Precious friendships

23 February 2020

I’m awake. I’m not sure what woke me up. Was it the lashing of waves, was it the chantings on the speaker from the nearby temple or is my internal alarm clock now reset for 5 in the morning Indian time. We are staying at a hotel by the sea at Fort Cochin. A celebratory get together with friends as we welcome in the next phase of our lives. 

I walk to the sea front. The vantage point is better for the sunset than sunrise. The sun is out of range but the horizon turns a distinct pink. In the distance a canoe with engine, a ferry with early morning commuters and a trawler rumbles past. The calmness is drowned by the frenzied cries of the crows circling the shores.

We left home this time early yesterday morning making our way over the national highway crossing numerous bridges and stopping off at all the major temples on the way. Oachira temple , where two Banyan trees are the main focus of worship was the first stop. A temple that is open for worship throughout the day and night. The Sivarathri celebrations from the night before had left rubbish strewn around the place. Bright fuschia coloured lotuses and water lilies filled the nearby pond and seemed like the perfect addition to a place where nature is worshipped. 

Mannaarsala temple, the next stop is devoted to the snake gods. Syam advised us to wet our feet in the adjoining temple pond. I touch the water with trepidation with my soles and retreat, when Amma decides to sprinkle the water over us. “Amma, really?”. There is superstitions, there is certain rituals that everyone follows and then there is blind faith. Sprinkling oneself with water from a still dirty pond with no flowing water is where I have to draw the line. It is too late though. As I’m now covered in god knows what, I hope the gods will grant me my wishes for this douching. 

We are just in time for deepaaradhana and once again wait for the nada doors to open. It is only opened once a day and people jostle to get a good position. A young boy tries that with me and I give him a good shove back. He was not expecting that. If his parents can’t teach him to behave then it is up to us, isn’t it? The Cannonball tree, which I first saw in Cambodia, can be seen here with its pretty pink flowers and cannon ball shaped fruits sprouting from the main stem. 

Next stop Ambalappuzha, to see Unni Kannan. We buy a thulsi mala for my favourite deity (not meant to show favouritism in this era of equality and diversity but still) and walk the long path leading to the temple and once again we are there in time for the prayers. We need to give two days notice for the pal payasam and it is only available in the afternoon. The belief is that Guruvayurapan comes here every afternoon to have his share of the payasam before returning home. Syam manages to get the prasadam which is butter, banana and sugar, Sree Krishnan’s favourite snack. The home made butter was delicious and we devoured our share.

I wash my feet and get rid of the red dirt. It is time to meet up with my friends. Remani finds time out of her busy schedule to come and meet me. She is having prayers for her mother this morning at her house and leaving for Coimbatore later on in the evening. Thanks Remani for the sweets. It looks like you know me too well 😊.

I then make my way to Rafia’s new house. A quaint fairy tale house set in a manicured garden overlooking similar gardens where koels and mynas sing and colourful butterflies flutter amongst the pretty flora. Rafia has put a lot of effort into the house and it shows. An Instagram house with nothing out of place and perfect photo opportunities (apart from when Beena takes photos). I try to show her the difference between making an extraordinary location ordinary (difficult to achieve but Beena can- sorry Beens, she is a bit sensitive but can take a joke, I hope) and capturing a stunning setting as it should be. 

The sun is setting as we make our way to Fort Cochin. It was meant to be an evening of celebrations but not everyone could attend. Asha was busy, she had a good excuse and we cannot expect Asha to drop her important commitments to spend the evening with us. It was too far for Prasantha to travel. The others had weak excuses. Priorities are what you want them to be. 

The rest of us Beena, Sheila, Rafia and I spent the evening doing exactly what we used to do in the early 80s. We window shopped, tried on dresses, bartered, argued with the vendors, confused our waiter, ate, drank, gossiped, chuckled and chortled late into the night.  The head of IVF (SAT Hospital) and the author of the text books for Obs and Gynae, Amritha Hospital’s Superintendent, a Consultant psychiatrist and moi. Yesterday our Godmother transformed us back into our Cinderella days. We had a Ball. The air was cool, the breeze light, the waves gentle as the cruise ships breezed past our boardwalk pier from where we had dinner. The spell didn’t disappear at midnight this time. We shared a room like our hostel days, said our good nights and the magic charm hushed us all to sleep. 

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