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Ammama & the House of A. K. Joseph

From the airport, we zipped along the highway leading away from the airport on the outskirts of Cochin and straight into the traffic of the city. Sali, Appapa’s driver, was an expert, you could tell. He dove in and out of traffic, around commercial trucks and small bikes with 3 or 4 people on them. Horns blared on each side of the road, but I could quickly tell horns were used more as a notification than as an insult like they are in the U.S.

It was dark outside, so it was hard to get a sense of where we were and what the city looked like. Appapa narrated the journey home. A golf course here that he helped design. Did Anish remember this particular area?—it hadn’t changed at all. We chatted and moved closer and closer to home.

One hour later, determined by both distance and traffic, we pulled into the Yacht Club Enclave and arrived at the house. Anish jumped out to open the gate and let the car in. All the homes here have gates and fences around the perimeter. The car puttered through and pulled into the garage. The light on the porch was on. Through the window we could see the small frame of a woman standing in the window, waiting.

Ammama.

Anish leapt of the car, and two steps at a time, was at the door just as she opened it. Straight into her arms he went. This trip, more than being an adventure or an exploration, really was all about family. Seeing them after 4 years for him. Meeting them for me. All these people who have helped Anish become the man he is today. Important people. And here they were in person. Finally.

Ammama turned to me after embracing Anish, her oldest grandchild, and immediately pulled me into a hug. She held my hand in her soft one, telling me how welcome I was there. I could feel it already.

After only a few minutes with Ammama, it was clear that she is the matriarch and rock of the family. She’s the mother to four children. A doctor. She’s impressive, but not intimidating. Stern when she needs to be, but sweet at the same time.

She led us into the house, offering food and asking how our trip was. The evening was spent catching up, eating a delicious dinner, and then settling in for a couple days. Just like that, Cochin felt like home after only a few minutes with Anish’s grandparents.

We all went to bed early, listening to the sounds of the New Year’s Eve party at the Cochin Yacht Club and whispering a quiet “Happy New Year” to each other when the fireworks started and we rolled into 2013.

The next morning, we woke early and headed downstairs to find Ammama and Appapa on the back veranda under the fans having their morning tea… their morning routine. We happily joined in, sitting on the porch listening to the sounds of the neighborhood, watching the hazy sun rising in the sky.

If you were to join us on the back porch of the house of A. K. Joseph at 7:30am, you’d be treated to a delicious cup of tea. The birds would be singing around in the garden, and you’d be looking out into a beautiful backyard filled with sweet flowers and exotic plants. There’s a palm tree with coconuts and a mango tree. A wishing well, with coins sparkling in the bottom. Old wishes from years past.

On the road behind the house, you’ll hear a man cycling past tooting his bike horn and yelling some nondescript words. He’s the man who sells fresh fish. Then Gopaln will stop by, a thin old man with only one tooth, who will inquire if there’s any work to be done. Ammama will send him off with a list, and he’ll be off. He’s the watchman of the neighborhood, but a jack of all trades. He does what needs to be done. If you want fresh milk, someone will be past delivering that. The cook will arrive and start making breakfast in the kitchen. The swish, swish of the broom will be heard from the living room, where the maid has started cleaning.

There are so many people in India… In every town, neighborhood, city, village. It seems there is hardly a speck of land that people aren’t present on. And yet, somehow, most of them know each other. It’s a fascinating ecosystem. Lives intertwine. Cochin, and the Yacht Club Enclave neighborhood, are no different.

It’s special, and I quickly began to understand… It’s India.

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The house of A. K. Joseph, the name that Appapa goes by–in Malayali tradition.
Ammama and Appapa, the sweet grandparents, on the veranda of the house our first morning there.
A view of the veranda from the yard.
Our first hazy morning in Cochin. Isn’t the lush greenery gorgeous?
The mango tree on the left and the wishing well.
Ammama and I.

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