Imagine a place where there are no cars or buses or even roads. Only water everywhere you see - rivers, lakes, canals, ponds, wells. Yes, I am talking about Venice- not of the west, the very humble eastern sister - Alleppey. Now a picture comes to mind - backwaters, houseboats and lakeside resorts. That is one place which has remained almost the same even after twenty years
Realtors in cities put a premium on waterfront apartments these days. For ordinary folks like us, water in front of our houses was taken for granted. How can I forget all those summer holidays when some 10-15 of us used to rollick in that small canal in front of our mother's house for hours. We used to kick up so much mud that finally we had to have a proper bath in the bathroom to make ourselves presentable. Our parents never used to bother what we were doing. Come to think of it, the parents were never there. It was the grandparents and the unmarried aunts and uncles who used to be our care takers. Then there was my great grand mother whom all of us were petrified of. The last resort for my aunt if any of us refused to get out of the water was one call, "valyammachiii..."*
Every morning my grandmother used to go to church in the mini version of today's house boats. It was called a 'valavarayan vallam'. Medium sized, with a roof over half its length, high enough for a grown up to sit and a toddler to stand, this and the vallakkaaran - the driver - was a symbol of affluence those days. The vallakkaaran was the Man Friday to the master and mistress of the house.
I don't think I had got into a country boat in the past few years. Somehow, as you grow old, all the charm disappears or we turn a blind eye to it. It takes a child to make you see again. That is just what my son and nieces did last December. They were after my brother to take them on a boat ride and I am still not sure who enjoyed it more, the kids or their mothers. While writing this, so many childhood memories come rushing in to mind. I think I'll have to dedicate a post on each one of those.
kuttanad - an area between Alleppey and Kottayam districts in Kerala, mainly known for its beautiful backwaters, paddy fields and houseboats
janmi - land owner
muthalaali - master
valyammachi - grand mother