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Work, Love, Varkala

(This is a post on some people and events that led to my eponymous travel short. If it is the sights that interests you, just click on here here: Here.)

Let’s wrassle

The view from my embowered window threw up whole lives. The podgy old lady in the heavily mirror-worked Rajasthani gypsy attire left her home each morning at eight for a north cliff shop to clean up and hawk the rest of the day. She returned at 10 in the night, a wearied, rotund silhouette in the lightless alley. The matronly neighbour from across the wall swept her courtyard every morning and burn dried leaves and smile sweetly at me when I egressed exasperated from my room with singeing eyes.

“How are you today, sir?” She would ask me with immense affection as her grown up son came and stood next to her brushing his teeth and hoicking away his mom’s pleasantries.

Reflections

Reflections

Claus tripped up and down the stairway that led to the beach careening in every direction at least half a dozen times each day. He was drunk or stoned or both and my neighbour. Erica walked by a few times, looking up at the window where I sat. I liked to think she was looking for me as she had mentioned earlier that her partner was leaving for Goa; he thought Varkala to be ‘an OAP paradise.’ I ducked or dove every time as my loyalties had changed. David, who had taken upon himself the name Parinay (“Pahr-eey-nai”) was chatting up Priya. Parinay was a walking Iskcon outlet who sang aloud Krishna songs on the beach and handed out pamphlets which basically said nothing could beat love. Priya was a Kannadiga girl from the Adiga tribe famed for their arresting lineaments who sold seersucker frocks and tee shirts specifically for bumming. But it was not about the love-god’s love David spoke to her but his own.

Looming wonder - Varkala cliff

Looming wonder – Varkala cliff

Events are a subset of time. Things will happen, people you meet, play cupid and peacemaker, get in and out of trouble, write about involvement, profess emotions, promise to help, experiment, dissect sex and religion, put up facades, pull them down, read books, exchange addresses, take selfies, groan over dying baby sharks, fight over dogs, part, only if you give time. I had been staying in Varkala for a month, maybe more. I reached here tracing my ambitious #KeralaCoastalWalk, ambling up the Trivandrum coast. And, as I like to put it, I got waylaid in Varkala. Well. The short documentary I made on the beach town was not the mere outcome of an afflatus – though the stunning landscape is capable of just that – but more an ode to the people, both foreigners and locals, who welcomed me warmly, made me a part of their daily living, entrusted me with meaningful work, shared their fears and traumas, smiled plenty, laughed at the beach caca on my feet and told me the about the secret spring.

Vibe, vibe. Ashan Memorial.

Vibe, vibe. Ashan Memorial.

A hearty quest can be good automotrice. I went to Sivagiri nearby and spoke to a learned man in starched, ochre robes. He corroborated what I believed could be a reason for the vibrant cosmopolitanism – when you are born in the same land as Sankaracharya, you are possibly swayed by the famous guru’s teachings. Like tolerance, harmony and peaceful coexistence. Barring an occasional stray incident – which I am told largely involves frustrated or inebriated outsiders – Varkala is hassle-free and safe for the lone female traveller. There is a parallel system to handle such sabre-rattlers, I found out. Suffice to say the bellicose sailor will be left wishing notness was more practical than philosophy.

Love Varkala

Love Varkala

The Mahakavi Kumaran Ashan Memorial a few kilometres away – built in the memory of the famous poet, a contemporary and disciple of Sankaracharya, whom some believe to be behind the guru’s rise to spiritual stardom – is an overlooked sight but worth at least one visit for its meditative air and quite tangible positivity. I literally stumbled on it looking for a safe haven chased by feral dogs – a real-life bugaboo for seaside dwellers in Kerala – while walking from Varkala to Anjengo. I sat there collecting my breath next to a local devouring a newspaper.

“Dogs?” He looked up at me briefly.

I nodded vehemently.

He nodded back at me and returned to his daily gorge.

***

Mahesh was a terrible businessman though he did brisk business. His little shack had risen above from being a meagre vendor to a carrefour of humanities. The tender coconut-based shakes he served was just a healthy excuse to meet and share backpacking lore. One late afternoon as I sat reading, Bob came in carrying a sack over his shoulder. Like Puss in Boots. Tall, blonde and muscular, Bob had the corybantic eyes of a party creature. While waiting for Mahesh he told me about his surfing accident and how he had to whip up a seven grand for the fractured surfboard.

Hocus focus

Hocus focus

“The money was not part of my travel budget,” he said. “So, I am now making these in my spare time.”

Bob opened the sack to reveal sun hats made of straw. Splendiferous works of a creative mind. I did what I could – bought one and wrote about it on my FB page and tagged newfound friends from the beach. I also helped Mahesh zero in on a good place to display the wares. Many days later most of the hats stayed put on the shelf, the grassy gleam dimmed by the summer sun. Mahesh had been away in Trivandrum trying to bail out his buddies who were jailed for beating up some rogue authority figures who had made a habit of consuming alcohol inside the sanctum of a historic temple nearby. It was a watertight remand as the vigilantes had filmed their handiwork and shared on WhatsApp. The clip was topping the viral charts those days.

“I will have a tender coconut shake,” I told him after the updates.

“There is no milk,” Mahesh replied. “I don’t have the money to buy milk.”

***

“The first love must have been a sour one because it’s been ‘falling in love’ ever since,” Shiva whispered into my ear. “But for me, I fly every time,” he added before nibbling some. “Like now.”

Flying, we both were. Little doubt.

Work, Love, Varkala

Work, Love, Varkala

“Meet me on the beach tonight,” he had told me that morning as I sat at a sea-facing table in the restaurant where he waited. I used to sit there with pot coffee, cigarettes and the Miller I was reading. Shiva knew about Natasha and me but he was too graceful to be affected.

“Just you,” he said as I left.

He stood up on the soft, wet sand and began gyrating to music that seemed to float down with the waves. One by one the lights on the cliffside shops went out before we were blanketed by a silvery sheen like the sublime drape of a living dream. His puckered lips dispensed random affectionate kisses to the universe of which I was also part of. His hips thrusted and grinded in an invisible act. The moon rose like a diadem over his curly mop.

It was Shivaratri.

(The names of most people have been changed; incidents are real.) 

3 Comments »

  • Devesh Joshi said:

    a great read indeed. I visited Varkala too last year, and found a complete different side of it. Do you know Varkala was once known as Kashi (Benaras) of South, with tourists pouring in, it has now become another tourist hotspot in India.

    • Admin said:

      Thank you, Devesh. Papanasam is still commemorative of the ‘Kashi of the South’ tag. The rest goes with ‘among the top backpacker destinations in the world.’ :))

  • Ademar Arau said:

    Kerala is the best tourist destination to travel in South India. Varkala beach is the best place to visit in Kerala.

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