The balmy breeze brushed against my hair as I awoke to the coastal sunrise. We were somewhere in the middle of our Kerala escape – our version of romantic relaxation and whiling away time in “God’s Own Country”. Or so I had heard- beautiful beyond imagination, nature’s bounty and so on and so forth. The uniqueness of this small elongated state emanated from everything associated with it – misty hills to bustling beaches to coastal delicacies. Today was going to be unique, for today was my chance to encounter the much hyped “Houseboats”. We had just arrived at Alleppey in the morning and were headed to the houseboat dock. The water surface glinted in the mid-morning sun and I squinted as we arrived at our boarding point and something so beautiful unfolded before our eyes. The vastness of milky waters seemed to reach out in all directions, unending, unapologetic about its magnitude. An array of houseboats, in a variety of shapes and sizes lined up to welcome their inhabitants for the next day or two. They bobbed up and down with the little waves, each a home in itself, a unique way of life out here in the backwaters. My heart filled with anticipation as I could not wait to experience the Houseboat effect myself.
As we boarded, the gentle breeze seemed to rock the boat from side to side, as if making a mockery of our attempts to gain footage and stay still. Rustic wooden finishing made for a homely feel, exuding the kind of fuzzy warmth that welcomes you and at the same time entices you to explore the place around. I walked around revelling in this newness and finally perched myself in front of the steering wheel. The axle-shaped wheel so typical of the likes of the Titanic – wooden and embossed with brass, eclectic! It made me feel like a king – with the power to steer in the direction we wanted. Power to control. Power to set myself free! And so I pretended to be the steerer at the helm, an experience fun and unforgettable! I could not help but think about the likes of great ships like the Titanic! With this water vessel all to ourselves, today was to be a day to enact and experience! I was jolted out of my fun reverie when the time came to set off cruising along the beautiful backwaters. The local boatsman took hold of the axle and off we were!
Famished as we were, we found our mouths watering to delectable wafts of fried fish. A haven for seafood lovers! Red n spicy! Fresh from the waters we were treading on! Having devoured the fare we settled down to a lazy afternoon of bobbing about the backwater channels. Indeed, as I looked out in each direction, it was a maze in itself. New channels leading to sub channels till I ultimately stopped giving the maze too much thought. After all there are days when you should just let go- of thoughts, actions, and feelings and live in the moment. This was that day. A shrill shrieking made me jump and I gazed up at a flock of gulls in search of their afternoon meal. After our sumptuous meal, they too were entitled for a yummy snack, weren’t they?
The daylight dwindled. Local fishermen who were out the entire earning their living seemed to be headed home as the last streaks of sunrays bathed the earth and water in sheaths of gold. I looked on, wondering about life out here – a life lived on a day-to-day basis, a life of simplicity. A life that reflected in the weathered faces of the elder fishermen. Their boats and supine forms glowed in the backlight, creating shady silhouettes. Their stark dark forms in complete contrast to the highlights of the sea water. Some had expressions of content, some seemed weary and tired, maybe their success was defined by their fish fare for the day? Truly a different definition of success as compared to us city folk! Lovely landscapes greeted the eyes as the sun prepared to bid his goodbyes. A transient phase, something without thought and yet the entire event of the sun setting seemed to take on a different aura from the vantage point of the houseboat’s first floor.
The breeze took on a crisp chill and we stood hand in hand, bidding our goodbyes to those around- both the living and non-living, both the known and unknown. Another day had passed, a day in our life. A day well lived, a day well departed. As the houseboat was anchored, we embraced the twinkling of the man-made lights, those that provided the same warmth and cheer in the innumerable hutments dotting the banks. As silence engulfed, a low humming din prevailed, talks of love over one meal, excited banter of children in another house. Out in this quaint town of waterways I witnessed silence. And I sensed peace amidst the hundreds of bobbing houseboats.