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Posts Tagged ‘childhood’

“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.

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Smells, one of the many things that binds you to the past. Be it pleasant or repulsive, smells manage to bring out long forgotten singular instances. A memory, a smile, a hurt, a fight, a person, a name, a time, a day, a promise, a reason, a season, a poem, a thought… why, it can even remind you of entire states and countries!! An aroma once smelt, unique of its own is hardly ever recaptured. We do often get a whiff of similar smells, but I believe no two smells are ever the same.

This post is inspired by a smell. The smell that takes me right back to my childhood, to Kerala and to the cold waters of the ‘kolam’ (water tank/pond) in my ‘ammamma’s’(grandmother) house. Back to a feeling of being nice and clean, and back to a time when I could fit in on my amma’s hips! A smell that I later on started associating with hotel rooms and promptly discarded. The smell of ‘Chandrika’ soap!

Yesterday was a very busy day. After 3 long months, three cheques that had got delayed finally cleared and came my way. Time to pay the bills and do some shopping. After preventing the unpleasant event of having our internet disconnected, I walked into a supermarket to buy a few basic necessary items that I’d been doing without for all these days. I was bored of ‘camay’ and ‘dove’ and was looking for a change. My regular soap, ‘Derma dew’ now cost close to 70 rupees. Even with all that money, I felt the price was still a killing. I went through the mulit-coloured, floral designed covers of all the soaps on the shelf and picked nothing for a long time. I wouldve turned around and walked out and convinced myself to shell out 70rupees. But that’s when I spotted the dull green cover of a very ordinary looking ‘desi’ Chandrika soap, standing shyly in the midst of international models. I hesitatingly picked it up and drew it close to my nose to smell it once again….

 

Frantically swallowing whatever little air I could get, and tears streaming down my face, I splashed around in the water like a fish out of water. Two protective arms curled around me, but I still held with all my life the shaky rocky pillar that supported the small roof above the steps of our ‘kolam’. Amma was trying to teach me swimming, but nothing would get me to float on water. Inspite of having expert swimmers for my parents, I was petrified of the ‘kolam’. Many brave stories could be heard about my mom’s spectacular diving and rescuing skills and achan’s ability to do stay under water for long minutes, and to swim backwards and sidewards. And yet, their child, when put into a kolam always only swam downwards….

Kids in the West had nightmares about the ‘toilet man’. I woke up from my sleep everyday to get tossed into a ‘kolam’, and it later came back in my dreams to swallow me whole. I would cry out and howl until amma sensed the scary reality of a shattered eardrum drawing close and pull me out. I’d spring up from the water shivering, and teeth chattering like a type writer. She would turn me around and splash more water with her hands and then start scraping me clean, mumbling all the while about how her child was a gift from the God of dirt, if there be such a god. The soap lather would run down my feet and flow into the water and invite many small fishes to gather around and start nibbling at my tiny toes, and prompt me to do a jiggly wiggly dance move. This would further agitate my mom, who’d then issue out new orders- “STAND still”, “Don’t dance around”, “or else you will fall into the water now..”

And I’d decide I had had enough and slip myself from her soapy grip and make a dash for it, sending little clouds of froth flying after me. In the confusion, the soap, placed on a small stepping stone, would get kicked into the water. And my mom would be torn apart between saving a drowning soap and chasing a wet child who could catch a cold in a breeze.

“That’s a WHOLE CAKE OF SOAP!! And thanks to you, the FISHES are feeding on it now….” and on and on she’d go later on, rubbing the towel vigorously on my head. I’d put my arms around her and place my head against her soft tummy, smelling sqeaky clean of tulsi and herbs and ammamma’s other oil concoctions, and start humming a tune and laugh to myself by the way the notes of the song were jumping and falling around. Amma would stop wiping my head and stare at me, and I’d catch the warning and run out and climb up the ‘jaambakka’ tree. ‘Mumble mumble’ all the way to the kitchen my dear amma would. And I’d sit on the branch and sing and swing away into the skies.

If ‘Chandrika’ could explore the secrets that lay at the dark bottom of amma’s ‘kolam’, then ‘lifebouy’ made it clear it was capable of much more that in my dad’s house. Although I have two sisters in my dad’s side, their stay abroad allowed them to escape the rough treatment I received from my brothers in Palghat. Amma’s family was full of girls and dad’s family had a majority of boys.

“Kozhikode’ veettile kolam is scary for her. Lets try out the Palghat kolam, she likes the corner side, where those creepers dangle from Achu ammavan’s house into the water. Maybe she’ll get into the water if we take her through that side….” High words of hope those were from my dad’s mouth. I liked the water and the blue-flowered creepers that dangled from there alright, but to proceed any further than the three steps where I found it comfortable to submerge myself in the water that rose till my hips when I sat down, was impossible for me. All the brothers, even the youngest one had learnt by now to swim. I added to the misery of the ugly-duckling’s tale and spent all my time at the steps, away from the other normal kids who took to the water like little tadpoles. The cousins, rough as they were with each other continued with their games and I was always caught in the middle. And during one of their playful tussles, one of ‘em got real rough and with a ‘splosh’ ended this ‘one’ in the water. I remember having this feeling of a furious river running somewhere inside me. And the giddying smell of lifebouy clogging my head. In the struggle, my arm struck something solid and I immediately caught hold of it and grabbed it. Cant imagine whether it was an arm or a leg, but with another loud “Splosh” came a cousin to join me under the water. Fury of the river, and now fury of a cousin. The ‘kolam’, beauitful as it always seemed, was cordoned off for upkeeping the safety measures and preserving the sanctity and order of the house and its young members.

You’d think its impossible for the mind to go back in time and relive so much. But the mind is an amazing thing, I realize. It has little tricks up in there to take you back and forth in time, and relive whole incidents within just a few seconds. I opened my eyes, feeling lighter, with a gentle smile trying desperately to run deep curves on my lips.

‘Chandrika’ soap was coming home with me. Never mind the hotel bathrooms, the feel of my mom’s warm hands on my frozen body, and the memory of all those days I splashed around in all the ‘kolams’ in vain, could easily erase every other memory associated with Chandrika soap. Which reminds me, I have to join swimming classes now!

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Tonight I’m going to meet a demon. A little one that’s been haunting Thoughton from his childhood days. A demon named ‘Guchi’.   

I’m scared to sleep alone. Yes, all of 23 and I still cannot manage to shut close the door and my eyes alone in the night. The reasons are aplenty. From innocuous sounds to shadows thrown in by passing vehicles, they all go on to create images in my head. And if Thoughton reminds me about ghosts on such a night, then I can be sure of having it real scary and sleepless. I try to console him and go to sleep. He calms down for a while and then asks me, “But are you sure there is nobody standing near your bed?” The next second my eyes would be staring wide open into the darkness. With weary eyes, we both then inspect the room for wandering forms. If Thoughton decides that its way too dangerous to remain in the room, I collect my blanket and pillows and tip-toe away to the neighbouring room, expecting every second to jostle against a passing ghost, and huddle near an unsuspecting human form.

Now before any of ya all can make clucking noises like a chicken, let me also bring to your notice that this is not something I am very proud of myself. I have always asked myself why I am so scared of darkness and how in the world did I start believing in ghosts in the first place. I asked Thoughton if he could remember any instances where he had encountered or experienced anything out of the ordinary, like say meet a ghost in the toilet at night or bump into a faceless creature in the dark? The answer came as a straight NO. But he was quick to remind me of this particular neighbour’s kid who was my friend and also the nastiest brat I had ever come across through my entire childhood. And he took immense pleasure in harassing me to no end. Hmmm, yea I remember that kid. “What about him?”, I asked Thoughton.  

I was around 7 or 8 years then. Those were the days of daily power cuts, when every evening the power would be shut down for half an hour. It was a welcome break for us kids from our horrifying textbooks and homework. My brat of a friend would come and grab me by my arm and pull me out of my house to play. And on one such occasion, he tricked me into going up with him onto the topmost floor of the apartment with the promise of showing me something really awesome, and something that nobody else knew of. The floor was dark, empty and silent from the inactivity of machines and humans. Once up there, he had pointed at a faraway coconut tree and said-“See, see, do you see him?” Like an innocent thing I’d asked- “See who”? He replied- “See up there on the tree, amidst the coconuts, there is a small head with gleaming eyes. That’s ‘Guchi’, an evil demon who likes to eat little children”. “You mean to say little children like you and me?”,  I’d asked. “No, not like me, but like you. Guchi only likes girls.” With this, he’d pushed me and run away into the darkness. Guchi’s image took a definite form of a small, brown, hairy creature with an enormous set of teeth and big red eyes in my head, like those creatures from the movie ‘Critters’. Unable to move from up there in the darkness, I had silently cried, waiting for the current to come. My friend never came back to collect me. He had found the other kids from the apartment and as I heard them shriek and laugh, with anger and sadness I had realized that he’d forgotten all about me.  

It sounds absurd and even funny to think about it now. But for a child of not more than 7, it was quite something. And the fact that I never really got to sleep alone sort of allowed the fear to remain I suppose. Yes, I have never in my entire life slept alone. I have slept alone in a ‘room’, with other people in the house, but never have I been in a house all by myself. I can’t imagine how big a nuisance I must have been to my parents, waking them up at unearthly hours babbling about red-eyed monsters and names that sounded like famous French couture brands. Not that they would have understood anything of what I said as they tucked me safe in their warmth and put me to sleep. But over the years, my fear has only grown. And I admit, it is quite shameful. So, here it is, my own solution for it. My room mates have all gone home for the ‘Pongal’ hoildays. I shall make use of this situation and sleep alone in the house tonight. Meet Guchi, and if possible have a little chitchat and sort out things. Maybe even get Thoughton to touch him and see for real that Guchi is only a speck of his imagination, a creative prank of a very nasty 9year old. I wonder what he is up to now, little naughty Vikram.    

                        

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