Beware of Alleppey Amnesia, if you visit Kerala’s backwaters

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Other day, someone in my office asked me what he should look forward to seeing or enjoying specially in Alappuzha. I was totally at a loss for an answer, despite being a native of Kerala. That too, after visiting this place several times.

I know, I should have given him an instant lecture about the meandering backwaters, endless lush green carpet covering the paddy fields, the breeze occasionally dislocating the green blanket, the floating mansions called houseboats, palm leaves stooping down to tell a story in your ears, waves of ducks, watchful storks guarding the banks as if to stop the fish from jumping out of the water, toddy tappers frog leaping on the palms,men on the shores throwing up the nets that open up like a mine in the fireworks, fresh fish emanating warm mix of aroma and spices etc etc. Or, at least I should have told him that a visit to Kerala is not complete without Alappuzha (Alleppey), the Venice of the East.

But, I did not say anything. As I sat confused or I was still trying to recollect the postcard views of the most famous tourist destination of Kerala, he walked away with an advice. ``Ok, you take your time and tell me when you are free.”

In fact my unqualified confusion about Alappuzha started over a decade ago, exactly during my honeymoon trip. Sometimes I call it my `Alleppey Amnesia,” a disease perhaps only I suffer from.

Like any other ordinary Mallu who grew up watching Thalathil Dinesan (courtesy to Malayalam movie named VadakkunokkiYanthram), I also did several mock drills before setting out for my honeymoon in that August. I had perfectly scripted and directed each scene and placed it in my mind. The screenplay was rather complete from what to say, when, how and do with my wife whom I married after nearly 5-year-long affair.

For example, in one scene I should walk in slowly, hold her hands, lift them over my shoulders, move closer, rub the nose on the tip of her nose and say `I love you’  in the hushed up voice. Another scene I wanted to reply was that of Jack and Rose, even if Titanic is being replaced by the houseboat.

I wanted to spend hours looking at her eyes and hum a romantic number and sit hand in hand ..etc etc. After all, honeymoon is the time when you can live out all your fantasies piled up for years.

Kerala public transport bus literally screamed to a halt at Alappuzha bus stand. The screaming was really loud and scary. Before my wife, who was not from this part of the world, got out of that jerk and shock, another bus honked for a long time in response to the screaming and another one raced, yet another answered it with thud sound of rasping break.

Anyway, without more shocks we reached in time, around 9 am, at the embarkation jetty for the houseboat we booked.

Like a perfect gentleman, I held my wife’s hand to guide smoothly her to the boat, as if ushering her into my palace decked up for the honeymoon. I could see her excitement.

Then I moved to one side of the boat while she moved to the opposite side to take a comfortable seat. The first view in the morning itself was so amazing – long array of houseboats anchored in like a busy taxi parking lot or the busiest airport in the world. All along the Punnamadalake, the line was endless. I got fully engrossed with the view instantly, counting them and trying to figure out the end – perhaps the starting point of famous Nehru Trophy boat race.

Perhaps, my Alleppey Amnesia syndrome started then. Before I could finish enjoying the sight, our houseboat moved back, turned 90 degree and picked up speed. As the boat cut through the gushing water, the waves in the Vembanadulakesprang up to the level of the wooden plank where I was sitting. I instantly started playing with the water bubbles, though bit edgy in the mind.

I glanced at my wife. She sat fully engrossed while staring at the ripples and giggled like a babe at times. She also covered her mouth spontaneously after a giggle. I did not want to bother her and left her on her own to enjoy the beautiful sights.

I caught up again with the marvels in my side. One sturdy black man was rowing a very tiny boat. He looked like sitting on the water flakes as only a dark line, a very little part of the brim of the boat, separated him from the water. He looked socomposed and confident as he held strongly his oar. But, I was bit nervous to see and thought about all tragedies he would face.

As the boat tore apart the waves, one small island came visible. I could immediately recognize it as the dancing scene in many movies. We rowed past the island with huge banyan trees and creepy plants. I could then see the other bank of Vembanadulake, slowly emerging from the sky. It came up slowly like in movie frame. It was really another picture perfect sight. I forgot even to take my camera out of the bag.

From the lake, we then moved into a river and both sides were clearly visible. Many more houseboats and small boats were going to the opposite side. The tourists standing on the top waved at me too.

But one really interesting sight was a herd of ducks swimming parallel to our boat for a while. They formed different shapes in the water moving in discipline. Still, a few at times, spread wings and splashed water.  I was trying to figure out the letters they formed, just like I used to form English alphabets with pebbles as a kid.

The real Alappuzha was in full display. The small and big houses dotted the banks, women with lungies folded up above the knees and washed the clothes or utensils, laborers walked past with spades on the shoulders, some school children with long green skirts rushed to schools, an occasionally some stray dogs looked at you and barked unwelcomingly. The scenes came and faded as a stream. I also could not take my eyes off, as if watching a movie. It was all the way green cover on the ground, whether it is paddy fields or grassy banks while a line of coconut palms held high their heads against the blue horizon intermittently. The red, white and yellow flags added more colours to visual treat.

To cut it short, one after another frames filled my mind and I totally forgot about my better halt sitting on the other side. She too did not mind me, while weaving her own imaginations till the aroma of king fish (karimeen) tempted us to take a break from the sight-seeing. The food was so good that we spoke very little, except the spice, chilly and names of fish. Again we went back to our own world of thoughts till about 4 pm. One board `toddy shop’ immediately raked up another craving in me. I asked the driver to stop near the shop.

The local merry-makers perhaps were bit shocked to see my wife also joining for a bottle of white neera. Except for the usual smell, litters and coarse sounds intermittently denting the air, the drink was really worth the time.

Before the kick of the drink fizzled down, the boat had already anchored somewhere in a small tributary for the night halt. By the time we moved to the bed, both of us were so full with the visual and stomach treats all the day. We slipped into a comfort sleep so fast, totally forgetting about the honeymoon night.

Next day, before we woke up, the return journey had started. We were in fact woken up by the boat team for Idli and sambar, just before reaching back the jetty. Still so full with memories, we chatted contently about the wonderful sights of the previous day while finishing up the breakfast.

Finally, while disembarking I held her hand and looked at her face. I felt so embarrassed or regretful. I could not even say a sweet `I love you’ during the honeymoon, forget about all other big and naughty plans I scripted for years.

I wanted to say sorry. But, she pressed my hands tightly and murmured in my ears: “Wonderful day.. Thanks for the trip.” Her face was still beaming as if she had the day of her life.

I felt relieved to know that she enjoyed it the way I enjoyed the trip. May be, she was also bitten by this Alleppey Amnesia. Thus we knew each other well without much talks as we found that same feelings, same syndrome, same preferences and same ideas brought us together and would keep us together in the years to come..

By Joseph Alexander



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