Today is a special day for the village bellies; a well cherished guest will be making his monthly visit to their remote village. The ladies finish off their household chores in a hurry and send the kids to the main road to see whether he could be spotted. They wait with bated breath for hours together before he makes a majestic appearance. He is a mobile fashion boutique for the villagers in Kerala. He props up a massive display board on his shoulder that features all the bare essentials needed for their make up box. Festive occassions like Onam and vishu would add up to the shopping frenzy of the villagers, making him busy.
Kids also look forward to his visit as he brings balloons of various colors and shapes apart from various toys and indoor games to make their holidays memorable. Unlike their urban counterparts, though they cannot lay their hands on the world famous game packs like Disney and G I Joe, they get more than their fair share in this mobile toy shop. From toy guns to cars and card games, he brings them all and more to their door step. The goggles in garish hues like shocking pink and green are all time favorite among the kids.
The ladies make a beeline to pick up the latest accessories to dress up for the annual temple festivals and fairs. They select from the best of the lot from heaps of glass bangles and strings of necklaces being put on display. The girls will strike a deal by some hard haggling and he gives out these goodies for a song before walking into the next house. Though the mushrooming of ladies stores and fashion boutiques has dampened his business prospects, he still makes it a point to visit this village on the specified day to cater to the diverse needs of his customers.
Just step into a typical tea shop in any Kerala village to sample its rustic charm and the warm hospitality it offers. Functioning from a ramshackle thatched shed, these shops will mostly have names of Gods and Goddesses like Muruka Vilasam or Sreekrishna Café. The interiors would be clean though Spartan with a lighted oil lamp and the fragrance of incense welcoming you indoors.
These hotels will turn into a beehive of activity with the crack of dawn when villagers assemble here to share about the day’s Malayalam newspaper headlines and the hottest gossips doing the rounds in the village. Politics is typically the favorite topic of discussion, where the villagers will foretell the outcome of the next elections and appraise the performance of the elected members representing the village.
It is interesting to note that a ‘meals ready’ board will be hung at the entrance of the hotel at all times of the day, though lunch is served only in the afternoon. The typical breakfast items would include puttu, (the famous steamed rice cake) and gram curry or other favorite combos like dosa and sambar along with side dishes of omlette, boiled banana and the like. The 1 meter tea is probably the most popular item in the menu. The tea will be thoroughly beaten by pouring it in and out of two vessels and the tasty brew will be ready in no time. The supplier would shout out the customer specifications like low sugar, more milk or strong tea with less milk and so on and so forth as he places orders in high vocal pitch.
Lunch will be served in banana leaves and the delicacies would include spicy fish curry and vegetable dishes. Tasty food is served at nominal rates and tips are something unheard of in these hotels. Many regular customers maintain credit and pay off the amount at the end of the month. The milieu is warm and the hospitality affable in these small time restaurants where guests are treated like God, unlike the many plush city hotels, where serving food to the starving forms only part of a lucrative business.