Thursday, September 09, 2010

A day from yore

Written 3 or 4 years back.... (Too Long and hence never posted anywhere)

The leaves of the Tamarindus indica rustled to an uneasy surprise. The stones on the sidewalks had changed positions like my grandmas teeth. Through the lustre of her sparkling teeth the missing ones were a black hole on the enchanting smile. The brown equated itself to the disillusioned ferns on the path and untrimmed grass on the terrain. Except in a few places where the cow had grazed its presence, grass grew taller than ever. I watched earnestly at the calf, suckling the udder of the mama cow. The thirst to survive is innate, for the two year old struggled to maintain its poise, but drank the milk in full. None rushed forward to separate the unison. The plantains maintained the sway and blushed with a swaying ‘hello’. Though numbers had dwindled, of the trees, animals and the people in and around the house, the magic lingered. My steps ushered me in. The silence hung its head in shame and remorse. Everyone had left the arena, like actors who had their part complete. The big clock had stopped ticking. The pendulums appeared motionless through the hazy glass. The gongs weren’t resounding the echo of my arrival. The grandfather clock wasn’t keyed. Time paused for the passer by at 6: 15, AM or PM was out of question for the visitor in me.

A tumbler fell from one of the many rooms, waking the silence of my manifestations. The once teeming house had none to receive a guest. All were welcome. The squirrel looked at me for a moment and turned tail, past the polished steps. He didn’t recognize that even I had come uninvited. The sparrow had already flown away to my mighty footsteps, but watched circumspectly from one of the braches. She chirped, may be cursing the hostile intruder for breaking a romantic sequel with the squirrel. I begged a pardon and cooed like a pigeon. A head peeped from the indoors of the long corridor. The frail figure kept her legs beyond the wooden framework for the door and came closer for clarity. It was my achamma (Dad’s mom). “Lallu” - The exclamation of a surprised expression hadn’t subsided from her charming face checkered with wrinkles of age and tardiness. She has grown a little younger in her regular shades of white clothes, hair and skin. A gentle stoop had made her acute, but the gait spoke of the ancestral prowess. She spoke again “ We expected a guest when the crow cleared its throat to a different sonata”. A smiled greased the extreme ends of my lips. She ordered the polished brass kindi (a spouted puja vessel used for pouring sacred water) for washing my legs. Ritual remained, though the kindi devoid of sheen lay idle, neglected and languished. And it’s only on these rare occasions that he too gets a chance to spread his worth. Ages since I had a nostalgic exchange of feelings. Ilayamma came with the lungi and enquired about the urbane Mumbai. “Later” I quipped and tucked the lungi in half just below my knees. Ilayachan’s smell tarried in the lungi, reluctant to leave even after 2 years of widowing Ilayamma. Fate had plucked that young soul on urgent requisition in paradise. My eyes set upon the cracks, white in color, meandering freely on the black floors, equating itself to the black hairline transcending time and age for the whites to rule to latter part in the game of life. In a forlorn corner had sprouted a seed, the vestige of some birds’ bowel clearance. I went closer for a hint. It was the Peepal germinate. The fertility and sanctity of earth had made its growth comfortable. None cared to weed it too.

The silence yet again got creviced with an enquiring look. It was a tasty invitation of the Malabari etiquette. I sipped the sugary syrup of water mixed with small onions (shallot). The tumbler to pour the liquid had a once-upon-a-time aura etched to it. The imprints on the glass were paintings too old for my memories to recollect. Horses in red profile and birds in yellow designs were covering the glass in entirety. The cool mint taste of water was a special order. Water was drawn fresh from the well, instead of from the motor and pipe arrangement-part of the modernization drive. The pulleys had squealed for the lazy bones hadn’t gone wet for long. Rust deposits gave way to the strength of the coir ropes. The ropes wet and refreshed itself. I saw the water coming in the iron bucket, to be replaced soon with a rubber make. Lightweight and easy. Water dripped while dancing the way up.

I handed over the mug and an empty glass. The next question was posed

“ What is the special requirement for lunch?” I had pictured a plantain leaf, dry red colored coconut chutney and the viscous buttermilk. Fair enough isn’t? “ The calf is newborn, just two days old, do you mind a Milma curd?” packaged catholicity rules. I sighed and smiled at her helplessness and nodded wide-eyed, brows painting a Kathakali pose as if in full agreement. She smiled back for recharging my leisure intact.

Reclining on the easy chair kept me unplugged. The same chair where my Achachan (dad’s dad) used to lean playing with the little me. He had a collection of empty matchboxes set apart, stacked in the corner of the windowsills. Those tiny boxes awaited my arrival every year twice, once during the Christmas and then the summer vacation. Christmas had the matchboxes in larger denomination, keeping in mind the gap of seven months after summer vacation. But 10 days was far too less for me to justify their presence and unleash my creative ideas of joining one after the other converting it into the train I had just arrived in, the houses where I stayed, tiny boats and what not. Achachan’s beedi puffed smoke so consistently like the communist spirit that stayed staunchly till him getting draped in the red flag of honor. A talented kathakali artist and holding positions like the co-operative hospital director never made him giddy of pride. His trademark black framed spectacles stand a mute spectator while a flickering lamp keeps his photo alive. I missed the treasure in him, lost much before I could imbibe the true essence of his creative pursuits. The genes left in me still try a pluck at the creative arena, but for the fetters of the urban headed, rustic minded society.

The ilaneer (tender coconut water) became a missing regularity now. A huge house and a handful of people. Lonely and puckered like the oasis, waiting for a lone visitor to enquire their well-being.

I got up from recline and stared at the wooden stairs, a fragrance of childhood when we weren’t allowed to climb for fear of falling, climacophobia for parents. Come on, invited the stairs who always lend a different tone to my footstep. I wag gaining heights. Pun intended. The first level had another steeper set of stairs heading to the attic. In the 75 or so visits to this ancestral property, it was just twice that I climbed only to get preoccupied with the haunted indecisions whether or not to climb. I was mentally prepared to rise above the rest today, to check and dust the old Marxist ideologies, bound volumes, which had given me a torchlight glimpse 5 years back. The torch lent a thorough scrutiny of the entire stretch, only to be greeted by the handicapped clock. Black needles in roman architectural style that darted once inside now poked out of the broken glass & frame. A misfit invalid, jammed at the alphabets of 6 and 9 taking the hour needles glances for years. Against a while backdrop the needle blacks looked royal, though the corners were graying. My mischievous hand rotated the needles once and kept the minute hand in 9, for a change. How long will the numbers tolerate the same gaze of comatose?

Carefully climbing down had a vacuous feeling for the lost treasure, still a flicker of hope whispered that grandma would have the prized possession. The enquiry revealed the selling off to a Tamilian rag picker cum Aluminum merchant who traded profitably for a measly sum; the entire bound volumes and some brass utensils. I didn’t complain. My lips sank in sarcasm, anchoring itself on one side. A smile escaped. The Marx had left no marks. He may have handed over to one young couple tossing groundnuts out of it and crumbling the ideologies into the nearby bin if at all it existed. Else to a provision store or a grand welcome to the cracker industry.

I reclined and closed my eyes. Even the spicy invigorations of the fresh fish fry couldn’t wake up the battle between my senses. The battle won by the eyes and I dreamt. Seeping through the blanket of darkness, the past eclipsed the present. The glory of those days shimmered in the wavy dreams that surfaced amidst the summer rainy morning. Unexpected clouds showered and inundated the dry earth with its white sheath of rain. A scent of compulsiveness drenched the nose. The huge tumblers were cornered so that the water gushing down the roof got percolated. The cows had cuddled together just like me in my dad’s lap jolting my puny spirit at every bolt of thunder. The blanket was another companion to reason. The taro leaf (chembu in Malayalam) danced playfully to the tune of the drops, but always carefully slipping the drop off from shouldering any responsibility. A clever gal I saw in them, tactfully titillating the boys’ thoughts and escaping the close glances before ultimately losing heart to one. The fresh-bloomed flowers of my favorite mangifera started gripping off the branches along with the cascading shower of water and wind coupled. Jackfruits though held forte like a fat bully nonchalant of the rains battering its dark green leaves. A small puddle had made its identity near the haystack addicting my young heart to jump in, wet my leather Bata sandals (supposedly not to be made wet) and feel the drizzle too. But dad’s attentive glances and mom’s stare dampened my spirits. Waited for long and they went inside to sip a cup of the very hot brew of tea on the cold rainy day. The St. Jospeh’s umbrella on the soft corner called me “ Lallu take me and enjoy the momentarily freedom”. A split second and I was out with and outstretched umbrella. Jumping on the puddle and the splashing water converging after every jump. I wanted to empty the puddle. A hopeless challenge before dad finishes tea. It could take in 3 more people, more than the one in the family planning Ad. I was soaked in the drizzle that kept swaying in the wind. No umbrella could stop its resilience. Unconcerned and uncensored by the colossal gazes I gyrated to the raindrops pounding differently to a rhythm on the naughty umbrella. A melody depending on the intensity of rain. The rest time was a passionate playfulness in making paper boats that raced one after the other in pursuit of a non-phyrric victory, finally sinking to the onslaught of the imminent showers intensifying without warning. I had a question. “ How does the crow and kids survive without getting wet?”. None answered. I still haven’t got an answer.

Someone was coming from far, her view obstructed with a mat umbrella fixed purposefully to evade the drizzle and the mist from all quarters helped the impeding. The umbrella adorned her small head. The old lady had come to meet my dad for a financial help and was caught unawares in the incessant downpour. The rain subsides by evening making way for the damp breeze, rich with its cool presence. The coconuts look sparkling clean with the water service, but the last drops reluctantly leave the tip of the hanging midrib. Love affair to be or for me it exhibited a Michelangelo’s ‘God creating Adam’. The clock was wound and the lighted bell metal lamps (Nilavilakku) chanting ‘deepam..deepam… bringing a separate hue to the moist twilight. Kerosene lamps have already started burning the wick in light yellow and brighter yellow outside. Butterflies of the rain hover around the wicks, some suicidal in the quest to liberate the holy soul. The echoing decibels of cricket spoilt the silence of the night. Grandma calling aloud – “ the kitchen leaks”. Water had trickled down the walls kissing every inch of space on the kitchen floor. A broken tile is the culprit. One that cracked while the coconuts were spread above the kitchen roof. A process, which accentuated the conversion of coconuts to copra. The reddish moon smiled softly through the broken tile.

Monsoon fury would have taken us in hoards to the overflowing temple pond. On the top sat guys with an umbrella and small sky blue net. Another with a fishing rod and the baits of earthworms that squirm in pain to tantalize 100 innocent fishes to a certain death. The local lads had cleared off a lot of the hyacinths. Rest would flow with the water canalized to the fields. Swimming lessons were to commence. Crash course by Ammamma. The first lesson was to have “no fear”. The floaters were provided, a couple of lovely coconuts whose skin was ripped off the top to facilitate the braiding. The skillful balance kept me afloat. Next instruction was to splash the hands and legs with full vigour against the pressure. The only fun I loved was to go deep in and to check how long I could hold my breath. The weeds and the silvery shoals of fish scurried at my dip and check mechanism. The fun was to remain afloat when it rained in the pond, water pounding from around, giving a leisurely feeling of freedom and a rare meaning of existence. Each drop pitter-pattering on the waterbed had a singular significance blend with the silhouetted greenery. I could never display the aquatic genius then. The lazy bone in me always gaped at the flippers and somersaulters’ running across with jetting pace splashing the waters with reverberating sound.

“ Wake up Monu, lunch is served “ My siesta culminates. The stoves and smokeless Chulha’s have retired for a modern and young kitchen. So food cooks faster. Fair skinned walls glisten, as the smoke never disturbs the whitewash. The once rich storerooms overflowing with the might of the fertile land, lay barren and empty. Golden hued areca nuts lay uncollected. Only the photo-frames got added against the available doors. Achamma cursing the afternoon heroines of the serial sympathies, oblivious of my presence and the external nuances. I had to leave early tomorrow. The straw mats and mattress were spread across the breadth of my room. I didn’t like sleeping on cots here. The cotton trees vanished long ago. And with it the pillows and beds of its cotton make. The phone chirped. The younger generation of caller answered. “ Did you complete the assignment? “. “ Yes “ comes the reply. The phone falls silent again. But I haven’t got an answer to that question yet. Will any human ever complete the assigned task for him in perfection? I have no answers.

No comments: