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Catching a Moment - Undercurrents

INDIA | Thursday, 18 April 2013 | Views [273] | Comments [1] | Scholarship Entry

The river was deceptively calm and looked inviting in the humid heat. I had been warned not to dive in-there were strong undercurrents that could pull you in. I settled for a ride in the canoe. The adolescent boatman strapped me into a faded red life jacket a size too big for me. He held the boat steady while I got in. Taking the oars, he sat on the other end, facing me. I noticed he wasn't wearing a life jacket. The sun was glinting off his oily black hair. He had a sprinkling of a mustache on his sun-burnt face. As he pulled the oars, I could spy lighter skin beneath his sleeves where the sun hadn't quite reached.

'Malayalam?' he asked me.

‘Korchu korchu (little). English?'

'Korchu korchu,' he said and kept staring at me. Growing uncomfortable, I leaned out and dipped my hand in the cool, green water. The boat wobbled and I immediately straightened.

He smiled and asked me a question in Malayalam. I shrugged.

'Where you from?' he tried again.

'You know Allahabad? All-aha-bad?' He shook his head.


He nodded.

'Near Varanasi,' I indicated with my hands.

'And you?' I pointed at him.

'Kerala,' he said and pointed across the river, to the other side. I could see lush palm trees so close to each other that they almost formed a wall. The greenery was so dense that I barely noticed a small stone step on the bank.

The serenity amplified the chirping of the birds and the soft lapping of water against the canoe. An orange tailed bird dove into the river and soared up with a tiny fish in its beak.

'Marriage?' he broke my reverie. I smiled at his unabashed question.

'No, I'm not married yet.' He smiled.

We approached a miniature forest of weeds and lilies growing in the middle of the river. I tried to reach a flower without rocking the boat, but failed. He rowed straight into it. I was surprised by how easily the vegetation yielded to make way for us. Suddenly he swerved the boat and before I knew it, he was offering me a delicate pink lily, freshly plucked. I couldn't help but burst into a smile.

As we neared the bank, I saw a snake's head jutting out from between the rocks. I squealed. He laughed and said, 'Snake.' He tied the boat on the shore and helped me out of the life jacket.

'Thank you,' I smiled warmly.

Clutching the water lily in my hand, I walked away with a spring in my step. A little further up I spotted the Australian tourist I had met the night before. As I walked towards her, I noticed in her hand, a delicate pink lily.

Tags: Travel Writing Scholarship 2013



Kerala really is "God's own country". Your words captured the moment so beautifully - I found myself reaching out to touch the cool green water and the pink lily as I was reading!

  Prash Apr 19, 2013 6:52 PM

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