I am lucky I should say, to call a place as home one of the 50 places you must see before you die, or so the National Geographic says - the backwaters of Alleppey, Kerala. We grew up in the town, but both sets of grandparents had their homes in the heart of Kuttanad
Most of you must have seen at least pictures of houseboats. Now imagine a much samller version of that - that was my grandmother's car. All the landed houses had these with a driver - the oarsman or the 'oonnukaaran' as they were called.
The most awaited time for us kids was the summer holidays, two months of absolute bliss, two grandmothers waiting with tins full of savories and sweets and hearts overflowing with love. The highlight of these two months was the 'Edathua Perunnaal '(festival in a 200 year old church in a village of Kerala, patron saint is St.George). My grandmother hailed from this place.
Summer holidays was the time when my grandmother - ammachi we called her - would embark on her yearly trip to see her mother and take part in the festival. And with her would be a troop of kids, her grandchildren. The memories of those trips are still so fresh in my mind.
The trip would start at about 9 in the morning, ammachi sitting at the front of the miniature houseboat, the kids inside, peeping through the tiny windows on both sides. These boats were a small version of the houseboats that you see now, but only half of the boat covered. And instead of a motor engine, there would be the oarsman who would either paddle or maneuver it skillfully with a long bamboo pole. The trip always started with a prayer.
We would drift pass houses on the way, cross rivers, see never ending lush fields, pass through canals, waving at people on both banks. Many of them would pass on their offerings to the church. Some of them knew my grandmother well and there were even a few relative's houses on the way.
We would also pass several churches on the way. Ammachi would make the boat stop for a few minutes at each and say prayers which were diligently repeated by the young brood. At noon, our 'driver' would stop somewhere, mostly under a tree and we would have the sumptuous lunch packed by my mother. Washing our hands and mouth in the river right from the boat was a big adventure for us.
Finally, we would reach her home at about five in the evening. Our cousins would be waiting for our arrival and we would jump right away into the river for an hour long bath and games. The next few days would be church in the morning and hogging and running around like monkeys at the innumerous relative's places.
The torrential summer showers would almost always accompany us on our way back, greeting us with thunder and lightning as we reached home. All of us would be huddled together under the cover of the boat with the poor 'oonnukaaran' drenched and furiously paddling away to reach as fast as possible.