By the time we reached Muttom it was 7 in the evening. We should have probably started earlier because the sun had already set by now and the Muttom beach was dark and eerie. The ocean thundered and the water sprayed us even 500 meters away from the gigantic rock on which the waves crashed constantly.
Here nature is at war with itself. Each unruly wave pushed on shore, rising and falling, crashing and splashing on its own surface; fighting against its own force to get further up land with every other sway. I see specks of light floating on the horizon at night and wonder how it would be on those boats right now.
However, we are determined to enjoy the madness and Pabla is out with her phone in the pitch darkness, all ready to record another video. A torch has been lit on one of the phones; Pabla has prepared her lines, flicked her hair to the right of her neck and is currently being handed out last minute advice by sincere Anbu who is framing the camera.
We have our shot at 2nd take, accomplished after half an hour of giggling when Pabla turned the camera to Anbu and we had to really chase him down for his bite. Typical Anbu – you turn the camera at him and almost involuntarily, he turns the other way.
Then the foreboding starts. We need to hunt down a place to stay but our Nagercoil friend isn’t convinced about Muttom’s safety. “Where will you stay? There’s nothing here.” The namkeen wala at the bus stand agreed with him in Tamil and then told us – “Lodge? No Lodge”
“Let’s go.” Anbu pleaded. And I felt horribly pushy when I said “but, there must be something” the fifth time. But I feel I can sense these things. There really must be something.
I reasoned with Anbu, “Maybe we can land a stay with a local family? Just have to ask.”
“It’s not that kind of place. It doesn’t look good. If it was afternoon, okay, no problem, but night, two girls, not okay, Neetole.” He reasoned back.
When I had almost reluctantly agreed, Pabla did the smartest thing by suggesting we ask the only auto anna who was parked by the side. And yes, from within the car (because we were almost leaving) we saw a nod. He knew one place which might be able to ‘help’ us.
We followed his auto down the snaky road to the left to what looked like the bungalow from Gumnam. Within a few minutes, anna pointed to a big metal gate and said we’ll be okay here and left driving away with a passenger he had acquired from the bus stand.
The metal door opened with creaks and led us up a somewhat broken walkway (lined on both sides with darkness) to a dimly lit property. A faint light showed us a white crosses erected in the open space to the right and straight ahead a board that read HDRI Army.
A frail middle-aged man rushes out in alarm from a room to the left when we knock on the one to the right. Then he’s more alarmed to hear Anbu explains that Pabla and I need a place to stay for the night. No shady business he hopes. “Women! Late at night! What’s the scandal?” – seems to be the way the conversation progresses each time.
No scandal, Anburaja reassures him in his sincerest Tamil. Then turns out anna can speak English and broken bits of Hindi too. He’s more than hospitable and immediately makes us feel at home. A dairy entry and some quick negotiation later (we’ll pay Rs. 350 for a day) he leads us up a slim flight of stairs on the right and onto a roof with three locked rooms. He opens the one on the furthest left from where we can see the thatched roof hut where anna stays with his wife, Stella Mary.
She is a round woman with a round bun at the back of her head. Her eyes smile when she talks. She’s from Coimbatore but travels around the shore towns of India for work as the Salvation church requires.
This property belongs to the Salvation Army. It’s a trust funded by the Army and run by the church. This is where conferences are hosted and the rooms are for the church doctors who come to attend. We are warned not to go to the fluorescent green hut at the back. “Madrasis are staying there. It’s not safe.”
Anburaja translates Joseph anna’s concerns. Then adds a few of his own “Don’t roam outside.” He looks at me unsurely. We are up on the roof outside our room. It’s dark besides that one ray from the lighthouse which scatters hope across the horizon. “Just stay in the room and lock the door.” Anbu’s eyes are round with the thrill of the uncertain. Then I suggest we should tell horror stories to each other. I have the perfect one from Mussouri. Pabla runs indoors but later returns to wipe off the apples and crunchies that anna brought up for us. Refreshments after a long day’s travel.
Stella akka’s kitchen is cozy. It has a small wooden door where you have to lower your head to step inside the well-organized, clean rectangular room with a cement floor. It’s a well-stocked kitchen, with a small grey fridge, an entourage of pots, pans, ladles and plates and a washing area in the far left corner I chat with her and make black tea while she fluffs up chapatis.
The room we have landed is quite neat. It has three single wooden beds with soft mattresses, clean floral sheets and the fluffiest pillows ever. There’s a wooden table by the window that opens out to the view outside. Also, in the morning you wake up to the deep blue of the sea right from your bed, if you dare to keep the door open and not listen to Anbu.
However, Pabla bolted the window and the door and somewhere around 3 a.m., I was woken up by a tube light shining on my face.