Jul 12, 2016

Media control in our homes

Yesterday, I was reading an interview of Mary Rothschild by Richard Whittaker: Considering Media in the Light of Relationship and Attention. The interviewee speaks about the need to find a middle way between taking the attitudes of either extreme media fasting or being a complete slave to media. This is an issue close to my heart - as it must be for all parents who are conscientious about child-rearing.

I have found this a particularly hard balance to achieve: I do let the kiddos watch TV, goes without saying. But they are not allowed to watch it on school days. Neither are they allowed carte blanche on weekends or on vacation. I do not impose Animal Planet or "informative" programs on them either. Our 8-year-old is still enamored of cartoons. The elder is now addicted to sports or movies. The wars for the remote are quite frequent and ferocious, but subside quickly if I threaten them with no-TV-at-all. Then they make compromises for the greater good.

But one part of the media is all-pervasive and potentially destructive - advertisements. Till around two years ago, I was inundated with requests for specific products which were advertised very attractively on TV. Some were demanded because there were offers of free products with them. I soon grew tired of just saying "No" all the time. Over the past two years, I have shown both our sons time and time again how companies use these strategies to lure people into buying more. And how most of the "free things" were worthless pieces of low-quality plastic or tiny samples of one more product they were trying to popularize. 

Also I try to pass on how ads are designed to play on the viewers' insecurities. For example the ad of one hair oil shows a doctor saying, "In the matter of hair, I can't take a risk!" As though hair-fall is one of the greatest plagues on humankind! Only one other ad has the power to irritate me more which is that of a famous appliances company that also offers hair-styling tools. The ad shows a simpering actress who claims that if she styles her hair everyday, she gets gawks from males all around, which makes her boyfriend jealous,which in turn makes him give her treats and the clincher "that makes me feel special!!" It's wrong on sooooo many levels!!!! Gaah, the only reason that I don't break the TV while watching that ad is because I know that I won't be able to watch Masterchef Australia. Ahem.

So I turned to my children and asked them, "What is that aunty doing? Do you think she should feel special only if her boyfriend gives her treats?" I also asked them what a better message would be... and they astonished me by saying ... You can style your hair because you are special!!! I was so overjoyed. At least I have made them think a little beyond what they see. Also I tell them that there is absolutely no proof that the products can do all that they claim to do. Our younger one took it so much to heart that when he hears tall claims like those of health drinks, he turns to me and asks, "They are lying, aren't they, Amma? I still need to eat my veggies to become stronger and healthier, don't I?" Underlying his questions may be a slight hope of my saying that he need not eat his veggies, but still!!!!

My way of adopting the middle way is not to condemn all ads outright, but to make sure that the kids know that an ad is an art form that needs our critical appreciation - not blind allegiance or total disregard. There are ads that always touch our hearts, thrill our minds and earn our appreciation for content and direction. 

And yes, our kids know that when they see ads for club glasses, CDs and soda, they are actually watching ads for alcohol. What do you tell your children when they are watching ads?

And if you are interested in getting thought-provoking articles like the one at the top in your mail box, I have subscribed to dailygood.org.

Jun 21, 2016

Sisyphus! I feel ya bro!

Was it just yesterday that the whole of Kerala was broiling in the high 30s? It's 4 in the afternoon now and I feel I should snuggle beneath my blanket and burrow into my pillows to take a cozy nap! I haven't seen the sun in a couple of days. Karthi was hit by the seasonal cold and cough, just in time for school reopening. Our kids grumblingly went back to school and I did the victory dance at home at the beginning of the month! Yay, free, free at laaaast! 

After our Lakshadweep trip (Click on the numbers to see Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4.), I devised a project for the kiddos and I to do this summer. Karthi's garden was sadly neglected, fully overgrown  and undernourished. So for a month, everyday for an hour before the sun got hot, we hoed and swept and pruned the areas around Karthi till it was all neat and clean. We even made slanted brick borders - that is, the kids carried the bricks for me while I made wonky, wavering lines with them. We got a load of cow manure and fed each and every plant in our yard. My hands got scratched by the bougainvillea that I tried to tame and  train over the wall so that next February the people who pass our road too can share the joy of the blossoms. 

And see what it looks like today!

See that brownish line going off into the distance? That is one of my beautiful (if I say so myself) brick borders that is currently being choked by the rampant weeds!!!  Does it even look like I was trying to hand-weed the whole as it was growing everyday in June???

So I had to break out the big guns again!

Yep, the rake and the hoe are back and fighting the good fight once again after a verrrrrry short break. Don't they look a bit shell-shocked?  "Oh no, not again!", they seem to be saying. Now my garden team and I know what Sisyphus felt like. But hey, you should feel my arm muscles! Nothing better to build strong arms than half an hour's hoeing each day!

Meanwhile a few blooms here and there smile at me while I work. 

And I almost burst with pride when I look at this guy...

Doesn't look like much? Well that is a Parijatam (we call it Pavizha Mulla too, a tribute to the flower's coral stem) that I have been trying to grow for several years now. My attachment to this plant is a little story. The first place in my peripatetic life that I really called home was my mother's home where my cousins and I played beneath one of these very trees. Every morning there would be a carpet of the distinctive orange-stemmed blossoms beneath it. I always collected them although they wilted pretty quickly, tired out after working to give off their fragrance the whole night. 

When my parents quit the Gulf and settled in Kerala, my mother got a bit off the old tree and planted it near their bedroom window. It prospered and I got to see the same carpet of flowers for years afterward. The years passed and they sold that home to settle near us. One of the things I asked them to bring from home was a cutting of this very tree. But it did not take hold. For four years afterward, I tried the same several times, but it just didn't take root.

I reasoned that the cuttings probably died on the journey from Kottayam to here. So in 2014, I asked my aunt to take a cutting of her Parijatam (which came from our old one, see, it's a family thing!) and grow it in a plastic bag. She planted several cuttings and one took root. When I went to Kottayam for Onam that year, I collected the bag and brought it here. It had a tiny, weak stem and four light green leaves at that time. For almost 6 months I kept it in the shade and took care of it as if it were a baby. I watered it, fertilized it, talked to it, in fact I did everything short of playing Beethoven to it till it grew stronger stems and put out the dark green leaves all over.

Last year, on my fortieth birthday I planted it near our bedroom window and have been taking good care of it since. This January, when Ma died and my aunt came, she found that it had flowered! There were one or two blossoms clinging to the tree precariously even in broad daylight. I think it must have been especially for Ma and my aunt because since then it has grown taller than me, but there have been no more blossoms...

So much for reminiscing. Back to work...

My gloves will tell you of my hard work. Oh, I have to introduce you to my new gloves. Ever since I wore out a pair of gardening gloves that a dear friend of mine brought me from the US, I had been looking out for new ones. All I could find were latex ones that tore at the least provocation. Then a few months ago, I saw these at Pothys! They are made of knit cotton and can stand up to hand weeding and touch-me-not prickles. They can handle roses too with a little care and if they couldn't prevent the bougainvillea from hurting me, it was not their fault. See, they cannot hop on to my hands by themselves, can they? Yeah, I am intrepid like that. I fight the bougainvillea with bare hands. Ouch!!!

The only problem is that the kids think these gloves are good for wicket-keeping and take off with them. So I now have several pairs. In fact, it seems I pick up a pair whenever I go to Pothys these days! At around 40 bucks a pair, they are quite affordable. They are made here in Thiruvananthapuram, so I get a boost out of supporting a local manufacturing business too when I buy them (gimme a reason, any reason!). I wash them under the garden tap to remove the grit and toss them with my daily wash. And I have extra pairs on hand for the next day because in this weather, they take a little long to dry. Happiness is truly in the small things!!! 

That's all for now. For all my griping, am enjoying the rains very much! As is this guy on our front porch!

Wanna meet him? That's another post!

Apr 25, 2016

Movie Review: Jacobinte Swargarajyam

A movie like this comes very rarely. A movie that elicits spontaneous applause after putting the audience through the wringer to come out cleansed and uplifted... that is my idea of a wonderful movie. Jacobinte Swargarajyam, Vineeth Sreenivasan's latest directorial venture is certainly a keeper. But the best part of the movie is that it is based on a true story. How heartening is it to find that there are people who really went through the experience?

Story in a nutshell: Jacob Zachariah (Renji Panicker) is a self-made businessman in Dubai. He is the loving patriarch of his family of wife Shirley and four children. The eldest, Jerry (Nivin Pauly) is at a crossroads in his life and his father encourages him to test his wings before he decides whether to join the family business. Jacob is respected and loved by his associates and acquaintances. He believes that his family, although not perfect in every way is his greatest asset in the whole world. He has implicit faith in his business associates as well.

Disaster strikes in 2008 with the global recession. Jacob is swindled by a long-time business associate right after he has made a huge investment with cash gathered from a lot of investors. In a bid to claw out of the huge hole he has fallen into, he travels to Liberia. But one of his investors files a case against him that virtually confines him to that country for fear of the Interpol. His family is left to the mercy of the creditors...

This is all I can tell you now. The rest you have to see!

The first thing that intrigued me was a snippet of an interview of the cast and crew in which Nivin Pauly said that even though Vineeth Sreenivasan had cast himself as Jerry, Nivin liked the role so much that he pestered his friend till Vineeth gave in thinking that he would also be able to wrap up the shoot faster if he didn't have to direct and act. Nivin is so known for his astute selection of roles, so that in itself was an incentive to watch the movie.

Renji Panicker plays Jacob Zachariah to perfection - he is the Dad everyone would like to have. Loving, playful, genial, masterful and liberal at the same time. No wonder his kids idolize him so much. Lakshmi Ramakrishnan excels as the gutsy "Achayathi" who is unfazed by the vagaries of a businessman's life and provides the faith, strength and stability that her family needs to confront the crisis. Sreenath Bhasi as Ebin, the second son has got the best role of his career to date. In fact everyone, down to the security guard of Jacob's apartment is perfectly cast and have done their respective jobs exceedingly well.

The twists and turns of the plot are so finely synchronized that the audience remain on tenterhooks all the time. There are subtle digs at the Malayali diaspora who consider it an achievement if they manage to celebrate Onam any time earlier than a month after Thiruvonam. But there is also immense pride and confidence in the Malayali ability to prosper wherever they are planted. The role that strong religious faith plays in keeping the flame of hope alive in the most hopeless of situations is emphasized throughout.

All in all, a lovely and inspiring movie. Do not forget to watch it!

Apr 22, 2016

Visiting Lakshadweep Part 4 - Minicoy/Maliku

Seasoned sailors that we had become, none of us barely even noticed the ship's movements after the eventful day in Kalpeni. Thus MV Kavaratti was able to sneak off the 208 km to Minicoy in the night. We had been warned the day before that all disembarkation for Minicoy would be over by 8 am. So we who never dawdle anyway were up super-early, ready for the last day's adventure and were down at the embarkation doors even before the first boat from Minicoy made its appearance. The sea was quite playful, but we all made it safely into the boat and set off at a spanking pace to the island clearly visible in the distance...

Soon the reason for the hurry was apparent. While the boat rides to the other islands took barely 10 minutes, we didn't reach Minicoy till a full 25 minutes had passed. The funny thing was the island was curved around us like a huge "C", whose middle we were aiming for, but it didn't seem to get any closer for a loooooong time!

But soon it was time to doff our life-vests and climb in to our choice of vehicles to the first point of our Maliku (by which name the islanders prefer to call it) visit...

As usual we were welcomed with tender coconut, but what had DH intrigued was the vehicle they used for the purpose! A bright red Willys, no less!!!

If he had his way, DH would have had it shipped back to mainland in our ship itself. With great reluctance he made his way to the beautiful white lighthouse built by the British way back in 1888...

Till the day I saw this lighthouse, I had this misconception that all lighthouses need to be painted in  regulation red and white stripes.Good to know they can come in other colors too! The ticket seller warned us to leave our bags outside as we would have to climb 200 steps to reach the top and the bags would prove an unnecessary burden. It is a testament to my exercise routine that I reached the top without any unseemly gasping/panting or cramps in my legs which I fully expected. I would love to boast that I didn't even break into a sweat, but that would be an impossibility in 30+ degree Celsius temperatures unless one has anhidrosis!

The interior of the lighthouse was decorated with tasteful pictures of the antique light system etc and had landings that had beautiful old-fashioned wooden shutters. These opened to beautiful increasingly higher vistas of verdure and brine...

The final ascent to the light room and balcony was by means of this intimidating ladder...

As the more cautious of us turned backwards and descended very carefully, I saw an elderly man from our group descend the steps as easily as he was going down a wide staircase!!! At the bottom, we gave a collective gasp and barely kept back the applause when he landed safely. At that moment I told myself, "That is what I wanna be like when I'm old." His hair might have turned all white, but he had the suppleness of a kid. 

As the batch of 10 that went up ahead of us descended from the balcony, we finally made it up there...

I usually don't see the point in panoramic photos since they distort things out of recognition, but this picture somewhat brings home an idea of the "hockey stick" shape of the island, the curved end being on the left of the picture where the ladies are and extending away to a point on the right.

A few more pictures from the top: 

I think we did a good job of hiding that unsightly white communications tower behind us. The tile-roofed building at the top right is the resort which we were going to next. Please don't look at the next picture if you have a fear of heights!!!

And there is MV Kavaratti, resting up from all the running around and patiently waiting for our return in the evening. You can see the color change and the waves stopping where the lagoon starts...

On the onward ride, I told myself that if I were asked to settle in Lakshadweep for good, I would certainly choose Minicoy. The majority of the vegetation on Kavaratti and Kalpeni consisted of coconut trees and little else. But Minicoy has a wide variety of vegetation, we saw plenty of farms and the roads and property along the roads are well-maintained. There is an air of orderliness and prosperity which were absent in the other two islands. 

We were led to the well-appointed resort grounds where we got up close with a hermit crab who probably wanted to say hello...

We all changed and got to the beach with alacrity, only to find that it was still low tide. The water barely covered our ankles!!!! But that didn't stop us from getting some kayaks out. Ani requested my company again, but our kayak was a no-go. With no weight to balance mine, the back of the kayak was stuck in the sand while the end with Ani stayed up in the air!!! I promised to give him a ride when the tide came in and went alone. It was kind of like paddling about in a huge bathtub, the water so shallow and clear and stroking was so easy!

And I think that is when I caught my sunburn! Be warned, one application of SPF-15 sunscreen lotion has no power to withstand the summer sun. Carry at least SPF 30 broad-spectrum sunscreen and reapply every two hours. Wish I had read about that before I traveled!  Instead, I believed the worst I could get from the sun was a deep tan. Not so, definitely not so. Fortunately I didn't feel any burning, only got damaged shiny skin on my forearms that itched horribly with rashes two days after the exposure!

We left our life-vest clad kids to paddle about near the beach under the supervision of water sports staff while we took a boat to deeper waters for snorkeling. The staff had to push the boat for at least half a kilometer before the propeller could clear the sand! Our offers to join the pushing fell on deaf ears, so we enjoyed the novel sensation. Finally the engine was started and we made our way to the reef. The ride was enriched by the sighting of two stingrays.

Once we reached the reef, we donned life-vests and snorkels and got off the boat into chest-high water. But it soon deepened near the coral. Our guides held us by the hand as they guided us around a huge, truck-like coral structure and pointed out the marvels. Here too there was such a variety of fish that I will not bore you with enumerating. One thing I saw in abundance was huge clams staying upright among the corals. Some were more than two feet across! Till then I had seen clams only in cartoons. Once we were back in the boat, I was glad to confirm that what I had seen were actually clams!

Just as my guide and I were about to conclude our tour, we suddenly came across a 6-ft-tall purplish brain coral (yes, I found that they are actually called so) that had sprouted a peculiar growth on its top. There were two flat, blue rubbery things on it from which two brown columns with some sort of sparse black fur sprouted. My guide and I surfaced immediately to find that one of the tourists had planted his blue croc-clad feet on the coral and was standing arms akimbo surveying the scene as though he was lord and master of the lagoon!!!! Gosh! My guide shouted at him to get off quickly. As though the heating up of the water is not harming the coral enough, the guy who had refused to have anybody guide him was standing on the coral!

That is one thing that the SPORTS personnel do not stress enough. Although they take very good care of the safety of the tourists, no one instructs us about the importance of leaving the sea-life safe and untouched. In Kalpeni, one of the tourists plucked a "baby" coral clean off the sea-bed and held it above water. Fortunately another tourist who saw him told him to put it back as it was poisonous before I could let out an indignant, "What are you doing sir?" But who was I to censure when I had picked up a sea-cucumber thinking that it was a stone??? I guess they should have an informational video on MV Kavaratti showing the different species of marine life we were likely to encounter and the guidelines we should follow to leave nature's bounty unharmed.

Back at the beach, I fulfilled my promise to go kayaking with Ani. This time I had the sense to call out "left, right" according to which side I wanted him to paddle. The little arms soon tired but he still valiantly kept paddling till we got back. We finally made it out of the water by lunch time, dried off and lazed in the shade after a hearty lunch. 

The ride back to the jetty took a roundabout route through Minicoy. I saw a breadfruit grove that was very shady, inviting and full of fruit!!! Breadfruit stew and varutharacha thoran are my most favorite vegetarian dishes. We were led to a village-house, a sort of communtiy building for that particular village where they meet up to discuss important matters and hold weddings etc. A few ladies were busy near a stove and I was very taken by their costume and the huge "plates" they carried on their head which they use to carry heavy loads.

The Maliku people are similar to Maldivians in culture and language. The ladies who served us tea spoke a little Malayalam, but not enough to discuss the nuances of Maliku culture with me. And then I spied a bright spot of color on the verandah of the village house..

Ever seen such colorful coconut graters before??? Look at this one!

If I didn't have my trusty, older-than-me coconut grater back at Karthi, I certainly would have bought one of these!!!

Then it was time to say goodbye and get on the waiting boat. The sea was definitely choppy this time and  sitting at the prow of the boat, we were treated to a jet-ski like experience as the boat rose and fell. But that excitement too was soon over. We were handed on to the proud ship that had been part of the Operation Raahat of 2015. The Indian navy had helped to evacuate several Indian and foreign nationals fleeing from strife-torn Yemen. MV Kavaratti had sailed to their aid to Djibouti under the escort of naval ships and brought her quota of refugees safely back to Kochi. The crew are understandably proud of this operation as they told us on day one of our voyage.

The next morning saw us a bit relaxed, but we did go up to the top deck to watch the sunrise...

And we stayed on playing guessing games with the cloud shapes...

...until it was time for breakfast. We came out again after packing up to see our ship sail back into the Kochi harbor. But instead of going to the Mattanchery wharf from where we started, she berthed in the Ernakulam wharf on the opposite side of Willingdon Island. And guess who we met there?

No idea? Here, I will give you a clue...

Still no idea? Okay, here, come really close and see...

I guess she was stopping in Kochi on her one of her world-tour cruises. As we passed her, several passengers waved to us from the balconies and we enthusiastically waved back!

After a protracted disembarkation (we waited patiently in our cabin till the rush was over), we thanked the cabin and the ship for having sheltered us for five days and said goodbye to Kochi. A train ride later, we were back home, exhausted, but exhilarated too! 

News you can use: For more info on the Lakshadweep tour packages and booking, visit the SPORTS website . They are very prompt about communication and readily answer any doubt we may have regarding bookings and amenities. For anything too trivial to trouble them with, feel free to mail me! :D

Apr 20, 2016

Visiting Lakshadweep Part 3 - Kalpeni

Kalpeni - aaah, doesn't the sweet name conjure up a restful island with lovely beaches? The first thing we did on Kalpeni was to visit the Tip Beach. It's named thus because it is at the tip of the island, duh!!! It's a beach right out of an island paradise brochure...

Here we found dozens of hermit crabs scurrying about in their borrowed shells. And I wondered how like a human couple they are, beginning life in a "starter" home and then gradually upgrading to bigger dwellings as the family expands - unless of course it's a Malayali couple who will build the biggest mansion they cannot afford to have, pay off the loans all their lives, and then rattle about in the huge house like two dried nuts when the kids are all gone.

One would think the sea had SOMETHING better to do that draw wavy lines over parts of the beach???

And depositing all these weird-looking rocks for us to play with???

I could go on posting pictures of Tip Beach ad nauseam. If I had been left to my own devices, I would have spent the whole day wandering up and down the beach, meditated with the hermit crabs, spent time in the hut gazing out into the sea and waded over and over again in the shallow channel...

But bigger and better things were to come, so it was good that we did go to Koomel beach on the other end of the island. But not before DH delivered a personal Taj Mahal! 

Koomel beach too had ample space for rest and relaxation...

If one were so inclined... But we opted to take a small boat to the neighboring Pitti islet to indulge in water sports. We tried kayaking which was slightly difficult due to the pull of the tides. My arms ached with the unaccustomed exercise that evening. But it was a lot of fun! I had to double up with Ani and let me tell you it was slightly nerve-wracking to keep from being brained by his paddle and try to make us go in one direction.

But the best thing was snorkeling off Pitti islet. The shallow sea-floor right next to the island was a farm of sea cucumbers - no they are NOT plants. I thought they were some kind of rock and picked one of them up and dropped it back hurriedly as it felt limp like a rotten cucumber! But a little way from the shore, as we went into deeper waters, we found coral formations of the cutest kinds. I guess we could call them baby corals. Swimmers are required to wear a life vest at all times. This made it easier for to float face downwards just beneath the surface while breathing freely.

The cutest coral I saw looked like a purple brain around the size of two footballs. One part of the "brain" had delicate pink and white spiky coral around which a school of tiny fish were swimming with a larger one of the same kind. On the other side of the "brain", in a crevice near the floor, a tiger lobster's tentacles waved gently. I hope he wasn't planning to make a meal of the tiny fish circling above him!

As I stopped paddling and gently floated about, more and more fish of all hues and shapes appeared. A slight undulation along the sea-floor beneath me caught my eye. It turned out to be a lacy white fish that reminded me of a bride in her white gown and lacy veil. Its movements were so gentle and mincing that I followed it totally mesmerized. 

After almost an hour, I let the incoming tide nudge me back towards the island. As I was floating dreamily over the beginning of the sea-cucumber field, one of them raised itself partially off the sea-bed, enlarged one of the several dark holes on its body and spat something out. I hurriedly found my legs and stomped off as far as I could from that rude sea-cucumber! Huh!

Here we are rockin' the snorkels!

On our way back to the main island we saw two huge turtles swimming by. Judging by their size, DH commented that they could well be a hundred years old and have been here during the British occupation! I was glad that I had not encountered one of them while floating dreamily over the coral paradise. Kalpeni is said to have a better scuba-diving experience than Kavaratti as there are more varieties of live coral around the island. We decided to give it a miss as the snorkeling had been brilliant enough.

The afternoon saw us trundling off to a coconut mill and hosiery unit on the island and the tourist group as a whole did its best to boost the local economy. We came back to Koomel beach to laze in the shade and see this...

A couple of old-timers and a bunch of Gen Y'ers gathered to give us a rousing Parichamuttu performance. It was fun to watch the formations and hear the thud of the wooden swords and shields. The first few numbers were appreciated with lukewarm clapping. I was almost dropping off into a doze when a new number with familiar lyrics and faster tempo suddenly came on. It took me a few moments to realize that they had adapted a well-known Hindi movie song to their art form. This number was hugely appreciated by the largely North Indian tourist crowd and there was enthusiastic clapping along with the song as well as afterwards! 

I wondered about using the same technique to make Kathakali a little more palatable to the masses... then hastily banished the impious thought!

At the end of the day, we heartily welcomed the sight of our "mother ship" waiting for us...

Ithi Lakshadweepa savari: Kalpeni kandam samaaptham!

Apr 19, 2016

Visiting Lakshadweep Part 2 - Kavaratti!

Sorry for leaving y'all with the cliffhanger there, ha ha. That post was becoming too long and I needed to get dinner on the stove, so had to leave it there! 

So there we were, first in line to go to the shore when the first boatload of passengers from Kavaratti enroute to other islands arrived. Once they got off, we were handed into the boat...

This exchange happens in the open sea as the shallow lagoons of the islands bordered by coral structures do not allow the ship to get near the islands. Thankfully for us, the first day the sea was pretty calm and we could just step on board. Another day each passenger had to wait some time before the boat got close enough and at somewhat the same level to step on or off. Needless to say, things got exciting. But there was plenty of help to be had and even the very young, the elderly and even a couple of people with broken arms and sprained ankles got on and off without any problem on all 3 days.

Soon we were cutting across the deep blue sea and heading for the coconut-lined shores of Kavaratti.  

 And then, almost without our noticing it, the sea changed color to a deep aquamarine...

I assure you, it is not a trick of the sunlight. We were still wondering over the color change when we were dropped off at the jetty and made our way to the head quarters of the Union Territory of Lakshadweep...

 On the way to the resort, we caught a glimpse of one of the main occupations of the islanders. Curing...

 and drying fish...

We were welcomed with bright smiles, free passes for a glass-bottomed boat ride and tender coconut juice if our throats had been parched between breakfast and entrance to Kavaratti. We accepted all three with grace, of course. There were two large hall-like open huts and plenty of cane chairs etc. for those who wanted to take things slowly. But of course we were not of that group! We directed our steps to this place right next to the welcome hut...

...and signed up ourselves for the scuba diving ahead of most others while they were still inquiring about the available activities. Then as the others signed up and we were waiting to be briefed about scuba diving, we jumped right ahead and had some fun in the shallow sea and gentle waves. Here are the kiddos all rarin' to go

Understandably, after this, our camera took some well-deserved rest. Our swim was followed by a short lecture on scuba diving by the instructor Mr. Amaan (you can see him in Anarkali!) who gave us some basic info including the hand signals to use underwater. This was followed by a short training session where we queued up to use the equipment in shallow water to ensure that we had got our basics right. Let me reassure you that knowing how to swim is not a prerequisite for this experience. All you need is to be over 10 years old and preferably not have a head cold and be in good health. If you normally cannot see at all without your glasses, please wear contact lenses. One cannot wear eyeglasses underneath the mask. Each person gets a diving buddy who controls ascent, descent and underwater swimming. All we have to do is breathe through the mouth and see the sights. 

And finally, the time was upon us. The first batch of divers were ushered into a boat and were taken to a spot that was 10 metres deep. There, we climbed on to a floating jetty in groups of 5 and five divers took us down to see the treasures of the deep...

And treasures they were - a glimpse of which I can give you in this picture of our son taken down in the deep

For the first two minutes after I submerged and began breathing through my mouth, I was in panic mode, almost extending my thumb upwards in the signal to be taken back to the surface. And this is when I know swimming perfectly! But I managed to calm myself and answer my buddy's "Are you ok?" signal by putting my thumb and forefinger together in the ok sign. And then we were near the sea-bed and I totally got lost in watching the marvelous underwater life! 

I can't begin to describe what I saw underwater, there were huge brown coral structures as well as tiny new spiky ones on the floor. They came in all colors and shades. I don't know how they would appear in sunlight, but down there I saw coral in shades of blue, purple, green, yellow, pink and red. 

And if that was not enough, there were the fish. You can see the yellow and black ones in the photo above. The divers scatter breadcrumbs in the water so that they fish swarm near enough for one to touch them. It was a beautiful experience. I saw fish of such metallic blue that would put the proudest peacock to shame. 

Thanks to Finding Nemo, I recognized clown fish and puffer fish when I saw them. And the clown fish were playing about in flame-colored anemone just like we saw in the movie!!! My buddy asked me to put my finger among the delicate-looking anemone strands and I was surprised to feel their rubbery texture. 

My only grievance with the whole experience was that I couldn't talk. I wanted to scream, "Oh look at that!" each time I saw a new marvel (DH can tell you that I can be quite vocal in my appreciation and will jog his arm almost out of the socket if I'm really excited). During the dive I kept pointing to all the wonderful new things and kept giving the "Ok" sign to my buddy - he must've thought that I was demented!

My buddy drew me close to some coral that had beautiful spiky flowers in several colors blooming on them. At one snap of his fingers, they all disappeared like magic!! That is when I understood they hadn't been flowers at all!!! At that point I would have lost my breathing apparatus from my mouth if I hadn't been holding on to the hose with my right hand.

Soon my 15 minutes were over and my buddy gave me the thumbs up signal to show me that we were going up. Reluctantly, I made my way back up. When I was finally divested of my equipment and asked how it was, I mustered enough decorum not to scream, "Awesome!!!!" at him. But I did have the widest grin plastered on my face and I am sure that it had a reassuring effect on those who were waiting to get into the water after us!

After the dive, we went for a glass-bottomed boat ride over some deeper and more extensive coral structures where schools of huge fish hung out. When we scattered bread pieces by the side of the boat, they came up to snap them up. But the boatmen warned us against putting out our hands to touch them since they had razor-sharp fins. We followed this up with jet-ski rides that had us screaming as we jumped high over the cresting waves not unlike horses taking hurdles.

All in all, we were exhausted after our morning exertions and fell on lunch with an appetite. Post-lunch, we visited the marine life museum and took a short ride around the island. By that time, one of these began to look very inviting...

And so while the kiddos had a run-around and DH went hobnobbing with the dive instructors, I stretched out in one of these and contemplated the meaning of life... ahem... 

Soon it was teatime and we were regaled with a folk-music event 

This was followed by an Oppana performance with a medley of songs and a cutie pie selected from among the tourists as "bride"

To tell you the truth, I wished we had omitted this part of the program and gone sightseeing across the island on our own to visit the famous Ujra mosque and see a bit of local life. But after all the excitement of the morning and the beating down of the hot sun, we were too lazy to take the initiative.

Soon we donned our life jackets again and were ferried back to our waiting ship. I was glad to find that the ship's swaying no longer bothered me. We fell asleep quite quickly and dreamed about floating among fish in the coral reefs. At least, that is what I did!!!