Boat races are a significant part of the cultural life of Alapuzha and the surrounding region. The biggest of them all is, of course, the Nehru Trophy Boat Race. Winning the Nehru Trophy is a matter of prestige, and boat clubs spend over a crore of rupees every year to put a boat in it.
"This has been a tradition. In fact, snake boat race has been going on for ages,” says Suhas S, District Collector, Alappuzha.
Traditionally, each boat club represents a village, and the rowers have been from the same village. With many folks leaving the villages to find work in other places, it is common practice to hire rowers from neighbouring villages. As this practice grows, some expert rowers are poached by other villages for a higher wage.
A recent trend is to hire a few professional rowers from outside the state, something multiple teams planned in 2018. United Boat Club from Kainakary village has hired R K. Pillai, ex-army man and national rowing champion, to be their coach. Another club spent 2 lakh rupees on rowers from Manipur. Yet another club spent 6 lakh rupees on rowers from Madhya Pradesh and Manipur. However, none of these plans worked out - heavy rains and floods led to the Nehru Trophy Boat Race being postponed.
The boat clubs could not get the outside rowers for the rescheduled race. For the first time in the history of the Nehru Trophy Boat Race, there was a new entrant not attached to any particular village.
This was the Police Boat Club, an entry from the Kerala Police. With 117 rowers from all across Kerala, this was a truly mixed team.
While 2018 did not see the widespread use of rowers from outside Kerala, it was not due to lack of trying. Teams are serious about winning, and if that means defying tradition and hiring rowers from outside, they are willing to go down that path. The 2019 race is still far in the future. However, it is clear that the number of rowers from outside Kerala will only increase. The teams are eager to win and are ready to field the best rowers, even if they are from outside Kerala.