Al-Avalathi's Life (Al-Avalathi is the last Mallu to go to the Gelf)
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Nehru Trophy Boat Race,Alleppey,Kerala

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For a day, she had shed her serene attire. The tranquility she usually showed was missing today. The blue blanket she adorned looked unusually gorgeous on her. The blanket stretched to either side, beyond what my eyes could figure. The coconut trees that dotted her banks were swinging in a state of ecstasy.Even the ripples were high and danced in tandem. The tiny waves soothed the stone walls that formed the banks. The clouds smiled at her as if they shared a secret chemistry. Punnamada, was at her best.

Here was the celebration of Kuttanad. A celebration, that erased all the differences created by caste and religion. The boats came from various parts of Kuttanad and around. It was a clash of prestige. It was a show of strength. Only one thing mattered, winning the trophy for one’s village. The 57th Nehru Trophy Boat Race was just hours away. Unlike other days, the quaint inlets and creeks that connect the villages of Alleppey, were not buzzing with activity. The banks of Punnamada were encroached upon by the villagers.

The 4 tracks were laid. Practice sessions were in full swing moving in all possible directions. Speed boats and others carrying tourists, police and organizers zoomed across Punnamada. The high energy was evident in the air. The people from across villages were arriving to see their boat winning the show of speed.

We realized the pavilions were not the place to watch the race. Being one in the crowd could tell us how charged the environs were, nothing else would. Almost everyone was high spirited. Folk songs and aarpoo irroos could be heard non-stop from all directions. Snake Boats (Chundan Vallom) were long, some long enough to shy away from being captured in a single frame. The boats were Hindu and Christian, but the oarsmen had no religion. They sang in unison praising Hindu or Christian gods.

When the race was on, my ears could capture the sounds of the boat names, and their history from someone or other in the euphoric crowd. It was more like a running commentary. Karichal, Kumarakom, Kainakari, Karuvatta,Chambakulam….. Vepp A Grade, Iruttukuthy A Grade,Churulan and so on. I could get so many of these names around me.The crowd was now thrown into a frenzy.Many moved from the banks to water.The cops were in action shooing them off the race tracks,not that they could do much.

The effort of every village that has gone into arranging a boat for them is worth commending. Think about shoe string budgets and small time sponsors like some Gulf Malayalee or a mobile operator. The invasion of brands was evident, but as long as they bring in money to the race, who cares! Not only were they on the participating boats, but also on boats parked to act as stationary hoardings (on water).

This show of camaraderie, competition, enthusiasm is more than a vignette of Kuttanad’s village life. The rhythm of the oarsmen, the oars propelling the boat in unison, the songs sung to pump up their spirits, everything has conquered Punnamada yet again. They will continue to do it, for years to come.

I was live tweeting the #ntbr09

Some scenes from the boat race: [CLICK on the images for bigger view]  {Scroll down for some videos}

Some videos from the race. (If you are a Malayalee, do not miss the first two)

[How to reach: Alleppey(also known as Alappuzha) by Air(nearest Airport is Cochin), by Train(nearest station is Alleppey/Alappuzha) or by road(well connected by road) More info

NTBR(Nehru Trophy Boat Race) is held on the second Saturday of August. This year it was held on 8th August.The venue is 5-6 km from the town.Tickets are available at the venue and through agents.Contact Kerala Tourism for more info.]

Suggested Reads: The history of Nehru Trophy Boat Race

[Photos by Shreyash Pai,Bharat Narayanan and the author.Governed by this license ]

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August 12, 2009   27 Comments