Traveling with the family has always been a messy affair for me. Dad has unhindered access to me and what I wear and what I eat and how I live; the comments ensue, the match begins. But this happens only now, although oddly enough it seems like there’s a history that’s older than me when I think of all the disagreements we have had. Our travel sprees were a lot different when I was younger. And so were the disagreements.
Back then, I must have been crouching in the back seat, playing referee to the two voices in my head – one his, one mine; making them disagree. In short, waiting to grow up so I didn’t have to travel with them to temples and other violent places children should never be taken to.
Traveling all of South India with a joint family in a matador will therefore only remain a blur that I accidentally found while groping in the dark, looking for something else. Somebody mentions a beach, a temple or a hotel and I find myself donning my best cat behavior trying to locate the blur in my memory, now whizzing like a housefly to be caught, an answer to be found, a page to be filled up.
We covered the temple cities in less than 4 days, stopping very briefly at Trivandrum, which until last year I firmly believed I had never seen. Last November, I discovered the blur in my memory that was Trivandrum and everything did not come rushing back as I had hoped it would. It took me a while to realise that I was seeing 2 versions of a city. One of which is imposed on you by temple going freak shows in the family who turn a blind eye to everything else the city offers. The other is when you catch a passing glimpse of yourself, in a moving vehicle, a showroom, a granite wall, and you smile in whispers and curse your family, when you are out exploring the city all by yourself.
I saw myself, away from home, away from temple people, away from the prying eyes of my father, wearing shorts, carrying nothing but a little bag and waiting to be lost. I walked around the hotel, smiled at all the slopes, coconut trees and little brick homes that gave me all kinds of Mangalore flashbacks. I took random turns, and found out that it is not easy to get lost in this city. Either that or I was too scared to go all the way out and be lost.
At the turn of every corner, I smelled fish curry and coconut oil, a smell that I shamelessly associate Trivandrum with even today. The city made me see and feed the small foodie I was beginning to take note of in me. It outperformed the beach person that I was throughout my life.
I gorged on idiyappams and Kerala chicken curry in Statue hotel, downed jars of Pankaj Island Ice Tea, scooped chemmen fry with mounds of red rice and fish curry at Mubarak, judged soggy bits of meen pollichathu and forced its taste to match with the taste I thought it ought to have had, wolfed down puttu and prawn curry at Black pepper, all the while trying hard to drown the voices and faces of my part mallu-part mangy mother and her relatives. I could hear them echo loudly behind me. ‘Ti amgel vari khaoche’ – ‘She eats like us’.
Trivandrum’s streets are a marvel in themselves. An India coffee house, that looks like the leaning tower of pisa parked hazily around buses and bikes comes zooming back when I try to retrace my tour around the city. The buses looked easy to climb into unlike the whistling, red ones in Bangalore that are hostile bloody dynamites. At the far end of the street that I call Trivandrum is a little place that serves Biryani chaya – butter beer if I may. At the risk of getting kicked, I am going to say, drink it to know it.
So when I go to Trivandrum, it is also to devour the best rice and kerala fish curry in the name of all that is fancy at Hotel Villa Maya, which, true to its name stands tall and quiet; unknowing of the city bustling all around it. I am no food expert but the food there is both sleep-inducing and exploding with taste.
This is how I remember Trivandrum, in its streets and food, in its friendly looking buses and pankaj island ice tea, but surprisingly very little in its beaches. However, nothing screams more Trivandrum than that familiar smell of fish curry and coconut oil when I check into its hotel.