It was still dark when my phone started shrieking and blinking. 5:30am. Time to wake up! This was even earlier than a work day, when we would routinely rise between 6 and 6:30; our eyes were bleary, and our heads pounded… but today was a day we had been curious about all week, a kind of mystery reward at the end of another 6 days of toil.
Today, we were going to go to Veega Land.
Shibu had told me about it months before, and I listened in disbelief. An amusement park? In Kerala? My imagination romped back in time to a week-long school camp of my childhood, where a ‘rollercoaster’ had been built on a hillside; when we paddled our canoes over to the portion of track that weaved over the lake, we found them brown and flaking with rust, cracks the size of crevices eroded into the steel. This, surely, would be the best Kerala could offer. The Veega Land of my imagination was even less impressive than Rainbow’s End, New Zealand’s own rickety old amusement park. And yet, Shibu’s face grew increasingly animated the more he spoke of it.
Eventually, we agreed to go on a day trip there with his family, and the big day had arrived. The idea of getting up before dawn to travel for six hours by train and car – a journey we would have to repeat again that night – for little more than a few rides and waterslides stood at plain odds with our Western sensibilities. Nevertheless, we went with it. Often, you just have to in India. Viewing any endeavour in terms of its convenience will only leave you frustrated.
Having linked up with Shibu, his wife Sharmi, his two young daughters, his brother- and sister-in-law Amzar and Manju and their two children, we flew along the Southern Railway to Ernakulam, closest station to Veega Land and home to Shibu’s wife’s uncle and auntie on her mother’s side. In Kerala, no trip should be undertaken without scheduling appointments with any and all relatives in the area. They piled us full of idiyappam, egg curry and black tea and sent us on in their Qualis, taking Shibu’s too-young kids for the day in exchange for their teenaged son. It was a bit like a transaction, equally driven by love and obligation.
It was after midday by the time we reached Veega Land, already weary and starting to bicker with one another, but the sight of the gates changed all that. This was no ramshackle operation. This wasn’t even Rainbow’s End. Its modern façade more closely resembled the theme parks I’d visited in Tokyo with their neat paving stones and turnstiles. As we entered and looked around, we could have been just about anywhere in the world – well, if it weren’t for the fact that all other patrons in the vicinity were staring openly at this young madama and saip.
We began with a relatively tame haunted house ride, and followed it with a quick jaunt around a simple circular track, laughing and taking pictures of the others in the group. What followed, however, would shake me to my core. It was called the Twin Flip Monster:
“This is a ride that has two robotic arms that reach to a height of 10 meters. At the end of each arm are three capsules like the blades of a fan. As you go spinning and swirling the robotic arms keep moving up and down giving you the feeling of being caught in a whirlwind. Not recommended for heart patients and people with high BP.
” Add to that last sentence ‘tall saips prone to dizzy spells”. Almost two years later, I can still remember the violence in the way it threw me up and down, side to side, rattling my brain in my skull. I staggered off towards a nearby bench, green-faced and barely able to sit down. The teenaged cousin we’d picked up in Ernakulam, who had ridden the Monster alongside me, looked as though he’d just stepped out of an air-conditioned limousine and onto a red carpet. His unaffected swagger remained exactly as it had before the nightmare had begun. I felt even worse.
All the others in our group showed genuine concern, and with their supportive words and arms around the shoulder I was able to regather myself enough to stand and wander slowly on. But I was still dazed, and a little confused. I had no idea at the time but 'India's No. 1 Amusement Park' held many more surprises in store, some even less savoury than the Twin Flip Monster…
(To be continued.)