Our flight to Zagreb, Croatia is in the early morning on Wednesday. We are about to wrap up more or less a whole month in India, and I am feeling ambivalent about it. There were plenty of good things about this country, and I’m grateful for the experience of it all. At the same time, I want to get off my chest two very troubling experiences that I keep thinking about.
One of the things that frustrated me the most here was something that I had already mentioned about Thailand. There, Steve and I both felt relegated to the realm of the tourist, instructed firmly to follow the route that was laid out as though at Disneyland. Here, it is more the role of the tourist that I cannot escape. Walking down the street in both Delhi and Amritsar, I was constantly targeted and invited to walk into a shop, take a taxi, or buy something. It got to the point where I was constantly on the verge of yelling “DO I LOOK I LIKE I NEED A TAXI?!” and Steve started cultivating a stupid or sad look so no one would approach him. There were so few places we could go where people would just let us be. The expectation of personal space or privacy itself was a joke, unless we were locked inside our hotel room. People constantly offered us things or services to buy, not because we actually needed it or could use it, but because we were walking ATMs. I have never felt so dehumanized in my life. A little of it can be brushed off, but I fully admit that I take things too personally, and by the time we left northern India, I was entirely drained.
This is the second post to wrap up our beautiful backwaters trip in Kerala, with a few more details about our trip and what we learned from the entire experience.
The Morning After
The next morning, we got up fresh and early. I had set an alarm for 6:30 am, as I didn’t want to miss an iota of the rising sun. Kerala is beautiful too in the morning, a morning haze covering the fields and hanging over the canals before the sun burnt it off. We enjoyed the quiet, watching fishermen who were wrapping up their night labors, paddle home with fish in their baskets. By a morning cup of tea, I made a few more watercolors, including one that I’m very proud of, featuring the sunrise. I had so much fun doing this landscape art and looking at them closely. They’re far from perfect, but I have a sense of accomplishment in that when I look at them again, I feel as though I am out there on the water again.
Written on a houseboat Alleppey, Backwaters of Kerala Evening, Friday, March 21
Close your eyes. This is the sound of summer in your ears. Different insects chirping and singing their song. Vague voices raised far off, traveling and echoing across the water. Wild dogs yip and howl. The rhythmic thunk of a paddle meeting the water. The faint and indecipherable rustle of the breeze over your ears. The night is quiet on the backwaters of Kerala.
We moored a scant hour before sunset and watched the sun, a glowering fireball, set on the horizon. In this part of the backwaters, vast squares and trapezoids of rice paddy fields lie divided by narrow walls and spacious freshwater canals. The fields are slightly lower than the canals and can be flooded by opening gates. Along the confluence of two narrow canal walls are a few rectangular houses clustered together. When we moored, a villager came by unspooling an armful of electrical cords to hook up our houseboat. Accompanied by two of the enthusiastic young dogs (one who took up his post outside our houseboat, thumping the window with his good natured tail), we took a brief walk along the canal walls, making the acquaintance of a rooster hidden in a tree and two cows, or more specifically, water buffalo (with curved horns) who stared unblinkingly at us, as though daring us to come closer. One of the villagers hailed us, and upon finding out where we were from, excitedly told us his daughter was in Atlanta, GA and that a cousin of his operated a boat in Chicago on Lake Michigan. A very small world, indeed.
Since we arrived in Kochi by the train last week, I have found it very easy to lose track of the days. We are here for nearly two weeks in Kerala, which is an exquisitely relaxing place, I am happy to report. Last Thursday, we stumbled off the train and took a tuk-tuk ride to our homestay (an Indian B&B) in Fort Kochi, on the tip of the island where it meets the Indian Ocean. Our room has a small balcony on one side, and on the other, a small sunny verandah that holds a few tables and shared as a communal breakfast space.
From where we like to sit, I can see the flower pots on the edge of the verandah, a few rooftops next door, lines of laundry, the green tops of coconut trees and a hazy blue sky. Our second day here, I sat out in the heat to do a brief watercolor of it, which I’m going to pass on making public for now. Truthfully, my photography skills still far exceed whatever I can do on paper, but it’s relaxing to work on mixing the right shade of green and drawing miniature palm leaves. Kerala is a jungle-like environment. A few nights ago, we shared drinks and a long conversation about India on the balcony. As we talked, we saw and heard bats flapping from palm to palm. There is a strange birdcall sometimes, like a whooperwill (or maybe just what I think a whooperwill sounds like). Steve scoffed and said it was fake at first – that’s how weird it sounded to us. And there are crows all over the place too.