It was all normal till about thursday evening last week. Then, suddenly an idea came to my mind. Why not head to Alappuzha to watch the legendary Nehru trophy boat race on Saturday. I told guru vivek about this idea. He said he was doubtful of joining me. And, when my friends heard about it, the reactions ranged from 'are you crazy??' to 'u've gone outta control'. Anyway, I got all the tickets ready by Thursday night and on friday evening I set out all alone to the land of vanchipaattu(boat song)...
The bus trip itself was an experience in the 2nd last seat of a rajahamsa with my adjacent seat seemingly a magnet for heavy drunkards. When it reached mysore, a man who was barely able to stand and who was smelling as if he had taken a bath in some local liquor, slumped into the seat and started mumbling. I somehow had to push him away saying that its already occupied. After 5 minutes came another one, the size of a sumo wrestler. This time I couldn't drive him away. He was so drunk that he couldn't keep back the money which he took from his underwear. And, he made the poor conductor dig deep inside his undies to keep back the money. I had to spend the rest of that night with the smell of liquor and bad breath blasting my nose. In the morning, as I stepped outside the Alappuzha bus station, my heart leapt with happiness. There was a line of 'thattukadas' with my favourite 'thattu dosas' pumping steam. This is one thing I been missing since I left Trivandrum for the job. After a delicious breakfast, I had 4 long hours left before my friend's friend was supposed to arrive with the special pass. As you all know, there's water everywhere in Alappuzha. There's a narrow river running along the side of the main bus stand road, with country boats and motorised boats doing regular service. These service boats even have boards like those we see in buses, displaying the 'boat stops'.
The whole atmosphere was festive with a steady stream of humanity arriving in this place for this mammoth event. Its held once in a year on the second saturday of august. Foreigners and people from all over India flock to this place year after year. As I walked along the river, many small groups were heading towards the punnamada kaayal(venue of the race), singing songs loudly. Some of those groups asked me to take a snap of them, probably thinking that I had something better than this crap blog to publish their snaps. And some ticket agents spoke in english-'saar, where are you from? we have tickets at cheap rate and there is boat ride too." There's nothing more embarrasing and frustrating than being talked to like that in your own land. And so, I impolitely replied, "nammalodu veno chetta ee english?"(Is there any need to talk english with people like me?). Lots of boats carrying policemen, the officials and tourists were moving along the river to punnamada. And then it was time for lunch when my eyes fell on those street side vendors selling 'Kappa & kakka irachi'(Tapioca & sea shell meat), another of my all time favourite food items. I sat there at the river bank and happily munched on.
Close to 2 O clock, the friend arrived with the pass and helped me cross the river in a country boat. I reached the venue and much to my disappointment, the police had closed entry to the stand in which I was supposed to sit. I walked along looking for a loophole for infiltration when I saw the crowd behind one of the press boxes. I ran to the last row and politely asked one of the guys there if he would let me go forward so that I can take snaps. I kept doing this excercise until I was just behind the TV cameras and the select group of foreigners sitting there. By then, there was heavy pushing from the back and the people in the box were scared thinking that they'll fall in the water. The police came and there were violent scenes as most of them were pushed to the ground. I was thankfully saved because of my camera which made them think that I was one of the press guys. Anyway, by this time I was inside the box and sitting at the edge, almost falling into water. The whole place was in high spirits with big crowds all around chanting and singing.
The inaugural function was attended by Sonia gandhi, shashi tharoor and some other ministers and cultural leaders. The navy did a short stunt display with a guy hanging from a helicopter. Then, it was time for the real show. The boats comes in a vareity of classes just like our F1, F2 and F3 racing cars- Chundan vallam, odi vallam, churulan vallam, iruttukuthy vallam etc. The small vallams looked almost submerged in water and it was a treat to watch this mini racers moving along the water. But the real heroes indeed were the chundan vallams(snake boats). These monsters does really look like one of those king cobras standing majestically with its hood raised. Its a sight to behold with almost 70 rowers on either side pushing it forward with all their strength. In the middle stands, the musicians. There were about 6 of them holding 'olakka'(a heavy wooden rod used to pulverize rice) and beating it on the boat's floor to provide a steady rhythmic beat. Those beats which can be heard from a distance makes you think that its a big army marching in. One guy stands with a whistle to add tune to the beats. And the rowers makes all kinds of group noises to spread the spirit.
your crusader Praveen