Friday, 18 April 2014

Kerala Reunion 2014 Part Two

___________ FFA Meets again in Kerala: Part Two ___________ 

Dear Friend of Ghumakkad,

Hope you liked Part one of Kerala Reunion 2014. If you haven't browsed it yet, the link is:  
The above link also demystifies what is FFA?

Part Two of this picture story written once again by Trixie, covers the Houseboat cruise in Alleppey backwaters and the Reunion Dinner at NOI Kochi.
We were taken in two comfortable coaches to our luxurious houseboat Gambit
 While waiting for the houseboat to get ready, we observed the holy pillar inside the compound of a church. Normally such 'stambha' is erected in temples as seen in the picture below. It was rather intriguing. Probably it is the impact of local customs and beliefs on the architecture.
Postscript: Pse pardon Harsh's ignorance. A dear friend Amina George, who read the blog has sent the following illuminating note. 
Amina-- many thanks. Amina's words follow:
"Christianity came to Kerala in 42 A.D. At that time there was no western influence. All that is followed as part of religious customs and rituals are integral part of Kerala culture and ethnicity. Religion in Kerala remained a personal thing and had very little to do with the cultural psyche of the state. All old churches have stampams and stone/brass lamps. In Kottayam there is a church which has motifs of Hindu deities.
In Kerala it is customary to have temple and church festivals periodically and a flag is hoisted at the beginning and stays there till the festival gets over. 
Have you noticed that in Kerala festivals many festivals are devoid of religious ceremonies . A true malayalee starts education for his/her child  on Vijayadasami by holding the hand and  making the child write Hari Sree on rice- uncooked variety.  By the way, this tactile form of introduction to writing is now hailed as one of the basic principles of early childhood education." 

Amina goes on to add that "Even not so Malayalee Mathew (her husband) also did it for his two kids." 

As we set sail, all Naval buddies and spouses got so excited that they almost cast off and left the photographer (me) ashore!

 We sailed on the Gambit for the River Cruise along Cochin's backwaters with enchanting scenery.  See the pictures below.

Our houseboat  was made of wood and cane, with a large seating area for a group, bamboo ''chics" (roll-up curtains),  a large kitchen where food was freshly cooked, two spacious bedrooms with  squeaky clean western toilets with clean water.  


Amina adds "Alleppy and Kumarakom are on two sides of the same back waters. I am writing this from my memory so could be wrong.  It is called the Vembanad kayal. Most backwaters are interconnected and during my parents generation travel through waterways in Kettu vallam house boats was part of visiting grand parents."

Village life along the backwaters appeared so peaceful and calm. Man and Nature coexist in perfect harmony.

Even the empty rice fields after harvesting look so inviting in God's Own Country!

We noticed that the rice harvesting machines are ferried by boat. See the picture.

Amina's words "Your two pictures of paddy cultivation and transportation of machines on boats got my attention. One of the great Malayalam writers  Thakazhy of Chemmeen fame wrote a short story of how the bond between land and man was mercilessly ruined by such machines and the greed for more and more money/ profit. 

It was this part of the Vembanad lake in Kuttanad, the rice bowl of Kerala, Punnamada, which saw the rise of communist activity."

The houseboat was equipped with fans and lights, a music system and mike.   We did some group singing  using the song sheets that Champion had brought for the occasion, and playing the guitar that Champ had organised for us through a local sailor, thanks to his son Thambu's contacts. (Champ had even got a fresh set of strings and fixed them, and re-tuned the guitar to keep it ready.  Thanks Champ!) 

 In between our singing, GR would announce a dramatic "Pause"  so that he could point out a local landmark or two on the way.  Anthony acted as more than an interpreter to the navigator Joama's inputs in Malayalam, giving us some interesting backgrounders on the Snakeboat Races or Vallam Kali  ("boat game").

Young men from different villages train hard  to be selected to compete for a prize in a race using paddled longboats. It is considered an honour to participate, and winning the boat race is  celebrated with great gusto as it enhances the reputation of the entire village. The boat races (with different kinds of boats) are conducted during the festival of Onam and the snakeboat race in particular is a huge tourist attraction. Each snakeboat  or Chundan Vallam takes up to 110 oarsmen, who row and chant responsively to the sound of  rhythmic drumbeats sounded by the drummer in the centre of the boat.  The technical methods for creating these Snake Boats are around 650 years old.  We saw an actual snakeboat during our river cruise and wondered how 110 people got into it without overbalancing and  falling into the water! It is so long and thin with narrow seats.  
Amina's commentary follows:
"It is chundan vallam for snake boat. The boat races are an example of how the locality based community irrespective of religion joined as a team, practised and fought for a title during the boat races which were initially scheduled on certain fixed Malayalam astrological stars in particular months. 
Aranmula Palliyodam and boat races are one of the oldest. Aranmula has a temple where Sabarimala Ayyappan's golden dress is kept and it is from this temple that the ornaments that adorn the idol is taken to Sabarimala from the Pandalam Palace where he was supposed to have been born from where he went to get tiger's milk for his mother." 

We saw the stands along the backwaters where the Nehru Trophy Boat Race is held in the Punnamada Lake near Alappuzha (Alleppey) Kerala, India.  It is a popular Vallam Kali event watched by huge numbers of tourists and people cheering their respective villages.

Amina's commentary "Harsh, it is a pity that you missed Vaikom temple on the banks of the same lake which paved way for the temple entry act. If you go to Ahmedabad and visit Gandhiji's museum you will see the letter he wrote on the occasion of the Maharaja of Travancore's proclamation on Temple entry for all. 
Another interesting geographical phenomenon in this lake is the part called  R Block which is below sea level." 
Readers may find it interesting to look this up on the internet. 

We also saw the famous Chinese fishing nets or Cheena vala. These are shore operated lift nets (20 metres wide, 10 metres high), stretched out on wooden beams.  The weight of a man walking on the main beam is enough to lower the net into the water.  The net is raised by pulling on ropes while a number of large rocks tied with rope on the other end act as counterweights to keep everything in balance.   The net is lowered into shallow water where a catch of a few fish and crustaceans is sold to passing tourists, to be cooked and served up by the various street vendors nearby. GR's writeup says that you can't find these nets anywhere else in the world apart from China and Kerala!
At another place during our river cruise, a solitary boatman stood guard over a large  (underwater) fishing net marked in a circle by plastic buoys.  Other boats respectfully gave the net a wide berth, so as not to disturb the fishing - both a livelihood and a daily food in Kerala.
Fishing comes naturally to local lads. See a young angler in the making!

As we cruised along, D.Kumar and Anthony got a game of Tambola going on our houseboat, and everyone competed for the various prizes with frequent requests to  D. Kumar to "shake it up please"!

By this time, the  appetizing aroma of fish being freshly fried was whetting everybody's appetite.  We had a refreshing drink of tender coconut water at an unscheduled stopover. Harsh jumped ashore and ferried the coconuts.

Soon a terrific spread of typical Kerala food was served up - Curry Meen  ( local Kerala fish) freshly fried, avial (a number of vegetables in a coconut stew), beetroot pachadi (grated beetroot boiled and seasoned, with curd), cabbage poriyal, beans poriyal  and rice, salads with pineapple slices, plus chicken (barely tasted as everyone enjoyed the fish so much and went back for seconds and thirds!). Amina adds "Curry meen is Kari mean which is pearl spot in English."  
The meal was topped off with fruit salad.

Ramya organised a game of Dumb Charades and it was entertaining to see the two teams acting and vying for points!

Time passed by so fast and soon we were served up some piping hot banana bajjis (fritters) made from the local Nendranga bananas - terrific!   

This was followed by tea.

On the homeward leg, Harsh took the wheel-- with many hearts skipping a beat as he navigated the houseboat through narrow passages and crossing house boats! He did steer us back safely!

Govindan and Kausi had to leave after the houseboat cruise but not before GR passed on the baton for the next get-together  to Govindan.  All too soon we were wending our way back to shore. 

We expressed our appreciation and thanks to the chef and the crew of our boat Gambit (Trixie had their names written down on a napkin but seem to have lost it) 

Harsh managed to get some choice shots of the houseboat while fitting us and the crew into the picture. 

Then it was back to our coaches and to our own Riviera Suites, just to have a quick bath and get back into the coaches for a 15 minute drive to the Naval Officer's Institute Kochi.  

Anthony livened up the evening with his old Hindi songs and Harsh got us all involved in an Anthakshari out of Valsura lingo - an entertaining game!  

We were served a delicious Chinese meal - soup, hot and sour chicken or vegetable; mushrooms; noodles and fried rice - all lightly cooked for the flavour to be retained. GR requested Mrs. Veena Khandekar to give away the  thoughtfully chosen mementoes - wooden Kathakali masks. The gracious institute has a lovely view of the sea, and its wooden interiors, and its rooms with names like Captain's Cabin, give it a distinctive nautical flavour which recalled our Naval days.  

The next day we had a hearty breakfast with Kerala specials and other dishes served up. Then it was time to bid goodbye to our friends as they left for their various destinations, with their minds already made up to meet again soon.

Our thanks again to GR and Anthony for a wonderful reunion of old friends.    Well done GR!  We had a wonderful time thanks to all your hard work.  

Hope you enjoyed the picture story written by Trixie.

Bye till the next outing with Ghumakkad!

    - Harsh/18th April 2014
________________ End of FFA Reunion Part-2 ______________