There was a strike happening today. As a result, we had to leave our hotel room early…like 3:00 AM early. Varghese, our driver, is a trooper though, and drove our sleeping selves four hours through back country Kerala. My boyfriend was worried about the drive on so little sleep, but Varghese assured us we were safe. “There’s four people in the car,” he said. “Me, you, your wife, and God.” He’s Catholic, which is pretty common down here in this part of the country.
When they strike in India, they close the roads from 6:00 AM to 6:00 PM. They’re protesting high fuel costs, which means that anyone who’s driving is a target. In other words, it’s just not safe to be on the roads. The workers are angry, as many of them employ themselves as taxi drivers—they can’t afford to do their work. They’ll slash your tires, shatter your windows, anything it takes to prove their point.
So, we left at 3:00 AM. 2:54 to be precise. Varghese was impressed—we’re very nearly always a few minutes late. But we’re running on Indian time; embracing the culture to the fullest. We arrived in Thekkady at 7:00 AM, five hours before the houseboat took off, which left us meandering the village.
The people are all laughter here. The children wave and the men grin widely, the older women smile and the younger ones whisper to one another behind their hands. They bathe in the inlet, brush their teeth and slam wet, newly washed clothing against stone walls to dry it before it goes on the line.
The houses here, as they have been everywhere else, are brightly painted. A street dog prances after us, the happiest one that I have seen, tongue lolling, weaving in and out between our feet.
The men, in their dhotis, are coming in with fresh caught fish or loading up their houseboats for the day’s tours. It’s a calm and peaceful place. The village is quiet in the soft morning light, but beginning to heat up as mosquitos land aggressively and viciously upon our flesh.
We lounge on the boat for the remaining hours before it sets out, waving at passerby’s. Adam tries his hand at fishing, tying soft dough to a string that gets jostled up and down within the water. There’s an art to it, I suppose. But I can’t help but think he looks like a modern day Huckleberry Finn, leaning over the railing of the boat with his bamboo rod.
Today has been quiet, which is unusual for India. I am finding more and more that these back country villages are the places where my heart feels most at ease. I get to laugh with passing children, watch the young girl in her uniform get her wet hair brushed forcefully out by her mother, catching roughly on every tangle. A small boy sits on his porch with a textbook in his lap, waiting for his ride and cramming in some last minute knowledge before the exam he has today. One tiny little thing stands beside her mother, large, brown eyes like pooling lakes lock onto mine. She doesn’t smile, but waves. It takes a lot of coaxing to get her to say a single thing at all.
This is where I’ve felt most at home. I think this must be the India behind the India. The backwater country, where people live as tradition asks, rather than as society demands. It is a beautiful thing to wander here, amongst the colors and the laughter, amongst the people who call this country home.