Walking

Pondicherry

Day Two – 10/10/16

Google Maps is more reliable in strange towns. In my own town, it is an enemy. Surviving day 2 became easier only because of the GPS. I stepped outside my room nursing feel -good thoughts about coming back only in the night, and my anxiety from the previous evening dimmed slowly. I left to Cafe Des Arts at 9, found the same corner seat from the day before and spent most of my morning reading Kundera. It is an old french home with big windows and tiny doors. The furniture is a dark brown wood, the walls are painted white but have chipped and gathered themselves in dusty little corners. It is a very quiet place mostly because of the free WiFi. They have good breakfast, strong coffee and an assortment of mixed fruit juices.

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Cafe Des Arts

Rannvijay Singh walked in with his crew at one point and I was amazed by how much his voice sounded the same off screen.

Lunch was a tall LIIT, fish moilee, masala fried prawn, and rice at Villa Shanthi. For a while, I wondered if my restlessness had anything to do with the food and how much I was not looking forward to it. This was a definite dampener in an otherwise obnoxiously high spirited holiday.

Two years ago, when I traveled alone for the first time, it was hard to stop myself from feeling anxious everytime people left their tables. There would be no conversation with anyone, not even eye contact but their departure seemed personal to me in more ways than one. Their voices and conversations were comforting, like a background to resist feeling suddenly lonely.

My first dinner here was at Blueline, where I called ahead and made reservations. When I got there, the restaurant was empty. There were no strangers at the tables around me. I was left alone to read and it seemed strange that it should feel brutal.

I got over some part of this nonsense while I walked around the city today. After lunch, I walked to Zuka – the chocolate shop that apparently gives you chocolate cups that you can eat after you drink from it.

There were all manner of chocolate pastries, cakes and candies. I stood at the counter ogling at them all and sipping on a tiny cup of hot chocolate. Of course the cup wasn’t made of chocolate. The spoon was. Travel allows one to see how spoons become cups in stories.

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Hot Chocolate. And The Spoon.

I walked back to Le Club for dinner and found on the way– old, semi demolished houses with broken white pillars in the courtyard. There was a particularly old one with a large, carved wooden door at the front and a black, old-school sewing machine in the corner. The floors were all red oxide and a slab was cut out in the other side for people to sit.

I stood watching this for a while and forgot about taking a picture. The rest of the walk was spent fantasizing about old and forgotten houses. Fallen ones, ones still standing tall, the black house in Mangalore where ma grew up, the small one in chikkodi with purple walls and the two windows at the front that dad is so fond of. And the quiet, crumbling house with an exploding mango tree above it, that stands meekly on the main road towards Kammanahalli. Slowly I came around to the fact that I’ve never lived in a house with a courtyard or a nalukettu.

***

At Le Club, it begins to drizzle a little and the people around me stop their conversations midway and look up smiling. Some look nervous because the only table with a canopy is occupied. Some carry on with their lives, convinced there won’t be any rain. Le Club is huge. I am noticing details that I’d noticed the first time I came here years ago and then I’m not sure if I really did come here and wonder if it was perhaps another place.

It rains. They show me to the reception with big and dusty sofas, I sit with my feet up and look around. A couple is perusing the menu and debating ordering steak. They are wondering if they can both share one.

I let my wine sit in its glass for over 2 hours. The waiters get restless and keep asking me if I want anything else. I wait for the rain to stop, finish the novel and leave. My walk to the room isn’t made as dramatic by Kundera as I’d wished. I am taken by the quiet I feel everytime I finish reading his novels. I am unsettled by how well he knows his women characters, and both charmed and annoyed by his assumptions but then I always forgive him.

Ruzena’s uncertainty, Kamila’s insecurity and their eventual freedoms were both very reassuring to read. It is quite possible to fall in love with people in a matter of seconds, just as it is possible to fall out of love with them overnight. After a long day of walking, this is the most comforting thing to think of in bed.

 

Thiruvananthapuram

Traveling with the family has always been a messy affair for me. Dad has unhindered access to me and what I wear and what I eat and how I live; the comments ensue, the match begins. But this happens only now, although oddly enough it seems like there’s a history that’s older than me when I think of all the disagreements we have had. Our travel sprees were a lot different when I was younger. And so were the disagreements.

Back then, I must have been crouching in the back seat, playing referee to the two voices in my head – one his, one mine; making them disagree. In short, waiting to grow up so I didn’t have to travel with them to temples and other violent places children should never be taken to. 

Traveling all of South India with a joint family in a matador will therefore only remain a blur that I accidentally found while groping in the dark, looking for something else. Somebody mentions a beach, a temple or a hotel and I find myself donning my best cat behavior trying to locate the blur in my memory, now whizzing like a housefly to be caught, an answer to be found, a page to be filled up.

We covered the temple cities in less than 4 days, stopping very briefly at Trivandrum, which until last year I firmly believed I had never seen. Last November, I discovered the blur in my memory that was Trivandrum and everything did not come rushing back as I had hoped it would. It took me a while to realise that I was seeing 2 versions of a city. One of which is imposed on you by temple going freak shows in the family who turn a blind eye to everything else the city offers. The other is when you catch a passing glimpse of yourself, in a moving vehicle, a showroom, a granite wall, and you smile in whispers and curse your family, when you are out exploring the city all by yourself.

I saw myself, away from home, away from temple people, away from the prying eyes of my father, wearing shorts, carrying nothing but a little bag and waiting to be lost. I walked around the hotel, smiled at all the slopes, coconut trees and little brick homes that gave me all kinds of Mangalore flashbacks. I took random turns, and found out that it is not easy to get lost in this city. Either that or I was too scared to go all the way out and be lost. 

At the turn of every corner, I smelled fish curry and coconut oil, a smell that I shamelessly associate Trivandrum with even today. The city made me see and feed the small foodie I was beginning to take note of in me. It outperformed the beach person that I was throughout my life.

I gorged on idiyappams and Kerala chicken curry in Statue hotel, downed jars of Pankaj Island Ice Tea, scooped chemmen fry with mounds of red rice and fish curry at Mubarak, judged soggy bits of meen pollichathu and forced its taste to match with the taste I thought it ought to have had, wolfed down puttu and prawn curry at Black pepper, all the while trying hard to drown the voices and faces of my part mallu-part mangy mother and her relatives. I could hear them echo loudly behind me. ‘Ti amgel vari khaoche’ – ‘She eats like us’.

Trivandrum’s streets are a marvel in themselves. An India coffee house, that looks like the leaning tower of pisa parked hazily around buses and bikes comes zooming back when I try to retrace my tour around the city. The buses looked easy to climb into unlike the whistling, red ones in Bangalore that are hostile bloody dynamites. At the far end of the street that I call Trivandrum is a little place that serves Biryani chaya – butter beer if I may. At the risk of getting kicked, I am going to say, drink it to know it. 

So when I go to Trivandrum, it is also to devour the best rice and kerala fish curry in the name of all that is fancy at Hotel Villa Maya, which, true to its name stands tall and quiet; unknowing of the city bustling all around it. I am no food expert but the food there is both sleep-inducing and exploding with taste.

This is how I remember Trivandrum, in its streets and food, in its friendly looking buses and pankaj island ice tea, but surprisingly very little in its beaches. However, nothing screams more Trivandrum than that familiar smell of fish curry and coconut oil when I check into its hotel.