A sarkari babu from Thiruvananthapuram, an ad man and a journalist from Bengaluru, an insurance executive from Pala and a construction guy from Delhi decided to take a tributarial journey along the most romanticized river of Kerala, Baratha Puzha .
They named it "A Date with Nila*"
The serpentine flow of time, while defining itself also animates the space around in more ways than we could imagine. Travelling with the river as a fellow traveller helps in identifying such residual influences which are otherwise conveniently overlooked.
Sifting through the fine sands of myth and facts, following his footsteps, in search of the Madman of Naranath , among others.....
Thunchan Gurumadom, the four hundred year old building where Thunchathu Ezhuthachan, the 'Father of Malayalam' spent his most creative phase of life was the logical starting point.
2 km from Chitur, off Palakkad town by the banks of the River is a small street-village, Thekke Gramam. It is here that Ezhuthachan polished the rough alphabets of Malayalam and formulated the language as we know it today. A few Brahmin families whose ancestors were believed to have been brought in by Ezhuthachan as part of his relocation entourage are the current inhabitants of this village. The Gurumadom itself is being maintained by the Nair Service Society (NSS). Most of the original manuscripts are conserved here for posterity.
It is from this room that Ezhuthachan gave birth to the modern Malayalam language, it is believed.
Stories, with lavish helpings of imagination are in abundant circulation here about the birth, life and miracles of the great poet who graced this piece of land.
The tone and texture for the onward journey has already been defined.
Next leg of the journey took them to a place where history was made when a modern day myth was exposed. Or many were waiting to be exposed.
The most influential brand on earth- probably next only to the divine ones- Coca Cola waged an unsuccessful war on the people of Plachimada. And they paid a heavy price. The people of Plachimada had to bear an even bigger cost.
After several years of relentless protests and struggles by the locals, aided and propped by a host of non stake players against the abuse and exploitation of underground water by the company, Coca Cola finally closed their bottling plant and left.
On a breezy Palakkadan morning, the cold silence of the multinational behemoth's skeletal remains stood face to face with the vacant canopies once occupied by the protesters. Nothing stirred. Except for the occasional clang of the rusted factory gates nudged by a trespassing stray dog. And the muted sighs of those assembled in the ubiquitously malayali tea shop next door.
A casual chat with them revealed much more than what prime time news channels could ever sensationalise in any of their clamorous debates. Stark reality is that there is no one to tell them if their water table is safe now.
Or anyone to help them get back their lost jobs.
Thasrakh. The search for the swaying palm trees and dreaming dragonflies took the travelers to this nondescript village that launched a million copies of a particular book.
Journey through the mythical landscapes of O V Vijayan, in search of the elusive reality of Kazakh will be documented separately here.
Kunchan Nambiar, the 18th century poet / performer epitomized the art of Thullal. He is revered as the greatest satirist Kerala ever had. His humour, style and ease with which he still connects with the audience could very well be identified with the River on the banks of which he founded the art form.
The banks of River Nila boasts of a suitable memorial to the master.
And thus, the River and the memorial compliment each other. Modern day Malayali's tribute to the master is the audaciousness with which humour tinged barbs are still targeted at the holy cows.
Manikkinar, Thirunavaya. Such a seemingly innocuous sounding name. This is were quite a few carefully orchestrated tragedies ended. Only to be repeated again and again.
Till late 18th century, even petty disputes between feudal lords were settled by legally organised bloody fights. The banks of the River near Thirunavaya is where such battles were organised periodically and the entire fight-flow was outsourced to professional fighters known as Chaver.
The fight until deaths between different groups of Chavers representing the feudal lords often resulted in a deadly pile up that the logistics of disposing off the dead bodies turned out to be an even bigger problem. It was in this well that the dead bodies were dumped unceremoniously. It is documented that it was so difficult a task that elephants were used to foot down the bodies into the well and make way for the continuous inflow of bodies.
A rare monument of a barbarous past. A definite pointer towards the grim modern day reality.
Changampally Kalari, Thirunavaya
Just before embarking on their final journey to fight a proxy war and claim their death , it is here that the Chevars assemble for one last time. Amid battle cries and money changing hands, their family members would be lucky if they could catch one final glimpse of their loved ones - the ones who were born to die for others.
Thiruvilwamala. God's own village will be the next pit stop, for the soul.
Known more for the Vishnu temple and VKN, travelogue for this blessedly green village will begin and end with a single word - 'serene'. Period.
Perunthachan, the master craftsman's legend is alive here.
The myth of the geometrical pond
and spaces sculpted by the great carpenter from a different era still stand testimony to Kerala's first high profile engineer.
Thiruvalathoor , the unfinished Randu Moorthi Temple
It is believed that the 'Pancha Bhoothams' tried to complete construction of the temple overnight but couldn't. A portion of the huge stone wall is left unfinished till date.
Hundreds of geometrically aligned lamps adorn the outer walls of the temple structure. Revisiting the temple during the annual festival when all these immaculately aligned lamps are lit to please the presiding sororal deities is a 'must do' mark on the calendar.
Thunchan Smarakam, Tirur The circular journey finds its culmination here in the birthplace of Ezhuthachan.
A museum , efficiently maintained by a trust under MT Vasudevan Nair with exhibits covering the evolution of art and literature in Kerala is the best possible tribute to Ezhuthachan.
As the travelers end their journey and prepare to return back to their individual karmas, the River continues its flow.....
....remembering its past...
...driving the present...
...carrying its own dreams...
...pausing occasionally to appreciate life....
..and share concerns...
...trying to breach its own boundaries...
...even while travelling inwards.......
The endless journey ....
..to liquid Nirvana.