A Day Out In Kannur
Around 6.30 AM. As our bus halts and we suspect that its time to get down, we hear the bearded man in the bus asking everyone who has come for Shaji's marriage to get down at this stop. His spirits seem so high this early morning that we wonder whether the whole of kannur is celebrating our friend's marriage. His tone is so friendly that we suspect either we'd met him somewhere before or he is a close relative of Shaji, both proves untrue as we come to know he is the Ullas chettan of Ramya travels. He leads us to hotel Plaza, arranges rooms, informs us of the plans for next morning and departs.
Soon Shinu arrives at the hotel. He is our dear friend, Shaji's cousin, a true son of kannur, our host for this trip. The marriage is tomorrow, so we have a full day before that to experience kannur.Among the first things we do on the first morning of every trip to a new place in kerala is to find a shop that is open and ask that very important question - chetta, ividey soap kittumo (can we get soap here)? This time we find one near the railway station and we hear the (in)famous kannur accent in response. The usage and pace is so different from that spoken even a little south that some people fidn it difficult to accept it is indeed malayalam, but we do not have much of a difficulty following it as we had been receiving training on this art form from our dear guru Shinu pattar for the past 2-3 years.
We chat a little. Jimmychan, in his inimitable style of telling stories, recollects some of the funny incidents at college. Like that of santhachi's live wires and bulbs that came down together and almost touched a terrified Chacko's head. And the serial blast of fuses that their group accomplished in the electrical lab. It's yet another nostalgia session, but we decide to cut it short as it threatens to engulf the day. Santhachi reminds us that this year is the tenth anniversary of our first meeting and we take a pledge to celebrate it later during the year with a trip. We also thwart each other's attempts to sleep and thus finally successfully get ready for the day out.
Shinu suggests that we have breakfast at any of the Indian Coffee Houses nearby and we allege that his soft corner for them is because their history has a red tinge. Meanwhile we also get reminded of the taste and friendly ambiance that ICHs all over kerala are famous for and almost decide to go there but then santhachi is suddenly struck by kannur nostalgia. He remembers clearly a hotel near Caltex which serve delicious appams. No other place on earth would satisfy him today morning. We set out and reach the whereabouts. As we get out from the car, we see not one but three small adjacent hotels. Sometimes the present images have much lesser clarity than the past ones. Which among these is the haven of appams? Santhachi closes his eyes and meditates for a second. Then he points to the rightmost one. We rush inside and start taking count of the number of appams that would be needed for the first round. The waiter approaches us and we place our order only to get the reply that no appams are served there. Disillusioned we walk out. Now that pattern matching has failed, we resort to brute force. We enquire at the counter of adjacent hotel and get similar answer. We check out the next and get the response that there are no appams but there are idiyappams. Shinu opines that there are better things to do in kannur than searching for appams and so we settle for the compromise solution. Idiyappams and Uppumavu.
After breakfast, Shinu takes us to a place very close to his heart. It is now a tourist spot called Payyambalam sea view but long before it became so, it had been Shinu pattar's private retreat. He tells us that the rocks, the coconut trees, and the sea all know him and his story very well for he had been speaking to them for many years. We move along the walkway and enjoy the view of the splendid Arabian sea. Santhachi takes out his SLR and gets into action while Cinish discovers that he had forgotten to bring his. We walk over the majestic sea wall. Shinu talks about the big effort that would have gone into building that wall, couple of decades ago, and we agree only after we make him repeat it a few times. We see rocks that have been shaped and re-shaped by the never-satisfied sculptor called the sea. We reach the Shinu paara (Shine rock). This is Where Shinu pattar used to meditate, about love, justice and the universe, with a bottle in yle left hand and a dinesh beedi in the right. We see men fishing for kallumakkaya. Shinu points to the coconut trees and asks us a question - why have all those trees grown to approximately the same height and have the same curve?. And he himself gives us a beautiful answer - it's the music of the waves that shape them like the songs of a mother. Some distance away, we see a coconut tree that has failed to grow and this time we immediately find the reason. We tell Shinu that he should not sing near coconut trees in future.
We leave the sea and travel towards Shinu's village. We pass through historic parts of the town. We see the central jail to our right where many a true socialist leader (including E.M.S Namboodiripad) have been imprisoned. We also recollect some of the films that have been shot there like Sadhayam. Shinu laments that the rest of kerala has a totally wrong impression of kannur these days. Though it strikes us as truth, the rest of us are bent on instigating Shinu to talk more, and we remind him of some of the incidents of violence that happened here int he recent past. We pass over the Valappattanam bridge. The river below looks majestic and huge. It's the home ground, or rather the home river, of Shinu the swimmer and the rower. We take a right turn and immediately feel the freshness of village air.
We are greeted by election banners, coconut trees and glimpses of valapattanam river. Shinu parks the car and leads us to yet another of his favourite spots. We sit on the bench inside the hut. We order for lime juice, deep fried puyyapla and kappa. Shinu talks about the place and its offerings and how they change in taste and effect as time passes from dawn to dusk. And we later wintness some of them. Some get touched by its purity and may suddenly turn honest. Some get soothed by its coolness and may start crying. Some get intellectually stimulated and may become physicists and philosophers. Some may not feel anything and will be left wondering about their limits. Some decide to buy curd, do to the shop and ask for milk, and come back with a cigarette. We order for more and more, deeper and deeper fried, puyyaplaas until we are informed that there are none left. A photo is clicked, a phone call is attended, a glass is broken, stories are shared, every moment is enjoyed.
When the Valappattanam river comes to our immediate right, Shinu's mother's house comes to our immediate left. It is here he spent a large part of his conscious childhood and youth. The river bank opposite his house is where he did his first paid job, that of poozhi vaaral (taking sand from river bed). Shinu points to his room, the staircase room near the balcony. On moonlight nights that balcony facing the river would be a paradise. We climb the small elevation to reach Shaji's house. Shinu plays the big-brother on some kids around and says it is necessary to continue getting respect. We meet Shaji and try the usual friends-of-manavalan numbers. He seems to have lost some weight and we attribute it to anticipation. We see the wedding saree and jewellery and pass our comment on them, following the tradition of usual visitors there, though none of our mothers would have any positive opinion of our knowledge in this domain. We see a poster on the wall with Shaji's and his fiancee Liji's photos. A new marriage item such posters, we remark. We quench our thirst with lime juice and then proceed to unniyappams, kuzhalappams, bananas and tea.
We come down and enter Shinu's house. The bus journey was tiring thanks to the quality of the road. It is noon and it is hot. Hindu marriages in kerala and cricket matches at kochi have one thing in common - most of them happen in peak summer. We find that there's no one else there in the house. And we find a room with cool marble flooring and a ceiling fan. We sleep deeply until we are called for lunch. We boast that our stomachs are at the brink of overflow due to the morning extravaganza but nevertheless show no much reluctance to go to the lunch table. And once there, the morning ceased to exist. Every session has to begin afresh. says Captain Rahul Dravid about test match innings, but same is the case with food says Captain Jimmychan. After lunch we come down and chat near the river. Shaji gets a call on his mobile and he has that peculiar smile on his face. It cannot be any one else but his fiancee. He passes on the mobile to us and we talk a little about how thin he has become, about the arrangements he had done in bangalore, about how we would be an integral part of their future lunches. At this last subject she grows tense and we give the cell back to Shaji.
Shaji has a cold which threatens to continue to next day. Having it on a marriage day is bad, especially in the times of the video recording. He goes for medicines while We help Shinu with cleaning plantain leaves which will be used for serving dinner. There's some interesting conversation between Shinu and babuvettan handling the plantain leaves, which seemed to a unique mixture of different feelings for one another and for the world at large. Shinu, in an innocent bid to get us out of the activity, constantly reminds them that other village youths would be coming later and they would be disappointed if they are not given some work. After touching the count of 300 leaves, we take leave, come down and contemplate on our next action plan. We vote for a boat ride against a swim in the river. Our dear host Shinu pattar is sent to one of his friends' houses to look for a boat. After some time we see him on the river rowing a vanji (small boat) steadily and majestically towards us and we are delighted.
It is a small boat of capacity four or five. First Cinish, Santhosh and myself get into the boat, Shinu rows and rows and with every passing minute we appreciate more and more his power, stamina and expertise. He feels quite natural and ordinary while we feel adventurous. There are a few shakes now and then and our captain chides us and enforces strict codes of conduct in the boat like the sitting positions. We enjoy the clear water and the green banks. He calls out to the rower passing near us and tells him that he's giving us a ride and he responds back, the voice is so clear, Our voice travels a greater distance with clarity when we are on water says experienced captain. We share stories of the other few boat journeys we've had. Shinu talks about the different kinds of boats and the level of difficulty balancing them. We boast of our swimming abilities. The only problem we say, are our shoes, mobile phones and purses. Nevertheless we discuss the best strategy to follow to get saved by others. Just leave your hair to me, says Shinu, but don't try to grab me or do anything stupid, and I will take you to the bank. All this time he keeps the boat quite close to the bank, that's what we call sense. We reach a bank and tie the boat. We have tea, moru soda, and some snacks with unknown names. Seeing the oar in Cinish's hands the tea waalah asks if Shinu is training us in rowing. He replies that he is training us in the art of sitting in the boat without toppling it. We get into the boat and start our journey back,
Next Jimmychan and Binoy maaman gets into the boat. They set off in another direction. Its nevertheless unbalanced and Jimmychan's end is very slose to water level. We remind ourselves of the classic jimmychan dialogue when we were teasing him about his belly - you can all make fun, but you do know not how difficult it is to maintain a belly. We see a bigger boat near the bank resting. We get into it and lie on the planks. And santhachi starts imagining real-life action scenarios. Suppose when we are lying down like this, and we see a coconut coming down straight at us, what should be our strategy? Suppose there are two of them coming from two sides and any of them can possibly hit you? Suppose in addition to the two coconuts there is also the ola madal coming down. Suppose there's a momentary cyclone and the entire tree is coming down and so on. Cinish meticulously develops action packed strategies to deal with each of the scenarios. Binoy and Jimmy return after their ride and we tell the about our deep discussion. Jimmychan in turn tells us that they were in the same boat earlier and have a lot of questions with them too. Like that of the coin in the mug in the water in the bucket. And of cork in the mug in the water in the bucket and so so on. Well sometimes the effect of a majestic river on water body starved city citizens is quite unpredictable.
We walk a little in search of more experiences. In front of every house we pass, Shinu has a true life story to tell, a connection to be made, an incident to recollect ... At some of them he coos and gets cooed back. At every shop he has questions to ask and answer. We see some youth high in election spirits and they complains about Shinu's absence in pre election days. Shinu talks about his feeling that the village is not as it was. He says that there are too many people who are jealous of each other these days and We contend that it is natural when people know each other so well. He laments the decrease in honesty and sensitivity, and we say that it is nothing specific to this place just that its probably more visible due to the close interaction. We return to the age-old village-versus-town comparisons, something most keralites cannot avoid thinking about.
We reach Shaji's house back and accept our next responsibility with glee. It is vegetable biriyani this time and we find it very tasty yet again befitting the day. We are in fast mode this time, as we have more plans for the day. Binoy maaman is the first one to get ready for next action, his most favourite of all till date, and exhorts the rest of us for the same though we are running short on time. Luckily Shinu gets some job to be done in town, so we get a lift. We reach Sangeeth theatre 15 minutes late, but we are confident that nothing much would have been missed. A film is yet another integral part of our kerala trips together so we could not miss one this time even if it meant watching thuruppu gulan. The film has little story or thought to offer and some of the intended comic scenes just fizzle out. Nevertheless we enjoy the film because it is performing above our low expectation levels and perhaps also because we're watching it at one-fourth the bangalore cost. Mammotty as usual is rollicking in his enhanced glamour and peak form at 52 years of age.
It is midnight and we start walking back. We stop an auto and Binoy, Jimmychan and Cinish get into it. Santhachi and myself continue walking and we reach a junction full of action. We see many people eating hot midnight puttu and mutta at a thattukada. Santhachi laments the lack of night life in Bangalore. We ask for tea and do not get it. Santhachi senses future business opportunity (sell his midnight tea right here) but for now we continue walking and searching for a tea shop. The auto which took the rest of us to hotel comes back and asks us to get in. We say we would rather walk, but he says he has committed to our friends that he would take us to the hotel and seemed to be too much a man of honor to break his word. So we get into the auto and on the way, near the railway station, we spot a tea shop open. After getting down at the hotel, and seeing a satisfied auto driver face, we walk back to the shop and order two full tea.
We reach our room around 00.30 AM. There's no water in the tap, so we wake up the poor boy and ask him to switch on the motor. Water is the most wonderful material thing that one can ever get on earth. Especially if the one is in kerala and it is April. After the bath we switch on the TV and browse malayalam channels. We reach Kiran T.V and get stuck there. A beautiful collection of film songs is being played, selected mostly from the eighties and early nineties. We lie down listening to the sweet songs and wondering what else this remarkable day has in stock for us still..0nnam raagam paadi, melle melle mukhapadathil, sundaree ee thumbu kettiyitta, idayaraaga ramanadukham, aayiram kannumaayi, ezhuswarangalum thazhuki, thumbivaa, arikil nee undayirunnenkil ... somewhere along the melody journey our conscious part of the day comes to an end.