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   There have been no Lakshadweeps in my life.. (December 30, 1987)

There have been no Lakshadweeps in my life. The nearest I have been is the Kerala coast. Actually, all Kerala is coast and backwaters and blue lagoons fringed by palm trees and occasional stretches of silver beaches. It is like an extension of Goa, but a much bigger Goad, stretching miles and miles.

I had taken a train, at some small stop in Tamil Nadu, late in the night. It had come into the silent station huffing and puffing out of the night, stopped for a minute, which is all that the little station deserved then set off again.

Fortunately, the train was reasonably empty. I had climbed on the luggage-rack and slept. In the morning, when I came down and looked out the window, the world has turned a chlorophyl green. Along the railway track were paddy-fields shimmering in their waters, palm trees behind them, an occasional village, neat and tidy as in a documentary film, sometimes a view of the backwaters.

I had never seen so much green in my life. And, when we passed through stations, so much white. The men all wore white, white lungis that they kept folding up, typing in knot, then pulling down, then folding up again with nervous energy.

I stayed for a week in a hotel in Ernakulam, opposite the boat terminal. They were commuter boats, taking the people across the waters of Cochin. I would go with them, watching the passengers casually playing cards, reading newspapers, as in a suburban train, as they made the short journey across.

On the other side was old Cochin, city of Vasco da Game, home of the White Jews. There was a synagogue, a church with the intrepid navigator's grave right in the middle of the aisle, and merchants trading in cashewnuts, shell-fish. And out in the sea there were the catamarans, the Chinese fishingnets.

I used to have shrimp curry and rice for lunch, and several glasses of warm rice-water. The rice-water, a sort of kanji, came free, even before you ordered a meal.

The luncheous were in Cochin, the dinners Ernakulam - piles of rice and rasam on plantian leaves, an occasional beer, nothing more.

At the end of the week, I took a boat - in fact, several boats - through the backwaters, past villages and friendly arrack shops, half way to Trivandrum.

I spent a few days in Trivandrum, a neat little town with the cleanest public toiled anywhere in India and cleaner than most in Europe. The town had a hill at one end, with a palace and a zoo; below were government offices, bus-stops with Kerala women in white saris and long flowing black hair standing in orderly queues, a friendly press club.

The islands of Lakshadweep were just across the sea, but I did not have a naval ship or helicopter to go across.

 
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