Every time we visit India we end up hopping about the country seeing relatives. One grandmother is in Pune, near Mumbai. Another is in Goa. The third is in northern Kerala and the fourth in the southern end of the state. Neither Sandeep nor I knew any of our great-grandmothers, so we’re making it a point for our kids to know theirs.
The trips back and forth are made easier by the fact that all four live in fabulous locations. Pune is by vineyards, Goa is Portuguese-influenced beach heaven, and Kerala has the backwaters and a sandy coastline. We took the opportunity to savor Kerala’s beaches between our visits to Sandeep’s two grandmothers. We chose to stay at a sleepy Ayurvedic resort, Coconut Bay, in Vizhinjam, a fishing village adjacent to the tourist outpost of Kovalam.
When compared to the rest of India, Kerala is relatively new to tourists. A few places such as Kovalam and the backwater centers of Kumarakom and Allepey have become hedonist tourist destinations. However, much of Kerala still enjoys a traditional lifestyle that has been lost further up the western coast of India. In Goa, for example, most traditional coastal fisherman have traded in their boats for water-sport outfits, beach shacks, or some other more lucrative arrangement. By contrast, Kerala still maintains much of its coastal fishing culture.
The entire family, kids included, were particularly lazy during our Vizhinjam stay. We started our morning flattened to hammocks, counting the coconuts on the trees that supported us. Then Ava astutely asked, “How do the coconuts come down?” My logical mind won the battle with my lazy body and we traded in our hammocks for the beach.
We were content to spend the rest of the day watching life on the water. I took this video when we first set out to the beach. By my commentary, one may think all of Kerala is a utopia of harmonious religions and cultures.
What I realized afterwards is that the church and the mosque at the end of the peninsula were built out of competition from their respective communities. The mosque overlooks the Muslim quarters of town, home to a few thousand fishermen, and the church serves the several thousand Christian fishermen. Tensions between the two occasionally culminate in riots, giving some notoriety to this otherwise sleepy fishing village. I suppose I was being seduced by the ocean when I took the video.
Fishing in Vizhinjam goes on as it has for generations. We watched fishermen row their boats out and net their catch. As the day wore on, the boats were welcomed back to land by waiting family members. The men took the boats out while women waited ashore to sort the loot.
Flocks of crows and gulls also waited to greet each boat. The fishermen and birds engaged in a well practiced dance. A few fish were thrown on the beach to satisfy the birds while the catch was quickly loaded into buckets and hauled away.
With the catch safe from beaks, the boats were put to sleep for the night. The sight of a melting sun must never tire a fisherman, because as dusk fell, the fishing families and us watched the sky turn from blue to orange to pink.
Shuttling between families was always a tiring experience during our shorter trips to India. Now that we have more time, we are able to appreciate the journey as well as our destination.