Through the haze that someone else calls life….I saw the yellow post-it note on a breezy Monday morning. Scribbled in my boss’ scrawny handwriting it threw an impromptu punch to my gut.
“Story on Kerala-need it by next week.cheers.Roy”
I threw the remnants of a wrinkled cigarette on the carpeted floor and watched it angrily burn through the blue fibre of the carpet. I could feel the bile rising within me as the post-it note crumpled helplessly in my clenched fist. The bile of something already churned and digested in some past life now made me feel like retching.
It all starts with the kind of promises you make over tiny heavily finger printed mannappams (mud cakes) and athil ithil games. The kind where one chubby hand opens up to take her Amma’s(Mother) hand and there is a quick “Promise, ok” exchanged before you hold hands and run indoors leaving the setting sun behind and just before Achen (Father) comes searching for you….
Today, it looks like somebody else’s life. The chubby hands have grown to be long slender ones. The eyes more sceptic. The eyebrows narrower. They say the smoking and drinking has sunken my 28 year old eyes further down pushing me way up the chronological scale. I could care less. That brings me to something else about me. I generally don’t care.
Memories are like the spotless thoughts that cannot bear to travel through your mind again because of the muck….
I threw my head back and I could see the swirling shapes come again….like some supersonic game of Venus rings…concentric circles that refused to slow down…and then the circles gave way to a wisp of smoke that played with my senses….It had the fragrance of wet earth…the one which I loved breathing in and growing around….the soft mud that held those chubby feet and lovingly etched footprints to mark existence…
“Passengers boarding AI 987 to Cochin please assemble at gate no. 4.”
How typical, I thought. A trip down memory lane and your thoughts get interrupted by a ground staff’s automated voice. After what seemed like hours, I sensed Kerala…. the effervescent Pookalam (floral carpet) that greeted me at the airport was the first sign. I frowned. It was Thiruonam.and I didn’t even know it was September. Disconnect when deliberately made sometimes snatches away large morsels of time from your hands.
I bend to feel an array of vaadamulla flowers (bright purple flowers that are used to decorate the floral carpet during the Onam festival.). I stood up as a rivulet of goosebumps appeared on my arm. Nostalgia was making an appearance like never before.
“Vegam…Vegam”(Hurry, Hurry) Gayathri chechi would urge us little ones as the first ray of dawn hit the horizon. Sleepily, we would hurry pulling the petals off the huge pile of flowers by our side.” And no leaves, mind you!” she would chide in between. I was always given the vaadamulla pile as its tiny head called for tiny chubby hands. Even as I got busy amma would push a ball of rich curry enticed ball of rice into my mouth much to my distaste.
A bearded old man in a shabby “once-upon-a-time” white uniform and a peaked cap that threatened to fall off any minute appeared from nowhere and held an ironically impeccable white placard that screamed “MISS INDU”. I looked at the holder of the placard and smiled warmly. On perfect cue, he rushed over and hustled my baggage away to a waiting car.
I knew that the journey would add on to my list of haunting melodies even before I started it. I was not wrong. I couldn’t be. As I stepped out, a nauseous wave of agony hit me through the fragrance that enveloped me.
Often stopping to appreciate décor whenever I checked into hotel rooms, it never struck me to glance around. Neither did jetlag. I packed my backpack, had a bite and was about to step outside when I met the driver again at the door.
I stopped to smile then instinctively realised he was waiting for me.
I threw him a puzzled look. He walked over, looked at me closely, “Madam, I have met many people who come back to see their village and their place. They have many emotions but yours are the saddest eyes I have ever seen.”
I barely smiled and nodded.
The noise of a weather beaten auto rickshaw,scissored through our conversation and turned to stop by my side. A young thing that barely had stubbles asked me where I wanted to go.
I stopped in front of my “tharavaadu”, (mansion) its majesty calling out to me from a distance…its ornate roof never known to bend before anyone…just like Achen.
“Kolethey kuttiya?” (Are you the daughter of the house?”) queried the rickshaw driver curiously standing at an odd angle with his mundu stuck somewhere between his legs.
I nodded nonchalantly trying to fish out money from my purse.
“No…I don’t want your money. I have heard that your birth is a cursed one. I have just brought my vehicle. Sorry.” He narrowed his eyes, gave me one last look and turned his vehicle off down the road while my frozen look disappeared with him .
“Ammmmmmmmaaaaa…” the cherubic girl shouts and twirls around in her green and maroon bordered pattu paavada, all of 6 years and wet with delight as her silver anklets joyfully chime to the feel of water and to her imaginary dance steps…Wait till Amma sees that she can shout and go around in circles as well….
A young lady’s voice rings out from the insides of a palatial “Tharavaadu”…. the beckoningly orange brick roof that over the years has disciplined the virgin rain to run down it’s inviting troughs and curves before obediently diving into the bubbling water and the gamut of pebbles below. The lady soon comes into view beside one of the huge white pillars of the house…. her wet hair loosely tied into a knot…. the end of her black margined mundu and veshti tucked at her waist taut enough to give a peep of her slim fair waistline….
“Indutttyyy…” the young woman steps out into the rain and calls out for her daughter as she loosens the end from her waist and covers her head in a mock attempt to keep the rains away…She finds her 6 year old beside a bend coconut tree dancing to some imaginary tune…It is only a moment’s displeasure that she can show, before she also joins her daughter and the rain in their very special world….”You are my blessing” are the last words she whispers into her daughter’s ears…
No, Amma…. your daughter is a curse. I murmured my voice choked for words.
And then it rained.
That’s when I stopped short for words.
I sat on the wet ground and grabbed a handful of mud and made a sloppy pancake…not perfect oval ones like Amma’s soft hands would make…
“Promise me that you’ll always come back to me wherever you go.” she would whisper holding a muddy hand before me….”
“Promisssseee Ammmaaa…” I would slap both my chubby hands into her hand and yell back in glee.
My manappam stayed long enough for me to catch a waft of the fresh earth before the rain let it slide gently from my fingers leaving just a shade of muddy brown.
All of a sudden like the afternoon burst, my emotions gave way and I felt icicles from my memory prick me and bleed me all over….
And then I cried. Loudly…louder than the rain god….louder than the fate which took the 6 year old’s parents away…louder than the drone of the drugs that swam in my stomach….louder than the silent hatred and sarcasm that raised the girl into the woman…louder than the pain of my existence….louder than me….
“Am back amma….I have kept my promise amma…” I shouted as I thrust my face into the muddy spread, which gave way to shout my sorrow, but embraced me close enough for me to hear the song that can come only from a mother’s lips….
And I saw the little girl run indoors straight into her amma’s arms… sucking a sliver of dry tamarind slyly between her lips and her head buried in the fragrant bosom…
I was home…and amma waited for me….