Sunday, 19 September 2010

Oh I do like to be beside the seaside…

[Originally written on 09/09/2010]

    Sitting in the 'Slow Motion' bar in the Beachside hotel, it dawns on me that coming to the beach may not always mean sea, sun and sand. It may also mean sackfuls of rain, refreshing bottles of Kingfisher beer and loud local construction workers drinking cheap rum from plastic bottles and debating loudly in Malayalam. Well, I'm sure that for most people a visit to the beach stick with the SSS option, but today, at Varkala beach an hour North of Kerala's capital city Trivandrum (see how quickly I gave up on learning to say its full name?), I don't have much choice in the matter. I could, I suppose, spend the afternoon in a nice air conditioned internet café, or in one of the beach bars popular with the Western tourists. But that wouldn't be fun. I can do that in Blackpool, albeit with a few less coconut palms dotting the horizon.

    Truth be told, I had no idea how local and lively the Slow Motion would be. From the outside it looked like any other hotel bar, one I expected to be either empty or full of drunken gap year students out to 'find themselves' in the wilds of India. I suppose I just got lucky, depending on whose perspective you're looking from. But the sight of the raucous and shoeless construction workers is surely a good thing, at least when it comes to beer prices. I'll let you know after a few more…

    The bars tinted windows make the sea outside look perpetually gloomy; overcast at best (when its a scorchingly beautiful day outside) to a raging galestorm at worst (when its drizzling a bit). I'd hate to actually see it when there's a gale blowing angrily across the beach outside, plucking parasols and dogs up into the air, and depositing them with abandon all along the stunning coastline which stretches out before me. I'd think I'd accidentally fallen into Milton's Paradise Lost, or into a Radiohead album. The train up to Varkala was long and languorous, its casual winding along the trainline through sleepy Keralan villages lulled me into a false sense of security, as did the weather, which maintained its sunny disposition all the way to Varkala train station, only revealing its true, callous nature upon my arrival to the beach in an outrageously overpriced autorickshaw. I should have smelled a rat, or some other Indian-related creature. Actually, a rat will do fine for that analogy when I bear in mind the number of rats I saw scuttling under one section of a stopped train while waiting for mine at Trivandrum Central Railway Station.

However, I will never let something as fickle and overly-emotional as the weather to get in the way of enjoying what is my final day in the Indian Subcontinent. A sad day, to greatly understate my feelings, but one that is also full of happy memories. Memories of sipping milky tea and eating ginger biscuits in Mumbai's 'British footprint' Café Kyani; of trudging through the mess and rain through the Dharavi slum and encountering friendly smiling people going about their everyday lives; of pretending to be a Kulta-kung-fu master. Mumbai was madness and passion and joy and daily sadness; Kerala is a riot of greens, quiet, warming, home to friends and happy evenings. My Indian adventures are over, but only for the moment.

So, as I sit here reading the wonderful Stuart Maconie's 'Pies and Prejudice' and drinking beer at 1 o'clock in the afternoon, I realise this may not be everyone's idea of a great day out at the beach, but it certainly makes me happy. I might even be tempted to go feel the sand under my toes if the rain stops. But probably not.

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