My father didn’t get along with most in our extended family. So there were very few occasions that we had, as kids of spending time with our cousins. Those occasional opportunities, for that very reason, stay fresh in the mind.
When my own kids were growing up, the annual vacation in Kerala was looked forward to keenly because it meant a lot of fun with their cousins .
In Delhi,where we worked and lived, it would be the peak of Summer, with dry hot Loo winds blowing in from the Rajasthan deserts (do any of you remember learning about the local winds in your geography lessons? The names I remember are those of The Mistral, Chinook and Sirocco)
Dust-storms were a regular feature , with just an occasional shower which would temporarily settle down the dust.
In the initial years after I settled down in Delhi, the journey home used to be very long and tiring. The train traversed the entire length of the country from the North to the South. By the time it reached Andhra Pradesh on the second day , across which it would chug along the whole day, the temperatures would be really high and in the second class compartment, the passengers would be listless and less talkative. Many would carry along with them earthenware water- carriers , which would often topple over because of the movement of the crowd and then, to avoid the place getting all wet and dirty, newspapers would be hastily spread out on the floor.
Yes, even the reserved compartments would be crowded because the closing down of school for the Summer vacations meant that almost all of the homesick Keralites would be headed to their home state. There at this time of the year, the monsoons would have arrived and to be able to breathe in the wetness in the air and feast one’s eyes on the greenery was considered well worth the patient waiting in long queues even before the arrival of dawn, or sometimes the whole night, in front of the reservation counters, three months in advance, to get your tickets booked and the tiresome , long journey.
Later on , one became entitled to free Ac travel, courtesy my job in the Railways and to make it even more enjoyable , the route now went along the Konkan stretch along the Western coast of the Southern Peninsular region with the Western Ghats on one side. If the monsoons had already commenced, the whole topography would become mesmerisingly beautiful, with the hills of the Western Ghats in the distance, being covered in blue mists, paddy being sown , or already standing high in the fields, the rain splashing across the glass windows of the coach or pounding on the roof and rivulets of red muddy water springing up and flowing along , all through the landscape.
Funtimes that one month was, both for us adults and the kids, catching up with family and loads of good stuff to devour.
Now when my nieces and nephews have all grown up and between them have a nice bunch of kiddos, one didn’t have to think too long before deciding to join in on the vacation trip that they had planned . Coorg was the destination , which comes alive during the monsoons.Both Kannur , my hometown , where they had all gathered and the holiday destination , are not far from where I am now settled in Bangalore.
But then, the rains have been playing truant this year and the whole of June had gone by with just a few miserly showers. It was a long drive from Kannur to Coorg in two fully packed vehicles.
Fortunately, the weather decided to be at its benign best and it did rain and nicely at that.
The place they had booked was a home-stay near Madikkeri called Indraprastha-The Willows.
The owners, Prasad Kariappa and Meen Kariappa, were a very friendly couple. Their kids had grown up and settled in different places. The gentleman had started building this place thirty years ago. “He is still not done with it”, the wife complained.
“It is his passion and he goes on and on, adding this or that. But maintenance is such a problem. We don’t get workers nowadays to attend to even the plumbing problems”
Their home is beautiful inside, with the entire walls done with wood panelling. They didn’t have to buy a single piece of wood and every bit came from their holdings which spread over fourteen acres of land, in which the dwelling stands and another forty acres of plantation elsewhere in which coffee, pepper, arecanut and cardamom are being grown.
“My daughter says, we should plant at least a thousand trees to compensate for the ones that had been cut down for the house”, Meena told us with a half smile.
The homestay facility was upstairs. There was enough space for all of us to be accommodated. There were a few plumbing issues and no, it was not swanky in any sense. Maintenance did indeed seem to be a problem. The place reminded me of Meryl Streep’s place in “Mama Mia”
It was evening by the time we reached there .The crickets arranged for a really loud orchestra to welcome us. It was far away from the main road and there were no other sounds of the city encroaching on us at the getaway.
We had an early dinner , with plans to accompany Mr. Prasad on his morning tour through his plantation. Had lots of fun playing dumb charades before hitting the bed.
I slept like a log, but in the morning there were tales to be told by some of the others of a cat slinking in through the gap between the eaves and the roof and jumping on to the dining table and eating up quite a large chunk of the bread. As the door had been kept open at sunset time, mosquitoes had also found their way in keeping some awake with their buzzing and bits.
We went to Thalakavery the next morning, the plantation trip having been given up because the Boss wasn’t feeling too well. Then to the Abby Falls post lunch.
Before we came away , we spent some time chatting with the pleasant couple. Their drawing room was now a mini-museum of sorts. He had been collecting tools and other articles related to their early ways of life, mostly associated with farming and mostly made from bamboo and cane. There were contraptions to catch fish, to castrate bulls, to collect cow-dung from the behinds of the cattle that would stray in the fields , even before they hit upon the ripe grains that were waiting to be harvested, hulls for the oxen, caskets of cane , a bamboo hat that would cover the head and back, of those working in the fields , as they bent down to sow or add manure or harvest the crop, an old kerosene lamp, pouches and an old suitcase and lots of other stuff. He brought out a double barrelled gun too which had been with the family for a very long time and the dagger like weapon which was part of their traditional attire. The handle of the knife had been carved in ivory by Mr. Kariappa himself. Carving was his passion and there were many other items there , which he had carved out of wood.
They belonged to the Kodava group, who were the original inhabitants of Coorg. Later on, tribal populations from Wynad and Tamil Nadu had been brought in to work on their farms and these tribal settlers had then become part of the demography of Coorg , as had those who had come in to do and set up shops and other business ventures.
“Now we have become the minority and we have been given none of the concessions that have been made available to the others. We are now fighting for being included in the OBC list and also for autonomy. We’ll be going to Delhi In November to sit in protest at the Jantar Mantar” in the capital city,New Delhi.
Coorg or Kodagu , had in fact been declared as an independent state in 1950 . It was later on that it was made part of Karnataka, Meena told us. She did most of the talking . She had a very lively and friendly presence. Her husband was happy to fill in . No, he was not from the Army , he replied with a smile when we remarked upon his moustache. He and his four brothers had all along been working on their plantations.
Take note, the 14 acres plus 40 acres had been the share of this one brother alone.
So why would they need any concessions, then? We asked politely. We were indeed curious.
“People like us are the fortunate few. Most of the Kodava people are poor, many even below the poverty line. It is for them that we are fighting now. “, Meena explained.
One learnt from the material available on the Internet that land reforms had led to many of the erstwhile landowners , having had to give up much of their land, gradually leading them to penury.
It was a good break, all told and my grandson Zo had a whale of a time.
Nothing like travel to fill in the time taken off from the regular classes in school.