Making hay while the sun shines

Published: 06 December, 2011 11:21 IST | Debdeep Chatterjee |

Kovalam with the Hay Festival in the backdrop is a booklover's delight

Kovalam with the Hay Festival in the backdrop is a booklover's delight

Some holidays give you enough energy to last a year or more. Like my recent, which I clubbed with the second edition of the Hay Festival in India. Their choice of destination couldn't be more apt. Kovalam is a scenic tropical beach -- termed as the perfect 'hippy' destination, like Nepal of yore. And it lives up to its name. 

The locals after their morning fishing expedition

A white sandy beach, beachside shacks which serve up some mean delicacies (both local and Continental), no haggling localites selling their ware, options for watersports, and if none of these suit you, then just hire a deck chair and an umbrella and work yourself some suntan to show off when you are back to the big city. 

Perfect ambience to soak in some literature too. Which is when the Hay Festival comes as your saviour. This year, the fest concentrated mostly on authors (last year they had Sting sing you goodbye) at the beautiful Kanakakunnu Palace, about a 40 minute drive from the beachside. Malayali writers were given special focus this time, with several slots allotted to writers and poets. 

Cat Weatherill and Jung Chang at the Hay Festival

The two sessions I found particularly engaging were that of Cat Weatherill's who gave an engaging storytelling 
performance and Jung Chang, popularly known as Mao Zedong's biographer. Cat is a storyteller from Wales � and of a different kind. "I pick stories I like and then give them my own twist," she told the audience. She picks up fairytales that she thinks she can relate to and then spins her own magic into it. Indian fairytales, though they have grabbed her attention, have been given a miss by Cat. "I don't understand the nuances so I don't think I will be able to do justice to them," she explained.

Another interesting personality was Jung Chang, who is now concentrating on writing the story of Consort Zhen, known in history as the Imperial Concubine, who is credited as one of the people behind China's slow rise to power. Chang is a charming lady and spoke at length about Mao and how China is slowly changing. "The people of China had more freedom during the time of Mao than they have now," she said. 

However, she didn't mince words about Mao. "He was undoubtedly cruel. The atrocities of those days are unpardonable," she added. Now that is food for thought. Speaking on the topic of food, Kovalam is a foodie's paradise. Though I was a little surprised to not find crab or lobsters, but the fried fish is a must try. Spicy as all hell and tasty to boot, you will dream of it even when you leave the state behind.

When in Kovalam, do the speedboat. It is a bumpy ride, but what a ride it is! If you are lucky enough, you will be able to catch a dolphin or two, doing graceful dives into the water. The sea is blue and looks straight out of a picture postcard. 

The water is crystal clear and therefore snorkeling is a good option. Make sure to bargain with the local fishermen, otherwise they tend to take you for a ride. Language is not a problem here -- everyone speaks or understands English. And don't forget the shades and the sunscreen, unless you want to pay your dermatologist a visit back home. 

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