Payyambalam Beach Road. Known to the early morning runners, bikers and walkers as a place of solace among kindred spirits finding peace in the morning chill; known to the evening “let’s go for a drive” crowd as the end of the busy road, only to loop back around before grabbing a bite to eat, and maybe even a ballon for their screaming 3 year old.
Between the black and the white; between the still haze of the early morning fog and the blur of the brightly lit evening bustle; between the 2 worlds that seem so starkly different; between the extremes lies the gray emptiness of the mid afternoon sun beating down without mercy on the lone runner’s neck.
More importantly, it’s the gray coloring the secret lovers trying to hide from society that doesn’t condone. It’s the gray of drivers with L stickers* on their cars, knowing that the road is spread wide in front of them with nothing to dodge other than the lovers who are intentionally hidden… and perhaps that one lone runner who really shouldn’t be there in the first place.
This gray doesn’t belong to the runner. The gray belongs to those that blur between the black and the white.
*In Kerala, drivers with learner’s permits generally have a big red L sticker on their car
Day 2 sitting out here staring at the wilderness. I’m learning about new plants and insects.
Two days back, during a work meeting, I felt something flying down with the weight of a heavy dead leaf and land on the brown adirondack chair right behind my neck. I jumped up, exclaiming loud, fully expecting whatever it was to have flown away already.
I was surprised to see 2 big eyes looking up at me from the back of a matte black insect that looked relatively harmless. It was the length of my thumb, but double in width. But I have small hands. So half whatever image you have in your head.
I tried to reason why it looked “harmless”. The lack of any protruding forcep like appendages from its head definitely helped. The body of the insect was matte black like I mentioned, but with a dusting of white splashes across its body. I got closer to it as I heard Luigi go “whoa what is it?” at the other end of the call. I’d turned the camera around so that he could see what I was looking at. My mind reaffirmed me that it was harmless.
Shiny/Glossy = Poisonous
Matte = Harmless
Now don’t ask me how my subconscious did that instant math. But that’s what my mind told me, and I trusted it.
Isn’t that what the gut is meant to be? Nothing but a combined mental aggregate of your life’s experiences that will help you make decisions quicker than making instant coffee? I trusted my gut the same way I wish I’d trusted my gut the last time I complicated my life.
But no, this story about the beetle isn’t about how it complicated my life. Because it didn’t. And it is likely something I should scratch off my “My Uncomplicated Story” book. But that is for the second draft. For now, I’m leaving it in my first draft, and you get to hear all about this matte black insect with big eyes. But I will also extract this and publish this as a blog post. There you go.
“Elongated black beetle with big eyes” I found myself typing in google as I heard Luigi in the distance talking about how this is why he doesn’t work from the backyard, and how I should get citronelli and maybe even a bug screen.
“Eastern Eyed Click Beetle”, aka “Alaus Oculatus”. That’s what its name was and apparently it was harmless. But those big white spots on its back were apparently fake eyes. It’s in disguise!
I peered closer to it and tried to blow on it to see if it would move. It didn’t budge. It didn’t want to leave my chair. So I gave up and found the other adirondack chair and settled down to finish my call with Luigi, even as I tried to commit to my brain that a dusty looking matte rattlesnake is still poisonous. I hoped my gut would react appropriately the next time I see one.
This concludes this story in my de-tech-tive series, where you will learn about “mysteries” I solved using tech (basically google).
* this story is partly fiction, and names of humans have been changed
I saw so many beautiful sights, I have no energy to find the perfect image for this post.
But it needs to be recorded that this Indian summer I saw many beautiful sights and experienced so many firsts; right here in Kannur. Mountains and beaches and trees and sand and sun and rocks and cliffs and fishes and what the Kunafa!
Here is a picture of some people fishing at the Mappila Bay in Kannur. There were a ton of lone fishermen there, standing precariously on the giant rocks, teeming with red colored crabs.
One of them spoke in Hindi, directing some others on what to do. Maybe he had a small business setup going on over there on the rocky pier, and he was giving instructions to his staff. Maybe the staff had to meet a quota.
All of the men (there were no women there holding a line) were going through the same set of motions. 1) Grab a piece of fish tail/fish head/shrimp from the plastic bag sitting at their feet on the rocks, 2) hook the fishy bait at one end of the blue plastic fishing line, which emerged from a spool which was about 5 inches in diameter 3) hurl the bait end of the line into the bay as far as they can 4) slowly reel the line back in after five minutes – with or without fish 5) repeat steps 3 through 5.
I asked someone how long it generally takes to get a bite. He said with a smile that it depends on how long it takes for the fish to bite. I asked him how long he’d been waiting. He said half hour.
Meanwhile, one of the other guys caught a fish. He was older. He said the name of the fish was “Champeri”. Am I remembering the name wrong and getting it mixed up with the town I passed through on the way to Palakkayam Thattu? I could be. But for now, let’s call it Champeri.
Champeri rested flat at the bottom of a white cloth bag. Champeri looked about a foot long. He said he could sell Champeri for Rs 600 and that it’s fresh catch.
I left being thankful he used a cloth bag, but couldn’t help wonder if the cloth bag was reusable and how long it would take to wash the smell of dead fish off the white cotton threads.
Palakkayam Thattu was beyond my expectations. I was expecting a Motta Kunnu (bare rocky hill). There was nothing bare about what I saw.
From the top as far as the eye could see, there were miles upon miles of rolling hills dotting what appeared to be flat ground at sea level, broken by houses, roads and churches. There were a lot of churches.
The windy curvy roads looked so small that I felt I could almost pick up the white Mahindra jeeps that kept noodling down the far away broken roads; one after the other; they kept coming; never ending.
The mountains of the Western Ghats that laced the skyline seemed to be tumbling over each other, but a few peaks stood out. The oddly shaped Paithalmala was unmistakably stark. Almost as stark and abrupt as the sentences that make up this post! Words don’t seem to be working for me today. So I’m not gonna try and get overly poetic.
Let me leave you with – I’d love to climb Paithalmala soon!
I know what you’re gonna say. “Look! Chichen Itza!”. Well PLOT TWIST! This is Uxmal!
Before my trip, my friend Erika, who I met on Craigslist 12 years ago (long story for another day), sent me a cryptic message.
“Uxmal over Chicken Pizza any day”
I didn’t quite get what she meant at the time. I didn’t really prod either, because I was just trying to get through the vast amount of information she was sending me about all things Mexico.
Erika’s family is from Mexico. So. Yes. She had a lot of information to share, including the right way to say “Valladolit”.
“Uxmal over Chicken Pizza”
I honestly thought it was maybe Mexico’s version of the NYC Chicken over Rice 🍛
I really didn’t think much of it until I went to Uxmal.
And then I went to Chichen Itza the next day. 3 hours of pushing through crowds of tourists, and saying “no gracias” to street vendors, I sat down exhausted at the base of El Castilo. I looked up at the mighty pyramid and found myself mumbling to myself “Uxmal over Chichen Itza. Someone get me out of here”
This is the last pic taken of me in 2021. I hadn’t washed the salty sand from the day off my body yet, but the dinner was good and I loved learning about the Argentinian solo (I think?) traveller sitting at the dinner table next to me who trains polo horses for a living.
Not gonna write about how <insert adjective> 2021 was. It was no worse, or no better than the years prior. But as always, I’m thankful for my privilege.
But talking about 2021? I spent a total of 5 months out of a carry on suitcase, travelling and meeting people from various walks of life, while transplanting myself from Manhattan and building a haven for myself in South Jersey, and juggling a multitude of professional and personal projects. I’m thankful for new friendships; some for a reason, some for a season and some for a lifetime.
Every year will bring its own weight in terms of challenges. This year though – I built a ton of muscle! Maybe not a ton, but definitely a few pounds.
Bring it on 2022. Show me what you got. Because I’m gonna approach it with the same level of enthusiasm as I’m approaching that plate full of food in front of me.
Yes, life will always be tough. And I’m not expecting 2022 to be “better”. But I am excited about whatever it has in store for me.
The case was made of leather and looked worn. It looked sturdy though. The zipper lay unzipped, yet I couldn’t see what was inside.
As I crept closer, the thought didn’t escape me that it belonged to a dead person. I should probably not peek into it.
Would I want someone looking through my travel kit? Absolutely not.
Morbid curiosity got the better of me, and I knew I wanted to see what was inside the dusty kit. Morbid. I realize the use of the word is not in good taste.
Memories of my brother prying open an uncle’s travel kit as a toddler, and knicking his baby index finger on a razor, ran through my head as I stuck out my index finger, and gingerly tugged the case open.
It contained everything I’d expected it to contain, with the exception of the strip of batteries (why?), but seeing the nail clippers got to me for some reason.
I thought about my travel kit that had taken a constant spot on top of my washer whenever I’m home between travels – it is as personal as it gets for me. It is the one thing that I can instantly roll up and take with me on my travels. And it is the one thing that makes me instantly feel at home regardless of where my home for the night is.
I wonder if he knew; if he knew as he clipped his nails, and put the clippers back in the kit, that there would be no next time. If he knew, would he have left it there? So that a random stranger can write a post about how vulnerable it must have felt to leave a half finished piece of your life, for someone to take a peek at.
Living in Kansas City, tornado warnings were an everyday occurrence. Moving from a country where there were no tornadoes, to the heart of tornado land, I quickly learned a thing or two about tornadoes.
As freshmen in college, we’d rush to the 1st floor of Chestnut dorms, or “1st floor” as we called it, every time we heard the tornado sirens in the distance. The sound of the sirens was always a distant hum that was barely audible. If we missed it, we’d be sure to hear the RAs (Resident Assistants) who’d come banging at our doors, asking us to get moving.
1st floor always smelled a bit funky. 1st floor was also the freshmen guys’ floor. I don’t think there is any correlation between those two pieces of information. But somehow those are the only two things that come to mind when I think of the 1st floor.
Even though 1st floor was technically the 1st floor of Chestnut, it often felt like a basement. Chestnut was built on the side of a hill, and the entrance to the building was on the second floor. So in order to get to the 1st floor, you had to descend a few stairs. There was no external exit from the 1st floor, which kinda gave the male populated, funky smelling 1st floor a bit of a dungeon vibe.
Giggling, we’d huddle on the floor, in the 1st floor hallway, making jokes about how that ‘nado is never gonna hit the ground anyway.
If it was a particularly bad storm, we’d all be rushed into the “underground”. The “underground” was a brightly light, frigidly air conditioned section of the university that was built entirely INSIDE of another hill. I realize there were a lot of hills on campus.
The “underground” was also said to have been mined by former university students from the mid 1800s, in exchange for free education. It is also possible that I am making up this bit of information. Not much from my freshmen orientation from 16 years ago remain in my mind; but limestone mining by former students is a picture that is ingrained quite deeply.
I say all this because I moved away from Kansas City over 10 years ago. And in those 10 years, I haven’t experienced a single Tornado warning. Until today.
When that alert came to my phone, the first thought that came to my mind was slight fear. Because in 10 years I’d forgotten what it meant to be under tornado watch, let alone a tornado warning.
What do I do? Where do I go? How is it that I feel so unprepared, in spite of my extensive Kansas (City) experience?
Typed out, I realize it sounded like I was panicking. Don’t let me mislead you. Even though I had these thoughts rushing through my head, the most I did was draw the curtains, and lay on the couch with a blanket over me, starting to write this blog post, while also doing a quick Google search about what to do when you don’t have a basement.
I also texted a couple of friends just to make sure I wasn’t missing out on some mass panic movement that was going on that I was unaware of.
Like I mentioned, I’d started to write this blog while plopped on my couch, while the storm was brewing outside. Once I got to the part that required a screenshot of the alert, I went back to my text message thread so that I could take a neat little screenshot that can be inserted into this post.
As I started cropping it up, the history of the thread gave me pause.
It was sobering to see the stark difference between the kinds of alerts I’ve been receiving over the past year. If I could take a picture of how my life has changed over the past year, having swapped out the fast pace and fully booked social calendar of the city life, to a life of last minute impulsive travel and long long car rides to little known hiking trails, this would be it.
June 2nd, 2020 read "Citywide curfew... No traffic allowed in Manhattan south of 96th st..."
July 29, 2021 read "TORNADO WARNING"
Can you tell my threats are now nature, whereas previously it was human?