BY ZOHRA FATIMA
Everyone should delve deep down south into a recess of India to find salubrious Kerala at least once in a lifetime. A unique state that stands apart from the rest of the country by its own accord. Having spent almost half a decade in Kochi, what I saw, sensed, and suspired of the endless ethereal beauty and rich prospering culture will have a lasting reverberation perhaps, till the end of my life.
The place where the shores caress its edges, washing away the worries of tired souls and giving more than it takes, holding space for diversity of such magnificence that leaves one truly in awe of this heavenly abode and the people worthy of this place.
To every monsoon lover’s delight, this tropical place receives about 3000 mm of copious rainfall each year. The monsoon season is preceded by ferocious thunderstorms which gather pace and stir the clouds swiftly, this accompanied by the scent of freshly unfurled greenery and intoxicating petrichor. The gales sway the coconut trees in musical psithurism, the thunder and lightning encapsulate the last traces of balmy warm air as summer departs. Rapid changes happen on both the earth and sky in glorious tandem offering a mesmerizing view, thanks to the absence of concrete clusters. The storm in Kochi was once so strong, the wind dropped my wall clocks from their places and the time stood still for a moment! The summer’s parched air is cracked by the sound of musical Cicadas; the tropical monsoon crickets. Thus, we embarked on a dual monsoon season which began in June. The second monsoon re-surfaced in October after a short break. It was a boon for city dwellers and tourists. The light rain and cooler weather brought people from foreign countries to experience medicinal Ayurveda which is known to be more effective during this time. It was common to find an increasing number of Arabs dropping in as if it was their second home for ayurvedic treatments rendering Kochi as a mini gulf.
The rainy season ended with us taking a monsoon to walk around the fields and estates; Orchids bloomed on palm trees which grew alongside endless wet curvy paths covered in warm hues of foliage, citrus Pineapple farms were in full bloom and the ebbing the sound of crickets singing au revoir echoed through the rubber plantations. The mizzle gently prodded us back home.
It is considered unusual for someone who has lived in a metro to move to a place like Kochi as it always worked the other way around. With no picture in my mind’s eye of how life would be far away from home, there was no option but to let the place grow on me. And it did quite fast. Their language is labyrinthine, with English hardly being spoken and Malayalam a Dravidian language; an intricate mix of Sanskrit and a host of other south Indian languages proved to be quite a tongue twister. This was overcome by the warm attitude of the Keralites who varyingly but genuinely welcomed outsiders among their midst.
Year after year in Kochi was marked by visiting beautiful places in the vicinity and devouring the picturesque landscape. A ride from one point to another comprised of scenic backwaters dotted with Chinese fishing nets against the backdrop of a sunset. The sun spilled its orange glow and the waters stood mesmerized. The ride to the beach was more beautiful than the destination itself, accompanied by my thoughts as deep as the blue sea. The road to the shores is orchestrated into narrow trails with backwaters on one side and cool green paddy fields on the other side, bedecked with stunning avifauna to a bird watcher’s delight. Small island villages tucked away in the interiors were discovered to a green panther’s relish.
My homes during the long span of stay were in Ernakulam, mostly apartments facing open fields and as far as one’s eyes could take, you could see green hills. When it rained a mini lake would form in the fields as a splash pond for the ducks which had to be steered home by the farmer with a help of a Gondola shaped boat as the evening fell. The Greater Racket-tailed Drongo nested in a tree by the window woke us with its shrill mimics in the mornings. Scaly-breasted Munias lodged themselves in the balcony giving us a close peek into their circle of life. Most of my mornings were spent looking out of the window observing every detail, sipping on strongly brewed tea. Neighbours shared cuttings of passion fruit trees that were replanted in Bangalore and bore generous fruit. Fish fried in coconut oil became a staple and so did comfort food, red rice kanji.
What stands out about this place though is the communal harmony- the people living in this place possessed it as a natural intrinsic quality. Every strange person is referred to by the name Chetta meaning brother, or Chechi– as in a sister. This created a feeling of instant brotherhood and unity. They firmly stand united irrespective of caste, creed, or culture. Bonded peacefully in the delight of one culture and language, though dialects and customs vary from place to place within the state. Keralites choose to see no differences, rather abide together celebrating with consonance their mere existence. Kerala is the pride of its people and the people live up to the pride of ‘God’s own Country’.
For me, termed as then -a naïve girl, this place was a Metamorphosis. It gifted me healing. I anticipated my daughter for 9 months and birthed her in a hospital room overlooking the backwaters, that very day I stopped living for myself. We raised her there for 2 years with the strength I gathered from marvelling at the creator and his awe-inspiring creation. This place gave me too much to be put in words. Leaving Cochin also meant losing a special part of my life, but the deep friendships fostered a hope to last a lifetime. The Spring now in Bangalore reminds me I have to shed my leaves which are symbolic of sepia memories, yet in the same spaces sprout new experiences and the new life from buds that emerge coloured with a twinge of a rich past. This is a result of greater life choices we have to make, to continue the grand journey forward in humbleness while being true to oneself; to a place where our soul truly belongs.
Zohra Fathima is a teetotaller, a photography aficionado and a nature lover. Right now she’s very busy living her life through the eyes of her feisty 2-year-old. She’s also a baker at heart and a writer by accident.