From my viewpoint at the top floor of the restaurant, overlooking the beach, I can watch the Indian locals and tourists frolicking in the water and taunting the waves, only a few weeks after five young men were swept away. There is a red flag, frayed and torn, hanging limply after constantly being soaked – no match for the unrelenting Westerly wind that brought monsoon rains to all of India, bar the Southern tip where I am – and no deterrent for the overheating tourists looking for a reprieve from the roasting of the sun-rays. And occasionally, the whoosh of the wind and waves is disturbed by the piercing whistle of a frantic lifeguard trying to keep everyone safe. Today the beach is heaving with visitors; it has been a long weekend with lots of holidays starting on Friday with the Hindu’s equivalent to All Soul’s Day, followed by Independence Day on Saturday and according to the waiter apparently there is another holiday coming up tomorrow in preparation of Kerala’s main Festival of Harvest…but as this one is not mentioned in the school’s diary I suppose we better turn up at school just in case.
Who can blame the Indian sea revellers! I will be joining them later on on my way back; I can never resist feeling the sea water lapping at my feet, or even accidentally being engulfed by unexpected high waves, soaking my shorts or dress… Today, I came prepared, wearing my bikini under my dress and even though I will be the only white spectacle on display if I choose to disrobe, life is too short to worry about what other people may think… There are a few umbrellas, but they are only used by women to shield themselves from too much sun in the hope of retaining a paler skin, so much sought after and idolised by Indian media.
So finally, after having spent four dry months in India during my first stint, I have now discovered how and where to get a proper drink!!! At a price, I have to admit, but still nowhere near the cost of a pint in an English pub. The hotel where I stay has a bar, obviously, but rather tucked away out of view and last month I was the only customer there having an interesting conversation with the bartender lingering over a Pina Colada, which he quite liberally kept on lacing with more rum. Varkala also panders to the Western tastes and alcohol is easy to come by… I have now found a cocktail bar, although I would not recommend their Tequila Sunrise – too sickly sweet – and most restaurants indeed serve beer to menfolk and Western women alike. Although last night’s Heineken, which accompanied my evening meal at the hotel, indeed drew some attention from the Indian women at the surrounding tables because in India women do not drink!! And then there is the Curry Leaf in Kovalam, of course, where A and I often come at the weekends just to have a coffee or a lassi and escape from the boredom of the hamlet of N, or indeed today have my lunch WITH Kingfisher…the whole 650ml of it…so it takes me all afternoon to finish it. Which is fine, it oils the writing.
So, to avoid paying premium prices for a little of relaxation with a drink, A and I have been trying to find somewhere to buy a beer, or a bottle of wine, to drink at home in the evenings… There are indeed shops in N where alcohol is sold, but only men ever go there to buy it. And thinking about our reputation, and the school’s reputation, we have not yet ventured in those shops in case it would get the gossipy tongues wagging. Try Trivandum, someone suggested, it is a big place, no one would know you… It was a plan…until I heard an Estonian girl visiting India for the first time who frequented such place and described the rather louche and unsavoury feelings that accompanied the buying of alcohol.. It sounded like a thing best avoided. In the end, I asked a trusted auto rickshaw driver, whom I have used a couple of times and who understands just enough English to explain our predicament. And he came up trumps!! Whilst I waited patiently in the back of his rickshaw, he went into the shop and bought some prime specimens of contraband… There are indeed ways and means in India, and often it is a case of knowing the right people to get things done…