The Worst Journey Ever. The Best Vacation Ever.
Our hero eventually does get his luggage. The very next day, actually. As it turned out, an old man mistook our hero’s bag for his. This can all be traced back to a small red ribbon that our hero tied to his bag in Fort Lewis, before he flew to Baghdad. The red ribbon was supposed to identify his bag as belonging to his company. Unbeknowst to him, an old man elsewhere in the world also put a small red rope on his bag, which happened to look almost exactly like our hero’s bag. Fast forward six months later to Cochin International Airport. An old man sees his luggage on the conveyor. All his bags have the red rope on them. Unfortunately, along with his bags, comes a slightly different bag with red tape on it. He assumes that it is his and takes it along with him. When he reaches home, he finds out that it isn’t his, and so he promptly calls the Airport Authorities. They put him in touch with our hero. They meet up the next day, exchange bags, and all is well.
Well, so that was pretty much how I made my way to India. With my horrendous journey behind me, I was ready to enjoy my 15 days of R&R! It felt good to be in Kerala again – the controlled chaos, the unbridled greenery, the explosion of colours, motion, sights, sounds, and smells – everything is so alive. My grandad was thrilled to see me. He had been waiting for months to see me and he was overflowing with joy. He had a lot of questions to ask me about my experiences in Iraq, especially since he used to be in the Military too. He was part of the 4th Squadron of the Royal Indian Airforce during World War II. We talked about all kinds of things during the ride home. Mostly they wanted to know if I was safe and how I was doing in general. I told them little stories and anecdotes and tried to describe my life here. Soon we arrived at my beloved Chendamangalam – my hometown. It is a sleepy, idyllic village, set in the middle of the Periyar river. Winding roads flanked by trees. Riverbanks populated by coconut palms. A very peaceful and unassuming place. Time doesn’t flow by in Chendamanglam. No, it stops by, saunters around, and reluctantly makes its way onward. The central feature (perhaps for me anyway, since it’s so close to my house) of Chendamangalam is the Nada (Altar). The reason it is called that is because of the Vaikkathappan temple. The altar, or sanctum sanctorum of the temple is known as the nada in Malayalam. For some reason the word is also used to describe the immediate vicinity of the Vaikkathappan temple. The Nada has changed very little since my childhood. There are a few new houses, and some houses have been painted or renovated. But for the most part, it has remained the same. Indeed, some of the shops at the Nada have been around for decades, and some of the Paliam houses by the temple have to be at least a few hundred years old. For the most part however, life moves by slowly in this little village in the middle of Kerala.
We finally make it home and I get to finally meet Dipu Cheta (Older Brother) and the latest addition to our family, Simi Chechi (Older sister – Simi is what we call her for short, her actual name is Smitha), his wife. I have to say, I couldn’t have asked for a better older sister. She’s very outgoing, intelligent, pretty, and gets along great with our family. Dipu Cheta and her make a good couple! As soon as I got there, I got a nice homecooked breakfast of warm Idlis and chammandi (a kind of spicy sauce, made with coconut and some other stuff – I’d have to ask my mom). I pretty much chilled the rest of the day with the family. Towards the evening, we played a three-hour game of Blackjack, where Dipu Cheta made off with a ton of money. That was a whole lot of fun. Of course, there was still one thing missing. My grandma (my dad’s mom). She passed away last year, and it was very hard for me. She was a permanent fixture in my life – a great source of inspiration and someone I was in awe of and I looked up to. She taught me so much about my culture and traditions. When I was younger, I used to fall asleep listening to her bed-time stories about Krishna and Rama and various other Hindu Gods and Goddesses. Her absence made the experience bittersweet, but she’s in a better place now. Even though she wasn’t there physically, I know she was there in spirit.