Kerala, a coastal state in the southern part of India is my home. I was never acquainted with Kerala beyond the few months vacation I took each year as a child. Yet, every time I think about her, I remember the many overnight train trips we took from Bangalore to Kerala. The next morning I always woke up to the most beautiful orange-reddish hue of the rising sun, the glistening water from the suns rays, the pristine clean air, the paddy fields, the fishermen on their boats, and the farmers in the rice fields. Kerala felt like a magical wonderland and stood true to her name “God’s own country”. My vacations for the first eight years of my life began with this dazzling display by nature. In 2009, after several years of being in America I decided to visit Kerala again. This time I was flying 30,000 miles with my very American husband to acquaint him to my childhood, my family and the state my family call home.
I spent most of life as a city girl in metropolitan Bangalore. Bangalore is the technology hub of India or as we like to call it India’s own Silicon Valley. As a child, I visited Kerala couple times a year to spend time with my grandparents. My grandpa worked as a doctor in a missionary hospital in a city called Thrissur. The hospital was surrounded on all sides by mountains, an each day I woke up to the spectacular landscape outside my window. I was the only child within 10-15 miles of the hospital, and needless to say I was rotten spoiled. My earliest memories of Kerala include my grandma waking me up at 5:00am to show me the dancing peacocks and around afternoon we witnessed the parade of the pigs. Each day followed the same routine, but the city girl in me soaked in every second of my country living. My dad and I hiked the mountains, and I sang Christmas carols to the priests and nuns during Christmas holidays. I spent hours listening to my grandma tell me stories, and my grandpa’s pokey kisses with his mustache. To this day, Kerala evokes nostalgia in me.
In 2010, I sat at San Francisco airport waiting to board my flight to India. I was a bundle of emotions: I was going back home after eight years with my African American husband and I desperately wanted him to like India. Twenty three hours later we were in Chennai, India. Unlike the unfriendly American customs and immigration, India welcomed him with open arms. “Welcome home”, the lady at the immigration counter said as I stood there dealing with pangs of jealousy. I was expecting him to be grilled like America grills me at the port of entry.
We began our Kerala adventures with Cochin or Kochi as she is now called. It was my first time in Kochi too. My friends in India booked my trip, hotel and all the nitty gritty details. Our personal car driver welcomed us to Kochi and escorted us to our hotel. On our way I made my husband speak few sentences of Malayalam and like a proud mamma I flaunted my training. He took us to our five star hotel, Travancore Court to freshen up. Kochi is one of the major ports of Kerala, and one of the biggest cities. Like most big cities, Kochi is energy personified. We began our Kochi adventures by visiting the famous Chinese fishing nets. There are tours to see the Chinese fishing nets in action, but we stood on the shores witnessing the fishermen catch fish with the fishing nets. Our next stop was the beautiful and serene Fort Cochin. Having lived in India most of my life, I find it hard to believe that Fort Cochin could be this calm on a normal day. But we choose the least touristy day of the year, and the Fort was all ours. Fort Kochi stands as an embodiment to the British era when the Dutch and Portuguese came to Kerala to trade spices. Kochi was one of the biggest spice trade ports in India, and the architecture and ambience of Fort Kochi was synonymous to the western conquest of India. We visited the Dutch cemetery, Dutch palace, Churches and museums. We visited the Jew town and Vasco da Gama square before calling it a day. It was New Years Eve, and as we louged in our hotel room we heard music. A concert was in full effect right across from our hotel, and we relaxed to the commotions around us. My African American husband saw an elephant carrying lumber on the street, and took several pictures. I don’t think he had ever seen an elephant outside of the zoo and was rather excited. For me, it just reminded me I was home.
I intended to make my New Years day a lazy one, and the backwaters in Kerala provided perfect ambience. We rented a houseboat for a night in Alleppey and hung out in our house boat. The water was pristine encrusted on either sides by green trees. I am a talker generally, but with the tranquility around me I was scared I might spoil the ambience with my chatter. We docked for the night and enjoyed the serenity with some amazing Kerala food. As I sat on our boat porch the next morning, nature displayed the most beautiful sunrise yet. The fishermen were on their boats fishing against the glistening water from the suns rays. It was picture perfect, and the photographer in me took a million photographs.
During our stay in Kochi, we decided to go shopping for some jhuba or tunics to the western world. Jhuba is cotton tunics for men. They are perfect for the humid tropical weather. At the store, the ladies marveled at the freak of nature walking with me. My husband played American football in high school and like most American football players he is wide on top. They asked him if he was related to Muhammad Ali because of how he was built. When we explained he played football, they were stumped. They failed to understand why someone who played football with their foot would have wide shoulders. Football to them was American soccer and American football was an nonexistent sport. The ladies at the store flirted with him as they helped him try out tunics. She prohibited me from helping him as she felt him up in the process. He was basking in the attention. While African Americans complained about their hair, Indian loved everything about it. I could have made some money had I charged the people who wanted to touch his hair and feel up on him.
Kochi was an embodiment of contradiction like most of Kerala. Internet cafes and tall building adorned the city, while the countryside was untainted and pristine. The backwaters oozed tranquility and my one night on the houseboat rejuvenated me beyond any other place I had visited. Nature reminded me of my childhood days in the lap of nature- the many hikes holding my dads hand, the stories told by my grandmother, cozying up to my mom for warmth and my grandfather’s lap. The simplest moments always evoke the most nostalgic feelings!