At Cochin’s Nedumbassery Airport I am divested of my multipurpose Swiss knife. Baah, it’s sad day for me. I love that knife, a reliable travelling companion, and just today had cut and eaten an apple with it. The woman in security is so efficient, ‘There’s a Swiss knife sir,’ she says with confident arrogance. Again my bag goes into the scanner. ‘There’s a packet of blade in it,’ and I produce that too, rather sheepishly, I might add. I will miss you my sweet Swiss knife.
That said; I am a great lover of airport lounges. I don’t mind flights being delayed, as I don’t want the journey to begin, far less, to end. The ideal air journey for me is an unending wait at the airport lounge, a smooth take off, and oh! I don’t like landings and the thought of going home or anywhere else, that would be an end to the bliss of watching so many types of people, so many technologies at work, so many giant birds taking off in flight, the smooth docking, the flurry of ancillary vehicles, the uniformed attendants and stewardesses. One such celestial beauty in a pant and suit of spotless red is gallivanting rather pertly with her panty lines showing. All adds to the experience of an airport lounge, I might say here for posterity.
Nedumbassery Airport is spic compared to the railway stations I have been through. At Panvel, on the way to Kerala, I cringe to find the three-tier air-conditioned coach crowded with children and passengers on reservation against cancellation (RAC), that a haze comes over my eyes. I am not even in RAC, I am in waiting list, and don’t have a right to be there. I cringe some more. My wife has excellent public relations, which comes handy in such situations. (She can remember [teacher, being she] names, faces, names of children, where they are studying, in which standard, etc. etc.) My public relations is non-existent, and I hardly know anyone in the compartment, though I am supposed to be a writer, poet and blogger. Fame has evaded me thus far. Grumble! Grumble!
Two families known to my wife are in the compartment and spring to her help and offer her seats with them. She accepts the offer of a friend from Belapur and adjustments are made. My son becomes friendly with the friend’s son, leaving me friendless, sitting at the door of the train in my Kakadu shorts (the memory of “Animal” of Indra Sinha’s “Animal’s People” still lingers in the memory). Sometimes I stand at the space near the toilet and talk to another guy who, a member of the ultra-religious Pentecostal sect, actually confesses to me that he runs a used-car racket in Kerala. Some confession by a professed believer!
Oh, misery thy name is Indian Railways! The small compartment is humming with the talk of so many people, almost like a beehive: young, old, and the little monsters. One such monster, sitting beside me, terrorises his mother and even publicly beats her up, yet she doesn’t scold him. A man says, ‘In our days, we never used to stir in front of our parents.’ Is it a sign of the times? There are a few monsters down the aisle and the monsters are conspiring to take over and spread chaos on the train, but sleep mercifully confines a few to their berths. What a lucky escape!
A woman is talking Mack English in a persistently high-pitched tone. Her words are simple commands to her children like, “I told you so many times to wash your hands, no, you don’t listen only.” The odd thing is: the way it comes out, it seems forced and self-conscious in the extreme. Does she ever shut her mouth for a few minutes? As author Yann Martel once famously asked, “Do they have periods of silence in their lives, periods when they think, introspect, read, and write something? I don’t know. I guess we Indians have sacrificed the art conversation to the urgent need to make ourselves understood.
I had a few glorious days at my wife’s sister’s beautiful house in Keezhvaipur. The stillness of the morning, warmth of the afternoon, and the convectional rainfall in the evening lull me into a soporific feeling when I sprawl on the easy chair in the porch. The rain in the evening makes the thickly populated topography even greener than it was a day before. From where I am comfortably ensconced I can see teak, rubber, coconut palm, arecanut and jackfruit trees. (My online friend Chryselle tells me that Jackfruit is derived from the Malayalam word “Chakka”, which became “Jaca” in Portuguese and was again corrupted to Jackfruit in English.) These are the ones I can identify, there’s a forest-like profusion of trees around me. It is pleasantly cool, even cold in the night. Nights are full of the cheeping, droning sounds of frogs and crickets and morning come alive with the call of the Cuckoo.
Ah, in this paradise, truly god’s country, full of his heavenly munificence, there’s frustration, too. The causes cannot be elaborated in full here, or anywhere. Why is the Malalyali such a demon for drinks and addictions? Why has Kerala become a land of unfulfillment though it is fulfilled by nature? Every Malayali these days are into some kind of addition, no, multiple ones. At Aluva I see a man walk into a shop demanding to be served lemonade. His eyes are bloodshot, popping out like eggs, and below it are bags that can easily hold a pouch of tobacco, which he orders next. Obviously, he is trying to control last night’s excessive consumption of the local potion – arrack.
I have seen men become so disoriented that they consume in excess with a vengeance, as if drinking can exorcise the demons. And there are sad stories plenty for the migrant workers who have returned from the Persian Gulf, Bombay, Delhi and other parts of the world: malignment, persecution and ill treatment. Women are distraught when their men get together for a tipple as the result is over-drinking and over-eating that eventually lands up in a hospital bed.
The truth is Kerala has a big addiction problem that keeps the liquor, medical and local mafias in business. The mafia has its hands in everything. A ‘quotation’ racket is unearthed, the television at Nedumbassery Airport informs me. ‘Quotation’ is the name given to contract killing. It is easy to get somebody killed in Kerala; all it takes is a few thousand rupees and the services of a few goons like the ones I am watching now. Finito! Life is cheap.
At Aluva I spend a night in a roach-infested hotel, which boasts of an air-conditioner, which wheezes but doesn’t reduce the temperature a bit. There aren’t rooms to be had anywhere else. The next day I see the new Kerala at Nedumbassery Airport, from where I am writing this. There are well-dressed people everywhere. Even the Mundus and saris are carefully starched and worn with élan. There are smells of expensive perfumes, and the waiting lounge glitters in the glow of a thousand fluorescent tubes.
At last my flight DN 819 to Mumbai is announced. I am now shutting my Word file on my Nokia E61i with some reluctance. My bird is ready and the journey back to the daily grind has begun.
(Pictures uploaded from my mobile phone using Shozhu’s proprietary software.)