Saturday, 17 March 2018

Hiraeth

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Dedicated to Amma and Achan
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It was a single-roomed quarters that existed at a time far before technology, you may say it outlives other memories of home precisely because of this attribute - there was more life, more birds, more stars in the night sky than I've ever known. Along its walls my crayons traced intimacy, on its floors I urinated unperturbed. I knew nature, I grew aware for the first time, I dreamt my most artless dreams and slept with no concerns..

***

There was this story of a mahout and elephant that Amma would say to me when I was barely learning to talk.

I still hear Amma's concerned voice saying how the elephant who grew restless at the way the mahout treats him kills him one day. This creates anger and fear among people around and they call a forest guard to kill the elephant, because apparently he had become 'dangerous'. The guard picks up a gun from somewhere and repetitively shoots the elephant, the elephant succumbs, crying in agony.

There would be some reference of the mahout again and his sorry state, and my mother would say "Paavam paapaan!" ("Poor Mahout!").

"Paavam aana!" ("Poor Elephant!") I would correct her offensively.

Amma says I would do that every single time she ended the story with the mahout being poor.

***

Chemboth (Greater Coucal) is my favourite bird. I used to eat my lunch only if she came by to eat with me. Lunchtime was that time of the day when I would sit outside our kitchen with Amma and observe the magnanimity of nature, of her many forms - crawling earthworms to high-flying eagles. We co-existed peacefully - our radio would be playing melodious Malayalam songs, Sunlight may occasionally pierce the gap between jack tree leaves and hit lightly upon us, and we sat conversing about our day's happinesses and wonders.

And amongst the stories I heard and animals I saw, I prefered Chemboth more than anyone else, we could connect with each other strangely, maybe because we both were poor fliers.

***

Load-shedding is a word I still like the most. Every night there would be 30 minutes when power was stopped so as to balance demand and supply. All of us would sit together, talk and watch the night sky. Star-gazing for me would've made its faint beginnings in one of those nights. 

Everytime I look up, it was with wonder. Why are they shining? Are they worlds I may never know of? Ignobility would've begun somewhere there too.

All worthless talks we have today can be traded for those 30 minutes of chit-chat and sing-songs. And whenever I see mercury lamps vomiting light into my life, I wonder how much demand-supply mismatch should be there for the world to be dark again.

***

I remember a poem Amma would sing to me, "ee valliyil ninnu chemme, pookal pokunnitha parannamme.." which more or less exemplified the curiosity of those times. It was an interaction between a mother and her child in which the child mistakes butterflies for flowers which as he sees it are flying away from him. The mother would calm him down saying that he was wrong, it were butterflies all along.

The vast distances between that poem and where I am today are separated by mishaps, depressions and unrequited dreams that sometimes I look back and wonder if it were indeed flowers that flew away in between those words.

***

Rainy days had a certain smell to it, and a distinct color. Drops of rain would hit opened out leaves and shatter into a million silver strokes diluting the dark green background. Chembarathis (shoe flowers) would bloom in our yard and millipedes would roam around in pride. It was their time of the year, when life was sprayed on Earth as downpours.

I would make paper boats and watch them move slowly (braving the rains) in puddles in front of our home. Some would soak and slump down, others would hold on and find new shores. I often wished it would reach seas afar, I hoped it would see things I could never see then.

***

My first memory of school was rain, mud and painful eyes. I remember seeing Amma leaving me and I desperately wished to run behind her. From lying naked on pure earth I was displaced into a room full of strange beings wearing dull shirts and tight trousers. I knew I didn't belong here, I knew I had to go away, I knew I must not separate myself from Amma.

Amma came to pick me up in the evening, and we came home in an autorickshaw. She was asking me eagerly what I learned and how school was, I didn't reply a thing. On the way home, one of my new slippers escaped my foot and flew out of the rickshaw, l watched it sink into mud as the rickshaw sped along. I thought of saying to Amma that I've lost it, but then I preferred silence over dissonance.

***

On a random day, a snake found her way into our home and Achan was trying to get it out somehow. It sheltered itself inside a bucket in which we kept rice. Achan tried tipping the bucket but the snake just wouldn't let go. He then pushed the bucket a little and it fell upside down, he pulled the bucket back releasing the snake and every little grain of rice amidst a curious and scared audience.

Achan chased the snake towards the main door using a stick and as it almost crossed the door, he tried to slam it shut. The snake was caught in between,- her head breathing airs of freedom, her lower half irredeemably lost and probably somewhere near the middle her hopes cut off. She jerked a little before calming down.

I still see their images sometimes, along with sounds from somewhere far away. The snake, the elephant and how easily they were killed.

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