Saturday, October 22, 2011

A fiesta of silence

How a mall-hopping city girl discovered the joy of doing nothing in an idyllic village near Mangalore

When the plans for the short family holiday to Thottam in Karnataka were being made, I began to panic.

“Would there be a Western loo?”
“Would there be an attached bath?”
“Would there be a bath at all!??”
Panic. Panic. Panic.

My kind father-in-law gauged my fears and tried to convince me that our stay would be comfortable. I nodded politely, even as I envisioned giant mosquitoes airlifting my two-year-old son during one of those notorious power cuts that Indian villages are plagued with.

I’d never been to a village before; so I packed every conceivable necessity, imagining perhaps a wilderness where nothing could be bought. After all, it is impossible to survive without toilet paper, isn’t it? I prayed that the several packets of mosquito repellant creams and coils, and anti-tan lotions, and instant noodles that I had packed would be enough to tide us through three days. At one point I even considered packing some eggs along, but if Hindi movies are to be believed, all villages have chickens (and hence eggs). Phew!
The day of the journey arrived, and I resignedly sat into the car that was to take us to the Mumbai domestic airport. I imagined being stuck in a remote setting, with no comforting commercial hubbub, and rustic villagers for company. I couldn’t be more wrong.

But the end of the hour-long Mumbai-Mangalore flight brought with it the first of many surprises. Mangalore has a table-top airport (called the Bajpe airport) and appears from nowhere as your eyes are busy scanning the ground from the airplane window, still many feet below. The view is beautiful after the landing, as is the 60-minute taxi ride to Udupi town. The major attractions of Udupi include an old Krishna temple and the large Manipal University.  And if you take the same road as me, your driver may even point out the Kalmadi village, from where the shamed politician, Suresh Kalmadi, hails. Our stop, however, was the tiny coastal village of Thottam, which takes about 20-30 car minutes from Udupi.

A narrow, winding road finally took us to the ancestral home we were visiting. The rest of the day was spent in introductions, and yes, discreetly checking out bathrooms. I was almost thrilled to see a Western toilet with running water and even a toilet roll! After our ablutions, we slathered on generous quantities of mosquito repellant, had a sumptuous fish dinner and retired to our rooms, where we slept on cane mats and thin mattresses.

By the time I awoke, the village was beginning to grow on me. The first thing that struck me was how incredibly quiet it was. Living in Mumbai I’d forgotten what my breath sounds like. I could hear some persistent crickets, punctuated sometimes with the crowing of roosters, a few barking dogs, and yes, the sound of crashing waves! I woke up my sleepy husband, and persuaded him to go for a walk with me to the beach.

The beach is one of the cleanest I have ever seen. With few or no tourists, it is as pristine as a private beach. The clean sand was strewn with shells, and the sea, gentle. October to February is probably the best time to visit this area, as the coastal heat isn’t too harsh. My nature-enthusiast husband took much delight in pointing out to me various kinds of shells and birds as we walked along the beach. At a little distance, the port of Malpe can be seen, where a fair number of tourists are to be found. Interesting things like fish auctions also take place at the Malpe beach! The beach walk became a morning-evening ritual, with little else to do.

The days were spent in perfect idleness, with some intermittent TV-watching (yes, they have satellite TV and Internet), and downing large quantities of seafood delicacies & booze. I sat back and relaxed as I hadn’t in years, and realized the pleasure of doing absolutely nothing. I desisted from even reading a book, allowing my mind to simply take in the peace of my surroundings. I was happy watching the ants walk along the many trees, and hearing the harsh-sweet calls of peacocks, and realized not when three days had crept by. 

I bid goodbye to my generous hosts, promised I would return, and meant it.

This article appeared in the Mumbai-based tabloid, The Afternoon, on October 21, 2011.

1 comment:

the mind behind the mindless lampoons said...

You just fueled home bound nostalgia ...