All the world's a stage, and all men and women merely players.
Today is a tale of cloaks and daggers in which Riyaz plays the provocateur, Kyela the lighting rod, and this humble writer a supporting ghost of the shadows. Ruchi will not play a role, for she is our unsuspecting mark.
The gambit begins at breakfast. Riyaz gets a phone call from Sanil (who runs the hostel we're at) asking him to come back for some paperwork. Kyela and Ruchi don't want to come back to the hostel, so we work out a compromise: Kyela and Ruchi head out to the markets, while Riyaz and I head back to take care of the paperwork.
The trap is sprung; there is no paperwork, and the call was just a ruse designed to separate us. While the girls head to the markets, Riyaz and I pretend to head back for a while and then turn back towards the markets behind them. Kyela tactfully guides Ruchi away from the spots we intend to visit, and we make sure to stay out of sight. We have two hours until our scheduled boatride; there's little time to waste. A cake is procured; a tender message inscribed upon it. We make our way back to the hostel, stash the cake in Riyaz's room, meet up with the girls and while away the time. The whole operation is a masterpiece of Swiss precision.
At 1120 hrs, Riyaz surreptitiously slips out with the cake and makes his way to the jetty. He sets the cake in the boat, and returns in time as we come down to meet them. Together, we head out for the boat ride.
We board the boat, and a few minutes in, I pull out the box and present it. The wife is pleased, but doesn't appear overly surprised. It turns our operation wasn't as Machiavellian after all; she suspected something was up the moment we split up. So much for our attempt at subterfuge. It is perhaps worth noting that our planning and execution aren't as Swiss like as we would have liked you to believe.
We lunch riverside, and eat off banana leaves for the first time since we've arrived. The food is delicious; I don't eat the rice, but can't have enough of the beetroot and the beans. The meals are costly, easily the most expensive one we've had so far.
The humidity is strong; we're all drenched now. We continue our boat ride, and the breeze brings some relief. Pearls glisten on the surface of the water and blind us under the afternoon sun.
And then evening comes. It is a lot cooler now, and the setting sun not as harsh. We are making our way back to the jetty, a petrol fuelled frame of wood and steel chugging along on a softly rippling surface. Men and women appear on the banks throwing lines and reeling fish in. We buy some toddy bankside; it's sour. Other boats, big and small, are coming in, and our shikara rocks from side to side as they stream past us. Beyond the near gridlock traffic, coconut groves look on in perfect stillness.
We finally make it to port, and after a short rest, head back into the city. The festival is over and the crowd has thinned, but only barely. We find an udipi and enjoy the best meal we've had here, and even find a coffee that apart from its thinness, is pretty close to what we're looking for. The bill is laughable when compared to what we spent for lunch.
Sometimes you find the best things in the unlikeliest of places. This is true of food. And friends. And soulmates.