp, the flame of which she is covering in her cupped hands.
We also made trips outside Trivandrum. We visited the Suchindram temple, Kanya Kumari and Kovalam beach. In Kovalam, looking at us, 5 unescorted ladies, a hotel permitted us to use their private beach. All of us held hands and made a chain. It was fun playing with the ferocious waves though my sister –in law Padmini, being the shortest and the lightest could never maintain her balance when the waves hit us and so would drag us all down into the water.
My only regret was, I who wanted to soak in the greenery of the emerald state to the full, would always fall asleep the moment the bus started moving. I found the bus passengers very quiet and insular unlike the people of our other neighboring state who were noted for their garrulous tongues and inquisitive nature.
We travelled to the Vivekananda rock by a ferry. I was deeply impressed by the meditation room in the Vivekananda memorial which was a dark, peaceful room lit only by the Sanskrit letter OM in red neon signs.
We visited the temple of KanyaKumari, the virgin goddess whose diamond nose stud used to act as beacon light to the sea farers. We also watched the sunrise at the land’s end, an unforgettable experience and the clear colour demarcation between the three oceans - Arabian Sea, Indian Ocean and Bay of Bengal.
We returned to Trivandrum. Sheela and I had to get ready to leave for Bangalore as duty beckoned. We bid a reluctant good bye to the clean roads of Trivandrum, the Keralites with their dazzlingly white apparels and their weekly ‘riceless’ days and the beautiful landscape with coconut trees planted 10ft apart. The rest of the group visited Guruvayoor and Cannanore before returning to Bangalore.
The proof that we, the 5 ladies had painted the town red was borne by the fact that a totally strange lady shopper in the far off Nagpur asked my sister-in law Brinda, “Didn’t I see you in Trivandrum sometime back? You were five ladies”!