I stayed with a friend recently. Her grandmother resided with them, a lonely wispy figure in white who you saw moving about, wordless. She was quite healthy for a woman her age, and would take part in the household chores. I often saw her in the kitchen when I went to get a glass of water, silently fixing a meal. Would you mind if I cooked gourds for lunch? Of course not, I’d say with a cursory smile, anything was fine. At other times I would notice her watching television in the hall, repeats of soap operas, translated serials. In the mornings watering the plants as we sat studying outside, inadvertently drenching us in the process, every time.
I noticed the questionable indifference often demonstrated by my friend in her presence. Slight but tangible. Disregard for an innocent inquiry, usually about the meals. Maybe an exasperated tone of voice when something was misinterpreted. The roll of eyes when the hose missed the orchids and watered our books. I felt sorry for her, the wispy silent widow in white.
I kept sensing a foggy familiarity in those gestures, the impatient wave, the irritated frown. I knew someone like that, someone who treated a relative less than perfectly. I groped for the face among the cobwebbed rooms of my mind, trying to discern those discrete clues, till one day I saw the culprit in the bathroom mirror, wide eyed, recognition finally washing over my reflection.
Now I remembered all too well. All the times I waved aside my mother’s questions when I traveled, the exasperated sighs when she asked about college, the nonchalant replies to her many concerns, the apathetic glance I gave the sweet kheer she prepared for my birthday one time.. Mirrored in my friend, I saw the ugliness within me.
I have since been trying to wash them clean, those stains of habitual disregard for the little things I take for granted, the naive show of affection I’ve been blessed with and the endless chatter that I am sure to miss one day. One hug at a time.
Love you mom.
Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my soul. Lo-lee-ta : the tip of my tongue taking a trip of three steps down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee. Ta.
I was not a very happy teenager. Indeed, I believe I was a particularly pessimistic one, a trait that haunted me well into my young adult life. This, in spite of the fact that I really did not have much to complain about. A dotting mother, good friends and a brain that did not revolt against the modern educational system – I ought to have been clicking my heels and singing to sparrows as they do in musicals, but instead I was busy toying with ideas of suicide. It seems simply preposterous to me now, but it is a reality I am ashamed to admit. Me, healthy-beloved-educated-well fed-maybe even a little spoilt-me, wanting to kill myself at 13. And at 23. And all the time in between.
Now that I can talk about this in the past tense (thank God!), I have been wondering what exactly was the matter with me. Or the thousands of others who apparently feel the same, if the rising statistics are to be believed. What is so horrible about our existence, finite as it is, that we feel the need to cut it shorter still? Are we not intellectual beings capable of rational thought? And then I wondered, could it be that our possession of rational thought and insight is our undoing??
Other than isolated reports of self destructive behavior seemingly demonstrated by certain grieving animals, and examples of martyrdom wherein some insects protect their colonies via their own deaths, the general governing principle in nature is one of self sustenance. It is also striking how resilient so called lower animals and plants are. I saw a crow in our backyard the other day, hopping around on one leg, and flying away once it found a piece of food. The loss of a limb did not weaken the triumph in its flight.
I remember a science experiment learnt in school where we were to keep a plant in utter darkness with just a little hole on one side permitting light to enter. When examined a few weeks later, we would find that the plant had bent and grown towards sunlight. Photo tropism, I was taught it is called. Now 15 years later, I realize that the experiment had a lot more to do with life than biology. Seeking out light in the dark and opting to survive are tasks that prove difficult for a lot of us. An evolutionary paradox occurs to me at this point. Plants are, in a way, the most basic of life forms, incapable of movement let alone conscious thought and yet are potentially immortal. At the other end of the spectrum are we, human beings, the supreme life forms on Earth contemplating on killing ourselves. Makes one wonder, does it not?
Something makes me believe we are looking at this all wrong, that our evolutionary vantage point is skewed somehow. Maybe the sign of supremacy is not locomotion or the skill to dominate or kill at will, not the million ways we can devise plots and win wars, not the deliberate conclusions we are capable of arriving at. Maybe it is just about your ability to grow towards the light when immersed in darkness, knowing the future is fatally and beautifully ambiguous and that life is not to be wasted pondering questions that are not necessarily ours to answer.
Shops glowed with Christmas lights as she walked down the street. Large posters everywhere announced special discounts on overpriced goods. People moved past in a hurry clutching bulging packages rustling with crispy newness. Joy is in the air, sang some elves stationed outside a toy store, with Santa nodding in agreement. She eyed them with dispassion. Festive seasons always brought out the cynic in her. Ballyhoo of goodwill on prescribed dates struck her as ridiculous. Humbug, she muttered, siding with Scrooge.
It was then that the world erupted in colors. Fire dragons flew from a lone roof top to burst into flames in the sky. Little phoenixes rose from them, coloring the night glittery red, green and yellow. The clouds crunched under their wings splitting the stillness. A child laughed. Something stirred. As she watched, the glimmer faded into a bokeh of memories. She stood still, remembering.
Christmas Eve. 21 again.
They walked around in the park adjacent to the sea, hand in hand, oblivious to everything else. The cool night air was still and soothing, like his whispers in her ear. Her quiet laughter fell like dew drops into the silence, discerned by him and no one else. They walked on forever, for in love every moment is eternity in itself.
She was the one who noticed the abandoned boat, half hidden by the foliage. It lay against the sand and reeds, just brushing the water, oars interspersed with the waves like fingers refusing to let go. It welcomed them without stirring. Side by side on the wooden thwart, she felt him graze her arm. She looked up at him with the hint of a blush on her cold cheeks. He pushed aside an untamed strand of her hair and held her face in his left hand. Across the shore, the sky became a flurry of hues. The last thing she saw before closing her eyes was a blur of golden sparks, before the feel of his lips simulated the same in her head and the world ceased to exist.
She opened her eyes 42 years later and smiled. Yes, joy was in the air.
What is your favorite smell? What memory does it remind you of? My favorite smell is, was and always has been that of books. I’m an official book sniffer. The one thing I love to do when handed one, and this applies to textbooks as well, is open a random page and breathe it in. It doesn’t matter if it’s been freshly delivered or found in second hand bookstores (unless they are too dusty of course.) I think the smell takes me back to specific books from early reading days, especially those by Enid Blyton that I devoured as a child. I judge a book by its smell!
What kind of pet do you have or want to have ? We have an adorable dog, who is beginning to age. I wrote a post about him too. The idea of parting with him hurts so much, I don’t feel like having another pet. I have always wanted a squirrel though. My father apparently had one growing up, one that’d come sit on his shoulder when called and eat from his hand. I always thought it would be swell to have one like that.
Are you usually early, late or right on time? It depends really! If it is something that I’m excited about, like a movie or meeting up with friends I am always on time. But when it comes to less savory circumstances, I am nowhere near punctual. I procrastinate. Trying to break the habit though.
For recharging, would you rather meditate, swim, walk, listen to music, write, read, yoga, other? I sleep quite a lot. When I’m tired, bored, depressed. I always feel fresh after a nap. I do listen to music too, and writing sometimes helps me sublimate. (Hence the blog) Yoga and meditation are great too, but weirdly they make me feel sleepy rather than recharged!
What are you grateful from last week, and what are you looking forward to in the week coming up? This is an easy one. I am literally waltzing around the room in ecstasy as my dreaded exams of the year are finally over. I think I did them better than I hoped to. For the next week, I plan to finally get back to everything that had been on hold due to said exams – blogging, reading Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov that I bought a month ago and a week long sojourn with friends in Chennai.
My paternal grandfather passed away last year. He was someone I knew only from afar. In my memory he is but a cheerful greeting and a pat on the back that came with summer visits after every school year.
Our visits were brief but looked forward to, as he lived in the hills. He taught at a school there and refused to leave the place even after retirement. Reaching him meant hours of exhilarating travel up steep winding roads lined by forests on one side and a precipitous drop on the other. I remember how we used to roll up the windows, for fear of monkeys that resided in the area. It was not uncommon for them to swing off low branches and latch on to slowing vehicles to grab food from unsuspecting passengers. Once night set in, there were chances we might come across wild rabbits, deer and even herds of elephants. The memory of a lone wild elephant spotted one night still fills me with awe. Another vivid memory is that of a glorious sunset witnessed once, the sun a large ball of fire in the blood red sky, playing peek-a-boo from behind the thick foliage as we traversed the sharp bends.
Large tea estates awaited when we reached the top. The shrubs trimmed to perfection resembled green crocheted carpets strewn over either side of the road. We’d pass a couple of small sleepy towns, punctuated by wilderness and estates. I remember I always kept a look out for an ancient tree shrouded in mythical mystery. Every year I’d gaze upon it with wonder as my mother pointed it out and recounted the legend.
When we finally reached, the first to welcome us were large clusters of pink flowers that fell from vines that grew along the walls. All my life I have associated Rangoon Creepers with my childhood vacations in Wayanad. Grandpa would lead us in with his typically flamboyant pleasantries. In a corner of the hall lay his faithful sheepdog, oblivious to our presence, blinded partly by age and partly by the unruly mane over his eyes.
Most of my time there was spent going through his collection of books, usually abridged and illustrated classics in orange paperbacks. Every year I’d scourge the shelf for new classics, exalting in the discovery of previously unread ones. Otherwise I would explore the backyard up to where a small stream ran. An unused grinding mill stood there, surrounded by thick layers of rice husk coughed up over the years, replacing soil. There were guava and mango trees nearby which bore fruit in the summer, and I’d munch on freshly plucked ones happily if the monkeys did not get to them first.
While books and nature always engrossed me as a child, people seldom did. I don’t remember ever having a real conversation with my grandfather. This is partly due to the fact that my visits dwindled after high school and ended once I went off to college. Me coming home became a rarity in itself, and travelling to meet him was out of the question. I was too busy growing up to notice he was growing old.
Last year, I made the journey again after nearly a decade. The place has undergone drastic changes in the last years. The climb up is not as steep anymore, the roads having been widened to facilitate the growing traffic. Wayanad is now a hot spot for people seeking ethnic enclaves and picturesque getaways. Large billboards boast of ostentatious resorts that cater to every need. Institutions have sprung up in between the tea estates. My fabled tree of old is easy to make out now, as the area around it has been cleared and fenced to mark its existence.
A great many people showed up for the funeral. I knew my grandfather as a teacher, a retired Headmaster. But everyone who gathered had a lot more to share. I was intrigued to discover he had been instrumental in turning part of that isolated village into the town it is now, using his ties with the ruling political party to erect the first schools there and the first bus depot. He had been President of a regional bank. He had a degree in Law in addition to Literature. My ideas about Grandpa faded, and in its stead I saw a curious young man, charismatic and fascinating, alive through all who had truly known him.
As the stories poured in, I felt a deep sense of loss. In all those years as I scourged for orange paperbacks, I had missed out on this particular classic.