The midday sun casts an orange hue on the rippling water of the Payippad lake. The waters are rough after monsoon. Sujuamma is sitting in a cane chair on her verandah, sipping her afternoon coffee. The flavour of the coffee enervates her but she is in deep thought.
It should have been the second day of the annual three-day boat race, which was originally scheduled to have started on September 2. But destiny had other plans. Choppy waters are lashing on the shore, which is unusually desolate. Sujuamma heaves a deep sigh. “Only God knows when there will be mirth again,” she murmurs to herself.
Sujumma is a sixty-year-old resident of Haripad district, near Allepey. She has been living there for the past forty years. Yes, it was 40 years ago that her husband – Perimal’s father – had brought her as a bride to his little hut overlooking the Payippad lake. Every year since then, the annual boat race has been one event she has looked forward to. The Payippad and the Nehru Trophy boat race are both an occasion for joy and earning.
Just like his father, Perimal is also a good rower. Every year, the men of the village prepare themselves and their boats to participate in the race. And on the D-Day, they dress themselves in new or well-ironed clothes as they grab their rows and compete hard to win the race. Perimal rows Asthamon’s boat. The man is good and gives the rower good food and training. His boat is so big that sixty rowers sit together in it at one time. While Asthamon stands and cheers them on, the rowers splash their oars on the water – Splash, Splash, Splash. The oars fall on the water and up they go. The boat cruises on swiftly through the choppy water.
For two years in a row, 2016 and 2017, Perimal’s team won the second prize. He was overjoyed on both occasions. When he came home, he ran to his mother and hugged her. “Ammu, did you see how your son rowed?” He distributed prasadam from the offerings made on the Subramanya Swami temple. This was a ritual that every rower observed after the boat race.
Then, in 2018, the races had to be cancelled due to flooding. Sujuamma told her son to be patient, and that he would win the next year. But 2019 did not prove as good for Perimal and his team as they would have liked. Sujuamma said: “Not every year is the same, son. You will win next year.” Little did she know that her son would be lying on a hospital bed this time, infected by a novel virus, even as the backwaters are uncannily calm.
Other than the joy, the Payippad boat race had also been a source of good income for them. Sujuamma would pick coffee beans from her farm and ground them to sell to tourists visiting from across the world to watch the show. Dramas would be staged, and dances and group shows would be organised to give the visitors a flavour of the ‘God’s own country’. The lady’s vision goes blurry as she thinks for his recuperating son. Tears trickle down her wrinkled cheek. Suddenly she remembers she has not finished her coffee yet. She wipes her eyes with an end of her saree and takes the last sips of coffee. She needs to hurry up. She has to travel to the other side of the lake in a little boat to reach the state hospital. As she rises from her chair, a splash of hope surges in. “This cannot continue,” she murmurs. There will be a race again next year; oh, there certainly will. Maybe this year Subramanya Deb wants peace. Next year he will be in the mood for mirth again.
Note: This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to a person living or otherwise may be purely coincidental