He was among the thousands of kids from the area who eagerly awaited the fiercely fought boat race, year after year, on the second Saturday of every August, to be precise, when the Punnamada Lake in Alappuzha, in Kerala (India), would transform into a sea of people, both nationals and foreign tourists, cheering their favourite boats. It wasn't just a childhood passion, but a sport which lay deep in the psyche of every single person from the villages scattered around the backwaters of Kuttanad.
Moving away from his little village of Kainakari for his studies and later on to Oman to establish his own business firm dealing with civil and industrial contracts, Antony Vallavanthara was yet to accomplish his childhood dream. He wanted to be in one of those snake boats (chundan) vying for the prestigious trophy, to feel the heat and to be right in the middle of action. He had taken leave from his work and continued to attend the event every year, but just as a spectator.
The dream has now turned into reality. Tying up with the Thayankari Boat Club, Antony stood proudly on a snake boat 'Ayaparambu Pandi' as its sponsor in the recently concluded 62nd Nehru Trophy boat race at Punnamada Lake. "We didn't win but, I think, this could be a turning point in my life. I now want to promote this sport (which has a huge fan following across the globe) among Omanis," says Antony who is now on cloud nine.
Back from the race, his friends and other acquaintances in the business circle, are already inquiring about his latest adventure and are keen to learn more about it. "There are many Omanis who already know about this event and many have been spectators of this exciting race, where we have around 25 snake boats each rowed by 91 rowers, besides other boats like Odi, Veppu, Churulan and Thekkanodi," he points out.
Said Hamed Al Siyabi, an Omani entrepreneur hailing from Samail, is among them who have already witnessed this event several times during his travels to Kerala. "We could even think of getting sponsors from Omani businessmen and even able-bodied Omani rowers for the boats. I think this could strengthen the relationship between people of Oman and Kerala," he says.
Asiya Washdil Kazzok Al Balushi, employed in the administration wing of a private firm in Muscat, has never been to Kerala, but has heard about this boat race from her friends.
"The backwaters of Kerala is already well-known for its beauty and tourism potential. And it would be great if I could plan a visit next year which could coincide with this thrilling race," she says.
That's exactly what Antony is planning: to promote this event as a great opportunity among the Omanis to enjoy Kerala's hospitality. "I want to spread the word, discuss with tours and travel agents and even with Ministry of Tourism officials in both countries to chalk out tour packages. This isn't just a day's event, it demands a month-long preparation when people can come and actually experience the build-up," he says adding that he would continue sponsoring a snake boat for his area community and would even consider a total ownership in future, though it would be a much costly affair.