“Chippi, I think we’re drifting away,” I told my wife. It was just a casual observation. About the kayak that we were on, wobbling and bobbing away because we still hadn’t figured out how to paddle.
This was a trip I wanted to take ever since I learned you could kayak on the backwaters of Alappuzha, a lovely town a couple of hours from where we live. It then came up recently during a dinner with friends, and plans were quickly made. And that’s how we found ourselves in a two-seater kayak, one occupant extremely scared of the water we were in, and the other on the brink of going overboard. Figuratively.
Everyone else in the gang took single-seater kayaks and figured out paddling quite instinctively and took off. For us though, it took some deliberate coordination to set the kayak in the right direction. Right there is when I knew this whole outing would add so much more to our marriage than I had anticipated!
We quickly figured that Chippi, sitting in front would be the ‘steering’ and that I, would be the ‘engine’ for the day. A few minutes in, as we passed under a bridge, from a canal into true open waters, we had a glorious moment of pride about the coordinated rhythm of paddling we were getting into. Our paddles then bumped into each other, shattering any illusion of mastery.
Each of us took to it differently. Sunit almost instantly claimed “I’m such a natural in water, I wonder how I’ll ever walk”. Vishak and Ganesh were seen calmly paddling around, taking it all in. The rest of the gang were all getting into it too, each in their own way.
I’ve always found a sense of calm in the might of natural elements. With the gentle water stretched out on all four sides, the mind suddenly found it easier to be mindful of the one thing to do – paddle gently. This almost singular clarity made me feel more present than I’ve felt in ages.
We took several stops in the backwaters. But unlike the stops you take on a highway, there was a beautiful calm. As if everything else also decided to stop when we did. Anywhere else, a stop like that always comes with an urgent need to resume, but here, the stops seemed to define the journey equally. On one of those stops, an old man cruised into our midst on a longboat with some snacks and beverages. Serving food with a swag! On another stop we found ourselves right next to a small island of sorts, with a few lush trees. On them, hundreds of birds converged from all directions as their days drew to a close.
As we paddled back to the pier, the sun had gone down. Minutes ago was sunset and an exquisite show of orange and red hues. But now everything seemed to be in shades of black and white. And in it, the water seemed to be an expansive mirror. Somehow, this the part of the trip that stays with me the most – cutting through the surface of the water slowly, darkness on us. I felt I was secretively sneaking into enemy territories in an imagined battle.
Snapping out of all this was instantaneous though. As soon as I stepped back on the pier, my phone, which I had so carefully guarded away from the splashing water while kayaking, fell on concrete floor and cracked. And that, is the story of how an experience that was all set to fundamentally alter my view of life, instead fundamentally altered my phone screen. In three solid cracks.