Reconnecting in Kerala

A December weekend in 2006, I decided to fly over to Trivandrum to visit my best friend from my school days. Bindu and I met during our early teens in Abu Dhabi and she was the first person to speak to me on my first day at my new school. We became friends instantly and I was happy to see that afternoon that she was also on my school bus route. During the three years we studied together, we formed a close friendship to the extent we considered ourselves sisters and drew up our own mutual adoption papers as sisters. When we moved back to our respective countries, I promised that I would visit her in Kerala within ten years. We did correspond frequently in the initial years but gradually our correspondence reduced to the occasional letter or card and then infrequent emails.

Bindu informed me one day that she would be visiting her family in Kerala for the December holidays. It was then that I decided that I would visit her over the Christmas weekend and fulfill my promise though it was a couple of years after my promised time-frame.

As I came out of the Trivandrum airport and scanned the faces of people waiting outside, I felt a slight unease in the event I did not recognize them in the crowd. Anyway, I saw a hand wave and I turned in that direction. There was my friend, holding her little 3-year old toddler. So many years had passed by but seeing her again, I felt time had not moved. That we were back in school as teenagers. She seemed outwardly unchanged. We found during the weekend that it was easy to reconnect and the years apart simply dropped off.

As we travelled south towards Kovalam where my friend had booked us for two days at a beach resort, my friend’s daughter gradually warmed up to her mother’s friend and by the time we got down at the hotel, she was happily chatting with me. Once her mother asked her to sit properly and hold onto the seat in front so that she wouldn’t get badly hurt if there was an accident. She also added that I had had an accident recently. Nikki listened to it gravely and then turned to me wide-eyed and asked, “You had an accident?” I nodded. She then asked, “You had an accident and died?” From that moment, she insisted that I hold on to the seat in front as well.

The first time I took out my camera and took a picture of her, she rushed to my side to look at the picture. She was used to the digital camera of her parents and could not initially understand that my camera did not show pictures on the screen. I asked her instead to look through the window and tell me what she saw. She started clicking on the buttons on top and suddenly the number in the counter started going down from ten. For a second, I thought she had pressed the manual rewind button and that the roll was rewinding but I soon realised that she had pressed the automatic button and so quickly turned the camera to face her. So, there was the first photo that Nikki took.

Nikki - first photoI told her that we would look around and if she felt that something was beautiful, she was to look through the camera window till she saw the same scenery she had liked and to press only the button on top. She excitedly looked around and chose the coconut tree in front and then a crow that flew past her and settled on the roof of the cottage in front. After a couple of photos, we told her that the camera needed rest and we would take more photos on the beach, later in the evening. She took it very seriously so much so that when I took some photos of her over lunch, she told me shaking her little head, “Not here. Outside on the beach.”

Nikki1Meal times were a delight as the little lady insisted on her high seat and she would sit up and converse with each of us and inquire if we liked our food. Her favourite at breakfast was fruit juice and she would always ask, “you don’t like juice?” if we didn’t take some juice as well. It was usually difficult though, getting her to the restaurant as there was a fork in the path we took from our rooms to the restaurant and one of the paths led to the beach. She was always more inclined to go down the beach path and had to be called back or carried to the restaurant. She didn’t like us spending time over meals, when we could be by the beach or going out for an outing.

Nikki3A beach ball was purchased for Nikki and she played with her parents on the beach to her heart’s content, while I kept clicking photos of them. I think Nikki’s favourite moments of the Kovalam visit would have been the beach ball games played with both her parents and the hammock which doubled up as a swing with her sitting in the middle, enjoying every minute of it.

Nikki2While I usually get tired quickly after a short time with children around, I found myself enjoying the time I spent with this child. Perhaps it was due to the fact that Nikki was my childhood best friend’s child and I found it fascinating to get to know her and discover glimpses of my friend in her and perhaps more because she was a naturally exuberant, cheerful, talkative yet sensitive child. She was more or less the star in the hotel we stayed at and there was an older North Indian couple, who always called her the leader. Nikki enjoyed making new friends and if she saw any girls, even if they were ten years older than her, would initiate the friendship with a “My name is Nikita. What’s your name?” and for the remaining duration of the new friend’s presence, she would be tagging along her friend, smiling at her and showing off her whatever of her mother’s things that she had happened to bring along.

Padmanabhasamy templeThe next day, we decided to visit Trivandrum. We had initially planned to visit Sri Padmanabhasamy temple. This temple is mentioned in ancient 5th century literature. However, the current structure was built in the 16th century. I am not sure why we decided to not visit the temple after arriving there but there was group consensus to instead visit the nearby Kuthiramalika palace museum. The palace, built in the 1840s by Maharaja Swati Thirunal Balarama Varma, was a beautiful, practical and spacious former royal home without any showy finishes. We walked through the spacious rooms where the royal family would have gathered for their meals, the King would have written an official letter or penned some poetry, the music and dancing room, the cradle where the royal child would have been rocked to sleep and the lovely horse carvings outside tiny windows. It was very cooling and homely in that palace as opposed to the rigid, crowded and formal settings of the palaces of the North that I had visited.

Kuthiramalika PalaceThe palace is partly open to visitors and continues to be a gathering of music connoisseurs as in the Maharaja’s days with an annual Carnatic and Hindustani music festival being held within the precincts of the palace every January.

The last morning of my lovely weekend in Kovalam, I walked around the beach enjoying being the only one on the beach. I heard devotional songs in Tamil and I was curious to know where it came from. I found a a small Murugan temple and walked in. A man at the temple gave me some prasadham and wrapped up some flowers, vibuthi (sacred ash), santhanam (sandalwood paste) and pottu (vermillion powder) in a tiny banana leaf and gave it to me. With the lovely smell of the temple still with me, I walked back to the hotel feeling content and blessed to have had this time to reconnect with a special friend and her family.

[I am linking this post to City Tripping #51, hosted by Wander Mum and Mummy Travels]