It was a ritual that played out faithfully every evening when we were in Cochin [now, Kochi] for our summer holidays. My mother, brother and I would join our grandparents as they set out on their evening drive, which included a leisurely round of the famous Ernakulathappan, the iconic Siva temple on Marine Drive.
My mother would sit between her parents at the back, while my brother and I shared the front seat with the driver. It was usually a ‘pehle aap, pehle aap’ kind of moment as my brother and I fought to get the window seat. Until one day, seeing our unseemly scramble, my mother ordered that we had to share the dibs on the window seat fairly, which meant each of us got a shot at it every alternate day. Diaries were never so meticulously maintained.
The Chevrolet crawled at a snail’s pace on the narrow roads of Thevara, up the newly constructed bridge, which had finally replaced the changadam (or water ferry) originally used to row cars across, until it reached the main MG Road. All of us, especially my grandfather, relaxed when this happened because the earlier stretch was literally a hit-and-miss between the driver and pedestrians, flower vendors and vegetable carts.
Next, and for us, the most important stop was of course the much-loved Woodlands Hotel. While the driver went in to parcel our dinner (ghee roast and masala dosas, vadas and idlis), we would make google eyes at our mother to order for us our choco bars. Most days she relented, sometimes with some “give it to them, Ammini,” support from my grandfather. And while we waited for the driver to finish his evening snack and pack the goodies, we got to go slurp, drop, slurp with the choco bar.
Sticky fingers, chocolate stains and all, the next stop was the Vasantha Pharmacy, a stop we children just did not like. What an enormous time it took for the driver to come back with the medicines required. Desultory conversation in the back seat had no interest for us, the sultry weather sans AC of any kind in humid Kerala made us cranky. And crankiness usually led to some verbal skirmishes in the front seat. I sometimes feel, Kaimal, our driver, took his own time on purpose just to tease the two of us.
Finally, circling the beautiful temple, the car would wind its way down the Foreshore Road. Lights twinkled from the oil vessels anchored in the Cochin Harbor. Sometimes we chanced on sailors from foreign lands. Once the car had come to a halt, all of us would get out and make our way to the parapets. The sound of the sea, lapping gently below, the balmy breeze and the smell of the Woodlands coffee handed out in steel tumblers, to each of us from her precious thermos, by my grandmother comes evocatively to my mind.
Dusk having already settled in, it was not wise to run around in the grass, Amma would say. Valiamma would sometimes sit us on both sides of her and tell us beautiful stories. The one about Sudama and Krishna always made me cry, every single time. I would long for the tragedy to finish and the happily ever after ending to come about. I would cry my eyes out as she wove the pathos in the tale.
Finally coffee done, story told, conversations had, we would all pack back into the car to drive back home in time for the ghee roasts! Yes, every single day spent in balmy Cochin was beautiful holiday ritual, rich with warm childhood memories, of choco bars and ghee roasts, majestic ships on silken waters, the humble obeisance to Lord Siva, the keeper of Ernakulam, and grandmothers lovingly woven evergreen tales. And even as I battle my weighing scale every day, I wouldn’t for the life of me have ever traded in those ghee roasts and choco bars. Naah, never.
Hema Ravichandar is a strategic HR consultant. She serves as an independent director and advisory board member for several organizations.