It was March 2017; I was planning a holiday with the family. We would fly to Kerala and surprise my mother-in-law on her 60th birthday and book a villa for a celebratory weekend. During my research, I chanced upon Kayal (backwaters) Island retreat. I wrote to the owner, Maneesha and she promptly responded. We exchanged some lively emails but sadly I decided not to book the cottage then because I wasn’t sure I could cart a four month baby from a car, flight, car and finally a boat. I promised Maneesha I’d be back, so I did.
I’m not sure what I can say about Kayal that’s not already been said before, but I’ll try. Holidays during a pandemic are more vital than ever as you’re literally risking your life for a getaway. Careful planning, checking, and re-checking the travel restrictions and ensuring that all protocols are followed. Holidays are now more deliberate and less spontaneous. We were anxious and full of trepidation about flying, about Neev (now 4.5 years) getting an RT PCR test and heading to a state that is reporting the highest number of Covid cases every day. The key word here is reporting as compared to some other states, but I won’t explain any further.
My in-laws met us outside the Kochi airport, and we took a boat to the tiny island of Kakkathuruthu (island of crows) named after its avian inhabitants The island is only 4 km long and 1 km wide. To our right, perched on the banks of lake Vembanad was our charming resort. Four little cottages that were both austere and luxurious. A deeply intimate setting for a family get-together. My photos and videos have chronicled the exclusive experience but will do no justice to the beauty and serenity.
The sound of crickets, birdsong, the chorus of the bullfrogs, the Hindu devotional songs heard in the mornings and at dusk, the muezzin’s call to prayer, all in harmony and sync with nature. One evening, we sat to listen to a ferryman’s daughter, Anaha. A shy girl who has excelled in her studies and sings with equal aplomb.
The surround sound experience of nature. The smell of fried fish in coconut oil. The remarkably effective and earthy fragrance of the incense sticks that were lit each evening to ward off the mosquitoes. The sound of rain. Woodsmoke. The cormorants drying their wings on tree stumps. The Brahmini kites circling over the lake. The beautiful Kingfishers skimming the surface. The fireflies greeting us as the skies changed from inky blue to black.
The food, my goodness, the food. Fresh ingredients combined with age-old recipes. There are no menus. You just show up at the table (like how it was while growing up) and be prepared to be wowed by the local fare.
There was no screen time for the child that week and he had a ball. Throwing pebbles in the lake, laughing at spiders that could be mistaken for wall hooks, the darting dragonflies, the turtle in the well that appeared to sun itself. Life was at its animated best. We got time to read, connect with each other and ourselves and make memories. It felt like a journey inward. Meaningful.
It was time to leave. The sun came out to greet me as the clouds parted. The flotillas of water hyacinths sidle up to my boat, their purple flowers glisten in the morning light. They gently merge to form temporary islands as if Maneesha, Saiju, Sheeba and Vijaylakshmi were joining hands and accompanying me to the ferry point. Like me, the drifting currents will eventually carry them away. I promised Maneesha I’d return soon. And I will.