There was a time when I thought that my family was too dysfunctional for me to continue living in the house for longer than the 21 years I’ve been on this planet. There was a time when I thought that the yelling and the arguing was too much to bear, times when I thought that my parents were one more fight away from getting a divorce and leaving my sister and I to choose between them as if we were picking our favourite flavour of ice cream on grocery day. Sometimes I wonder how we ever reached the place where we are now, how we managed to fix every problem from a 25 year marriage over the course of one month in a country on the other side of the planet. India, in its own way, fixed my parent’s marriage and saved my family in ways that I don’t understand, and maybe never will.
You would think that being stuck in a car with the same people for two days would drive you crazy, but for us it really seemed to work. The time that we embarked on a road trip from the city of Chennai in the state of Tamil Nadu to the town of Alleppey in the state of Kerala was certainly a time of family bonding and adventure. As amazing and wondrous as India is, there are some things that absolutely drove me crazy, from the intense heat to the swarm of mosquitos that decide to have a feast while you sleep to the people who immediately sense a tourist and won’t quit trying to sell you their merchandise at frightening prices. Possibly the greatest source of insanity came from the entire bathroom situation that arose while we were on this road trip. I was always baffled by how people are able to use the toilet when it’s literally a hole in the ground, the amount of squatting that they do on a daily basis must give them great legs. Every time we stopped for a bathroom break, we would ensure that there were western style bathrooms with an actual toilet like the ones we were used to. There was one time when I urgently had to use the bathroom and so being the spoiled first-world citizen that I am I demanded that we continue driving until we found a rest stop that had western toilets. After driving for what felt like eternity with the urgency to relieve myself growing stronger and stronger with every passing second, we finally reached a rest house, but alas my prayers for a toilet were not answered. At this point I was too crazed to even consider holding it in any longer and, much to my parent’s amusement, used the bathroom like a real native south Asian. The incident will forever be humorously referred to as the “bathroom incident from India” with my family.
One of the most breathtaking moments of the whole trip was when we reached the border between the two states, in a town called Kanyakumari. The entire Indian sky in general is just otherworldly, there was something about the way that the sun rays streamed down through the clouds while we drove around mountains and through valleys, and the way that the fog painted hidden peaks and filtered the sun light as we finally drove in to the town. We reached Kanyakumari just in time to catch the sunset, which is an event that many travel to the town to witness as it’s rumoured to be one of the most beautiful sights in all of south India. There’s something about the sunsets there that I really cannot do justice by describing. The way that the soft pastel colours lit up the sky as the sun slowly sets, hearing my parents talk about trivial things as they held hands, and the sound of the ocean waves as the soundtrack to a flawless view, all combined to create the perfect moment. We pulled up a seat on some rocks and simply enjoyed the view, sitting in a comfortable silence that was only broken by what was possibly the funniest moment of the trip.
It’s not uncommon for people to mistake me for a north Indian woman, since my skin colour is much fairer than the darker Sri Lankan tones of the rest of my family. My parents found it extremely amusing when a street seller, who was claiming that his particular set of stone necklaces and “holy” bracelets were the only ones in the whole town blessed by God, approached me and started speaking in Hindi (a language that I definitely do not understand) trying to convince me to purchase some of his goods. My mother and father were practically rolling on the floor laughing when they saw the confusion and discomfort on my face at this man who was rapidly marketing his items in a foreign language while I kept shaking my head and awkwardly saying “oh no thank you, no please, I’m good” over and over again. After that whole encounter, my parents continually made jokes at my expense, laughing at how I was so baffled by what the man was saying.
My favourite thing about Kerala is that it’s so green, more so than anywhere in the state of Tamil Nadu. All of the flora that lined the roads and grew in the fields were so vibrant and looked incredibly luscious, like someone had used Photoshop and somehow made the colours more vivid and perhaps a little luminous. We had reached Alleppey and rented a boathouse to take us on a tour around a lake for two days and a night, so that we could experience the natural setting of Kerala and enjoy the peace and quiet that comes with a body of water. There was something ethereal about being cut off from the world even further than we already were just by being on the other side of the planet from Canada. When you’re on a boathouse, there’s nothing to distract you but the stillness of the air as the captain navigates the boat around the lake, with the trees hanging over the shore and huts with residents fishing from their porches and bathing in the lake water.
My sister and I were delighted to find a Carrom board in one of the bedrooms while we were exploring the boathouse. Carrom is a very popular game in the South Asian region, and we knew that our father was an expert at the game. Upon finding the board we immediately set up a game on the dining table, put some Tamil music in the background, and just sat down as a family to play the game. We split into teams, with my sister and father being on one team and my mother and I on another, and proceeded to play while sipping on tea (a favourite beverage of the family) and nibbling on cream biscuits. When I say that my father is skilled at the game, I mean that he was the champion in his younger days when the boys in his hostel would hold monthly tournaments. As the game wore on, it got more and more intense until my dad and sister completely threw my mother and me out of the water and triumphed over us. It was certainly a learning moment to never challenge my father to a game of Carrom.
The entire boat ride was incredibly peaceful (apart from the fiercest game of Carrom I have ever played) and it was one of the most memorable moments of silence that I have from the trip. My sister and I were on one side of the boat lounging by the edge, me admiring the great view while my sister read a book with our favourite Tamil songs still softly in the background, setting a comfortable mood for the whole ride. My parents were on the other side of the boat, snuggling together and enjoying the tranquility of the crystal clear lake and the soothing lull of the boat over the waves. There were moments when I would hear my mother’s twinkling laugh or my father’s deep chuckles as they spoke about whatever made them happy.
It was like my parents had somehow mended over twenty years of disagreements in that one conversation, on a boathouse cruising on a lake in India. When I looked over at my parents I saw the smiles on their faces and the way they held onto each other like they were making up for lost time. Maybe the movies were right when they said that the country of India had some sort of healing abilities, after all it did heal my family in ways that I won’t ever truly comprehend. I turned back to the lake and smiled to myself, wondering how it all happened and thankful for the Indian air that breathed a new life into my family.