Gondola to Golden Island.. Varkala Diaries

Most people go to Varkala for beaches, yoga, ayurveda, and some good R&R. Varkala’s claim to fame are the cliffs which line the beach and being a beach person, I was eager to go there – and the R&R part too. And not too far are the backwaters which let you discover them via the indigenous Gondolas of Kerala.


Unfortunately for us, it was not yet the season – the sea was rough. The coast guard advised not to get too deep into the water and the waves were coming dangerously to the shore. So after a day of eating European food, getting tanned on the beach and staring at the waves, we decided to go sightseeing.


From the list of places suggested to us – Golden Island sounded intriguing. It was an island around 10 km away from Varkala on the backwaters.  The local name is Ponnamthuruthu – named so after rumors of the Travancore Royal family stashing their gold there.  A Shiva-Parvati temple is present on the island, a major reason why people visit. So, on Day 2 after having a hearty breakfast, we hired a scooter and off we went in search of Ponnamthuruthu relying heavily on Google Maps.

It was one of the few times we learnt Google ain’t that good for “really local”locations. Following the maps to a T, we found ourselves in some unknown street with no boat or waterbody within our view. However, the best part of Kerala is the-always-willing-to-help locals. So while we were confused about where to go next, someone suggested of a  place nearby which takes people across the banks via boats, which was a 2 min drive away. We found someone who could take us across to the island. It was 10.30 and I heard the temple shuts at 12.00 pm so I wanted to get there soon.

Thus, we found ourselves on the traditional wooden boat  gently gliding across the backwaters  taking in the Kerala landscape. Coconut and areca nut trees on the coastline gently swayed with the breeze. Small fish jumped across the water, and we found a dog swimming across the river.

I was strongly reminded of the Gondolas which glide across the canals in Venice. While my friends on exchange were taking their Gondola rides in Venice, I was having my very own Gondola ride, tucked away within the backwaters of Kerala.


The ride took around 45 minutes but completely worth it along with snippets of information from the oarsman. He talked about the month of October when the season really began, and the place would be flooded with tourists and eateries, including on the island itself. The island was called golden island as many locals believe the Royal Travancore famiy stashed up their gold in that island. Until recently the royal family owned the island, and now it has been sold to someone else. The Shiva Parvathi temple is open in the morning till 12. I glanced at my watch. It was already 11. He pointed to an egret eating fish and spoke of migratory birds which came to the backwaters during the winter months, and gave their names in Malayalam.

He also informed us the actual place where we had to board the boat from was near a bridge, which we had overlooked. Considering the actual boat would have been a  motor boat which speeded across the backwaters, I was not too upset that we lost our way and ended up on this boat taking sights of the landscape. Lot of eagles flew around.  There were other birds also along the banks. It was a perfect paradise for nature lovers.

We reached just in time on the island. The bell sounded-signifying closing time. The island itself was very small, with the temple at the centre. It was dedicated to Shiva Parvathy. It also had the deity of Vishnu. One thing which I found interesting was the temple had a small place dedicated to Yakshi. I had seen  a lot of temples which had a small place for Yaksha, but this was probably the first temple I visited which had a dedicated space for Yakshis. Yakshis in local folklore are portrayed as demonesses who take the form of a pretty lady and seduce and kill men. Whereas Yakshas are revered but not feared, and are generally considered benevolent. I asked the priest about this curious trait. He informed me it is basically to ward off fear. For folks who have nightmares, praying to Yakshis help.

The priest does not live on the island either. They live across the backwaters where majority of the settlements were there. Outside the temple was a smaller area for worship of Nagaraja – the snake king.

The priest gave us the temple offering – Payasam, and after roaming around a little on the tiny island we decided to head back.

The ride back gave a more pronounced sighting of different bird species. dsc00840

He also told us of an amazing place where we could get sea food. “It’s always the fresh catch”, he assured us. And considering the long boat ride, the restaurant Kayalaoram, was where we were headed to right after . I was thankful for the off season for it not being too crowded.


The food was a delicious spread for a sea food buff, albeit a little spicy (for me). Rice, Tapioca with prawn curry, karimeen fry, and kallumakaya (mussels ) fry on traditional banana leaf – all for 150 bucks. And sorry – no pics of the food – I was too busy wolfing it down. Maybe next time.


The Gold Project – Part I

“Congratulations! You have been certified for the Gold Project!”

I had then felt I was part of something special. I din’t win a gold medal or anything. It was just a verbal acknowledgement back then.

The rickety bus ride jolted me back to the present.The bus slowly  made its way to the middle of nowhere. The Company seemed all too familiar, with the usual routine – something not to look forward to or look back upon. I trudged into the locker room, and  as I changed into my lab coat in the locker room, I was aware of a shadow hulking behind me. I turned, and stared into the muzzle of a gun. I heard the gun shot, and fell on the floor. It was the fall which hurt.

It was also the fall which woke me up. I had rolled over and fallen flat on the floor.  It has been three years since I left that project. As I thought back , it was also unlikely that anyone can smuggle a gun inside The Company. I got up and poured myself a glass of water. The stillness of the night was disturbed by the sound of Darth Vader’s Imperial March. Being a loyal Star Wars’ fan, it has stayed as my ringtone ever since I found it.

“Allo! “, the all too familiar voice of Javier Marquez sounded at the other end. ” I need a favor”, he said rolling the “o” the typical Spanish way.

What are the odds, just after the dream.

” Robby is no longer with us, I need you to come in and do formacion. We don’t have anyone else certified for the Gold Project, and your our best.”

The request was from my former boss,and I owed the old man. Despite his finnicky obsession with perfection, he was fair.Robby , my protege had died last month from a freak accident, and since I was the only other one qualified, they needed me to train another.

“Can’t you train someone else?”, I asked.

There was a pause at the other end.

“Your the only one whose certified for the project… and alive.” He said. “All the others are dead.”


Experiments Flashing Fiction

DSC00008She looked at the photo taken nine years back. A dark, lean man in his early twenties stared back at her.

“So you knew each other in college? “ Lillian asked me.

This was the time for the skeletons to emerge from the closet. She had spent all those countless hours staring at this photo back in college – the only memorable relic of his with her.

They had met at a college party. Loud music, drinks, and flashes of camera. He and she had met eyes. It was love-at-first sight.

“At a college party.” She answered back.

“But “, she countered, “He’s from your town. You never met while here ?”

“Nope”, she replied.

They had exchanged phone numbers, and he called her the next day. Whirlwind was an understatement where she never thought they could have been happier.. until the spot scared him.

The red spot never came for more than 6 weeks. The spot on the stick she peed turned blue, indicating a positive. After she broke the news to him,

“ I .. need time ”, he looked nervous. “ I have to go. I’ll call you. “, but he never did.

“He has lost a lot of weight since college. I am surprised he was still so fair in that hot place. ”,  Lillian disrupted my thoughts .

I look back at the photo.  Standing next to the dark, lean ex- boyfriend of mine was a younger, fairer and plumper version of Sam.

Two months after the pregnancy scare, on the bus back home, Sam was seated next to me. His silly jokes cracked me up, and I have not stopped smiling since.  We got married last year.

Sometimes a false positive is all it takes to put things in perspective.

Braving the Mumbai Local


Source : Internet

It was around 8.15 p.m. I waited in trepidation at what could possibly come, anxious, and mustering up my every resolve. Childhood memories came flooding back.

I was eight years old, my last trip to Mumbai, the city I would later revisit only after marriage. Dad had taken me around for a Mumbai Darshan. And the moment, the train stopped, people had come flooding both in and out. “Bacchi hai. Bacchi hai”, my dad had cried as he lifted me and shoved me into  a train packed with people. I don’t know how he did it. He gave one arm to me which I clung on for dear life within the coach, and with his other arm, he caught the hand hold. Getting out of the train was a similar affair where he lifted me, and yelled “Bacchi hai” to avoid being crushed in the stampede of people entering and getting out.

Landing to the present – some 17 years later, I waited for the train to arrive. “Lady’s compartment is there”, a man pointed out.

A lady with a kind face and, in a black dress is engrossed onto her tablet reading a book. She looked up and smiled – which did help me calm me a little bit. “Take this train “, she said as a slow moving local made its way onto the platform. Surprisingly the women’s compartment wasn’t as crowded as the details I heard. It probably helped that it was around 7.50  pm also (I was caught in the complete thick of it the next day, and realized they were right!)

I had a place to stand. I thought it maybe because of the comparatively later hour. A saree clad lady entered the compartment at the next station to sell her stock of trinkets. A policeman briskly walked up and stood on the footboard of the train at least for the next eight stations.

I also noticed the seat reservation mechanism in the ladies compartment. I was told later by a colleague it is exclusive only to the ladies compartment. “Which station?”, they enquire as soon as they get in, and then book their seats. Some actually offer when they get up, but in the thick of the crowd, its always the seat reservation mechanism.  I looked around me. Most ladies were hooked onto their earphones with eyes fixated on their mobile. Some with seats managed to sleep. And others were looming large over potential ladies whose stations were coming up.

And finally.. it was I looked through the window and saw my station come up. When I got down, I saw my husband was waiting with a smile.

“So how was it?” He asked.

“Not so bad” I responded, with a sense of accomplishment.