South India- d2: Munroe Island

 

The Kollam backwaters

Our cabin-mate woke up early and arrived at his destination around 7am. Before leaving, he presented us with a gift: a book by a christian holy-man. He told us he comes every week from Bangalore to visit him. The quiet night gave way to a steamy sunrise, and we could see the magical green expanses of the Keralan landscape: coconut trees, green pastures, red soil, unpaved roads crossing the railway tracts here and there with rickshaws, bicycles, and pedestrians waiting for the train to pass, a few canals or rivers, many little stations in the middle of the luxuriant vegetation. The sun also awoke the mighty toddler, and soon we were trying to entertain her. She watched out the window for a bit, and soon wanted to do something else. Because we are excellent parents we brought exactly zero toys for her. Thankfully, at the Oberoi they gave her a parting gift: a pink rickshaw. She played for about 10 minutes with that….(Nervously eying our watch: “ok, only 3 hours to go…”). It might sound like fun to walk up and down the train, after all it’s like one long corridor. Except that Indian trains often have doors that are open. Not the doors between compartments, the doors to the outside, to get on and off. This is a great thrill as a responsible adult: a giant portal to the magical world outside. Carefully stick your head out and feel the breeeeeeze, smell the landscape! But, with an impulsive toddler, those same doors become something else altogether, frightening and deadly. So no, no walking up and down the train. The curtains provided some entrainment for her and deprived us of ours. It went something like these:

open curtain- peaceful landscapes, glimpses of the lives of those close to the train tracks, and an unhappy toddler. 

Closed curtain- no view for us, happy toddler. That was the game. 

 

Little M in the train between Bangalore and Kollam
 
We arrived, finally, around 11:30 am to the little Sasthamkotta station, right before Kollam. Got off, found a rickshaw and called our homestay host for directions. 

Vijeesh met us by the water, and to our surprise took us on his canoe. We were going to the other side of the river, ” that’s Munroe island. ”  

What a change of scenery! Shhhhhh, so quiet, so peaceful, so beautiful! We crossed the river slowly, so slowly, gliding gently on the water. The birds, the splash of water here and there, a distant honk… 

Soon we docked the canoe and stepped on Munroe Island, not really an island by the looks of it…. Our homestay for the next two nights is appropriately called the Munroe Island Homestay. Vijeesh, our host, I had imagined to be a respectable middle-aged man. Instead it turns out he’s an enterprising and intelligent youngster of 27. He started this guesthouse 3 years ago. The house is run by his father, mother and sister Adhira. I asked him how he came up with the idea of a guest house. He told us that he has been a boatman since his teens, early teens, guiding tourists around the backwaters of his home, right here on the “Island”. 
We were so tired from the train journey and the late nights that our little family fell asleep for almost 4 hours. Our room is actually the first floor of a small two-storied house right next to the family home. We have our own spacious bathroom and a double bed. Perfect! 

Groggy but rested we had a wonderful lunch at the family’s dinning room.  A fat and puffy Keralan variety of rice, green beans, a coconut dish, and two very different potato curries. 

Fat grains of keralan rice

Mr A who is not a vegetarian had some fish. The food is simple but I found it tasty. Little M played with a very creepy doll that the family had watching over us in the dinning room. 

 

Little M’s favorite toy at the homestay
 
She loves it, and it freaks me out! Vijeesh and his sister Adhira were wonderful with Litte M, dancing to Malayalam movie songs, playing cricket with a beach ball and imitating the rotating eye of the doll (…).   

  

Unfortunatly Little M didn’t want to eat anything and we had to give her a slice of supermarket loaf bread, which she took. Thankfully she also ate two bananas, at least that’s something. 

We didn’t do much the rest of the afternoon, mainly watched and watched the photos we have taken so far. Little M is not allowed to play with the smartphones, but she is allowed to watch the photos we have in there. She sometimes becomes obsessive about them and it always reminds me how addictive this devices are, even (or perhaps specially?) for little ones. Mr A went around the area in the motorcycle with our host. “This place feels so remote and so completely different!” He got a lot of stares, some friendly, some more hostile-feeling in their inexpressiveness. 

We ate dinner at the family home, with a very nice french woman who arrived in the afternoon. We had chapatti, a little bit of left-over potato curry with coconut milk, and a delicious egg dish in the shape of a spanish tortilla but with plantain, cashew nuts and raisins. This seems to me a very unexpected combination, but it worked really well. Little M had chapatti, and some potato curry, hurray. She’s not getting the most balanced meals, but we’re on vacation. We’ll go back to a balanced diet soon. 

A little cat was meowing outside. Little M wanted to find it and hold it and kiss it, and probably breastfeed it (she breastfeeds all her toys). But when the french guest approached the kitten, Adhira screamed to stop her. “It’s not a house cat, it’s a village cat. They are dirty, i don’t like them”, she said with a look of disgust. The tiny kitten was very frantic in his meowing, probably hungry and probably having lost or gotten separated from his mom. My heart breaks. It didn’t help that before the french guest tried to touch the cat I had told Little M that the cat was probably saying “mom where are you, mom!” I had imagined him to be the family cat, or neighborhood cat, and was waiting for his mom to appear at any moment, and we would laugh and point to the mommy cat, “there she is!” However after the exchange with our host, Little M kept repeating “mom where are you? Mom! ” and it sounded horribly grim and sad now. I think of rescuing it, feeding it, taking him/her to Thailand… But that’s impossible. The little cat tries to come inside the house repeatedly, the family shoos him/her emphatically. My heart breaks even more. 

It’s time to go off to sleep under the mosquito net. Soon Little M is sound asleep. There is no sound, the chants and music from the nerby hindu temple have stopped. Later in the night the little cat meows next to our windows, Mom where are you? Mom?, and a cricket chirps away in unison. 

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