Random musings of a wandering soul

Archive for the ‘nostalgia’ Category

Random scribbles from a beautiful morning

“Let two persons go out for a walk; the one a good sketcher, the other having no taste of the kind. Let them go down a green lane. There will be a great difference in the scene as perceived by the two individuals. The one will see a lane and trees; he will perceive the trees to be green, though he will think nothing about it; he will see that the sun shines, and that it has a cheerful effect; and that’s all! But what will the sketcher see? His eye is accustomed to search into the cause of beauty, and penetrate the minutest parts of loveliness. He looks up, and observes how the showery and subdivided sunshine comes sprinkled down among the gleaming leaves overhead, till the air is filled with the emerald light. He will see here and there a bough emerging from the veil of leaves, he will see the jewel brightness of the emerald moss and the variegated and fantastic lichens, white and blue, purple and red, all mellowed and mingled into a single garment of beauty. Then come the cavernous trunks and the twisted roots that grasp with their snake-like coils at the steep bank, whose turfy slope is inlaid with flowers of a thousand dyes. Is not this worth seeing? Yet if you are not a sketcher you will pass along the green lane, and when you come home again, have nothing to say or to think about it, but that you went down such and such a lane.”

That was John Larkin, quoted by Alain de Botton in his book, ‘The Art of Travel.’ I had just finished reading it before a solo trip to Himachal two years ago. Sitting beside the stream on the third day of the journey, these words came to mind as I struggled to bring my thoughts together in an attempt to write. The small note book was kept aside somewhere after my return and forgotten under corporate struggles and domestic travails. Until last week, the red cover splattered with doodles stared at me from under a few other dust laden ones and asked, “remember me?” As if it knew the time had come. My scribbles from  one of the seven mornings on an idyllic holiday…

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It is a single note at first. The gentle roar of the river. Separate notes emerge as you listen, slowly. The gentle lap of the small waves against the shore, as if a mother is carefully washing the soft skin of her first born. A stream that slides over a flat rock only to hit itself over another one and jump right back at the first. A playful gurgle, like kids splashing rain water from a puddle with an expert kick of their foot. There is a dip at the bottom of another rock, three streams seem to join as one. The first one comes straight over it, one part of it diverted in between and coming back in a gentle curve into the same meeting point and the third one going around it only to be guided back by another rock one the way. Three notes joined as one, gently flowing down into a small pool, just as a stream of holy water is poured on to the cupped palms of a pilgrim.

Rivers are a lot like us, humans. The first steps are tentative. As the meaningless gurgles turn into chatter, the steps turn sure. Wild laughter, playful banter with the shores, gushing joy, adolescence is pure madness. Youth matures, but the spirit is bright and beautiful. When does the light dim and the steps slow down? As it flows, what is around seem to have more impact than what comes from within. Have you noticed them in cities? The very essence of life seem to have been sucked out. The once vivacious young girl is now expected to take in all the filth and sins of everyone he around her, without as much as a whimper. Just as the tears dry up even as the pain sharpens, the river starts drying up. Until the next rain. As the silt begins to shift, the season ends. And she is thrown back into her emptiness. Again.

Patience has its virtues. I finally catch sight of the owner of the mellifluous voice above my head. A tiny beauty that could fit into my daughter’s palm with enough space left for its parter. Yellow under and green on top, perfectly camouflaged among the green and yellow leaves of the trees around. The trees themselves remind me of Ruskin Bond. Of his island of trees. I give up trying to capture the little one on my camera. Either the camera or my eyes need a fresh pair of lens. ” I am like the elusive words in your mind,” she seemed to say. Some you capture on paper, some just float away.

Butterflies, in abundance. Black with yello dots, brown patches in black, pale yellow, milky white, a group of sky blue ones that looked like someone tore away some clouds and a few pieces of sky came along with that. They looked liked school kids who had bunked classes en masse. I decided to keep the camera away and just sit there, watching their joyous dance. “Why do you not stay still?” I ask. They answer in an instant, “We are like your thoughts, when did they ever stay still?”

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I continue to sit still. A sudden movement across the river catches my eye. There is an odd shape on the embankment. A grey gecko. The feel is ecstatic. A little more than half an hour, and I feel like Princess Jasmine on Aladdin’s magic carpet. A whole new world seem to open itself out for me.

p.s. even after two years, I can remember that day, almost minute by minute. Some days and places are like that, isn’t it? Your special place  to go back to, some days just to have that feeling of content and some other days to run off and hide. 

 

 

Chasing Ducks

Books are such wondrous beings. On one page you are enjoying  your evening with a nomadic family on the Mongolian steppes, watching the matriarch firing away orders to the family, in style. Come the next page, you are suddenly transported back to your childhood.

“There were scenes of hysterics as the little children were tasked with rounding up the most mischievous goats. They sprinted after the animals, diving to catch whatever body part they could lay a hand on, whether it be the leg, ears, or even tail, but often ended up facedown in the dust. When one particularly large and courageous goat made a break for the open steppe beyond camp, one of the boys, probably no older than ten, swung onto a horseback and, with his chest pushed out like a little man’s, went galloping off with a shriek.”

Rewind to an era that sound pre historic to my kids who haven’t seen even a stalk of rice. When there were no supermarkets and you had to run behind a hen to have a chicken dish for lunch. And ducks.

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Watching chickens hatching was one of the favourite pastimes of summer holidays. And the ducklings. The mother ducks are an active lot. Not for them, the days of sitting idle on top of a group of dumb looking eggs. And they needed the daily frolic in water. A wet body on top of a growing baby inside a shell? That would have been a sure shot recipe for disaster. As the shell broke, the chickens looked cute, covered in tiny, soft feathers. The ducklings were weird.

My memory deserts me here. When did the surrogate mother retreat and the real one take over? What I do rememeber is the joyous jump of ducklings into water. Mother first and the kids after her.

Duck roast was a delicacy, reserved for special occasions. Especially my grandmother’s quite famous whole duck roast. Boiled potatoes, mashed and mixed with spices stuffed into the tummy that would now be emptied of all the gory stuff like intestines and gizzard. More about that in another post. The whole process deserves a story by itself.

While the hens would be left to wander around by themselves, ducks were always cooped up. Except in the evenings. We were never a part of the letting out. Rounding them up in the evening was the real adventure. Hens are an odedient lot, except for a stray one. They seem to know by instinct when the time came. Obediently they would walk into the hen house, one after another. A particularly rebellious one would perch itself on a tree branch and refuse to come down. No amount of coaxing, cajoling or even threats would make them budge. Some days, they would just be left to their own devices, out of sheer exhaustion on the part of the chasers.

The ducks.  ‘Taking to water like a duck,’ is not an empty idiom, you realize. The first few moments after the door of the pen was opened was of confusion. Then the excitement would begin. Freedom, they seemed to shout. Skuttling across on their webbed feet, their wings opened out, waddle had a different meaning. It was a cross between a run and flight. The last leg was the best. They took flight at the last moment, with a loud quack of sheer joy and abandon. For a few brief moments they would be flying like other birds, before the weight of their bodies made them land in water with a loud thud and splash.

Rounding them up a few hours later was another story altogether. Think of a kid having the time of her life with her friends in a park. And telling them time is up. Oh, the horror of it! First, it’s a gentle shoo, shoo. Then the shout, and ultimately a whack on their bottom with a bamboo pole. We had our tactics too. First we would place ourselves at strategic locations, then the chase would start. There never was a gentle moment, just the sheer adventure of it all.

Rebels were everywhere. A couple would escape our watchful eyes and escape. Off they would go, swimming madly across the canal. And follow we would. Helpers were all around, on the way. They would join the chase. Someone who had been taking a peaceful bath would suddenly be thrown out of their reverie by the cackling ducks racing through the water and equally boisterous kids chasing them over the shore. Who would win was always a moot point. Their fate was sealed the moment the tiny beaks forced their way out of their shells.

Looking back, I realize how everything was taken for granted. Life had its natural course whether it was for us kids or the ducks we chased. Questions were rare. That’s the way things were, life was. The tiny embryos took warmth from a stranger, found their way out of the shells, were fed and then would find their own feed, laid eggs that were taken away and would finally end up, spiced and cooked, on random dining tables. Not one of us questioned why they were killed. We just waited, longing for bits and pieces of those perfectly browned whole duck roast. Another story, for another day.

 

p.s.

(i) the quote is from ‘On the trail of Genghis Khan’ by Tim Cope

(ii) picture courtesy google images 

Finding Fireflies

imageAnother lazy Sunday evening in Bangalore, the place that is now home. We were watching ‘Queen’ for the umpteenth time when power went off. The curtains were not drawn, it was pitch dark for a moment. Lights came back almost instantly, rest of the family promptly went back to Rani and her drunken antics. Not me, I had travelled miles by then. More than six hundred kilometers away. Where the moon throws her silver anklets into the river and she smiles coyly in return, flowing gracefully, like the languorous moves of a Mohiniyattam dancer.

Is it when you cannot have something anymore, that you yearn for it endlessly? In moments of ecstatic happiness and soul breaking sadness, I go home. In my mind and spirit. To Kavalam, to those days that are gone forever. The house wears a forlorn look, like that of a mother who longs for her kids who are far away. My home, where I go in search for my soul as it keeps wandering back. It just refuses to let go.
Our grandfather must have longed to be a school teacher. That’s how he built his home, one long line of rooms, with an endless veranda that went around. With doors in the front and back and endless windows. Not the tiniest bit of sunlight nor the gentlest breeze could escape, they went in and out the whole day. Nights were special. And those hours of power cuts, official and unofficial. One tiny candle shedding its light in the sitting room, we would all gather on the veranda, one of us would be walking up and down the yard. Talking about nothing in particular, or something serious.

And those silences in between. They came creeping in with the sound of the crickets, gently wafting in with the aroma of tender mango flowers. The rustle of the coconut leaves and the thud of falling mangoes now and then, the scary howl of wind and an owl here and there, sometimes the satisfied grunt of the cows from their shed as they stirred in their half sleep, those were the lullabies that would lead us into half stupor. It was on one of those evenings that darkness totally engulfed me.

The night was pitch dark, unusual even for a village where the only public lights were those blinking ones mounted on a tree trunk. The leaves were still, the river lay placid. Even the fishermen were silent, their boats just floating along, the oars gliding smoothly through the water. Going through a particularly difficult time in life, the darkness was seeping into my soul as well. As I lay supine on the thatched mat, my eyes slowly drifted beyond the yard. From the silhouettes of the trees, up above the coconut trees, searching for some light within and out, my glance turned, as though guided by a divine force, to a group of trees that grew up together and were the best of friends even in their old age. One tiny light among the branches, it slowly spread and split into hundreds and then thousands, as if the stars that went hiding from the sky that night had come down to meet me. To lift me up, to show me the path, to remind me that even a tiny star can give solace to a wounded soul.

And that it is in our darkest hours that we see the magic of fireflies.

 

picture courtesy : fireflyexperience.org

Those Saturdays of August

The sleepy town slowly opens its eyes as the fury of monsoons turn into a pleasant  drizzle. The angry rivers have calmed down and the churning lake lay placid. There is a bright sparkle in those eyes that is otherwise stoic. The rhythm of a land starts reverberating in their steps. It is that time of the year, when the heart of a land beats in perfect rhytm to the clarion call of its boatsmen, “Aaarrrrpppo, Irrrro, Irrrro, Irrrro.” And for us kids, the culmination of an year of wait.

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The story goes back to the wars of yore between the small water logged kingdoms of Chempakassery, Kayamkulam, Thekkumkoor and Vadakkumkoor, parts of today’s Alapuuzha and Kottayam districts. The king of Chempakassery was a worried man after continuous defeats. He did a root cause analysis and arrived at the conclusion, his war boats were too slow and ill prepared. So started a search for an aashaaari, or a boat craftsman, that zeroed in on one Koduppunna Venkitanaryanan Aashaari. The rest, as they say, is history. The Aashaari crafted a long, sleek boat that could cut through water and carry more than hundred warriors at the same time. The long boats that were more than hundred feet long were called ‘chundan valloms’ after their pointed sterns. Wonder who translated it as ‘snake boats’. The helms supposedly looks like the hood of a king cobra. I’ve always thought it looks like the decorated trunk of an elephant.  Anyway,  the king of Chempakassery never had to look back again. The bollywoodesque epilogue has a dashing young guy sent as a spy by the king of Kayamkulam to learn the art of boat building. Seducing the aashan’s daughter and with promises of marrying her, the roguish spy learned the secret and promptly disappeared to build similar boats for his king. Alas, when it came to the proof of the pudding, or payasam as you would have it, his boats were nowhere near the original aashaari’s. The master craftsman was a crafty one, for sure.

The snake boats must have continued to be used as boats of war, but no particular stories seem to be recorded till our first Prime Minister decided to visit Allleppey and Kottayam in 1952. Around ten such boats accompanied him as he traveled in a motor boat across the water and a race was organized for his enjoyment. And enjoy, he did! Apparently, he was so excited that he jumped into the winner, the ‘Nadubhagom Chundan.’ He went back to the capital, but the excitement stayed with him. He had a replica made in rosewood and sent it back to Kerala and thus was born the now world famous Nehru Trophy Boat Race.

There was a time when I used to literally detest my village. Those were the days of youth and foolishness, when fast was better and slow was looked down on. Imagine a place where you could reach only by boat, that too after travelling for more than an hour and half. Wow, you say? Bah, would have been my retort. There were no roads, the only mode of transport was motor boats or the ones that someone had to row. Years had to go and the place turn distant for it turn into longing. Anyway, let me get back to our yearly wait.

The second Saturday of August needed no reminder in a calendar. It is etched in stone in the heart of every true Kuttanadan / Alleppey-ian. And like most of the other homes in the town, it was a day of festival when all the friends and relatives would descend in droves and walk as one to Punnamada Lake. No GPS was needed, the genes were grafted into the feet at birth.

Our family was large, especially on my mother’s side. Between my grandfather and his three siblings, there were thirty kids. And many of them were  just a few years elder to me. Yes, my uncles and aunts were more like my siblings. Led by my normally stern grandfather, at least fifteen of them would arrive by ten in the morning. Our young feet would be tapping in impatience if they were late even by minutes. The fire in our kitchen would have been burning overtime for the past few days, ending up on  a dining table that had not even a single inch uncovered by food. Off we would go, after a sumptuous lunch, with packets of crisp cutlets and bottles of water in hand, obediently like school kids out on a break, with grandfather in lead.

The Punnamada Lake borders the town of Alleppey and its canals lead to the largest lake In Kerala, the Vembanad Lake. The otherwise quiet waterways comes to life from early July, the time when the season of traditional boat races, or vallom kali, as it is called, starts. This was years before tourism and its by product, the house boats, became ubiquitous. Temporary galleries would come up, made of the trunks of arecanut trees and firmly held in place by sturdy coils of rope. Made in Alleppey, it was, totally.

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Spending money on fun was anathema, but this was life itself. And my grandfather would have only the best seats. By default we would, too. Another wait started. We had to claim our seats by 12, first come first served was the norm and the races started at 2. First would come the procession, all the participating boats out in full splendor, the boatsmen rowing in slow rhythm, the oars against the water as one, to the tunes of the traditional boat songs, the vanchi paattu.

The races started with the prelims or ‘heats’ as they were called. Four to five  rounds each and four to five snake boats in each round. The winners of these would compete in the finals. But in between, would be the others. Veyppu vallams, used for cooking, or veyppu, as it is called in  Malayalam, the Churulan vallams, that finds its name from their curved ends, and the Iruttukithi, literally meaning one that traverses darkness. The last one was supposedly used by pirates and hence the association with night. Then there was the customary round of woman’s boat race, usually in the Churulan variety. These were but mere interludes, when we feasted on cutlets and watched the antics of drunk guys frolicking in water.  The navy helicopters would come and we would watch in awe as the troopers parachuted down, dutifully bursting some colourful powder into the atmosphere, whence the very same copters would come back for rescue.

The fun started in all seriousness after that. First round after the interval was all the fourth place holders from the heats, then the ones that came third, the losers final and then the race of the day. The Nehru Trophy Finals. Yes, we had our favourite clubs and boats too. The sleek Kaarichaal, the stately Nadubhagom Chundan, the legendary Kavalam  Chundan whose heydays were over by then, the famous Jawahar Thaayamkari, the rebuilt Aanaari Puthan Chundan, were names that were etched in our hearts. And the last fight would almost always be between two stalwarts, UBC Kainakary and Kumarakom Boat Club.

The starting point was far away, for the track had to be that long for boats that were more than 100 feet long. The small transistor that grandfather carried came into handy to know who was leading. The whole gallery would move as one. Glistening bodies arching in rhythm, hundreds of oars cutting the lake as one, a single beat in those hearts and in ours, the ‘hee haw’ of the helmsmen, anything could change in a matter of seconds. The boats well oiled in sardine oil the previous day, glistening in the evening sun and gliding across the waves, and the quintessential nail biting finish. The winners raising their races in a unified salute, was a sight that filled our hearts to the brim and sometimes made it overflow, irrespective of who the winner is. I have goosebumps all over even as I watch this.

We grew up and apart. One after another, the family dispersed. Living room couches took the place of those makeshift galleries as Keltron TVs moved Punnamada Lake into our homes. As other interests and life interfered, Nehru Trophy turned into a news item in Malayala Manorama. As I read the Sunday newspaper announcing Jawahar Thaayamkari as this year’s winner, it doesn’t take even a moment to get transported back to those second Saturdays of August. And I realize, it is no more the races that I miss. It is that feeling of togetherness, of being connected. That seem to be lost, forever.

(photos courtesy – The Hindu, The New Indian Express)

Following Fish*

kuttanadMemories are strange creatures. It pounces up on you like lightning at times, shocking you out of your self imposed reverie. The thunder that follows shakes you up, the accompanying rain then leaving you in a safe, cool cocoon. Some of them are like naughty children, tantalizing you with their pranks and leaves a stupid grin on your face. Yet others are like those nasty relatives and bosses, never letting you forget,  opening up wounds the moment they start healing and the blood keeps dripping. Some float in,  as gentle as a breeze, ephemeral, fleeting moments of rapture and peace. Then there are those, deeply ingrained in your souls, the very core of what you are and have been, always. Do memories define us? The ones that we keep going back to, those that leave a languid smile on our face, where we go hiding from the world, the shelters where we feel as safe as a mother’s womb….those must be the real us. Where we are shorn of our masks, where we dance in abandon and pure joy. Yes, they speak about us, than a million words or zillion gestures ever could.

Samanth Subramanian is an author who I discovered recently. His second book came to me first – This Divided Island : Stories from the Sri Lankan War‘ is a collection of heart wrenching stories of a race battered and bruised by a useless war . He had written about an old bungalow with open verandas and where sea breeze came gentle, cool and unhurried. Suddenly, I was transported back to Alleppey, the place I grew up in. The recreation ground, the old Rest House watching over kids and grown ups playing cricket and the road that led to the beach. The old ‘kadal paalam‘* and its broken wooden planks, the countless packets of ground nuts roasted in sand, and the sea, sometimes calm, sometimes serious and then at times black with anger during the rains. Memories, they are strange , popping up at the most unexpected of times. The lines in the book are now long forgotten, the feeling of connect, still as fresh as the time the words passed through my eyes and into my soul.

Falling in love is not easy for me. But if I do, it is all encompassing. And there is this deep longing to know everything about my love. And I was in love, with this Tamilian boy and his writing. Alas, there was only one more book to know him. The moment I read the title, it was epiphany. This was a love for life. To the Kuttanaadan spirit in me, it is the food of the gods. Ambrosia. ‘Following Fish,’ did you say, Samanth? Oh yes, I will, to the end of the world. Starting from Kolkata and its Devi like Hilsa, on to Hyderabad and its miraculous fish-y asthma cure, to the Tamil Nadu village of St. Francis Xavier, he finally reached Kerala. To be precise, Alleppey. We started feeling like a ménage-a-trios. Alleppey, Samanth and me. Sounds quite romantic, doesn’t it? Yes, fish does that to me. Give me a pot full of fresh kallu, a plate of translucent, steaming kappa and some blood red mathi* curry any day. I would gladly trade that for anything. Well, almost anything.

A boat full of memories. Of worms unearthed, ponds, canals and rivers, of fishes caught, broken metal buckets that leaked like love from a grandmother’s heart, of country boats that capsized, floods that cried into the courtyards, of earthen pots and brick stoves, fire wood and chimney smoke….. of childhood, happy and free.

The lone coconut trunk lay supine, its youth spent, days of glory gone. The young feet took a few tentative steps, as if to make itself sure that the bridge would hold and not turn her over midway. Not that she  minded. A splash in the water would have been a welcome break from the warm summer. To call it a shop would be stretching even the imagination too far. A corner in a room, a few glass bottles over a table, half filled with mithais* in yellow, orange and white. The eyes never rested long on the colours, though. The fingers drummed on the metal lids and the old man smiled with a knowing twinkle in his eyes, as he tried to shake the drawers open. A few hooks and two rolls of tungsten. And at times a tiny plastic packet of salty lemon pickle. Just like that.

The tungsten tied expertly to of a long and sturdy branch, hook in place at the end, a coconut shell with muddy sand in it, the search begins. Patiently , delicately poking the sand with a twig at first. Then at a frantic pace, unearthing those wriggly, slimy pink forms, their rings glazing in the sun. Squirm they would, even after being chopped into two or three pieces. Everything was matter of fact. Being kind to animals stopped at feeding the hens, ducks, cows and calves. Worms were for fishes. Life was so simple, straight. It couldn’t but be, for we were the ones who would outrun the chickens, catch them and watch in pretended horror as someone slit their throats with an expert nick of their knives.

The rod held firmly in the right hand, the left hand tests the worm on the hook. A perfect arc and the bait would land safely in the river. And the wait begins. The breath was baited, as the hands longed to be pulled in. The trick was never to pull the line in at the first bite. Let the fish test its food, taste it and get hooked. A swift movement of the hand and a  fish danced in the air. The grip had to be gentle but firm. The hook slowly taken out, the catch would go into a ‘puttu kudam‘ half filled with water. Why was it always this narrow necked container, I wonder. Must be the neck. No scope for escape. Did the fish know it was us kids who caught them? The big ones never came to us. It was always the smaller ones. Did they think they were being invited to play with us?

There were others who went after the fish. Not the hard working ones with an oily sheen of sweat on their half naked bodies. These were the languid ones. A small net, or better still a hand made bow and arrow. They would come by at any time of the day. With eyes as sharp as Arjuna’s , they would stare into the water, seeing things we could never find, sensing movements we could only imagine. Whoosh! The arrow would fly. It was never free though, the poor thing. Always tied to the end of the bow, the arrow would be dragged in along with the fish. No sympathy, for the heart that was pierced. That was life.

The river flowed past, basking lazily in the sun in the mornings and rushing past in a huff as the summer showers slashed it mercilessly in the evenings. Water was everywhere, in all forms. The river, the small canals, a pond in the backyard, a well at the side and the remains of the rains in pools everywhere. And the fish. The huge karimeens that were delivered to order, the tiny ones that played with our feet and bit us as we kept still in the water, the yellow ones that frolicked in the pond, the red ones that rushed up as we threw them rice, the fierce looking kaari, the slimy koori, the tiny pallathi, the ones we caught between the ends of a thorthu, the njandus that walked liked drunkards and disappeared under the huge cauldrons. Shards of childhood, covered in mist. Like the melodious ‘kooiiii’ of the men casting nets as they fade away into the distant night.

Thank you Samanth, for bringing them a little closer , before they disappeared altogether.

* (‘Following Fish: Travels around the Indian Coast’ written by Samanth Subramanian is an anthology of real life observations as he travels along the coastline of India.  A chapter on Alleppey took me back home, to memories of long ago)

*

kadal paalam – bridge over sea

mathi – sardines

mithais – candies

puttu kudam – a pot with narrow neck used to make the traditional Kerala breakfast puttu

karimeen – pearl spot

kaari – cat fish

koori – mystus

pallathi – young pearl spot

thorthu – towel made of hand spun cotton

njandu – fresh water crab

 

 (Image courtesy – manoramaonline.com)

 

 

 

Going Solo : 7 Days of Solitude – Part 1

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“What?”

A look of total disbelief was the inevitable first reaction.

“Oh, you must be meeting your blog friends there,” so said those who know about this space.
“Meeting friends there?” asked a few.
“You must be joking,” said the others.
Patience has never been one of my virtues. I took the pain, nevertheless. As if explaining to a young child, ” Yes, you heard right. I am taking a vacation in Himachal. A week. All alone. No family. No friends.”
The reactions were quite interesting. Many of them, mostly the guys, looked at me as though I’d gone totally crazy. The women folk had a twinge of longing in their eyes as they told me, “I’ve always dreamed of something like this…….some day….”

Years ago….

The five year old girl sat staring out into the dark. The bus went up the winding roads, the scent of the strong breeze on her face was strange and new. The passing silhouettes were tall and imposing. As someone pulled down the dirty green shutters of the rickety old bus,the folds reminded her of the paper fans that she made with her sisters back home. There was a sudden feeling of loss, as if something that she loved deeply was denied to her, all of a sudden, without any reason. The next thing she remembers is waking up to hills all around. She could not understand the feeling of joy and the unexplainable heaviness in her heart. All she wanted to do was run up one of those fairway hills and wander around the woods like a carefree butterfly. As she returned to her home in the plains, it was as if she had left her very soul behind.  That day, the wind in the hills carried a few seeds in their wings, that of a lifetime longing.

Maybe it was something to do with the place that I grew up in. Wherever you turned to, it was water all around. Like life, the terrain was also flat,  it went on in the same manner, with no particular ups and downs.  There were visits to,the hills after that, the fascination only grew, transforming to an insatiable thirst, to be one among the clouds, to cavort around the hills, to feel its highs and lows, to inhale and infuse the scent into my soul and very being. Even after traversing up and down the Western Ghats, there was a feeling of not being complete, as if the soul was still searching for something that was lost long ago,  even though I couldn’t exactly put my finger on what I was searching for.

Somewhere in the not so adventurous school years, the mighty Himalayas found its way in. Like any another ambitious school kid, first it was Mount Everest that I wanted to conquer. As  lazy as I was even back then, that dream was shelved even before it grew wings. The highest peak was too much trouble. That was when the fragrance from the Valley of Flowers  seeped in. And there was no looking back. It’s another matter that the dream remained just that, for years.

I”m sure Paulo Coelho appropriated the thought from somewhere else. But that didn’t stop me from waiting for the conspiracy to come true – that of wanting something so badly that the Universe is forced to conspire. It took many years and a few jobs in between for the elements to join forces and present two whole weeks before me. No job. Nothing to be unduly worried about. It was as if the perfect opportunity dropped by itself, straight into my lap.

Unseen forces are always at work behind the scenes, don’t you think? Else, why would a friend decide to go to, of all places, Himachal Pradesh, and that too, a lovely place so unpretentiously named ‘Raju Bharti Guest House’?  He is a wandering soul himself, so caught on immediately as I voiced my plans. The winds were blowing this way, definitely. The place , which is normally booked months in advance  was free when I wanted. Even Vayu Bhagwan was kind , tickets available at half the normal price and that too, just for the two flights that I was looking at. My moment had arrived, definitely.image

 

It’s not for nothing that certain people in our lives are called the better halves. For, more often that not, they are far better at making us believe that we are capable of things beyond our belief. Yes, I had travelled alone before (mostly on work), knew the kids would be safe and sound, and there would be no tsunamis or earthquakes if I let go for a week. Still, there is this nagging guilt that is the birthright of many a woman like me, that it is not right to leave the family behind, to do something just for yourself, by yourself. The logical brain says, ‘bah! Humbug!’ ,  while the guilt inducing emotional side tries to nag, “should I ?” The practical man just said, “Go”.

And that is just what I did. Go. 7 days. Alone. No friends. No family.

Was it easy? Not initially. To get out of the comfort zone and do something out of the ordinary is not easy. However brave or unconventional others think you are. Some of the initial excitement turned into anxiety as the day approached. Chandigarh was a totally new place. There was no one or no where that I knew in the city. And I had to spend 8 hours there and catch an over night bus. Well, have I ever told you that angels do exist ? One phone call was all it took and there was a ready made family waiting for me there. Ruchira, whatever you might say, what you did  is something I can never thank you enough for.

Yes, there is an element of uncertainty at each step. What if I miss the connecting flight? What if I reach there in the middle of the night? What if the taxi driver is a criminal? What if the other people at the home stay is horrible? What if the place itself is not as I expected it to be? What if I meet with an accident? The what ifs are endless and can kill you, but only if you allow it a free reign.

The place was all mine for the first few days, another group that had made reservations cancelled at the last moment. Solitude was what  I asked for and that was exactly what Was given to me. I went on a short walk , a medium trek and a slightly harder one, all alone. There was anxiety, I have to admit. It was like learning to walk, in a sense. I had to stop for breath after every ten steps, but walk I did. And reached the end. And then walked all the way back. Trekked uphill, over narrow mountain paths, not a single soul around, in absolute wilderness. Yes, I was scared, more than a bit. But I knew I had to do it, for myself. I had to believe that this old bag of creaky bones still had something of the old spirit left in it. And believe I did. And was proved right. The body was weary in the end, but the spirit was soaring and the soul , triumphant.

“Didn’t you get bored?” many asked on my return. Not for a moment. Honestly. But then, I’ve always been a dreamer, who could spend hours by a river doing nothing. Wander around aimlessly, with nay a thought or worry in the world. And switch off from the rest of the world, easily. So there I was , waking up before six everyday, listening to the birds chirping around, talking back to the stream gushing by in all the excitement of youth, biting into juicy green apples straight off the tree, sitting by the river bed for hours, reading, writing, dreaming, even  dozing off now and then.

“What about my family?” you ask? The other half says I would have gone anyway, irrespective of his opinions. Maybe. But, the fact that he gave that push right from the moment I uttered “shall I ?” mattered, quite a lot. He did not have an iota of doubt, even if he had, loved me enough not to show it. And that glint of pride that I see in his eyes is proof enough, not that there is need for any proof. Without him here, I wouldn’t have done it, with such a sense of abandon. As for the kids, son seemed happy that there wouldn’t be anyone breathing down his neck for a week, especially with exams looming around the horizon. The drama queen that the daughter is, she tried her usual “I’ll miss you so much” routine and was duly silenced by the father, “it’s amma’s dream. Let’s her go and enjoy”. Thank God for kindred souls that turn into better halves.

Looking back, the trip and especially the trek feels like a dream.  Son asks half in earnest and half jokingly, “but amma, why did you have to go all the way to Himalayas for a walk?” My answer is instant and from the heart, “it was my dream.” Hopefully, that is what will remain in their young minds. That you could have dreams, and make them come true. Even mothers. Especially mothers.

 

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The Goan Holiday

So, finally we made it. The trip that has been in the works ever since we decided to take the plunge some thirteen years ago. Along the years, we added a few vehicles, a couple of kids and a home, not necessarily in that order.  The famed beaches of Goa kept beckoning throughout . Time and experience is still trying to teach me to grab  what I want, and this time I decided to heed their call.

The men wanted a resort and the women refused to resort to commercial hubs. Who won, is as always, a moot point. The trip started with a solo drive of five hundred kilometers through the lovely countryside of Karnataka…

country

….then a joint one through the last hundred and twenty five through  rain washed ghats…..

ghat

….and finished with the final five hundred meters with a daring drive ithrough probably the narrowest stretch of road in all of Goa.

We reached a small capella and an inviting sign board that pointed us to a driveway strewn with leaves and wild grass…..

driveway

…that led us to the most welcoming entrance that I had seen in a long time.

entrance

Cool and warm, overgrown shrubs and huge trees all around, there was nothing organized and artificial about the place. The plants grew at their own pace and flowered on will. There were leaves strewn everywhere and grass peeping up in some places and thriving in others. One look at the garage, the man was at home.

bikes

A peep inside, and I knew I had reached home as well.

inside

Two flights of steps made of solid stone up , the door opened to small passage, with a window that looked down…

courtyard window

….into a courtyard below

courtyard

The beds were huge and comfortable …

beds

….and the writing desk a piece of paradise….

shelf

The balcony opened out to another piece of heaven…

balcony

Sipping our morning tea, we felt like royalty…

tea

….yes, we did see some of the most beautiful beaches…..

aguada

…and thanks to our friend who stays in Goa, got around to one that was practically deserted. The kids and of course the parents, had their tummy full of salt water

morjim

Father and kids just fooled around in the pool the last day …..

jump

…while the mother curled herself up here

veranda

….leafing through some real treasures

ayesha books

The place belong to the lovely couple, Jamshed and Ayesha who runs J&A’s Ristorante Italiano in Bardez, Goa. Your eyes are sure to pop out as Ayesha tells you the house is just about seven years old. The love for details and passion to get things just right and totally at home is so evident as she goes on to say how the doors and windows and beams were brought in from second hand markets in Bombay and how they were lucky enough to inherit most of the antique furniture from their families.

The attention for even the smallest things is amazing, and I cannot but post some pictures of the lovely bathroom. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration when I say that one could easily spend a day in there…

bath

….even the soap dish captured my heart

soap dish

Yes, we feasted on the famous vindaloos and sorpotels …

sorpotel

….and an array of Goan fish delicacies….

fish thali

….but it is Capella that is going to stay with us for a long time. Kids know how to put feelings into words so well, as my six year old keeps saying, “I want to live there for ever”

capella 2

Epiphany struck the last night. The man in love with his bikes and jeeps, the woman with a treasure trove of books and love for cooking, and a home that is built from their heart and soul. Were we looking at a slightly older and far better looking versions of ourselves?

pictures courtesy – the man 🙂