Thomas, Navilil, and Canoes

Alleppey Travel Blog

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Timelessness...


12/13/-12-19/07

How do I begin to describe Navilil?  Taking the small ferry 10 km from Alleppey, the diesel sounding engine rumbling us in zigzag fashion between ferry stops, slowly dragging us far from city lights, along the black waterways, into silhouetted coconut trees, the occasional wood canoe drifting past as the light danced golden on the face and arms of its pilot.

The locals, in surprisingly well spoken English, helped us find our stop and seemed truly happy to watch us make our way into their homeland.  At 8:00 p.m. we hopped onto the Island, and with headlamps, found our way, a 7 minute walk, to Navilil, the name of Thomas' guest home.  Thomas is a slight 36 year-old Indian with a soft and gently voice.

Dan, Melanie, and I with Anne (grandmother) and little Anne (her granddaughter) in front of the guest-home.
  His words appear carefully chosen, and his eyes beam through his spectacles with knowledge of Kerala and his deep pride for home and community.  He warmly welcomed us to his home, showed us our room, and minutes later we sat at a large dark wood dining table with a Manchester couple, Simon and Erin.

We talked casually with Thomas, Simon, and Erin and shoveled the tastiest Indian Food I had eaten in a long time down my throat.  Thomas served up rice and dhal and bananas, mostly which were grown in his own garden.  Reflecting back on the last 6 days here, I am most impacted by this nest of relaxation, the sweet smiles we receive as we pass local residents.  Breakfast is prepared at 8:30 a.
m.
, unless we are on a walk or bike, then its serve when we return around 10:30.  Breakfast includes coffee and tea, rice-noodles and coconut, pancakes of banana flour and coconut, boiled eggs. Lunch is the big meal, with rice, dhal, coconut and beans, potato masala, chicken in the most amazing sauce!, onion and tomato salad, chapatti.  Dinner is lighter, but still amazing.  The meal varies daily, and is among the best I had in India!  Best, there are unlimited helpings and everyone is so friendly!

I feel like I have become very close to Simon and Erin.  This couple of 8 1/2 years is traveling the world for a year.  I was fortunate to meet them in the beginning.
Full table enjoying home kooked Keralan cuisine.
  Simon is a musician with a soulful voice, who worked as a case administrator for immigration matters before he quit for his travels.  He is tall and skinny with shaggy brown hair, and deep gray-blue eyes.  He has an addictive laugh, sharp mind, and devoured Dan's book "the Art of Happiness" by the Dalai Lama in an afternoon.  Simon's open and warm demeanor perfectly fit the gently meandering of the Keralan Backwaters.  Erin is every bit as wonderful as Simon.  She has pale skin and striking blue yes that stare into you when she alertly listens.  She is sweet and self-assured, surly a rock to all around her.  She is one of those people that puts everyone and everything around her at ease, and I feel comfortable by her mere presence.  Together, both appear to be the "ideal" couple, working together to save money for their trip, peacefully admiring each other, equally contributing to the unfolding circumstances.
 

With Simon and Erin, I explored the backwaters by foot, bike, and canoe.  Despite many photos, the backwaters are virtually indescribable in their idyllic peace, timelessness, and grace.  December finds the waters calm and imperceptibly flowing.  Mirrored 100 ft coconut trees slant precariously from mud dykes while banana plants shadow brown water with giant leaves.  Lean men in heavy wood canoes silently paddle through canals carrying fish, mussels, sand, tapioca, and coconuts.  Uniformed school children run along the bangs giggling and waiving to us.  They yell, "Hello, where from, what's your name, school pen?"  The girls giggle shyly while the boys practice English and stare.

There are simply too many magic moments to recount during my 6 night stay.
  Thomas guided us; enlighten us with his stories, village successes, and endemic problems.  The culture came alive - swallowing a piece of me with it, as I settled into Thomas's family.  His two charming daughters ever smiling and sweet.  I hate to resort to highlights, but it necessary or I will never get through this backwaters section...


Canoeing: 
1. Dan left to see Prem Joshua in Cochin.  Simon, Erin, 2 of Thomas's friends, and I took and evening canoe paddle around the village.  The 250 year-old canoe effortlessly slipped through the glassy water, with just the sound of the oar dripping to add of the symphony of frogs, crickets, birds, and the occasional rooster.  The sun was low in the sky, which held just few clouds.
  Mostly we sat quite, letting the canoe carry us past village homes, people washing clothes in the river, children waiving, and men fishing.  As dusk settled over the rice fields and coconut trees, Thomas sang traditional folk music, which he led while the two men rowing answered.  The beautiful voices were timelessly weaving us through the canals.  The sky turned soft violet as we slipped into the grassy bank of the toddy shop.  We drank the fermented brew of coconut milk and sap inside the dimly lit cell of a room.  Toddy was served in a red plastic measuring cup, which we poured into water-stained glasses.  The bar resembled more of a jail with barred windows and with pained bricks.  From inside the cell, I saw the 20 gallon white petrol containers used to "brew" the toddy.
Simon, Erin, Me, and Dan.
  For bar snacks, we ate chilly omelets and drank fresh and strong toddy.  By the time we left, I was quite tipsy.  We spilled back into the canoe and listened to more traditional singing intoxicated as much by the backwaters as the toddy.  Dinner is a bit blurry, but I know I fell into bed and slept soundly.

2.  Yesterday was Dan and my last day traveling together.  Melanie, Dan, and I did not want to sleep after dinner, so we chilled out front of the house talking, listening to ipods, and attempting to journal.  It was nearly 11:00 p.m., and I was tired.  We revisited an idea we had earlier that day, taking a canoe ride at night.  Earlier in the afternoon, the 3 of us paddled around the island.  It took almost 2 1/2 hours, and we had zigzagged across the canals, unable to keep it straight.
  We were a bit apprehensive about taking the canoe, but more so about not having 1st asked permission.  But since it was our last night, we went for it.  With only the light of the moon emanating through a dark cloudless sky and a few lights from the village homes, accented by the flickering Christmas lights adorning homes and churches, we slid the canoe out and edged into the center of the black water.  The air was heavy with humidity which seemed to part as easily upon my face as did the canoe through the still water.  In silence, I steered us up canals, through water plants, and around bends.  To avoid disturbing the homes and drawing attention to us, and in appreciation of the night noises, we tried to be as quiet as possible.  The result was the perceptible accentuation of the subtle sounds:  the oar dripping, water plants scrapping along the canoe as it parted the water-carpet, the percussive sound of an oar hitting the wooden rail.
  Dreamlike, we rowed in and out of the canal, before drifting motionless into the middle of the backwaters. 

Dan and Melanie listened to ipods in the front.  I listened to the backwater, then, lying back, dozed for a time.  I thought a lot about our parting, the blur of time that Dan and I spent together, from McLeod to Amritsar to Jaipur, then Rajasthan, to Goa, and finally to Kerala.  7 weeks of a journey wrapping up in silence, but perfectly.  Two individuals sharing lives, together, independent, appreciating life in the same way, but on opposite sides of the canoe.  I was like a small child, not wanting to let the night end, but too overcome by sleep to stay awake.  Clinging desperately to consciousness and the wonder of pleasant memories.
Sunset over the backwaters.
 

I paddled in, we settled on the porch where I broke a beer bottle opening it, straining it through a napkin, we shared a beer before bed.  And so ended my last night of India travels with Dan.

(One thing that I have noticed here in India ~more than anywhere else, in good times, bad times, frustrating times ~ is that things seem that they "should be" just as they "are".  Like everything is in its proper place and order.)

Hikes:
I took several hikes in the backwaters; through rice fields, over wood bridges, past doorless one room village homes.  I saw families eating, washing clothes, and children playing.  I sampled Pan (red beetle-nut and tobacco chewing thing).  I ate pungent pepper from its vine.
Thomas and family.


Chilling:
Sitting on the veranda listening to Simon play "House of the Rising Sun" while Erin, Dan, and I watched on.  Then there was the night Dan, Melanie, Simon, Erin, and I sat on the veranda sharing our favorite music via ipod.  It was the first time ipod became a sharing experience while we all listened to each other’s music.  Sometimes, for all the transitions I make in life, the conversations that pass, there are moments so genuine and raw, such a connection I feel, that I cannot explain or differentiate it by circumstance.  But at this moment, I subsided into myself and connected to Dan, Melanie, Simon, and Erin in an unusually meaningful way. 


ANOTHER STORY:
Through it all, Thomas and his family have been gracious hosts, welcoming all their guests like family.
Thomas and I.
  Thomas telling stories of the village and family history is a blessing and delivers a much needed lesson worth retelling, though I cannot be assured all the facts are accurately recalled.  To summarize: 

Thomas's great grandfather was a wealthy landowner.  He loved to travel, and spent many years traveling around India and purchasing things from his travels.  To fund his travels, he slowly sold off pieces of his land until about nothing was left. His brothers ridiculed him over wasting away his fortune and land.
  In shame, he went to
Singapore.  Many years he stayed there.  Just before WWII, Thomas's great uncle, and unmarried priest, died, leaving some land and money to Thomas's grandfather.  With this money his grandfather returned to Kerala, and repurchased some family land.  With the help of the village, they build dykes and reclaimed 3 acres of land, which still are in the family.  But times turned difficult and, when Thomas was only a child, the family was suffering again.  Thomas's father was sick with diabetes and the cost of medicine was driving the family into debt and despondency.


Meanwhile, not far from the village home, a big lodge was accommodating visitors from around the world.  Swedish visitors were regulars.  One night, over 20 years ago, through a mix-up on the dates, a group of approximately 20 Swedish tourists were denied rooms because the lodge was full.  No other guesthome was around and Alleppey, which was only a village itself, was far away with few places to stay.  The tour guides, desperately looking for a solution, sought out the 4 four largest homes.  Thomas's home was one.  In the night, the tour guides asked if they could take some visitors.  It was late, and his family said, "No".  But after hearing the story and the desperation, they opened their doors and their hearts to them.  Their only request was that they accept only 2 guests, and the others take shelter with the other families.
  Speaking no English and scared of the new white people, Thomas's mom gave them their room.  It was too late to buy food, so they couldn't even feed them dinner.  In the morning, the tour guide paid them for the lodging.  It was much more than they had anticipated. 

The following year, the Swedish tour guide called and asked Thomas's family if they would again host another family, 1 before x-mas and one after New Years.  They agreed.  But again, the house was a typical Indian home, with a squat toilet outside, and part of the house was in disrepair.  Swedish families stayed with Thomas over the years, but Thomas was always distraught because the children always cried at having to use the toilet, eating with their hands, and sleeping on the floor.  Thomas thought they had come to enjoy themselves, but they were suffering.
 

After 3 year of this, Thomas approached his mother and said they must stop housing visitors because they are miserable.  His mother replied, "Thomas, please to not say this.  God has given us a way to make money and save us from losing everything.  We must be thankful."  She was right, and, in time, Thomas learned that visitors came for the Indian experience, not necessarily pleasure.  With perseverance, Thomas obtained a loan from the bank, fixed up the home, and was later featured in a German travel journal.  This year in Lonely Planet. 

My point for relaying this story is to remind myself that things come to us when we need them most, but not always in the way we expect or want them.  Staying open to the universe and accepting the world as it is, not as we would like it to be is essential.
  This lesson from Vipassana keeps returning to me as I examine my life and experiences here. 
sababa_g says:
I love this last paragraph and your words seem to be words of dhamma/truth. Nice to read...
Posted on: Aug 12, 2008
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Timelessness...
Timelessness...
Dan, Melanie, and I with Anne (gra…
Dan, Melanie, and I with Anne (gr…
Full table enjoying home kooked Ke…
Full table enjoying home kooked K…
Simon, Erin, Me, and Dan.
Simon, Erin, Me, and Dan.
Sunset over the backwaters.
Sunset over the backwaters.
Thomas and family.
Thomas and family.
Thomas and I.
Thomas and I.
Bottoms up!
Bottoms up!
Scary night of toddy drinking at t…
Scary night of toddy drinking at …
Thomas and his friend with a great…
Thomas and his friend with a grea…
This is a toddy container.  Scary!
This is a toddy container. Scary!
This is your brains on toddy.  (Er…
This is your brains on toddy. (E…
Dan, Melanie, and I preparing for …
Dan, Melanie, and I preparing for…
Beautiful backwater village home.
Beautiful backwater village home.
Fishing with a bow and arrow.
Fishing with a bow and arrow.
Simon ripping one out on the guita…
Simon ripping one out on the guit…
Dan and Melinda on the front porch…
Dan and Melinda on the front porc…
Simon and Erin.
Simon and Erin.
Child on the ferry.
Child on the ferry.
Thomas and family.
Thomas and family.
On a boat trip, which will inevita…
On a boat trip, which will inevit…
Sunset
Sunset
Melanie looking happy!
Melanie looking happy!
Dan, Melanie, and I with the famil…
Dan, Melanie, and I with the fami…
Bros just before parting! :(
Bros just before parting! :(
Dan leaving to begin his South Eas…
Dan leaving to begin his South Ea…
Me leaving later for the rest of m…
Me leaving later for the rest of …
Alleppey
photo by: Stevie_Wes