As I walk along the beach at Varkala, Kerala, I see old grey-haired men pass time by the waves. Their history is the story of Kerala heard all over
After exchanging names and home-towns, we move on to things that matter.
“You have a job?”
I’m slightly embarrassed but I tell him the truth.
Then we talk about family. He explains how he’s married off his children. He’s a proud man, proud at having fulfilled his responsibilities. His wife is long dead, so he sits by the waves and listens to the coconut trees.
Now it’s my turn.
I tell him about my parents and elder brother.
In Tamil Nadu, if someone misbehaves with a chic in public, someone will yell “Weren’t you born with sisters?!” It’s the most embarrassing public allegation according to me, but maybe that’s because I try not to misbehave.
So I didn’t quite pick the intent behind the Old Mallu Man’s reaction to my sisterless existence and fumbled into confused silence.
“No expense! Your path is clear!”
Sister = Expense
Here, the cashew and coffee factories are filled with women. The suppliers of trucks of coffee are women, all the restaurants have women… on the streets, in the stores… everywhere.
I walk into the Cashew Regrading Centre, where women sit around mountains of cashew, picking the good from the bad and the terrible. They all flash a big smile and say hi, with a bow of the head.
The older ones tease the young ones who glance at my brown skin. I think Indians and our brown skin has much greater value outside
I can’t stop blushing and smiling.
Later, I sit next to 35 year old Nga (Ngyya) and learn some documentation. We have 5 mutually understood words, and struggle with communication for half an hour. It’s fascinating, and at the end of it, I learn more Vietnamese than documentation.
They’re most curious about my age, not how much I earn. Two days back I was with a bike-taxi guy, waiting to score some, and we were generally talking… and he guessed my age correctly, without needing a second guess. I learn that he’ll turn 38 the next month. I told him that I was born in July too, and asked him the date… he frowned in thought and said “I don’t know… I’m so busy you know!”