She is pretty and she knows it
The bunds that hold back the lake water from overrunning adjoining paddy fields glisten in trepidation. Rain trees canopies a calm that quivers in anticipation. Palm fronds hold their breath. The usually gregarious marsh toads fall uncannily silent, eyes wide and unblinking, lethal tongues sheathed. The cormorant makes several desperate swoops into the water only to come out empty-beaked; the panic probably at odds with its skillful timing. Sturdy hyacinths meekly make way for the houseboat sloshing towards the pier to be moored. Pirogues are manoeuvred deftly and quickly towards promontories. Soon-to-be-curried ducks belonging to the toddy shop flanking the lake break line frantically as they cackle their way into the coop somewhere around the parlour’s postern. Outside the shop are a few labourers from the nearby fields, eyes red but anxious. They are shirtless and their willowy legs draped in faded checked lungis tucked into taut unmoving stomachs. The Vembanad barely lends itself to a ripple.
From the deck of the houseboat I inspect the inky blue sky wafting in from the horizon to the accompaniment of thunder rolls, frequent flashes of lightning scything the billowy baldachin into a thousand shimmery patches. My eyes have stopped trying to listen. The helmsman hurries from the staff quarters by the aft buttoning up his Duckback gear and resumes his call by the wheel clutching a fruit-coloured brolly. An ominous length of halyard lies by his feet. Bamboo shoots that hold aloft the shutters on bedroom windows are unhinged and placed carefully by the ruelle. Goblets that look like well-rounded breasts – the way they were meant to – appear and the spritzig prisms the dimmed lights to a thousand timeless fantasies. Rain ricochets off the shiny veneer of the crenellated thatch roof of the boat that once used to transport paddy. A nudge of a breeze has gathered itself into a gale, the droplets no more prickly playful but slanting sheets of torrential grey. The accompanying score is apt, as if carefully chosen from the land, for the land – a high octave of the chendamelam or temple drum ensemble at one of the pooram or temple festivals. The boat rocks.
“According to Ayurveda, the human body is made up of three fundamental elements called doshas. The doshas are of three types – vata, pitta and kapha. Every person is categorised as per their dosha-type. It is very important for me to find out your body type to ensure the perfect massage…” As the famous Ayurveda doctor’s voice droned on, my eyes were fixated on the horizon. There she was, the blue bellibone, teasing me from far out the doorway. Despite her tantrums – she had till now claimed 80 lives and razed 5,000 houses – she continued to be pined for. No one could have enough of her.
There are two rainy seasons in the state – the southwest monsoon that starts in June and the northeast monsoon that begins around mid-October. The first one, as a rule, starts on June 1; if it doesn’t there is much public consternation and debate. This year though it might appear to a visitor (me) to be raining relentlessly with no respite, long-time dwellers like my folks say it hasn’t matched up to last year’s vehemence. They, my dad actually, is more worried about the power cuts that would be the norm if the rains are not up to mark, literally. His exultation when the water level of Idukki dam goes up (Kerala being solely dependent on hydro power) is something to be seen first-hand; many a time it has led me to believe that he has won the lottery.
‘2348…94’ he reads from the newspaper peering close, the pause I assume must be a decimal. He then looks up and grins with a spotless happiness at whoever quiet and hapless around him, most often mom, who is then made to read the exciting news out aloud.
“…any imbalances to the equilibrium brought about by a reckless lifestyle causes diseases.” The good doctor trailed off and looked at me inquisitively; I was to maybe ply him with the possibilities. I didn’t even want to start. He recommended Abhyangam, a basic massage with lukewarm medicated oils while I wanted Uzhichil, a specialised full body massage.
The better masseurs are trained in or practitioners of Kalaripayattu, the ancient martial art form of Kerala, believed to be among the oldest comprehensive system of martial arts training prevailing in the world today. The Gurukkal or Master is adept not only in different ways of killing or incapacitation but also in treating injuries sustained to the vital regions. The Uzhichil was used to attain greater suppleness of the body originally developed for Kalaripayattucombatants. Ayurveda says the body pores open up more during monsoon season when the atmosphere is clean and fresh which helps the body assimilate the herbal oils better. Giving you wings, faster.Not just the traditional martial art practitioners but performers of ethnic dance forms like Kathakali and Koodiyattom too use this time of the year for rejuvenation. An Ayurvedic massage is the next best thing to indulge in when it is raining.
The sprightly old lady I met during my last visit to Fort Kochi’s Jew Town was dead. I came to know of this from the constable who manned the police aid post which functioned out of what was once her home. I was taking photographs of a large black cat which turned out to be herswaiting patiently outside a closed shutter of a Kashmiri handicraft shop across the street. She called out but the languid black thing didn’t budge. Cats, I smiled apologetically at her while she doddered away with a resigned sigh, used to letting things go. I still have a photograph of her closing the door on the rest of the unresponsive world as well. ‘Pardesi Synagogue’ they call her place of worship today.
‘Hassle free’ many shops promised now, a good thing, but not really practised if you as much ogle at the window wares. “I’ll take you around in my Ferrari for just two hundred bucks,” every auto rickshaw driver says trying out a beaten-to-death line which must have worked for someone some time long ago. Rates are halved soon enough but the great smiles endure; a commendable allegiance to the tourism department reminder to ‘Greet people with great smiles’. Forlorn fishing boats bob in the water next to defunct Chinese fishing nets. The streets are rain washed, the moist cobblestoned passagesreflect the overhanging Mahogani or the rare Bilimbi tree reminding me of a new shade I christened while on the backwater – Vembanad Green, a rich green that sparkles, a shiny cerulean. In the midst of all the solemnness there is strange elation.
A gloaming rain has started outside the Kathakali Centre. The ascending din resonates in tandem with the percussion by the chenda and the maddalam as Draupadi is molested by Dushasana making her anguish all the more heartrending. The pratter becomes one of succour and hope as Krishna consoles her. It beats like a horrific bastinade to the accompaniment of thunder in the final battle, rendering a gut wrenching quality to Dushasana’s wails as he is battered by Bheem.
I emerge into a world where good has prevailed.