From the ashes

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The 'Nila' at Tirunavaya, once sandy banks now replaced by slush and weeds

As years add to my life, the urge to know where I come from, the urge to dig deeper into my own roots, dominates my inquisitiveness. I urge my mother to narrate to me episodes from a gone era, which give me glimpses of life then, and of people who were my own blood, but people who faded away into deep recesses of time as yet another generation unfolded.

I never cared much for my lineage or my roots when I was young. It was only as my mind grew with the experiences that life treated me to, that I paused to marvel at and treasure the emotions I felt and the thoughts that crossed my mind, most of which seemed to operate at a purely subconscious level. I never knew where they came from, and I seemed to have no control over them, but to flow with their natural flow, was to experience something profound. They took me across untrodden paths, undiscovered lands and uncharted seas. They took me to my first feel of infinity.

It was for the first time that I regarded my mind as if it were something distinct from what I knew to be ‘me’, and I realized that my mind was a gift from my lineage- an immortal treasure that had been passed across generations, and perhaps the only immortal link between me and my ancestors. In science, they call it genetics. Suddenly, I felt very close to my ancestors. It was as if they stood by my side, watching me experience this moment of eerie elation. And I felt this special reverence for those ancestors I didn’t even know.

My mother is my only link to my family clan. She tells me about the 300-400 years old ancestral house which was recently demolished. I always feel an ache deep within when I see its remnants, but then it was falling apart in any case. Now, only the foundation remains, and it is overgrown with grass and weeds.

Where generations once lived, the earth has now claimed back what belonged to it.

The trees stand tall, some as old as the house, perhaps older, and I look up at them in silent reverence, for have they not witnessed my past? They have stood through time, witnessing all.

One portion of our grove houses the dead; their ashes and their bones lie deep within the earth here. I wonder where the dead go. Can they hear us? In the silence of the grove, I always feel the invisible presence of my ancestors- their faces a blur, save for the ones who have been a part of my life in the past. In the fading light of dusk, I experience them within myself. And I want to tell them that I am indebted to them for their immortal gift that I harbour within. They have heard me. A soft wind blows and leaves rustle, as if echoing the acknowledgement of a hundred ancestors. For I have finally learnt to take pride in my lineage and to value it.

I have watched death-rites being performed on the banks of the Nila river, which to me, is the soul of Kerala. The river fascinates me in a mysterious way. The culture that thrives along the regions that this river flows through, is what I relate to the most. Despite the fact that in reality, the river is alien to me. And yet, all the glimpses of life that are based on this culture, that I have experienced by way of books and movies and people, fail to surprise me. For that is the culture that thrives in my mind.
Is this where I belong in truth?
Is that why I experienced a supernatural connection with this river, even as a child, when we passed its banks on train journeys? It is my greatest desire to spend a day on the sandy banks of this river, for I know that I shall experience something profound. And it is also my greatest desire that in death, I would want my ashes to merge into this river. For this is where I have come from, and this is where I belong.

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The Navamukunda temple at Tirunavaya where thousands of people perform balitharpanam on karkidaka vavu

Now, I find myself standing at a juncture, where I spread my tentacles deep into my roots, integrating with a past that is spanned across time, and from this pedestal, I look at a future that emanates from me, and that will span across time. Past, present and future merge at ‘me’. Did I just spell out ‘immortal’?

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