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Having read again that story of Robbe-Grillet that had remained so vivid in my mind for half a century, and then embarked on an exploration of the backwaters of Kerala, I thought I would try over the few days I am in India to try to produce a tone poem about my stay in this wonderful setting. I was in this state, so like Sri Lanka in food and dress, so unlike in landscape with its interconnected waterways, for five nights, four on the backwaters, one of them on a houseboat.

Rippling rivers flowing in and out of palm fringed lakes, overlooking which I sit through the day. Sunrise is special, kindling rosy light with above the horizon a crescent moon, and a bright star that slowly fades. The star glows in the same place, the moon is lower every day, until finally it cannot be seen. But it cannot be seen at sunset then though it must have been there on the last days, for the lakes are surrounded by trees.  

I sat in blazing sunshine on my first morning there, in a little hotel that had to be reached by canoe after I had been deposited with my suitcase on the other side. After a long search the taxi from the airport found it, and had to telephone, whereupon a man rowed across and helped me get in, tottering with my suitcase and my computer, and slowly crossed over to a makeshift jetty. On top of it, early next morning as light spread, I saw a dog which the previous evening had trotted up and down the bank, soundly sleeping.

I exulted in the blazing noon sunshine, relishing its heat on my bare shoulders, drinking in great draughts the beer that had been ordered, and delivered to the other side for the boatman to fetch. He was also the proprietor of the place, supported by a charming much darker wife with a lovely smile, and proprietorially he insisted that I wait until he had chilled the beer in his freezer. That was a sensible move, for it was wonderful when I finally got it, and I sat there for ages, watching the vibrant life of the river, houseboats with passengers, smaller boats chugging along with what seemed to be goods being transported, fishermen in canoes.

And then, after a lunch he persuaded me to have for it was going spare, when I had thought to content myself with the cashews I had bought, I retired to read in my room across the courtyard. This had a window on the other side looking over the lake behind the hotel, set as it was on a narrow isthmus, and looking through it in that warm afternoon, happy with just the fan, I fell asleep.

By the time I awoke, the two rooms at the sides of the courtyard were occupied, by a small Indian and a large German, both with elegant girls alongside. They spent much time in their rooms, leaving the open courtyard to me, for coffee first and then a long stint on my computer, for the wifi there was excellent.

Rajiva Wijesinha

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