Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Home

A whole week in Kerala turned out to be exactly what my depressed soul needed. The place seems to be more beautiful every time I see it. Usually I am a bundle of nerves when am heading home, because I have to deal with an army of uncles, aunts, cousins, their children, and maybe even their in-laws. But this time around, I was heading for my hometown - Chengannur - the beautiful city along the river Pampa. It's a very special place, and I could deal with anything, even my extended frenetic family, to be there.

Although the journey is quite long, I took the train home. The inquisitive co-passengers, stinking toilets, squabbling beggars - the journey is worth every sacrifice. One gets to know when the train enters Kerala, from the greenery around. Everything will be colored in a glowing green, which I have never seen anywhere else. It's like the colors are singing out to you. I sit on the steps holding the cold steel rails, while the wind blows against my face. I let all my worries slip away, and wave at the kid bathing under a street tap. As the sun sets along the horizon, small huts suddenly come into sight, with a 40 watt bulb glowing outside every house. Its like seeing the sky lit up with yellow stars along with the sun. The women of the house are busy preparing the evening meal, which is evident from the smoking chimneys, sending fumes into the huge overturned bowl of the sky. I can never take a comfortable flight home, and lose out on all these pretty sights. The bus ride home seems to be the longest, as I cannot wait to see my mother. It's funny that the closer we get to the end of our journey, the lesser is our patience to wait.

I reach home, and am greeted with such a flurry of excited banter and hugs, I feel like a homecoming warrior. After three rounds of hugging from everyone I manage to get in, and almost instantly, I get the heavenly smell of home-cooked food in coconut oil. My aunt refuses to let us eat until we become shudham (clean), so my cousins and I go to take a dip in the river. The sun has set, but the sky is not dark as yet. It's like the sun is hiding somewhere behind the coconut trees, and lighting up the sky for my sake. I plunge into the river, and swim to my heart's content.

I come back home, famished. After a quick change of clothes, I sit down with the rest of my family for dinner. The banana leaf is a light green, which shows that it's a fresh leaf, and has been skillfully cut from the backyard, at my aunt's instructions. There is an array of preparations served in a traditional way - pickle , salt, chips and banana at the extreme left, followed by kichadi (a dish made out of sour curd), thoran (an assortment of vegetables fried along with grated coconut and spices), olan (pulses and onions cooked in mild spices), avial (drumsticks and vegetables cooked in coconut milk), and pappadam (a flat, round cake made out of powdered rice, fried in oil) - and everything is steaming hot. There's rice right at the middle, and hot sambar is poured into it as well. After the food that I eat at office, which my mother would readily label as culinary blasphemy, this was a perfect treat to my gustatory and olfactory senses. I have looked for such a meal across cities, but found only hurried meals, cheap take aways, or fake attempts at reliving tradition; never the facile leisure of sitting down on the floor and enjoying a well cooked meal, and drinking hot jeerakavellam (water boiled with jeera).

A week is too short when you get to spent it in such a happy, carefree fashion. Early mornings, lazy afternoons, and excited nights punctuated by long swims in the river, late evenings of long conversations under trees, and food fit for the gods. The evenings are the best. Imagine: River side, sitting on rocks, eating upperi (chips) and watching touch-me-not(s) fold and droop at the most gentle contact, the occasional spray as someone takes a plunge, the smell of wet earth, distant sound of a conch being blown, lackadaisical swims in the river, dancing with cousins to the tunes of old super hit numbers playing on the radio, and after a good meal, peacefully slip into slumber listening to my mother sing lullabies to put my young nephew to bed. I could ask for nothing more; life was at it's lazy, indolent best.





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