The significance of Vishu, a major festival in Kerala, is that it is the first day of the Zodiac calendar. I had been under the impression that it happens ‘unfailingly’ on 14 April. The date has been deeply embedded in the mind because it was on that auspicious date my parents had started living in the new house they had built in Trivandrum in 1965. Hence, I had wished many friends and relatives yesterday and was politely told that I was a day early. A good friend explained that if the passage of the Sun into Aries is after dawn Vishu celebrations will be conducted only the next day – that’s why it was being celebrated on 15 April this year. Smarting from being incorrect I thought it better to wish twice rather than not wish at all! Sreekanth arrived with the ‘Vishukkani’ early morning. He had neatly arranged the fruits and other items neatly in a cupboard drawer, which served the need instead of a large plate. Holy text, lamp with camphor, a picture of Krishna and metal mirror completed the many items in the drawer. Later, Ammayi gave me Vishukaineettam; it was an emotional occasion when she blessed me and I unabashedly shed tears. I felt the objective of this journey had been fulfilled – to be blessed by one so wise and loving. Many times people come into your life without you knowing a reason for it; this was one such.
Sreekanth had been in regular touch with me from Singapore before I left on the journey from Cochin. He had done considerable research and follow up with the AAS and the LTA to ensure trouble free movement of the car into Singapore. Without his support and background work I may have got stuck in Malaysia further. He also took the permission from Ammayi to have me as a guest in her house as well as to park the car in the garage. This is tremendous hospitality and cannot be measured in words or money. It is the spontaneous offer of assistance that moved me. Further, he took leave from his law firm to be with me the entire day sacrificing his chores and work. His wife, who is in Kerala presently, is also a lawyer by profession. Such people are not easy to come by.
Bibin Scaria has been working in Singapore since 2009 as a nurse. His wife and daughter are in Kerala, as the former is employed there. It is Facebook that connected us and he constantly messaged ever since the South East Asian expedition was announced. This morning he came to meet me at Ammayi’s house. He is such an avid travel buff that he spends a substantial part of his savings to fulfil his passion. In fact, he told me that he had chosen the nursing profession as he wanted to explore the grand city of Bangalore!
After Ammayi had affixed the sticker on the car for Singapore Bibin and I left for the Harbourfront ferry terminal, as Sreekanth left for office, from where I intended to take the 10.50 am ferry to Batam. It was a long ride on the MRT train from Mary Mount to Harbourfront centre, which is a huge shopping complex and a ferry terminal connecting many Indonesian islands. Vivo City, the largest shopping mall in Singapore is part of the Harbourfront development. The Sentosa island cable car is housed in one of the towers of the complex. From the upper deck of the Harbourfront tower I had magnificent views of Sentosa Island, Port of Singapore Authority container terminal, ferry terminal as well as cable cars and monorail linking Sentosa Island. Bibin was a good guide and he explained all the attractions in detail.
Closer to 10 am I reached the counter of BatamFast ferry and purchased a SGD 48 round trip ticket, with the return leg open. Immigration and Customs formalities were done in quick time despite long queues. Boarding didn’t take long either. I got a good window seat on the upper deck from where I could observe the waterfront and other activities unhindered. Soon after the ferry left the Singapore waters I dozed off and woke up just as announcements were being made about arriving into Batam Centre. It was a journey of about an hour and I had arrived Batam almost at the same time as I left Singapore, as the time is an hour behind in Batam! I did not have to queue for ‘on arrival’ visa and that saved me some time. The immigration and customs formalities were soon completed.
When I reached the arrival lounge Ajo David was there to pick me up. We drove to his house and had a sumptuous lunch of ‘Kerala food’ once Susan, his wife arrived from office. The rapport was instant. I had only briefly met them in Cochin when they were on vacation. I was introduced through a common friend, Abu, who had been a classmate and fast friend of theirs for many years. This time I was staying with them for four days in their home. I found them very easy to converse and get along with, just as family. When they left for office I had a good nap and, upon waking up, completed the blog. Sania, their daughter, had returned from school and finished the catechism instruction before we had a small conversation.
Dinner was scheduled at the Teras Café steakhouse, where Ajo and Susan said, the food was excellent. Shoju and his family had reserved a table at the restaurant, which was fully patronised. Shoju is Susan’s cousin and has been in Batam for over a decade working in the IT industry. His wife, Smita, and three children were visiting from Cochin as the children had school vacation. The medium done steak was every bit as outstanding as the reputation which preceded its consumption. Black Label whisky with green apple accompanied the food. While at dinner and over extremely interesting conversation about the city and its development I met Pradeep and Ani, a couple from Kerala, who worked in Batam. Chilled ice wine kept conversation going further. By the time we wound up for the day, I suspect, the waiters were already taking turns at napping!