Conversations with Kerala

Varkala Sunset

And so she greeted me. There was something about this call, made on an offbeat, that had made meeting her different. As unenthused, hesitant and cautious as I was about my journey to her, I purged myself of all judgments and rid myself of expectations of her.I had not put my mind to any of the preparations, the visas, medication, packing, I did them all from the back of my mind. I guess my soul was running thing and it knew she was waiting, so my brain somehow sent signals to all my senses to buck up. My eyes, ears and senses began to open, and I made my way to her, with the huge open space within me. And as I made my way to the airport that morning it began to empty, to unload, as my heart begins soften and opened up on the inside to make space for the things my soul could not wait to receive, expectantly.

The thing is I had heard about her long before I met her. Heard stories, and knew she was somewhat old, somewhat ancient, somewhat struggling, but in someways rich. I knew she was perceived to be poor, for she had so many children to feed, and I am not sure whether she aches as her children starve, or whether she delightfully devours their bodies, consuming them into the centre of her, as they disintegrate back to dust. But I always guessed that she prayed, she prayed hard, and she prayed a whole lot.

Chinese Fishing Nets, Fort Cochi

I know some people, plenty, hate her. The water she bore somehow sickens most who are foreign. She was seen to be harsh to those who visit her, ripping them apart with chaos, breaking them with the poverty that gripped her. Losing them to the vastness, the richness within herself.

But as we, Al and I drew near we saw the lush green that greeted those planes, I was at her mercy, and hoped that she would treat me kindly. I whispered to her that I was here, and then I stepped out onto her land, and I told her I wanted her to somehow connect with me, be a part of me. I feel her slowly seep her way in to welcome me deeply from the insides out and I took her in, slowly.

She welcomed me softly. Coaxed me ever so gently and introduced herself first mildly, with welcoming smiles and moustaches. I smiled, as he spoke a warm welcome and his head flopped from side to side. I noted the first indian chin-wag I had received and my open brain lapped up that first little memory, as it folded it up and stored it in that empty drawer, in that space my insides had set aside for her.

View from the train, from Ernakulam to Varkala

A chirpy saronged man greeted us with a sort of a comforting brashness, and warmth. We waited for our little taxi as I looked around me at the sarongs and sarees. A certain surrealness washed over as we got into the taxi and I told Al, I can’t believe we’re here. I looked out the open window and I felt my brains processing what she saw carefully, slowly storing it up as if I would draw upon the memories again later, and my eyes were actively searching, working to see all I could see.

The noise began to find its way into my space and the minute it invaded, the minute I heard her, let her voice in, it flooded. The honks, constant honks, the music, and then her smells began to float in and I saw her, what I could see of her, the tip of her cotton saree as she welcomed us, arms wide open onto her dusty roads, her lampposts adorned with posters of one of her favourite stars, Shah Rukh Khan.

The taxi driver and the saronged uncle, who was nonchalant about timing and distances, yakked away as we drove past sugar cane drink stalls set up in the middle of nowhere, people crossing roads and staring, and then moving on with their business.

In the Auto (three-wheeler)

Over the next few days I knew my brains would hardly have the time to even stop to talk to me, it was busy cutting, folding, pasting, storing, and I felt myself expand on the inside to make space for her vastness, her colour, her smells, her sounds, sounds of the auto-drivers honking, the Malayalam ramblings, the chimes, the bells, the call to prayers, the cars.

We finally got home, to the Mylanthra house where we were staying, and Uncle Basil rung the bells to announce our arrivals we stepped into the idyllic brick home that was humble and comfortable, earthy and we slapped on some repellent and sat down to our first Malayalee meal. Fish, prawns and bittergourd and as I conversed with Uncle Basil and Auntie Annie, his wife, and Al, and so began what would be our conversation with Kerala.

The Mylanthra house verandah

I filled up the stainless steel tub with a mixture of hot and cold water and began cleaning up for the day. Brushing my teeth I recalled a certain conversation I had with her earlier, before I came. I told her I had no expectations of her, no judgments but I would so very much want to get to know her and in that conversation I thought I heard her ask for space. I thought I heard her say that she was different, and then she said that if I allowed if I could just clear some space for her, she could change me. I took her word for it, I believed her, I believed she would change me.

I scooped the water up and poured it down my head, I felt its comforting flow on my skin as it cleansed me. And I began to feel her fingers, soft brown fingers reaching into the memories my dear brain has carefully stored up. She skillfully pinched a bit of my flesh, mostly from my middle, and began to knead carefully those memories into me. She carefully kneaded herself into me, making sure I would carry whatever parts of her I have taken with me, back home. She knew I would.

View from the Dutch Palace, Cochin

As Al and I breathed her in and saw what the sights, the people she boldly allowed us to see we took her in and as I pondered about her each night, while reading I was glad I was glad I came with Al, for he was gracious enough to allow me to my senses, to allow me to really let go, and be myself, so I could get to know her. I guessed his heart opened up too for we shared things that were beyond just skin and bones. Our conversations often just brief, and yet, to me seem to matter for it was substantial, for it often was of the heart of the matter, rather than matter itself. I guess she knew we were meant for her, there and then.

In Jew Town, Cochin

I went empty and hollow and I knew I would return pregnant. I often turn back to look at her, and I see her in her cotton saree sitting on her wooden stool old, wrinkled yet dignified. There was something about her, she accepted her lot quite simply, whatever her mother nature had gifted to her she accepted, and she just was. I smiled as the revelation hit me. I knew that somehow she chose me.

She knew I would accept her and because of that she did as she promised, she changed me. I smiled and know nobody can take her away from me really, because I had allowed her soft fingers to hold and shape and knead herself. I was pliable for her and she then did all she could to help me with life, and she did it the way only she can. I turn to see the part of her that I had already experienced and met, her warm maternal smile that was gentle.

Black Beach, North Cliff, Varkala