Over the past month, Christina and I discovered a common tendency for motion sickness. After exchanging a few “throw-up-during-car ride” stories from our childhood, I won special access to Christina’s stash of Dramamime, anti-motion sickness pill with the added benefit of inducing drowsiness. Before any bus or car ride, we would systematically take our pills and happily fall asleep.
The hero is a music teacher having an illicit affair with his student, who is the daughter of a famous and ruthless politician.
In the student’s terrace, the hero plays her body like it’s a violin.
The hero and heroine elope.
Their wedding is stopped by the heroine’s father.
Someone talks long and emotional words.
The hero’s eyes turn red every time he murders someone, which he did quite a few times.
But glorious as drowsiness inducing pills are, the key to maintaining a happy relationship with them is being able to sleep after the drowsiness hits in. I learned this the painful way on a 13 hour flight last summer, when fully drugged and ready to pass out, I made friends with my neighbour, who was very friendly and interesting, and who I didn’t want to offend by falling asleep. Those moments of staying awake were quite painful.
But not as painful as falling asleep only to be intermittently awoken by the above scenes from a Tamil movie from the 1990s that were played on our bus ride. It was made slightly worse by the fact that because I understood the language, I automatically paid attention to the words whenever I was shaken out of my slumber by the loud dance numbers or the sounds of bones cracking and skulls crushing during the action scenes.
After being promised a 5 am arrival on our bus from Madurai to Ernakulam, Sam, Christina and I sleepily stumbled out of our buses at 3.30 am, an unprecedented reverse-delay, an unexpected display of efficiency in the Indian transportation system. We tried to shrug off our non-prescription drug induced stupor to take a rickshaw to a bus station where we would take a bus to our final destination: Kerala’s backwaters.
We drove through roads flanked by red banners. The hammer and sickle on a red flag, testament to Kerala’s large and prominent Communist history flitted around in the wind right next to the Vodafone logo, also on a bright red banner, advertising the many glories of owning expensive mobile phones. A juxtaposition that brings out Kerala’s and India’s many contradictions.
When we finally did get to Alleppey, which was where we would get on our houseboat at noon, we had a few hours to kill. So Sam and I left Christina at a cafe, and went to Shreekrishna Ayurveda Center where I had a full body rejuvenation massage and Sam a foot massage.
I walked in to the massage room where I met my masseuse, Shirley, a middle aged Malayali woman who told me that I looked just like a Malayali girl. My friendly masseuse then asked me to remove all my clothes and gave me a tiny piece of cloth to tie around my legs. Feeling really self-conscious just as I did during my first experience at a Turkish bath in Istanbul, I smiled nervously, and waited for the massage to begin. Since this was my first real massage, I had to face a lot of my reservations about massages. To begin with, the idea of a massage felt too hedonistic. What is it about my body that requires so much care and attention when there are people who work long and backbreaking hours? Why does someone else have to spend so much time helping someone else feel better?
The fact that this massage was an Ayurvedic massage helped trump over some of these reservations because Ayurvedic massage is based on the concept of healing the human body of small and large problems. Shirley explained to me how each massage she did had some healing nature. She even pressed between my stomach and lower back to see if I had ‘gas’ problems, and proceeded to diagnose me with good digestive health. Her face massage helped clear the sinuses that had been troubling me for the past few days, and overall, I came out with a more positive outlook on massages.
So duly rejuvenated by my massage, I got on with Sam and Christina on our houseboat. The experience itself was absolutely amazing. We shared our houseboat with another Sam, Francis and Suresh, staff aboard the ‘American Eagle’ as our houseboat was called. We would dock at places along Alleppey’s backwaters to drink coconut water, learn fishing from slightly intoxicated men, buy tiger prawns which we would later eat for dinner.
After bidding a sad farewell to our new friends on the houseboat, we then took a long bus ride to Varkala, a coastal tourist town where we had just enough time to have a wonderful pasta meal at Cafe Del Mar, overlooking the coast, on the cliff, before we had to take a train to Kochi. Varkala itself isn’t on my list of most amazing places in India. The ocean looked beautiful, but I think, personally, I would feel rather uncomfortable prancing around in my bikini in a place where there’s almost a mutual spectacle of fully clothed locals getting into the water with their shalwar-kameezes, and relatively lesser-clothed foreigners trying to get as much of the sun as possible.
In Kochi, we stayed at an absolutely delightful homestay run by Sheebha and her husband. It’s called Greenwoods Bethlehem, and is located in Fort Kochi. Sheebha and her husband are so friendly, and they have a great rooftop restaurant. They arranged for us to have a rickshaw driver take us to a late dinner, and the same rickshaw driver took us on a tour of Kochi the next day before we took our night bus back to Madurai.
Even though we spent such little time in Kerala, it was a great experience. More so for me because as many people had told me before, the vegetation and cuisine of the country reminded me so much of Sri Lanka. There are many overlaps in the cuisine: puttu, appam, string hopper (idiyappam), the use of coconut milk: a living testament to the fluid cultural exchange between Sri Lanka and India.