“Under the darkening blanket of the evening sky,
And borrowing light from the vehicles passing by,
I spotted a cluster of trees
Bearing fruits of a strange appearance
But wait; upon closer look I saw that they weren’t fruits
But hundreds and hundreds of egrets
Tired from feeding in the fields
Sitting still as the skies
Interrupted only by a sudden squawk of a startled member
At the horn of a mad lorry down under”
“How is it possible to feel nostalgia for a world I never knew?” asks a stunned ‘Che Guevera’ while wandering through the ruins of Machu Pichu in Latin America in the movie- The Motorcycle diaries. I asked the same question to myself once when I visited the Big temple or Brihadeeshwar kovil of Thanjavur, which I had never seen before. I ask that question once again today-“how can I possibly feel nostalgic about my parents’ childhood?”
From the innumerable travels I have made through the roads and rails of Kerala, I fondly recall the recent trip I made to my home in Cochin from Chennai. Having got no tatkal tickets, I decided to board the Kovai express from Chennai early in the morning. Though worried that I might have to risk standing all through the journey, I still decided to hope for the best and go ahead with the decision. I’ve always loved to travel by trains. I like to travel especially in non-ac compartments where I can open the windows and watch nature roll by like a movie. A sequence of beautiful frames running at length to keep you entertained and enchanted all along. One could come across places of such beauty that there where times when I had been tempted to pull the chain and get down of the train. Paddy fields, women working in the fields, cows and calves, small hills and rivers all made an appearance. Since I normally take the night trains from Chennai to Cochin, I had never really seen the stretch from Chennai, after Jolarpettai till Coimbatore.
During my college days, I used to go home very often. And the Tamil Nadu-Kerala border was a much awaited event. Politics, business, trade, families, societies- borders signified different things for different people. But for me, it only meant a canvas where two beautiful landscapes merged. The transition was done easily. If you missed the small bridge, it was all over in the blink of an eye. And now for the first time, I was travelling all the way from Chennai to Coimbatore, taking in all the splendid sights. And let me make an honest admission here. Malayalis world over might complain about the stagnant growth they face on the career front in Kerala and then flee in search of better opportunities elsewhere. But no matter how far they flee, there is but one thing they will talk about proudly, and that is the unpretentious display of fecund fertility of its soils. The greenery of Kerala is well-known. And we generally have a tendency to look down upon the other states in an air of arrogant comparison. And yet, as I looked out for the first time to look at the hills of Yelagiri blowing gentle wisps of clouds above them, and the agricultural produces that were being nurtured in the wombs of these interior landscapes, I couldn’t but feel ashamed of myself to have been ignorant about the fertility that the soils in my neighbouring land possessed. Where nature forgot to bestow, man sowed. And reap he did, rich praises from an ardent lover of nature who would rather see many shades of green and blue than grey. But the most impressive place that I saw was a few kilometers after Tirupur station. A temple surrounded by a natural pond with little kids bobbing up and down and rolling around in its waters, in the midst of a rich green field instantly made my heart jump up. The chain, uh..oh.. if I could just pull that chain….
But the journey had to continue, and I got down in Coimbatore, half relieved to have reached my destination and half sad to have my journey end so. From Coimbatore, I walked into a small hotel near by that was crowded with all the people from my train. Anticipating the bus journey ahead of me, I decided to take something that would go down well on my stomach and ordered curd rice. As a kid, I used to detest traveling by buses. The bumpy roads and in the case of hill stations, the hairpin bends used to churn my stomach and make me feel sick. And then when I went to college and was forced to take up bus journeys, I started to work up a stamina for bus rides. It later turned into a strange kind of love for the ride down the country roads. The worn down KSRTC buses with a ‘K’erala (not ‘K’arnataka), suddenly seemed like a good deal to view the country side. I thoroughly enjoyed the many journeys I undertook in and out of Kerala. Little did I realize that that love was to live forever and grow more with time.
From Coimbatore, I went to Gandhipuram bus stand and took the next bus to Cochin. The sky was marvelous with white fluffy clouds and the sun throwing its divine rays from behind it. The whole scene was ethereal. And as I entered the fertile soils of my homeland, I couldn’t but help think about the many smells that were now fast entering my nostrils. It strangely reminded me about my father and about his childhood.
And that’s when i asked myself- “How can I possibly feel nostalgic now? For his childhood?”
How can I know that the giant trees whose smells became distinctly clear and stronger during the night as they flew above the paddy fields, collecting many more aromas and growing in its intensity, had been responsible for sowing the thoughts that my dad thought and later inspired him to take to writing as a way of putting into words the best way he could, the beautiful thoughts that floated in his head? Perhaps it’s because those very trees whose names I didn’t know, were now continuing to work their inspiration through me, with thoughts that created such sublime emotions that the words I use from my memory is but vain. I don’t know how effective our words are. After all, catching a thought, infusing it with the right emotion and then trying to put it into sentences using the technique of recalling words from one’s memory is but a very inefficient way of communicating. For the beauty of the thought is far more intense and captivating. And it is a blessing, even if it is only for brief seconds, to hold that beauty inside you. And in that moment I also realized, to have been able to hold that beauty, to see it, know it for what it is and feel it the same way my dad had held it in his own heart many years back as he trudged through a lusher and verdant landscape is how, I am now able feel nostalgic about his childhood! That beauty we held in our hearts, inexplicable as it is, is the unseen link, connecting us through the ages. And I think that’s how i am able to know what he felt like in his younger days.