Dreaming in Colour in Godâs Own Country â first impressions of Kerala, South India
ii) Marari Beach, near Allepey
Travancore, Malabar, Varkala, Kollam, Ananthapuri, Kayamkulam, Harripad, Allapuzha. Today we take the train to Allapuzha, affectionately known as Appley, like sort of like an apple.
Today we are on the beach. It is searing heat, fierce, harsh. You don’t see the heat in the photograph, you don’t hear the heat in the recording, but here on the beach there is nothing but heat, it is the dominant element, it overpowers, consumes, it feels destructive, dangerous. And I am sitting in the shade thinking – this is the dream that we dream about in the north – being on a beach, by the sea, in this heat, on the edge of nothing, watching the waves. And the people here, subsisting, fishing, farming, do they dream of moving to a city in the north and making a life and making enough money to be able to afford to dream about being on a beach, by the sea, in this heat, on the edge of nothing?
I can tell you the way to the beach, I can tell you about the train ride, I can tell you about the dreams, the long night of the soul, the dreams of future past, the hope for times to come, the same dreams as the home dreams, the ones about time passing and nothing happening, the ones about time passing and everything staying the same, the ones about time passing.
I can tell you about the way to the beach; past the hammocks; over the creek holding on to the too thin guide rope; treading carefully on the too round trunks of the coconut palms; past the vegetable patch protected from the sun scorch by saris; past the fishing boats, nets packed, flags fluttering; and you are there on the Malabar Coast in the old kingdom of Travancore where everything is as everything was. The boats go out, the boats come in, the women water the vegetables and the men shit on the beach. Everybody knows what the left hand and the right hand are for and generation after generation live here and work here and die here, same as it ever was, same as it ever was.
The train pulls out of Trivandrum Central. You can feel the weight of all the carriages and all the people. It slowly gains momentum. We have window seats in a sleeper carriage. As we watch, the world flows by at increasing speed, like an art film. Through the bars where a window would be if we were still in the north, houses and people and tuk tuks and traffic; then palms and fields and houses and people; on and on.
A girl walks along the track, baby held tight and wrapped in cloth, getting somewhere by the fastest route. Water buffalo graze in the mud, no doubt glad of its sticky coolness. Varkala, Kollam, Ananthapuri, coffee, chai, onion bhaji; the blind man might help you pick a ticket for the lottery. Seat three watches a movie on his laptop about shady deals in the big city; Kayamkulam; seat seven sits cross legged and sari wrapped, headphones plugged in to music for a long journey; a long journey that tells its own story, through filters, in fragments. Lady in green stretches out across seats three and four; the man in the film sips whisky and talks about his divorce; the coffee is sweet and milky and costs seven rupees; outside is a lake that eventually leads to the sea.
Here, then its gone. Here then its gone, like a black butterfly with vivid red wings, like our loves and our lives and all things, like the wind and the waves and the sound of the train passing by on its way on a steamy December day.
Rumble and flash, a small boy waves at the rumble and flash, the clatter and crash, and we’re gone.
I can tell you about the disco bus, the jesus bus, the little girl killed on the road, the 90 year, six month celebration for the church that we must put our faith in or all is surely lost. I can tell you about the sea eagles circling crows eating sardines laid out to dry in the sun on brown mats on the sandy yellow sand; the eyes of a girl on the bench seat, brown and dark and deep and scary, like she already knows the ending. I can tell you about fluttering plastic bunting over the road, piles of plastic bags and bottles on the road side, and two Santas on a motorbike with white plastic faces; about hot, sweet tea and ginger cake; about buffalo curry and mango chutney; about coconut for breakfast and shark for tea; about mosquito nets and long nights at blood temperature; about battling the swell for a dawn swim. I can tell you about all these things, these details, these moments.
I can tell you how my real self arrived this morning, after following me round the world; changing planes; chasing me round Thiruvananthapuram; jumping the train at Alapuzha. How he followed me here and sneaked into our room at night to give me a message written on the back of an Indian Railways ticket and the message said – happy journey. But that was already printed by the railway company. His message said – you can’t run away from yourself. I already know that, but he felt that I needed reminding and maybe he was right. But that’s for later, that’s for another time, in another life, back home, in the cold, when I know which day is which day and time is told by clocks and computers, not by the movement of the sun across the sky. Because now the children are singing in the church over the bridge over the river and I need to listen, really listen, so I can tell you about it later.
Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way, they sing, like a hymn, like an incantation, brightly wrapped and a little funny; sugar coated and filled with fun; like church is a party.