A rare easterly blowing through Cochin this morning has freshened things, brightening colours and tempering Kerala’s humidity. It has lured me from the air-conditioned saloon up into our boat’s cockpit. The breeze brings with it snatches of a lone voice chanting a Malayalam Christmas prayer across the water.
The sports field lies on the edge of a high ridge above Barranumber, overlooking the Alpha Nursery School. The fields and jungle drop down into the river valley a kilometer below us. In the distance we can see Sikkim and Nepal. The common language of all the tribes (Lepcha, Limboo, Rai, Tamang, Tenzing, Bhutia and more) who live in the Himalaya is Nepali. The fiercely fought borders drawn on maps by diplomats, kings, and politicians mean nothing to the people of this region.
Half-remembered images and sounds spring into her head: her father creeping out at night with a small bundle of cloth, her mother sobbing, the bundle crying. If only her baby sister had lived, she would have had someone to share the chores with by now. She buries the shards of memory deep in her heart and makes her way along the familiar cool path.
As the train pulls out a man jumps through the open door, and takes up residence opposite us. Sporting sunglasses balanced on top of a sharp new haircut, tight jeans and a smart shirt, he radiates style and bonhomie. We smile. He lurches towards us and we recoil as the sour alcohol oozing from his pores hits us.
We zigged and zagged our way through narrow alleys lined with tall buildings, wandering roughly in the direction of UNESCO-listed Jantar Mantar. Gazing upwards we saw countless skeletons of brightly coloured kites tangled among the spaghetti of cables and wires, which hold all of India’s cities together.