Free From School
By Rahul Alvares
Public Domain Books
Chapter 5: A Trip to Kerala
It was now the end of August and also the end of the heavy rains. I was eager to begin travelling out of Goa to visit the many places on my agenda. I had got fairly comfortable now with being on my own within Goa (where I could at least communicate in the same language with anyone I met) asking for directions, buying myself a meal and learning to handle small quantities of money. I therefore impatiently awaited my trip out of Goa.
Another reason for my wanting to travel was because I was fed up of my neighbours and friends constantly asking me what I was doing after my SSC and why I was not in college. Somehow they couldn’t get used to the idea that I was enjoying myself learning the things I wanted to on my own, so I would be constantly badgered by queries. I thought that if I went away I would certainly escape all these queries.
It so happened that my father was attending a seminar on organic farming in Kottayam and as he would also be visiting some organic farms he thought it a good idea if I came along. The trip would take us to Kerala.
Dad and I left Goa on 30th August, 1995. The bus departed from Panaji bus stand at six a.m. and reached Mangalore the same day at four in the evening. En route we passed through Karwar, Ankola, Kumta, Honavar, Kundapur and Udupi. Mangalore happens to be my ancestral home. (My dad, though born and brought up in Mumbai and now living since marriage in Goa, is originally from Mangalore.) Although we do not have an ancestral home any more we have lots of relatives in Mangalore city.
We stayed at my grand uncle’s house which is very close to the bus-stand. It is a two storey building in the heart of Mangalore and my grand aunt Monica Mauxi lives there with her three sons, Reggie, Patrick and Lambert and their families in a sort of joint family set-up. My grand uncle J.S. Alvares who was a very well known Konkani writer passed away a few years ago. I was meeting my aunt and cousins almost for the first time.
After the introductions were over and we had had tea and snacks Dad showed me around the city. Since I knew that I would be returning to Goa alone at the end of the seminar in Kottayam I took care to be very observant about landmarks and other details so that I would not get lost on my return trip. I carefully noted the locations of the railway station, Hampankatta, which is the centre of Mangalore and the old bus stand and the route to Aunt Monica’s home. We returned at dark to a splendid meal and went to bed early for we had to wake up at 3 a.m. for our onward journey.
Our train left Mangalore on the dot at 4.15 a.m. We travelled all day through green countryside, passing through Kannur, Calicut, Thrissur and Ernakulam to reach our destination Kottayam at 3.45 p.m. We were booked at Hotel Aishwarya. I had a refreshing bath and then as usual we went off to explore the city but had to return soon because it started to rain.
The seminar was at Hotel Green Park and we set out for the venue early in the morning. We had already been registered as participants and each of us was given a cloth bag, notebook and pen to use during the seminar. There were many stalls selling a large number of items from organic tea and pickles, to books and manuals.
We looked around very briefly for the organisers were already calling out to everyone to settle down for the inaugural. All day there were talks, most of them by scientists. The sessions continued till evening with a break for a vegetarian lunch in between. Of all the talks, the one that caught my attention was the talk given by Dr Sultan Ismail on earthworms. I have refrained from giving details of Dr Ismail’s talk here because I have a full chapter on my association with his work later in this book.
The next morning the same sort of programme continued. However there was a farmer’s session which was chaired by my father. Many farmers spoke about their experience in organic farming. I found it quite interesting. Sometime after lunch my father and I, along with Guru Rishi Prabhakar (the founder of the Siddha Samadhi Yoga programme) and Kartikeyan (who was researching some chapters for a source book on organic farming) left to visit the farm of an organic farmer, a Mr. K.T. Thomas. He showed us his shrimp pond, rubber plantations, cows, fishing ponds, orchids, giant bamboo filter ponds, etc. His farm was really huge, dark and damp-like a forest in the night!
Next morning we took a train to Calicut. We passed through Ernakulam and Trishur. At Shoranur we changed trains and from the railway station we took a bus to Sultan’s Battery where we spent the night at a hotel called the Resort. As usual, we spent enjoyable hours walking around the town.
The next programme was at Wynad. Here, another meeting of persons interested in organic farming was taking place. We stayed at the Wynad Wildlife Division Guest House.
The group here was not very large and they generally had small intense discussions. I was not much interested in the sessions and wandered about as I pleased. But I liked the company of the people there very much for all of them were very knowledgeable and they were the active type too. Some of them-like Bernard from Auroville, Korah Mathen and his daughter Nidhi from Ahmedabad and Omkar-I would meet again during my sabbatical year.
We used to go for long walks in the forest, morning and evening. On the first day itself we saw Nilgiri Langurs and a variety of small birds, frogs and trees.
In the evening the organisers showed us two movies on the pollution of the river Bhavani. After that we watched a very popular and lovely movie called `Animals are Beautiful People’.
On our early morning walk the following day (the second at Wynad) we saw a herd of spotted deer and a barking deer. We also saw many footprints of animals, especially of deer; and traces of elephant footprints too. The experience excited me very much and after that I would eagerly set out with whoever was interested in taking a walk. On the third day, a Mr Shivanand gave a very interesting talk on the Western Ghats. He showed us many slides on the Western Ghats i.e. insectivorous plants, mountain goats, rivers that are formed by condensation of water vapour, plants that flower every ten years, etc. All that I had studied in geography and science in school now came alive for me.
That evening we watched two movies, one called `The Whistling Hunters’ (about wild dogs) and another called `The Lord of the Jungle’ (about elephants). Both were very good. The next morning we went walking again and saw only birds. We walked about 12 kms that day. Later that morning the concluding session of the programme was held.
In the evening the forest department organised a tour for us through the jungle. We walked quite a distance, saw the watchtower, then deer and a wild boar, but we had to turn back soon because we saw tiger footprints. At night we saw another two movies, one on the Narmada called `A Valley Rises’ and the second called `The Silent Valley’.
After the meeting ended my dad was scheduled to go to Chennai for some work but I was to return to Goa on my own. My dad came along with me by bus to Calicut. At the railway station, my father bought me a ticket to Mangalore and left me at the station at about 2 p.m. to await the train which was due at around 4 p.m.
It was the first time I was travelling alone and I was quite nervous. Although it would be two hours before the train arrived I dared not fall asleep. I had with me a small battery operated video game and I occupied myself with this while waiting for the train to arrive. When it did there was a general commotion as people started rushing into the compartments. I enquired with one or two persons whether there were any special seats but nobody was really willing to pay attention so I just found myself a nice spot and settled down. The train started soon thereafter.
I stayed fully alert during the entire journey, keeping a watch on my things (I carried a haversack and a sleeping bag, both new) and having heard about pickpockets and other thieves I wanted to be doubly careful. I did not get down at any of the railway stations as I was not sure how long the train would stop. So I contented myself with eating the fruit that Dad had bought for me at the Calicut station.
The train arrived in Mangalore at 9 p.m. From the station I took a rickshaw to my grand aunt’s house for which I paid thirty rupees. This was quite a lot of money, but since it was night-time and since I was not perfectly confident of the route I did not bother to argue with the rickshaw-wallah.
My aunt and family were pleased to see me and urged me to stay on for a few days. But I knew that my mother would be anxiously awaiting my return, and not wanting to be irresponsible, I decided to return as planned the next day itself.
In the morning my cousin Reggie took me on his scooter to the bus station where we saw a bus about to depart for Goa. I jumped in and managed to get the last empty seat. The bus reached Panaji at 5 p.m. From there I took the local bus to Mapusa. Only when the bus reached the Mapusa bus terminus was I finally on familiar territory. I looked around at the familiar street dogs and hawker stands and then hailed a motorcycle taxi to take me home, which was a short distance of 3 kms.
Back home I proudly walked up to my mum who was smiling a welcome, my brothers punching me, my dog licking me-all so far away from the world of elephants and tiger footprints.