Memories of ‘Maiden’ Christmas-New Year Fete Still Linger in Mind

Lastword

Any encounter or happening with a ‘maiden’ tag provides ample fuel for nostalgic writing, even a good two decades after the experience engulfed us with loads of surprises.

Christmas 1997 and New Year 1998 were maiden occasions for Destination Kerala, barely six months old, yet already claiming its space in an industry that survives by providing travel experiences unique  to the land it operates from.

On one of those days in mid-December 1997, a call came to our office in Thiruvananthapuram from the Kerala Tourism Development Corporation (KTDC), a friendly outfit that supported the infant magazine from day one of its existence.

“Something interesting coming up,” the excited voice of a young man came through. “For the first time, we will be celebrating Christmas at our Chaithram Hotel here, with a fare that will be unique in its own way. Your publication being the first, and so far the only one of its kind covering the Kerala tourism industry, we would like you to be with us during the night of December 24-25 to partake in the fare”.

Chaithram was newly-built and well managed. Ashish Kumar Singh IAS, MD, KTDC and the entire Chaithram team was on hand to receive us, and the fare began soon in the decorated hotel courtyard under a shamiana lit up with lanterns and Christmas stars.

Envisaged as Syrian-Christian Feast, it was something out of the ordinary: The symbolic crib set, devotional songs, the X-mas tree and the dinner buffet awaiting our attention…

The real surprise of the evening was Maria Chedathy (say, Mary aunty), a traditional cook specialising in authentic Syrian-Christian cuisine, ‘imported’ all the way from Pala, a Central Travancore town, to oversee and ensure that the fare was truly genuine.

Kallappam, pork curry, chicken stew, fish curry, beef ularthiyathu, paalappam, potato mappaas, and sweets such as churuttu, kuzhalappam and achappam… you name it, they had it!

A day after the Chaithram event, another call reached us from Hotel International, Ernakulam (Kochi), with a similar invite. ‘We are celebrating New Year ’98 on the evening of December 31, and you being the only one…”

We were promptly there at 6 pm on the concluding day of 1997 to a hearty welcome from MD Sunny K Peter, who led us into a wonder world of fares that included live music by Rolling Stones of Goa, and a late night dinner spread with meen vattichathu, turkey cranberry, prawn balchao, tenderloin steaks, tagliatelle verde, theeyal, cold cuts, fruit chaats, appam, paratha, Austrian cheese and parippu paayasam.

And, the maiden experience of our Christmas-New Year ’97-’98 was rounded off at Hotel Horizon, Thiruvananthapuram during the first week-end of 1998. We were
the only media invited to the
event led by Suresh M Pillai, Horizon’s director. The fare was designed to attract middle class families, and there was a riot of noise in the merriment of kids, singing, dancing, gaming and eating to their hearts’ content! The spread was a celebration of dosas, kebabs, roomali rotti, sizzlers, chettinad delicacies and ice-creams.

Those were the days when there were hardly any so-called ultra luxury hotels in either of the cities. Chaithram, International and Horizon were forerunners of an era that was unfolding over the Kerala landscape where the hospitality industry would later occupy centre stage in the tourism extravaganza called, Kerala, God’s Own Country.

 

Leave a Reply