Tuesday December 13th 2011, Kerela, India.
We were smiling from ear to ear. After the madness, noise and sensory bombardment of Mumbai, our next stop was a beautifully tranquil lakeside mansion in the middle of Kerala, land of coconuts. Our welcome was sweetened with pineapple juice and beautiful flowers. I'd told our hosts that we were on our honeymoon and they were laying it on pretty thick. N and I had rehearsed the major details of our 'wedding' just in case anyone asked, but so far the little ruse was working out pretty well.
A delicious vegetarian thali induced an afternoon snooze before we headed down to the water and clambered aboard a long, open canoe. Sabu, our captain, expertly dodged the Chinese fishing nets and took us out onto the glassy lake. We felt perfectly relaxed and snapped away with our cameras. After a while we decided that we wanted to get our feet wet and Sabu took us wading through the dense green banana plants and along the shore to his friend's house. We were greeted with warm embraces and given fresh coconut, sugar cane preserve and hot green chillies. I attempted to communicate by speaking very slowly in single syllables until one of Sabu's friends revealed – in perfect English – that she taught at the local university and held a masters in electrical engineering.
Soon the light began to fade and we hugged our new friends before wading back to the canoe. It had been a wonderful day and I really wanted to do WAL with Sabu. The only problem was that we hadn't seen a bank since we left the city and I didn't have a whole lot of ready cash. That evening I had a count up: 25,000 rupees, which is about 300 quid. Not as much as I'd have liked, but enough to make it worth while.
The next morning I found Sabu working on his canoe and offered him the cash in an envelope. He gratefully accepted and invited us back to his house. His wife, Biji, served us chips and fried coconut sweets and we looked through their photographs. Many of the pictures were of Sabu and Biji with a young boy and they told us that they had very recently lost their son to cancer. They had borrowed a lot of money to pay for his treatment and Sabu said that they would use the WAL money to pay off their debt. Biji was also unwell and not able to have any more children, yet despite all this she remained remarkably composed throughout our visit and both Sabu and Biji were charming and generous hosts. They were clearly very much in love and somehow their family seemed complete with just the two of them.
Shortly before it was time to leave, Sabu presented N with Biji's necklace and explained that it was a Hindu custom for married women to display the om symbol on a club or heart shaped pendent. By wearing the necklace, it meant that N was taken. Both N and I must have looked confused, because Sabu gently reminded us that we were on our honeymoon.
"It was just a small wedding," we both said at once.