Some journeys are etched in mind for ever. They never lose their shine to years that pass by. Manju Warrier too has a clutch of such experiences, that quite often take her back on a trip down memory lane.
Those trips always started from Nagercoil, a Tamil Nadu-Kerala boarder town, where Manju's father used to work. “We had a bike and most of our trips where on it. On holidays, we used to ride to Kanyakumari. It was the biggest celebration then,” Manju said.
Manju vividly remembers how eagerly she looked forward for those rides. “My seat was always on the petrol tank as my brother and mother would occupy the pillion seat. While we start the journey the air would be dry and smell of dust, but as we near our destination it would change."
Thanumalayan temple in Suchindram used to be their first stop. “Being a child, I was not interested in hearing the temple legends or seeing the sculptures there. But, the sight of the temple rising into the skies was one to behold."
"How will they appear from the skies? That was the biggest doubt then."
The Kanyakumari trip used to end at the Vivekananda Rock.
At home in Pullu
For a five-year-old Manju going to the native village was much more fun than Kanyakumari. Her father's house in Pullu always smelt of tulsi and had the safety of love and belonging, remembers Manju.
“The packing for these trips, which usually took place during vacations, would begin a week in advance. I would collect seeds of the neem tree from the courtyard and get them wrapped in paper as I too wanted to pack something.”
"We would get up early on the day of travel - that is the only day we had the privilege of taking bath in hot water. The food for the journey -- idli and chutney powder in coconut oil -- would have been packed in steamed plantain leaves. Hunger pangs would strike the moment we embark on the train at 6am. The taste and smell of food packed in steamed plantain leaves linger in my mind."
"Be it train or bus, my place was always near the window, which offers unending sights. The road would become narrower by the time we near Pullu. The hibiscus flowers, hitting the face, used to announce reaching our village. Cross the field, pass by the Karthyayani Devi temple and you are at my father's ancestral house."
A new travel companion
In the next fold of memories, Manju had a new travel companion – a pair of anklets. Manju and her dance performance were an inseparable part of art and cultural shows and temple festivals then. Each stage was a different experience.
"It still gives me goose bumps - a little girl welcomed by a wave of applause, being the focal point of a host of reporters, and strangers showering congratulations and well-wishes. This happiness was a product of a lot of people's hard work. The trips to kalolsavam stages are still fresh in mind."
To kalolsavam at Tirur in Malappuram
“By that time dad had got transfer to Kannur. By the time we - dad, mom, those playing the musical instruments, dance teacher and I – reached the venue, all the hotels had been booked already. There was no place to stay. In the end, somebody arranged a house to stay."
"All the excitement of the trip was lost when we saw the house. It resembled those haunted houses in movies. The doors even opened making a sound similar to that of a suspense building background score. There was no choice as it was getting dark. We cleaned a room and mom and I slept there. Others spread their mat on coconut palm fronds on the courtyard and slept in the open. Today, I get the energy for my journeys from their prayers and support."
Dance taking to places
"It was dance that helped me get a visa for my first foreign trip. I was in class 10 then. It was to Germany. Madhu sir, Jayabharati chechi, Leelavathi teacher and George Onakkoor sir were among the team. There were four or five students, including me, Since there were some problems with getting visa, my dad and mom couldn't come with me."
"I was afraid of going alone, but at the same time I was happy because I was going to fly for the first time. Since it was a foreign trip, I had managed to get a low-cost sun glass. When the flight started taxiing ahead of take-off, I could fell my heart beats. I kept the eyes tightly shut..."
"I was clueless of what to buy from there. I had got an over-sized coat and used to wear it at home. The fact that it was a winter coat never stopped me from wearing it to show off."
In front of the camera
From the stage, she directly went in front of camera. Between action and cut, she traveled to several locations. The little girl who dreamt of how the Suchindram temple would look from the skies reached dizzying heights pretty soon. But wherever she is, Ottapalam has a soft corner for her.
“Mere thoughts of the green fields of Ottapalam would bring a joy into the mind during my busy schedule. Movies like Sallapam, Ee Puzhayum Kadannu, Thoovalkottaram and Aaram Thampuran took me to Ottapalam again and again. Changes happen fast in other places, but not in Ottapalam."
"When we were shooting for Ee Puzhayum Kadannu at Shoranur, Bhoothakannadi was also shot there. One day, when I was going with mom and Dileep-ettan, Mammukka's (Mammootty) car was coming from the opposite side. Dileep-ettan went out and spoke to him. Since I had a respectful fear towards him, I didn't get out of the car. However, while passing our car, Mammukka slid the window and teased me by asking for an autograph."
“Film journeys have enough memories like this. Once, we were returning from Chennai after dubbing. Cochin Haneef-ikka was along with me. We were stuck for about 17 hours in a village in Tamil Nadu as the train engine developed some snag. I still remembers name of the village - Bommidi.”
"The train broke down at night. At dawn, locals gathered around the train. Business became brisk. We were trying to while away time by playing cards. Often, someone will come and ask, 'Inform us beforehand if you want lunch'. Ikka will lose concentration and get angry. He will then shoo them away. After a while, another person will come and repeat the same question. Ikka will lose temper again. But when the train didn't start even by noon, we were forced to look for food. Even after years, we used to joke over Bommidi."
"The helicopter journey for Kalyan Jewellery's ad along with Aishwarya Rai was a different experience. It was my first chopper ride. Loud, dusty landing... When I came down waving my hand to a cheering crowd, felt like an introduction scene in a Telugu movie."
"Before any journey, Kalyan swami and family will circumambulate the Sree Ramaswami temple at Ponkunnam, their family temple. Their helicopter too would do the same."
Off to Amsterdam
Some trips happen totally unplanned. For Manju, the trip to Amsterdam with Geetu Mohandas was one such unplanned trip.
“Trips to Amsterdam and to Geetu's flat in Mumbai, along with Samyuktha, have all given me good memories. You don't have the burden of a being a celebrity at these places. In Mumbai, we had chaat and took auto to travel around. It was great fun."
The journey continues
Some journeys will leave a mark in our mind. They remain with you even after you leave the place. Jispa provided such an experience to Manju.
“There are several things that I liked about the film Rani Padmini. It was my first road movie. Besides, Ashiq (Abu) and Rima (Kallingal) were very close to me. Felt the thrill right from the first day. From Ottapalam to Chandigarh, then Delhi and then Manali.”
“From Manali, the route towards the film location was scary. Narrow roads with rocky mountain on one side and huge ravines on the other. The drivers there are skilled in negotiating such roads. You may not see the same road when you return -- a landslide might have destroyed it.”
"Those who honk endlessly even during a small block should learn from them. You might get stuck for hours there. Everybody comes forward to find a way out. It seems the more facilities we have the less patient and understanding we become."
"Manali is a land of lovers. The shooting there was a celebration. In one word, challenging. When we hear pack-up, Rima and I will go out to roam around. Restaurants and shopping places were our favorite spots."
"It is difficult to find such innocent people elsewhere. At one place, a few women were standing with some clothes. Those were not for sale. It was their traditional dress. You can wear it and take a photo for Rs100."
Jispa is somewhere between Manali and Leh. The sights were not just beautiful, but mercerizing. Mountains were clad in snow. At some places, breathing was difficult due to lack of oxygen.”
“One night, while sleeping in the hotel room, I felt like someone was pointing a light at my face. I got up and opened the curtain to see the moonlit snow-clad mountains. It was pournami and the stream flowing through the valley too glittered in moon light. That light was slipping into my room - it was a magical sight.”
"Most people like to travel if there are facilities available. But the people there and the soldiers who guard our boarders there care less about facilities. With snowfall, they are cut off from the rest of the country for six months. Mobile network may not be available. Snow could flatten houses, roads and just about anything."
Journeys, which will take one through places and lives like theirs, make one understand how trifle is most of our daily struggles.