The Mepral house, my maternal family’s ancestral home, was known as “the house with the vallom (boat)” for miles around. There was never any need to prefix ‘kali’ or ‘race’ to the boat, it was a tacit acknowledgment that it was no ordinary country boat. Though this vallom called Delhi was not in the larger Chundan league, it had a splendor of its own. I recall the ceremonial thrusting of the Delhi boat from the boat house into the Mepral river in Thiruvalla, for the season. It was preceded by a small pooja—she was adorned with a string of Jamanthi poovu (Chrysanthemum flowers) and her hull embellished with the auspicious three lines of sandalwood paste.
However gently the men pushed her into the river, guided by their rhythmic shouts and grunts, she always managed a splash when she hit the waters. The water would rise high and she would majestically dwarf the river, her sides almost straddling the river’s breadth. By then there would be an astonished crowd of people, all having deserted their daily chores, gawping at Delhi bobbing on the river till she steadied herself, perhaps using the Archimedes principle. I always felt that Delhi was made for much bigger waters and not for a measly tributary of the River Pampa, but this was her home for nearly three-quarters of a century.
The name ‘Delhi’ for a boat had always intrigued me and more I asked around the curiouser the story got. Two of my maternal uncles, George P Kuruvilla and his cousin P J Kuriakose, are story tellers in their own right and I, armed with copious amounts of salt, was determined to take it all in with an occasional pinch. Some would call it a futile exercise but it was a fascinating one—I found myself drawn into a labyrinth of interconnected stories, myths and legends, fantasies and refutations—I could no longer delineate fact from fiction. So much for that salt.