Like all things connected, there is certainly a lot to mention about life outside IHM in those days. There wasn’t any hostel yet and most of the kids from out of station had to settle in rented houses and lodges that dotted the Kovalam village. Some lodges like Sithara, Al Italia and Deepak are firmly ingrained in the memory of the early 90’s batches and the reasons why they walked into the Hall of Fame were not exactly very benevolent ones.
Sithara Lodge was straight out of hell. Even today, when I do watch some movies from Hollywood, where scenes depict real slum holes with their shitty corners, jostling sweaty people, dark cavernous spaces and near-Gothic lighting, I get this typical sour aftertaste in my mouth of ‘been there’. I am yet to have survived in a place dirtier than Sithara. Unclean toilets, unswept floors that were almost thick with grime, beds without mattresses and general odour of mildew – you got what you hadn’t dreamt of. Yet the only thing that made it sane was the special bunch of people whom I knew in those years.
Of course, there was only one star-graded (!) restaurant in our radar those days. Eating out was such a torture at Santhosh Restaurant that most of us skipped breakfasts, to be followed by the skimpy portions sizes of the lunch (that’s what it was called anyways) served at IHM. By the time you had somehow managed to struggle through the afternoon classes and get back to your rotten room, your stomach was grumbling for an elephant, if not more. I have a serious hunch that Santhosh Restaurant’s shitty grub looked like heaven-sends mostly due to our hallucinating phases induced by increasing levels of starvation.
I think we directly contributed in a major way to making the owner of Santhosh Restaurant one of the richest guys in the area. I could be proud of being a part of such an enabling social initiative. Nobody who loved their tummies ever forgot the experience of eating out in those days.
If Sithara was damned, then Deepak was quite contrary to that. It looked a bit more civilized and I had some of my mates living there as well. They lived on the upper floors while the lowers floors were mostly let out to dubious customers who checked in with even more dubious looking lasses. Quite a good amount of detective work later by the IHM fellas, it turned out that the people checking in were not exactly in the holiday mood but more like involved in the research of carnal pleasures. It soon became a pastime for us to sit somewhere around the entrance and wonder who-must-be-who and what-must-be-what. Life in Kovalam was not very high in terms of a zippity social scene and such diversions were most welcome.
Al Italia remains a dream now. Demolished sometime in the late 90’s to make way for a posh resort, I can’t forget it ever simply for the undiluted beach experience it gave me. Darned expensive rentals for those times, it was bang on the beach and the unruly sea sand had this way of being involved in your shoes, socks, bags, beds and memories. It was always coming back even when you thought you had managed to clean it all up. The place was wacky and the owner was wackier (his sister had married an Italian and the poor Italiano had bought this place for his BIL to generally vegetate and call his existence worthwhile) and the reason why we could not have stayed there longer was because the tourist season would begin and the place could command impossibly high rentals.
I liked Italia the most – the long nights on the beach talking about gibberish(totally wrong side of civility), the whole bunch(11 of us) going crazy finishing journals together(call it beer, beer, beer and zzzzz), practicing in the middle of the night for the next day’s group song competition (them no good partial judges thought we majorly sucked), then sleeping butt naked on the beach on Saturday evenings to wake up to beautiful Sunday dawns.