Every time a school holiday comes around, we book a flight to the South Indian state of Kerala, because my wife wishes to rediscover her roots.
She is a Malayali who has never lived in Kerala, and I have tried unsuccessfully to dissuade her from going there for a holiday by saying that no one lives in that state; everyone is either in Dubai or in Dhahran, on the eastern coast of Saudi Arabia, or in Bengaluru.
Long ago, much before the Saudis had made it mandatory that name boards over shops should be in Arabic, groceries, eateries and barber shops had signs in Malayalam and it was like living in Little India, but with a deep south Indian touch.
The hypermarket we frequent in Bengaluru is run by Keralites, and they even speak Dakhni Urdu, just like the Bangalorean Muslims, who go “Woich”, “Arey” and “Kaiko”? (“That only”, “Bah” and “Why”?)
“How can you discover your roots when everyone is living elsewhere,” I tell my wife desperately. “See, even Arundhati Roy (author of ‘The God of Small Things,” a hilarious and bittersweet tale about Syrian Christians in Kerala) is living in Kolkata,” I say.
Last time we went to Kochi (earlier known as Cochin) we stayed in a hotel near the port and every time we went out for a walk there was a stray dog (which was not an Indian breed) lying asleep nearly in the middle of the road, as there was practically no traffic, except for a few autos (Tuk Tuks).
There was a rail station nearby whose roof was disintegrating in the frequent rains and humidity and the train tracks slowly disappeared into a field of tall, wild grass. Kochi reminded me of my deadly boring hometown, Secunderabad, where nothing much happened after 7pm, and all you heard were train whistles in the distance as they passed by far away into the darkness.
This time we are off to the city of Thiruvanthapuram, that has maybe a few letters less than an Irish town. (Have you heard about Muckanaghederdauhaulia? Just don’t try to pronounce the name).
I am not sure what either the name of the Irish town or the Kerala town means.
The good thing about flying from Bengaluru to Kerala is the short flight duration. Sometimes, if you are lucky and the wind is behind you, like the army guy behind you in the queue at the cinema, the one hour flight to Trivandrum can be done in 50 minutes, and the pilot usually makes the announcement proudly about the early arrival.
Kochi reminded me of my deadly boring hometown, Secunderabad, where nothing much happened after 7pm, and all you heard were train whistles in the distance as they passed by far away into the darkness
The shortest flight I ever took was, if I remember correctly, between Dubai and Muscat, Oman. By the time I adjusted the seat after the seat belt sign went off and was trying to get up to go to the toilet, the cabin crew went whooshing past me and brought in the snacks tray and everything was a blur, and as I was trying to bite into the terrible cold sandwich, the sign came back on that we should buckle up as we are landing.
Still, this is better than taking the longest flight ever from New York to Sydney, Australia. The record ultra long haul flight remained in the air for nearly 20 hours and studies were done to find out how such flights affect passengers and crew. (Presumably there were no bawling babies on board).
Researching about Trivandrum, I found that a Times of India survey showed that it is the best city in Kerala to live. It is the capital of the Indian state and has many government offices. Desperately, I asked a friend living there to advise about places to visit. He laughed.
Sometimes, the best way to rediscover your roots is to sit at home and query about your relatives.
— Mahmood Saberi is a storyteller and blogger based in Bengaluru, India. Twitter: @mahmood_saberi