Harthal and visiting relatives and friends

I wake up to the news that a Harthal has been declared. Is my trip to Thiruvananthapuram to meet my friends for dinner in jeopardy, I wonder. “Wait till ten to see how the situation unravels”, my friends advise. Syam, our regular driver, is happy to take us. He is a sensible guy and doesn’t take unnecessary risks. It is almost midday by the time we set out. Most people are staying indoors and the roads are clear and the trip smooth. Our trip to Thiruvananthapuram takes us less time than usual. 

The shop shutters are down and businesses stay closed. Most petrol pumps are not open and those who did open are making a roaring trade. The aircon is on full blast and the car is cool. The heat outside is relentless. We do our usual house visits. Most of our relatives didn’t venture out today and so we got to meet them all. They ply us with ice cream and cool drinks to keep us cool. 

We reach Prasantha’s house in time to have a bit of rest before the evening meet up. As Prasantha and I caught up with the news, her sister and niece feed and entertain Lakshmi and Lavinia. Lavinia, who normally clings to her mother, is happily trying out the tricycle for size and tucking into Janaki’s baby food. Janaki, Prasantha’s grandchild, is not here, but her toys are and Lakshmi is making the most of it. 

Asha comes around seven to pick Prasantha up and we follow them to the restaurant. ‘Villa Maya’, is Asha’s choice. A historical building, which has been lovingly restored into an award winning restaurant. Smoke from the burning frankincense greets us as we walk through the entrance. There are seated areas in the garden and indoors. Lakshmi is entranced by the Koi Carp swimming in the garden pond which lines one of the borders. Some of the seated areas are in gazebos elegantly draped with flowing white curtains. Kavitha and the kids are here to meet my friends but are not planning on staying. The ambience of the place proves to be too tempting and they stay for starters before leaving to spend the evening with Lakshmi’s three year old cousin. 

I look up the history of the restaurant. During the late eighteenth century the then Maharajah Karthika Thirunal Dharma Raja moved his capital from Padmanabhapuram to Thiruvananthapuram. He brought his four wives with him and set up four ammaveedus in the capital. These houses were named after the places from where the consorts came from and Villa Maya was the Arumana Ammaveedu. A law was then passed that the future Kings could only marry women from these four households or if the King married an outsider then she had to be adopted into one of these veedus. The King’s consorts and descendants had no claim to the royal titles or positions but were comfortably provided for. It was the King’s sister who was the Maharani and her children inherited the title and property once the King died. I have heard of naalukettu, which is a residence with one inner courtyard, but this is an ettukettu which has two inner courtyards. 

The rest of the girls join us and we order food. The evening passes by as we chitchat and reminisce. When we get to pudding stage, we are all conscious of our ageing bodies but cannot resist the temptation. Baked yoghurt is on the menu and what can it possibly be. We succumb to our impulses and order a tiramisu and the yoghurt dessert but share it between the five of us, a compromise for our guilty consciences. Asha, once again treat us and we decide that those who didn’t turn up will have to pay the next time we meet, so that will be Chitra and Beena, I think, as Rafia treated us the last time. So make sure the two of you are here the next time we meet and no excuses will be acceptable. 

Thiruvananthapuram city is getting ready for the Aattukal pongala and the roads would have been busy if it wasn’t for the Harthal. The Harthal turned into a blessing for us and we had a hassle free journey. Either side of the roads are decorated with bright coloured lights as the rest of the state is in the midst of the festival season. It is getting late, but the kids are wide awake. They need to calm down after an exciting day. It was indeed an all round exciting day for all of us. 

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