When it rained in my mind…

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My most vivid memories of monsoons go back to my childhood when we spent the summer vacations in Kerala. Our summer vacations started in May and extended into the monsoon season. I did not like summers in Kerala because they were hot and humid. They made me feel sticky; it was as if my skin couldn’t breathe. But the excitement of the holidays and the freedom that came with it, drowned my discomfort. In my eagerness to explore the outdoors, I often overlooked this discomfort.

 
As children, we didn’t seem to realize the distinction between the outdoors and the indoors. The doors didn’t seem to exist. We could walk in and out of the house as we pleased. In my ancestral house in Kerala, the doors were also open to fireflies, grasshoppers, millipedes and centipedes! Mice lived up in the attic. Stray cats stepped in authoritatively, looking at us in disdain when we called out to them. They went about with an air of importance, and refused to pay any heed to our calls unless we were at a meal and had titbits of fish to offer.

It was impossible to feel lonely in that kind of house.

Our house stood on a grove. There were wild trees in the grove, with sturdy branches where we could have built tree houses if we chose to. There were fruit trees and pepper vines. The grove even housed a pond. That pond was my pride- it was the treasure hidden in our grove.

That was true wealth- the luxury of open spaces and earth unspoilt by human manipulation. Those houses were gradually replaced by posh mansions where the doors and the gates were kept locked. The outdoors receded, and with them receded our companions from nature. We shut ourselves in these comfortable prisons and called them houses.

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May would slowly roll into June. Thick clouds appeared in the sky towards the end of May. I could then feel the oppressive heaviness of the sky; it ached to rain. Promptly, on the 1st of June, when we changed the calendar to a new page, unseen hands had changed the canvas of nature too, to suit a new month, a new mood.
It rained heavily on the first day of June. We would wake up in the morning to the sound of rain. We rushed out to see what was in store for us. The sky was dark; the sun seemed to be hibernating. The rain descended in huge torrents, until everything went under water. It was like the pent up tears of an entire summer. I loved the way water gathered everywhere until the house literally seemed to stand in the middle of a river. The rain came down heavily on the trees, but they welcomed it with open arms, holding out their branches and leafy coats for it to wet. They swayed in a slow rhythm, and I felt as if they were savouring the rain- its first feel after a harsh summer.

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I was mesmerised by the magic of rain. To me, it was the most enchanting phenomenon that had graced life on earth for it had swept up the canvas of the earth in its magic. What had been dry, parched earth, so devoid of life, had transformed into a canvas of life in its utmost splendour and glory, throbbing and glowing with new life and hope.

The weather had cooled and an occasional wind blew, sweeping up the rain in its arms in sheer glee, taking the rain by surprise until it fell in slanting sheets.

I was enchanted by the melody of the rain…by its differing notes. When it rained heavily, it was loud and powerful; it almost seemed to demand a certain silence of earth. Its loud din as it fell heavily on the water collected in the courtyard, rose above every other sound. We had to shout to be heard. Sometimes it rained heavily for hours. Then, it would mellow down for a few minutes, only to resume. We sometimes sat out in the portico, watching the coconut palms sway in the rain. When our parents weren’t watching, we stood on the steps and put out our hands to feel the rain. We made paper boats and set them afloat on the water that had collected in the courtyard.

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It rained heavily for days. After a week or so, the character of the rain would change. It would take the form of a persistent light downpour. Frogs croaked and birds chirped, and the pitter patter of the rain was a musical accompaniment to the sounds of nature. The tinkle of water as it fell gracefully and gently on little puddles, was musical. At night, we slept to the comforting lullaby of the rain.

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On some nights, we would sit in the portico and stare into the deep darkness of the moonless night. Not a single star twinkled in the sky. But these were the nights that were lit up by the flicker of millions of tiny creatures that appeared to move about with tiny flashlights. They were in the air and on the trees- on their highest branches, like decoration lights. They came floating into the house and flickered, now on a wall, now on the roof. They were the fireflies- the glow worms. We tried to catch them. We often failed, but at the most unexpected moments, they came of their own accord and flickered on our feet or hands. At that moment, I glowed with the inexplicable joy of having touched a fantasy! I could never believe those creatures were real. In my little mind, they were creatures that descended on earth transiently to experience its sights and sounds on nights when the Gods were kind enough to grant them this wish. It was the spell of these monsoon nights that gifted me my first feel of paradise. They taught me the joy of fantasy.

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On these nights, as I embraced the deep trance of a moonless night lit up by the flicker of these magical creatures, the orchestra of the rain and the delightful chill that accompanied the rains, I felt special. I felt nature had let me into her precious secret in these moments. I felt special because even though I was only a child, I knew I couldn’t share these feelings with anybody. I did not have the words then to describe the magic of what I felt. And so, I had to be content, bottling up the magic of what I had felt.

When the rains finally receded, I would be sad.

To me, rains were magic potions that the heavens sprinkled on the earth, until earth was rejuvenated, replenished and made resplendent with beauty. That was why the Gods created rain. The rains were magic potions for a grieving earth and for grieving, lonely souls who needed a little magic in their lives. 


After the rains had bid goodbye, I sought consolation in water bodies. The waterfalls and gurgling brooks were perhaps earth’s reminiscence of the rain. I found consolation in the water that flowed in the canals, gurgling and rushing.

I found consolation in the pond in our grove. I couldn’t swim; so I would longingly watch little boys diving into the pond and swimming as deftly as the fishes. Oh, why didn’t I learn swimming? I suppose I was too shy to ask anybody to teach me. It is an unfulfilled dream.
At the end of my vacation, when I came back to Bangalore, I felt my fantasy world had been snatched away from me. I yearned for it.

 

After experiencing the magic of the monsoons in Kerala, rains in Bangalore were a poor show. They were light drizzles that made the already cold weather colder and gloomy. The city’s garbage came floating into the puddles and I hated walking in the rain. It was a mess, an inconvenience.

This feeling changed a little in my college days when I started to think these drizzles were romantic. It was on a monsoon evening that somebody had professed their love for me. The clouds and the rains had witnessed that moment and I had driven home, singing at the top of my voice, ‘Listen to the rhythm of the falling rain’. The rain had transformed into a companion in those days. It sprinkled into my moments an ounce of the magic potion that made my experience of relationships rather special and phenomenally beautiful.
I cannot forget the adventures either. Nights when I rode back home through desolate stretches of road, shivering in my raincoat, struggling to keep my eyes on the road, struggling to keep the vehicle from skidding. I rode dangerously fast, more from fear and desperation, than from courage. And then that night in Kerala when I had missed the train and had to take a late bus to my hometown. A stranger had stalked me; he had got off at the same stop as me. It was close to midnight, and the bus stop was deserted, the rain heavy. A familiar figure walked towards me and I had never been so glad to see my father! I also remember those rainy nights when I hopped off the bus at Manipal, and I ran the five minutes distance to my apartment, oblivious to the stares of the occasional passers by, oblivious to the rain.

 

Sometimes, I ask myself- Where was the rain? And then, I know that all along, it was inside of me.

It was in my mind that it rained…

These Paths-8

I catch sight of a farmhand in the distance. She has a sickle in her hand. She clears the narrow mud trail that forms a path across the woods. I pause in my footsteps, unsure of what her reaction might be to my intrusion. She catches sight of me and looks at me with a question mark.

I was walking up on the road and couldn’t resist the temptation of exploring these beautiful woods as my eyes fell upon them’, I explain to her.

 

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I walk in front and she walks behind me. She is silent. I do not know if she is amused by my answer.

Where are you from?’, she asks.

My house is in Kannur. But I work here in the medical college’, I reply.

Oh! So are you a doctor?’, she asks.

Yes. But I don’t practise now. I teach medical students’, I reply.

Whose land is this?’, I ask.

In reply, she points to a house in the distance.

Why do you ask? Do you want to buy it?’, she asks.

I laugh. Her question brings out the essence of human behaviour-

For most of us today, natural resources translate to opportunity. Opportunity that translates to wealth. Wealth that translates to money.  

If I had the money, I would have bought all this land. Just so that I could preserve its integrity forever!’, I reply

If only earth belonged to a few people who could preserve its wealth, nurture and enhance it and differentiate between need and greed!

 

A pretty pink flower catches my attention.

Oh! That pink flower by the canal. It’s been so long since I have seen that flower. It used to grow wild in the paths we walked as children when I visited Kerala for my vacations’, I exclaim.

That is the Airani poovu’, she replies.

You must be amused by my excitement’, I say.

Not really! There was a girl from Bombay. She would take with her arecanuts, manjadi seeds and the likes when she went back to Bombay’, she replies.

 

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For us city dwellers, this is paradise. I grew up in Bangalore, deprived of this proximity with nature. And so, I chronically missed nature. The separation with this green paradise that I would be briefly exposed to during my vacations, was a chronic heartache. That probably explains my current excitement. An excitement that I will never outgrow!’, I explain.

Yes, I understand. For us, this has always been our world. The only world we have known’, she responds.

That makes you very fortunate’, I reply.

It is a lot of struggle’, she muses aloud.

I do understand that it is a lot of struggle. But I still feel this association with earth and with nature makes us more humane. It teaches us life. Something that is palpably absent in the current generation. Look at my students, for instance. They are so distant from the realities of life. So fragile when confronted with challenges. I suppose there is a need to reconnect with nature. It could solve a lot of issues pertaining to the modern world’, I reflect.

The woman is silent.

Alright then. I won’t keep you. See you around!’, I say, unsure of what she thinks of my statement.

Wouldn’t you like to meet the other women in my group?’, she asks.

Other women?’, I ask.

Yes. We work for the ‘thozhilurappu’ NREGA scheme by the Government. There is a lot of work on these lands in the summer. But with the monsoons, it is impossible to do much. So we restrict ourselves to clearing the paths and small work like that. I will introduce you to the other women in my group. Follow me’, she says.

I am delighted. I follow her and soon, I can hear excited voices and laughter in the distance. I can see a group of women labourers. It has been a very long time since I have seen a group of human beings talking to each other with warmth and intimacy. Most of these women are elderly women.

At last, I get to see the human species. Truly endangered’, I think to myself.

 

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The women look up as I approach them. The farmhand introduces me to them. After a brief exchange of pleasantries, we talk about the medical college. I am aware that the local population harbours intense antagonism and hostility towards the college. And they have their reasons for it. I feel sad. A medical college should ideally parent the villages in its neighbourhood and cater to the quality of life of the villagers. After all, health is a crucial aspect of quality of life. Instead, the institution seems to only have robbed the villagers of the quality of life they enjoyed prior to it coming up. An elderly lady voices her despair:

The land was all estate. Cinnamon plantations that once belonged to the East India Company. Cinnamon was exported in those days to England.  This is Asia’s largest cinnamon plantation. This is a heritage site, passed on to us by our forefathers. We led a peaceful agrarian life, uncorrupted by the germs of development. Many of us were employed at the plantation. It was our livelihood. A few of the villagers were in favour of the medical college coming up here. It would save us the trouble of travelling miles for seeking treatment. However, most were against it. And they were right. The college is profit-oriented. Services are poor. None of us seek treatment here. We would rather travel miles than risk our lives. The college has only brought with it pollution, disease and disturbing intrusion. Many students are into drugs and alcohol, and that has been a bad influence on our children. The cinnamon plantations were ruthlessly destroyed and many villagers were robbed of their livelihood.

I click her picture as she speaks up. I am enlightened by what she says.

 

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Education is a business today. And there is nothing that we can do about the people who run such businesses. I work for such an employer only because it is my livelihood. There are many like me. However, I suppose there is much we can do if the employees and community work together as a team. There is much that a community like you could teach our students. Especially in terms of human values and self sufficiency. And there is much that they can do in turn, as service to the community. So, if we create a mutual interdependence and exchange our wisdom, we can sow the seeds for a better generation. What do you say?’, I ask of them.

The students come to the PHC for their Community Medicine postings’, one of them replies.

Yes. Those are the 2nd year students. I would like to bring the 1st year students along too. We could divide them into groups and allot them families. They could maintain a health folder for each family. Also, many community activities and campaigns can be organized. It would serve to inspire them and to bring in some humanity into our future doctors. We have to teach them to love nature and mankind. And that is impossible without your help’, I tell them.

As I am speaking, a woman takes my picture on her mobile.

The generation today has no far-sightedness. They want easier and shorter ways to a goal, and they want instant solutions. They would rather make quick money and buy a bag of rice than toil in the fields and grow that rice’, a woman tells me.

I am impressed by the consciousness they demonstrate towards ‘change’.

But that would never give them the joy of the intimacy that comes from toiling together. The sight of all of you together, talking and laughing, fills me with joy’, I reply. I click a picture of their togetherness.

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They take me around and give me a little lesson on the shrubs and herbs that are of medicinal value. They tell me about the significance of some poisonous plants. And they tell me about the sowing and harvest season. About the age old rituals that are followed when paddy is first harvested.

A woman leaning against an areca palm suddenly screams. The trunk has given way and the tree crashes. We all move away just in time. There is chaos and excitement for a little while and then the women chop the trunk for firewood.

 

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It is then time for their brunch. They take respite in the house that lies on these premises. Some occupy the chairs put out on the verandah while others make themselves comfortable on the floor. They offer me food, but I refuse politely. One of them gives me some payasam from the temple. I click some more pictures. Somehow, I am drawn to the life they lead. I suppose one is always sensitive to those aspects that are missing in one’s own life. This togetherness is palpably absent in my life today.

 

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Somehow, over the years, the concept of family faded away from my life for multiple reasons. I missed the feel of a family so much that I started identifying myself with the strangers who could reunite me with the family structure, albeit for a limited span of time. I would envy and admire the nomads who led a community life, oblivious to its value. There were days when I would watch with envy the homeless labourers who cooked their gruel on open stoves, sitting by the fire, talking and laughing. In fact, my earliest pieces of writing centred on this personal poverty that contrasted with the richness of the lives of the poor. It reminds me of Mother Teresa’s words:

The greatest poverty is the poverty of being unloved, unwanted and uncared for.

I look at my watch. It is a good one hour since I have been here. I thank the women and bid goodbye to them.

On the way back, I decide to hunt for Geetha’s house. I am told I can get fresh milk there. I am a little worried about packet milk these days. I take the idavazhi on the left. Someone directs me to the house. It is a grand old house done up in rosewood. It is impossible to build a house like that in the modern world.

I am sorry we give all the milk to the Society. You could try at Rama’s house though. She lives on the other side. You have to walk across the fields’, Geetha tells me.

I walk across the paddy fields. A man working in the fields looks up in surprise. He guesses I must be from the college, but he cannot imagine what I am doing in these fields.

He points towards a row of houses when I ask him about Rama. Unfortunately, when I get there, people are confused. They aren’t sure. So I decide to give up and walk ahead, hoping this route will lead me back to the college. A cow moos. It sounds very close. I follow the sound and find myself at Rama’s house. She agrees to spare some milk for the evening.

Is there an easy way to the medical college?’, I ask her.

She takes me to the backyard of the house. I see a road there (an idavazhi). I take the path and find myself at the gates of the college in no time! I am thrilled by this whole adventure. The cow mooing just as I gave up, is miraculous to me. The fact that the house is just a few metres from the college gate is a blessing.

This day has been beautiful. It has given me a dream. It has given me memories. What more can I ask?

These Paths-7

The rain has stopped.

A shy sun peeps hesitantly from behind the clouds. I decide to take advantage of this brief spell of sunshine.

This is vacation time for my students.

There is nothing to do in college. To punch in at 9 am and to punch out at 4 pm dutifully, I make that long trip to college. On most days, I sit at my desk, churning out blog posts or scanning the posts on Facebook or reading Arundhathi Roy’sListening to Grasshoppers’. It is with relief that I pack my bags at 4 pm. By then, my body is stiff and sore from sitting. I look forward to getting back on my feet.

Today, I decide to break my routine and go to the bank instead. I have to collect my card. I decide to walk. I finish my work at the bank and as I walk back, I pause.

The road is a wide mud-trail, at an elevation from its surroundings. On the left, it looks on to paddy fields. The paddy has just been sown. There are woods on the right. There are steps leading from the road to the woods below. The steps are ancient. The earth has claimed them. They are overgrown with moss and ferns.

 

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I look around. A few people are walking on the road, but they are in their own reverie. I muster the courage to take the steps, praying that none of my fellow faculty pass by in their cars and spot me. I walk down the steps confidently, so as not to draw attention to myself.

As I walk down the steps, I feel like Alice disappearing into the rabbit hole that houses a fantasy land.

I heave a sigh of relief as I realize that the woods conceal me and I would not be noticed from the road. I drop my guard and look around.

I hold my breath as I take in the sight that greets me.

This is nothing short of a forest. Rows of coconut palms and areca palms, mango trees and jack fruit trees, wild shrubs and herbs flaunting pretty little flowers- flowers that I had almost forgotten, wild creepers coiling around the trunks of the trees, touch- me-nots that are not shy to flaunt their leaves. Worms and insects crawl out of their homes deep in the earth. It is rich tropical wilderness that surrounds me. I can only exclaim in silence. There is not a piece of earth that is bare of life. It is so alive! To me, each element of this wilderness is a precious memory. A memory from a childhood that represented nomadic freedom and the happiness that came with it.

 

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It is impossible for me to come to terms with the spontaneity of this wilderness. There is the feel of an invisible presence. I almost expect somebody to appear and ask me:

What are you doing in my garden?

I take a few breaths, overwhelmed.

Whose creation are you?’, I ask of this wilderness.

In answer, the woods stretch out infinitely.

My heart throbs with joy and excitement. Is it possible for such beauty to exist without the aid of some divine hands tending to it?

Here, it is impossible to differentiate plants from weeds. Every plant has its place here, irrespective of the status we humans confer on it. Nature does not make such distinctions. Every plant is in its full bloom. This is a world in harmony where the plants grow wild and coil into each other, but do not interfere with each other’s growth. These woods accommodate this wilderness with ease.

 

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A bright orange flower beckons to me from the heart of this wilderness. It is the wild pagoda. But it is hard for me to get to the flower for it is carefully guarded by the touch-me-nots and thorny plants that surround it.

Nature has its way of protecting beauty.

I wave to the flower and walk on. Butterflies flutter about, unperturbed. I feel like an intruder in a world that is the outcome of somebody’s passionate love and deep dedication. The trees blot out the sunshine, giving the feel of a lid that conceals an enchanting world in a deep recess of the earth.

 

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My ears awaken to the sound of water gurgling as it makes its way through the canal that steers a wild course through these woods. I love this sound. There is more music in nature than there is in the songs we compose. The water is in a hurry. It rushes past, to an unknown destination. I wonder about its origin. I learn later that it comes from the rain water that has percolated down the slopes of the hills yonder. I love this story…

Of rain water that trickles down slopes of enchanting hills and rushes into the plains.

In the terrains it has travelled, it assimilates its story. It is this story that it sings along.

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My daughter

There are days when I log on to Facebook to find a series of ‘likes’. All the likes are from Swathi. I smile.

Swathi is 15 years of age. Too young to understand the meaning implied in many of my posts. For her, the like is about her feelings towards me- a mix of love, adoration, admiration and trust. The unconditional love that is so rare in the modern world. Like her mother says, I am her gold standard. If I say something, it must be beautiful. That is her perception of me. She doesn’t question it.

 

When she comes home in the evenings, she has a pile of worries from school. She has only a few minutes with me, but in those few minutes, she unburdens all her worries.

I still haven’t managed to get my completion for Physics practicals!

I am fed up of tuitions!

I don’t know which course I should take up!

Aishwarya didn’t talk to me today!

We had our class photograph taken today and this pimple on my nose chose this very day to erupt! My friends made fun of me.

Her worries are centred on a multitude of issues ranging from trivial to serious.

For the child, they are all equally disturbing.

 

I have nothing much to say in reply for her mother is already screaming at her. But there is something in our interaction that comforts the child.

Why isn’t your teacher helping you out with the practicals?

Tuitions are such a pain, aren’t they?

These are the only answers she needs to feel lighter. She likes her feelings to be acknowledged. She likes to be reassured that it is quite normal to feel angry and sad.

 

Look at the sky! It is so beautiful!’, I exclaim.

She turns to look at the sky.

I love that part of the sky. That spot beyond those branches. Where the sun sets. The colors are most beautiful there’, she replies.

We talk a little about sunsets and bird baths and fireflies.

Her mother screams.

I better go’, she frowns.

But as I watch her walk towards her house, I realize she has already forgotten her worries. She is in that other world of beauty-

That world where sunsets, bird baths and fireflies replace tuitions, practicals and pimples.

She walks in gay abandon, a little smile on her face, her eyes lit up with the perceptions we have just talked about. She hastens as her mother screams again.

 

Now I understand why my presence is so important to her. My reciprocation to her feelings sets her free.

Free from the mundane.

Free from the troubles of her little world.

Free from all the prisons that lock up her childhood and prevent the free flow of her personality.

My reassurance is the security she needs to convince herself that it is alright to break free from these prisons-

These prisons where one’s worth rests on accomplishments, achievements and pimple-free faces.

The child finds in me a source of positive regard that dispels her feelings of worthlessness.

 

Sometimes, she shows me pictures she has clicked on her mobile. Pictures of flowers and birds. She swipes and her picture comes up. She is quick to change it.

Let me see that’, I tell her.

I don’t look good in that. My face looks very tired. Mother said the pimples are very obvious’, she blushes in embarrassment.

I take a look at the picture.

I love your hair. Such a cute expression you have here!’, I smile.

She looks at her picture, a little surprised that there is something of beauty there.

She does this often. There is this fear that her appearance is flawed. The fear of criticism. In truth, she is beautiful. There are dreams in her eyes, and her hair is wavy- like the cascades of a waterfall. She is tall and she carries both Western and Indian outfits well. But her sensitivity to criticism has made her focus on the undesirable aspects of her appearance. In her mind, her pimples are a calamity-

A calamity no less than small pox.

On some days, I see her riding a cycle. Clad in a T-shirt and jeans, her hair tied in a high pony, she looks beautiful. She reminds me of those young girls riding horses on meadows in 19th century England. She is totally oblivious to her beauty. And that is perhaps what makes her most beautiful.

 

I am surprised at how fast time has gone by. I cannot believe Swathi is a beautiful young girl today. To me, she will always be that little child who hid behind the computer monitor until the traumatic kidnapping scene had passed in the movie ‘Kakothi kavile appooppan thadikall’.

That little child who believed that the dog by the blue gate was grinning at her when it showed its teeth.

That little child who couldn’t imagine cats and dogs having no beds to sleep in.

That little child who was very disappointed when a glass sheet was put over the skylight in my house.

Until that point, she had savoured the open view of the sky from within the house and she had dreamt of soaking up the raindrops from within the house. For her, it was a fantasy come true- the outdoors captured into the house.

I always feel nature is walking into your house’, she would tell me.

 

Once, when the bulbul had made its nest in our garden and we had accidentally discovered it, the birds had demonstrated panic. They had already laid eggs and they were concerned.

We are not going to harm your eggs, birdie’, she would say to the birds.

And the child would refrain from going near the nest so as not to alarm the bird. She also kept it a secret from her brother who liked to destroy things. Swathi was quite the opposite. She never liked to disturb the integrity of her world. When the pigeons fed on the grains, she would walk with quiet steps, scared that she would frighten them. In her beautiful mind, she had a regard for all the creatures on this planet. She could never be happy alone.

Her happiness was rooted into the happiness of all that surrounded her.

 

The child was very good at sketching and painting. Once, she drew a girl dancing. I watched her and realized how spontaneous she was. In her eyes, there was the perception of what she wished to draw. And I saw her sketching with her mind. A few strokes, and there was a dancing girl. It was full of imperfection, but it had conveyed that perception of gaiety that she wished to convey. I was spellbound.

 

As she grew up, I saw less of her. Tuitions had started to fill her leisure time. Also, her mother was not very happy with my influence on her. Her mother wanted her to get serious with academics and think more about exams, scores, tuitions and career. She was exasperated by the child’s interests and inclination. The child talked about the eagle teaching its children to fly.

They start by 7 am. The children sit on a high branch. The mother flies to another branch and the children follow her. Some fall, and she makes a desperate dart towards the child, guiding it towards a branch’, she would recount.

We would hold conversations from our bedroom windows at night. Into the silence of the night, she would shout:

What color is your Krishna? We bought a blue colored Krishna. But father didn’t like that shade of blue. He painted it all over again. Now it is a deep blue. Did you buy garland for the Krishna? We bought marigold garlands. But I like Tulasi garlands more.

Her mother was fed up of these ‘childish’ conversations that had no place in the scheme of reality. Over time, she tightened her leash on the child and our interactions dwindled.

 

It was now limited to birthdays when the child eagerly waited for her present. She knew that I would gift her something beautiful. That was easy for me because I knew that she would like everything that I liked. Whenever I found something enchanting in a shop, I would buy two of the same. One for me, and one for her. It always delighted her.

 

Facebook was a ray of hope that came her way. Though her access to Facebook was restricted, she loved the fact that she could stay connected to me on Facebook. Also, my absence has always been traumatic for the child. When I was doing my post graduation in Mangalore, she would wait for weekends and for holidays despite the fact that we wouldn’t get to meet. But the fact that I was within reach, offered her a strange comfort.

Isn’t Valentine’s day a holiday? Why don’t they give a holiday for Valentine’s day?’, she would frown.

When I had finally completed my post graduation, she was delighted. My job at Calicut had disappointed her. And now, when I am finally back for good, she is the happiest. Every evening, those few minutes that she gets when she comes to collect her house keys, are most precious to her. On some days, when I am not around, there is a sudden worry in her eyes:

She won’t be going away, right?’, she asks my mother.

Swathi is the daughter that I would have liked to have. She is nature’s very own child. She is not an individual; she is a world. We communicate in a language that is our secret, and that bypasses all the constraints that come our way. Between us is a bonding that is created out of our love for this planet and for all its creatures. And that language communicates more powerfully than the language of words. It is for this reason that her ‘likes’ to my posts on Facebook are most precious to me despite the fact that they come from a mind that has not understood anything about the content of those words.

But then, it has understood something far beyond what those words have to say!

 

 

Outside the fortress gates

Madam, the doctor is around today. You can come for a consultation now’.

It was Fousiya. She had told me she would inform me when the dentist arrived. I needed a consultation.

I packed my bag and walked towards the dental college. I was in for a shock.

The little trail that led to the dental college was fringed by shady trees. They were only a few years old, but they were healthy and well looked after. Some were fruit trees. The spaces on either side had been converted into gardens. Gardens with traditional plants-

A few flowers here and there, but largely green.

Some were medicinal plants. The succulent leaves of the aloe vera plant were a treat to the eyes.

There were a few stone benches where one could sit in peace and escape into a solitary world. Or perhaps hold an intimate conversation with people. Or even have a quiet lunch. It was the perfect place to read or even write.

I feel nothing can replace the ambience created by trees and gardens. The trees set up a cover- the feeling of an enclosure within the realms of an open space. It reminded me of the Buddhist monastery I had visited. It reminded me of the concept of ‘Parks for reflection and study’. Perhaps such spaces are what our students in the modern world need to awaken their dormant instincts. Such spaces define luxury in modern times.

 

I was overcome by the desire to sit on one of these benches. The place reminded me of old Indian college campuses where trees and gardens set the mood. There was the sudden feeling of a slow liberation within me. The knots in my mind were loosening up and the emptiness was giving way to delight and exhilaration. Though this segment formed only a tiny part of the campus, it instilled hope-

It was the oasis in the desert.

The trail ended and the dental college stared at me, set in a small campus of its own. A campus far more luxuriant than ours. For it was full of trees. The cars were parked in the shade of these trees and I thought about my car roasting in the sun.

I couldn’t understand why the dental college was so green and the medical college so devoid of life.

I went in and Fousiya appeared. She took me to the dentist and following the consultation, she took me to her own department in the basement. I was thrilled by the colourful wall decors that transformed the dull grey walls into a fantasy world. The faculty had handcrafted paper tulips and leaves and pasted them on the wall. I thought of the walls in my department. The only adornment they bore were grim notices staring forbiddingly. Something had to be done about it. Students would certainly take to the idea of breathing in some life into those walls. It was important to make them think of the department as their space, and such involvement was also crucial in removing their phobia of the department and of academics. Sadly, the authorities do not take to such ideas. They always demonstrate an affinity for the grim.

I suppose they fail to understand the distinction between seriousness and sadism.

Meanwhile, Fousiya took me to the backyard. The place was wild- the way it had always been. The landscape here had not been manipulated and it merged into the surrounding landscape. There was a soft wind and the leaves rustled.

This is where I always come when I am disturbed. I am so glad this space is accessible from my department. When I stand here, beneath the sky, amidst these trees and stare at the little hills yonder, all my troubles vanish’ she said.

I needed no explanation on that. Anne Frank had spoken the same words. Perhaps all our work spaces desperately need a reconnect with nature. Not the plush gardens and lawns of our corporate offices, but the wilderness that is calming to the senses. It heals.

It is time we broke the walls and fences of our fortresses.

We stood there for a while, breathing in the air fragrant with the scent of herbs and berries. Nature always finds its own ways to reward those who are loyal to it.

I finally bid goodbye to her and walked back to the medical college campus. On my way, I passed the gardens. They belonged there. And I belonged here, with them. I had struck a bonding with these trees and gardens. The feeling was akin to a new friendship.

I had to go the bank. I decided to walk. It was only a 10-minutes walk. Besides, I wanted to walk today. The trees I had discovered today in the course of my walk to the dental college, urged me to take a walk.

I love walking. Not across narrow, congested streets. But across rural terrain. It is a treat to the senses. I love climbing hills. I love walking across the ridges that partition the fields. I love walking aimlessly across groves and orchards. I love walking on the banks of rivers. It is when you walk that the world comes to you. Walking transforms you into a little child, eager to explore the world. It is when you walk that you take notice of the touch-me-not that recoils at your touch, the pebbles that entice you to pick them up, the pretty wild flowers that hide beneath the carpet of weeds and the bees and butterflies that speak of an enchanting world. It is only when you walk that you hear the delightful din of the birds and insects that breaks the silence of this wilderness. It is only when you walk that you feel the caress of the wind that brings with it the fragrance of moist tropical earth. Only walking allows you this necessary engagement with nature to make you feel a part of it.

I stepped out of the college gate and was delighted to find the idavazhi that led to the houses in the neighbourhood. The branch of a cashew tree arched over the alley and cast a shadow on it. I love such alleys. They merge into the natural geography of the landscape without disrupting its integrity. With muddy walls that rise high on either side, they have always been paths where I lose myself into reveries. I go back in time. It is always a déjà vu feeling for me.

I love landscapes that are detached from the chaos of human life. Landscapes that stretch out infinitely with only the fields, livestock and coconut palm/arecanut plantations speaking of human life. It was unbelievable to have retained this kind of an environment in the premises adjoining a medical college. Truly a luxury in modern times. A few cars passed by occasionally. Not a soul walked on the street. A stork landed on the paddy fields that lay on one side of the road. Narrow mud trails wound across the wilderness like serpents in the monsoons…

The kind of paths that our ancestors walked on dark nights, waving flame torches as they walked.

The memories I hold closest to my heart are painted on a canvas of raw earth. Raw earth that feeds the forests, gardens and fields. Raw earth that takes the shape of mud trails that wind across wild orchards like serpents in the monsoons. Raw earth that takes the shape of ridges that partition the fields. The hills and the plains. The fields and deserts. Raw earth that speaks of man’s toil. Of his fruits of labour. Of his tears. Of his deep rooted association with nature.
It is the landscape that remains most vivid in my perception. It thus forms the backdrop for all my memories. It sets the tone for all my memories. People animate against this backdrop. And so, as these landscapes disappear in real life, my memories are robbed of their tone. And what are memories without their tone?

 

I finished my work at the bank and walked back. The off roads beckoned to me, but today was not the day. I needed to come back with my camera. The college bus passed by. The driver slowed down, but I signaled that I wanted to walk. The bus speeded off and I resumed walking. A car honked and I moved aside. But the car stopped by my side. It was Lakshmanettan. Much as I tried explaining that I had opted to walk, he refused to let me walk.

You can sit on the side and enjoy nature while I drive’, he said to me.

I did not wish to belittle his feelings and so, I decided to sit in the car.

This place hasn’t changed at all. I hope it remains this way forever!’ I remarked as we drove past the orchards and fields.

I won’t speak to you. You make me sad with your decision of staying single’ he said to me.

I smiled.

Don’t worry, Lakshmanetta. God helps those who help themselves’ I replied.

He grimaced.

Lakshmanettan is one of the few people whom I love dearly despite the fact that he cannot relate to my perspective of life. That is because he genuinely cares. He is so full of warmth and sincerity that nothing else matters.

He dropped me at the reception and I took the stairs to the clinic. I met Venugopal sir and we resumed our discussion on the saga of social transformation.

When I got back to the department, there was a student waiting for me. I taught her a few concepts in Physiology.

It was a beautiful day. In the evening, I drove without pushing myself to overtake and compete.

I drove in synchrony with the songs I played. In synchrony with nature that accompanied me all through the journey. In synchrony with the song in my heart.

I am learning.

 

These paths-6

She stood in front of me, smiling. I blinked.

Eight years had passed. It was unbelievable. But today, as she stood in front of me, smiling as she always used to, I felt nothing had changed. The years in between vanished from memory. I felt as if I had never left Anjarakandy.

You haven’t changed!’, she said to me.

Neither have you’, I replied.

I have a baby now!’, she said to me.

I know’, I said.

You never kept in touch! I tried contacting you on so many occasions. Your number had changed. I even thought of visiting your house to get in touch, but I thought you might have locked up the house and gone’, she complained.

Life changed a lot, you see. It was a tough battle. The situation was worse than it was when I used to work here. I just found myself drifting with the flow’, I replied.

I remember how it was for you’, she sighed.

We were both silent for a moment, lost in reflections of the past.

Dad passed away. In 2011’, I continued.

We talked about life after Anjarakandy. I told her about the events surrounding my father’s death.

What about your father?’, I asked.

He passed away too. In sleep. It was a good death.

I nodded. I remembered her account of her life with her father. He had never given the family a moment’s peace. I couldn’t believe there could be fathers like that. Her brother had taken his place. He used to run the household from a young age. The clashes between father and son were severe. The son would walk away and the father would vent out his anger on the women. The women were the ultimate victims. They had learnt to accept it as their lot. They had reconciled with the fact that it was a man’s world.

How about ECG ummumma’?, I asked her.

She laughed.

You remember her? She passed away too’. She replied.

How could I forget her? The lady who had put to good use the ECG recording and used it to fuel the chulha! How could one forget her?’, I replied.

So how is your married life? How does it feel to be married?’, I asked her.

I think the best life is to have the luxury of solitude. My husband is a good man. So are his parents. But marriage has brought with it responsibilities that I had never anticipated. Also struggle of a different kind’, she replied.

The first question many people asked me was about marriage. Lakshmanettan was the worst. He wouldn’t just let go of the topic!’, I said.

Why can’t people leave others alone? There is a throbbing and bleeding mind within each one of us. Only we are aware of how it throbs and bleeds. And so, we are the best judges of what we want in life. Why can’t people understand this?’, she introspected.

I was surprised by her maturity.

Lakshmanettan still lives in the old world, Fousiya. He means well, but he doesn’t realize that times have changed and people have changed dramatically. Relationships and marriages are no longer what they used to be’,  I said.

Yes, that is true. He still lives in the old world’, she repeated.

At times, it is fun to answer these questions. Usha sister had asked me the same question. She had advised me that it wouldn’t be easy at times when one needs help and support. To that I had replied-

It certainly isn’t easy now either. I feel both marriage and singlehood come with their own set of risks and problems. It is just a matter of which type of risk one is willing to take. You were more comfortable with taking the risk of marriage and I was more comfortable taking the risk of being single.

She didn’t say anything further’, I stated.

Her jaw must have dropped’, she replied.

You bet!’, I said.

We both laughed aloud.

After you left, I lost my laughter. I didn’t realize, but the other sisters would always say that I had changed after you left and that I rarely laughed’, she said.

I was touched by her warmth. Her ability to preserve the sanctity of those moments. The truth in her emotions. Something I miss in modern times. Something that I feel only when I watch an old movie. She was full of old memories. I could hear their tinkle in her mind. I always feel drawn to people who cherish memories and talk about them with nostalgia. I feel they are capable of much good. Lohithadas had said that too.

How much we used to laugh when you were here. Remember Subeesh? What a team we were. So much so that the Nursing Superintendent had shifted me from the Medicine Department because she couldn’t bear to see us so happy’, she recollected.

But that didn’t kill our happiness. We found our own ways to get past all those hurdles. In truth, we were knee deep into problems, but that made us cherish these moments all the more’, she added.

I was silent. The silence that communicated the joy of those years. The memories that I guard in the sanctum sanctorum of my mind. That phase of my life could have found a place in Basheer’s novel.

I tried committing suicide’, she said.

I snapped out of my reverie.

What? When? Why?’, I asked.

My engagement was called off. I had got into a long-distance relationship. A relative had introduced me to him. We had never met, but we used to speak for long hours. I grew dependent on those conversations. Our families went ahead with the engagement and a date was fixed. My brother arranged for all the gold. We had our house painted. At work, everybody knew. After Ramzan, he came down for the wedding. When we finally met up, he said I looked very different from what he had seen of me in the picture. He backed off. There were no further conversations. I had got used to them. I couldn’t bear the void I felt within and on an impulse, I swallowed some pills. I was at work then and I managed to get hold of a random assortment of pills. Antibiotics, antihistaminics and whatever I could get my hands on. I fainted and was admitted. Nothing happened though. I was discharged after a day of observation. I applied for medical leave and was home for quite some time. Those days were probably the worst times in my life. I couldn’t lift my spirits. People in the neighbourhood were making up stories about my wedding being called off. Eventually, I decided to get back to work. I was in need of distraction. I had never wanted to get married thereafter, but my brother wouldn’t marry until I was married. There was a lot of pressure, and I eventually gave in to an arranged marriage. I talked to my husband about this tragedy and he was very accepting and considerate. And thus, I got married. But I hadn’t come out of my misery. Misery slowly gave way to numbness. But my husband was accommodating. He left to Dubai after a month’, she explained.

My husband is nice. So are his parents. But the financial responsibility of the family is on him. He has two siblings. Also, he suffers from Obstructive sleep apnoea syndrome. Until then, I hadn’t even known that something like that existed. I thought that was the end of my world. It took a long time to come to terms with that. Eventually, I spoke to a lot of doctors, read up articles on the internet and consulted physicians. I saved up enough to buy a CPAP for him. Also, I got to know a few others who suffer from this syndrome. That gave me some consolation. My husband always feels he couldn’t give me any happiness. But I tell him that my priorities are different. That he understands me and trusts me is most important to me. He would often push me for a divorce, but I would convince him eventually. Things are better now’, she concluded.

My eyes welled up with tears.

I took up BA English distance education. I cleared my first set of papers’, she said to me triumphantly.

I held her hand and said to her, ‘Fousiya, I think your life is beautiful. It is rich for it is so full of meaning. The little steps you both take to overcome the obstacles in your life and materialize your dreams, will add value to all your achievements. I remember my PG days. They had been so full of struggle. There was so much pressure from home and from my HOD. But when I eventually got my degree, there was a special sweetness to that degree. So don’t ever give up.

She nodded. ‘Why are HODs like that? Our department HOD is also the same. She tortures her PG. The PG is a very nice girl. She is a divorcee and has a child. Despite all her problems, she works hard and does a good job. But the HOD always finds fault with her work. Sometimes she goes into her room and cries for hours. I console her and give her as much encouragement as I can. Why can’t people spread happiness? Why is it necessary to blow out somebody’s happiness in order to feel happy?’, she wondered aloud.

The world is like that, Fousiya. BTW, what should I get for you from home?’, I asked.

You don’t get me anything. I will make something for you one of these mornings. Remember the time you had come home for Ramzan? Those days were so much fun. We used to go out so often’, she said.

We can go out now as well. But what about your baby? Wouldn’t it be difficult?’, I asked.

No. He loves going out’, she replied.

In that case, we will go out. I must try getting in touch with Sri Devi too. I can never forget our trip to the paddy fields in Rasna’s village’, I said.

Are you writing anything these days? You used to write so much!’, she said.

‘Oh yes! I just finished writing my first book. But it will take time for it to be published. Perhaps next year’, I said.

I still remember my first day in Anjarakandy. The day I had started writing. The most beautiful day in my life.

Oh! That is so nice! Am I a character in that book?’, she asked.

No, Fousiya. This is a book on Malayalam Cinema’, I said.

Oh! You always said that I would certainly be a character in your book’, she said to me.

Yes. You will be a character in my second book. There is enough of life in you to be a character in a book. My second book will certainly be set against the backdrop of Anjarakandy. It will explore my bittersweet relationship with this place. Somehow, it reminds me of Shivapuram village in the film Mazha– the village that Bhadra is attached to. Nashtapetta Neelambari. Anjarakandy is truly that to me’, I replied.

We spoke some more, trying to remember every little perception that had created ripples in our mind.

In the evening, as I drove back home, I hugged this feeling. This ripple in my mind. This tinkle of memories. How else can I describe it? I drove past groves that were so dense that not much sunlight penetrated into them. Only the hum of crickets and the chirping of birds could be heard in their silence. I passed quaint little shops with wooden planks for shutters. They hadn’t lost their rustic charm. Age had made them beautiful. I passed paddy fields. I passed old gardens that continued to believe in the beauty of common flowers- hibiscus, rose, mandaram, jasmine and chethi (jungle flame), to name a few. The Anjarakandy river was not far away. This rendezvous with these old paths had now become a significant part of my day-to-day life here. They transported me back in time. For they remained the way I remembered them. Time hadn’t done too much damage to them.

These were my thoughts then:

Some stories cannot begin where they ended. The end is the end. It is a permanent closure. For people change, circumstances change and we ourselves change.

Change irreparably.

 And so, I am still reeling under the effect of this strange continuum of a long forgotten story in my life. Like I once wrote, I was never really comfortable with change. I long for people and places to retain their raw charm. I feel a deep sense of loss when circumstances and the battle with life robs them of this rawness and peels off their warmth, sensitivity and vulnerability- elements that define this rawness.

It is gratitude I feel. I feel grateful for this ability to feel. Grateful for the kind of people who have touched my life. Grateful for the beautiful memories. Grateful for this warmth that surrounds me here at Anjarakandy.

 

A quiet birthday party

The 22nd of March, 2008.

 
The phone rings, and even as I wake up from sleep, I know it is N.

N taunts me because I want to get myself a toy duck for my birthday. That bright yellow toy duck that floats in water. The one that babies play with, in the bathtub.

What do I want to do with it? I want to put it in a glass dish filled with water, put in some frangipani flowers too, and savour the perception!

 
When N has had his fill of pulling legs, he wishes me happy birthday and hangs up. I decide to go back to sleep. I hear the sound of the rain outside. I open the window. The sky is thick with dark clouds and the rain is a steady drizzle. The trees are a lush green- the tropical green that I write about so often. I decide not to waste such a heavenly morning on sleep. For it is summer, and who ever expected rains at this time of the year? These are much more than summer showers. They have done a lot of damage to crops in various parts of the state, but that can’t kill my moment now. So I run outdoors, colliding with mom on the way. Mom and Dad wish me happy birthday.

 
I run outdoors and embrace the rain. The raindrops soak me, and I feel cold. It is a chill that I love and cherish.

 

To me, water is nature’s love. Ponds, rivers and lakes are nature’s love harnessed to soothe the woes of the earth. But the rain is a shower of fresh love from the heavens. So I wrap myself up in this love. I celebrate this love with the trees that are as soaked as I am. I can perceive their happiness just as they can perceive mine.

 

The rain turns lighter, and I go back indoors.

 
Today, mom puts in some fragrant herbs into the water that is set for my bath. The herbs bathe me in their fragrant freshness. I also love the aroma of incense sticks and camphor that floods the house.
I love jasmine flowers. They do not go with the shampooed, silky strands of my hair, but from a raw perspective, there is something beautiful about this oddity.

 
I think of my cousin’s grandmother- a lady who must be in her eighties. She can’t bear to see girls of my age, bare of flowers and gold, on birthdays and other occasions! I ask her how birthdays were in her times. And she enthusiastically recollects the details.

A bath in the pond that would be in the premises of the house. New clothes and jewellery. Sandal paste on the forehead. Flowers adorning the damp hair. Prayers and offerings in the temple. Coins gifted by the elders. The age-old tradition of the pulluvan pattu.

Her eyes are misty with the recollection.

 

Pulluvan is a male member (female- Pulluvatti ) of a low caste group called Pulluvar.

Most of the art forms of the Pulluvar are ritualistic. Most of their songs are related to worship, ritual, custom and exorcism. The pulluva art is expressed in the background of snake-worship, ghost worship and magic. One group among these people consider the snake gods as their presiding deity and perform certain rituals such as sacrifices and song singing. This is called ’Pulluvan Pattu’. This is performed in the houses of the lower castes as well as those of the higher castes, as well as in serpent temples.

The musical instruments used by the Pulluvar are pulluvan veena (a one stringed violin), pulluvan kutam (earthernware pot with on string attached to it) and thaalam (bell-metal cymbals). These instruments are made by the Pulluvar themselves.

 

1
The ritualistic pulluvan pattu

 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pulluvan_Paattu

 

Today, mom made payasam for me and dad promised to bake a cake for me in the evening! I suppose these simple gestures of parental love that we almost overlook are the ones that will be most missed in their absence.

Deficiency brings to light the true value of things.

 
Today, I decide to pamper myself. I do not have a social network here in Kerala. So, I do what I love the most here. I take a boat-ride in the rain! It is a long row-boat, with wooden planks to sit on, and as the boatman rows, the slow splish-splash of the oars sets a rhythm to the ride. The rain is a light drizzle now, and raindrops fall on the river, creating little ripples. The bank is fringed by coconut palms that gracefully bow to the river.

 

Am I in the middle of paradise? I feel indebted for this valuable gift that is life. This opportunity to experience the splendour and glory of this world.

 

The boatman smiles at me. The rain is singing happy birthday. All around me, I can hear music. The world is singing happy birthday.

 
This world is indeed paradise. It is like a beautiful film. And life is a ticket, dispensed by nature, to the chosen few. Happy birthday to me!