A Flip Here, A Trundle There
Nandini Valsan is a writer and film maker who currently lives in Doha, Qatar. She is a travel enthusiast and an avid foodie; who believes every moment in life is a learning experience.
Like many other Malayali children across the globe, for the most part of my life, I was a Non Resident Keralite. I grew up in Cairo and every year, my parents made it a point to return “home” to Kerala for our summer vacations, with the mission of keeping us connected to our roots. With my mother’s family scattered across North Malabar and my father’s family living in Irinjalakuda, and an uncle living in Trivandrum; we spent a lot of time travelling on trains, spanning the entire length of Kerala from Kannur to Trivandrum!
As the majority of the journeys were done during the day, my brother and I used to stock up on our reading material at the railway stations; Amar Chitra Kathas when we were younger, and then a wide selection of English magazines as we became older. This was of course an era before modern entertainment sources like the Internet and smartphones were even a part of our psyche; but, the little information that could be contained within the pages of these issues were enough to hold our interest for the entire trip!
The memory that remains is the thrill of opening a magazine while seated on a sleeper berth, accompanied by the comforting monsoon breeze that would waft in with the uncanny fragrance that only wild greenery can impart. Even now, a train journey in Kerala, still gives you that lovely feeling. However much the urbanization, when you look out of the train window in Kerala, it is still lush green that greets you. Whether it is the rich dark greens of the many thickets of wild trees, the muted greens of the palm fronds, or the pleasant light greens of the paddy fields, there is always some form of verdant beauty around to behold.
Another natural feature that distinguishes the Kerala landscape is the abundance of waterways. The Bharatapuzha makes its majestic presence felt as one crosses over it near Shoranur. Depending on the time of the year, it can either be gurgling with water or dryly smiling its sandy look that is equally awe inspiring. When travelling North, near Dharmadam and Thalassery, one can see the confluence of backwaters and the powerful Arabian Sea. Whereas, towards the South, one is greeted by the languid backwaters and lakes that are all responsible for the very well deserved tag of God’s Own Country that has been coined for the State.
Then, as the sunlight begins to fade away, one sees houses slowly get embellished with brightly lit nilavilakus (brass oil lamp), their wicks flickering away, signalling the arrival of night. Likewise, when you pass by even the smallest of temples at that time, they shimmer with the magnificent resplendence of the evening prayers, in which umpteen oil lamps are lit around the deity.
I was most enamoured by the cultural unity that one got to witness during the different festival times. The days before Onam would find the front paths of all houses decorated with pretty pookalams (floral carpets), each one different to the next. And then, my personal favourite to date, is the splendid sight on exhibit during the Christmas season. Every single house, regardless of the community of the occupants, is decorated with the traditional paper star lanterns, which illuminate the dark surroundings as the train trundles towards its destination. All these are an integral part of the close knit social fabric that has defined Kerala for years. And this is the Kerala that I am so proud to belong to.