Tuesday, June 21, 2005

Vishu trip!

This is one of my older write ups... posting this just so i can have a centralized place for these small write ups that i have:
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As usual, the chill wind woke me up. I almost always select bus travel as my mode of travel from my professional home of Chennai to the home of my heart – Kerala. And almost always, it is the chill wind of Kerala, just after the entry at check post that wakes me up. I wake up to the lush green trees around me, to the sight of the bus waiting at the check post for clearance. I wake up to my home. But this time it was different. I was coming home for Vishu. It was after 9 long years that I was going to be a party of Vishu celebrations with three generations of my family. I could not wait to get back home.

As usual, the clearance got late; as usual, I could not control my excitement and I jumped into a local bus to get me to the town faster; and as usual, after ten minutes through my journey, I saw my bus from Chennai overtaking the bus I was in, hoping to reach the town faster. Sigh! Certain things never change!

After two bus journeys, one from the check post to the town and the other from the town to my village, I realize how an actor feels. In a drama, the stage always remains there. The Actors go on and off stage. And every time the actor comes on stage, he is back home! It is exactly how I felt then. The trees had gone a wee bit older, the unpaved roads had gone a little dustier and the old gates and fences had become slightly more rustic, but it was there – the stage was there.

The gates to my grandmothers opened wide, but not wider than the smile that lit up her face at seeing that sight. It never ceases to amaze me as to how this wonderful lady could always bring in so much of love and so much of peace to me. Both of us cannot resist hugging each other before she throws me off and says “Uggghhh .. u have collected the entire dirt of everyone and everything in the bus.. Take a bath and go get yourself clean.” With a wink and a small kiss on the little lady’s forehead, I would smile and make my ways inside the house. I am back! And how much ever I try, I cannot resist sipping the nice (and delightfully huge) glass of tea, standing in the backyard before my bath. With nice scented oil in my hair and a towel on my shoulder, I would stand there relishing the clean air and the wonderful smell of my own house. The chitter-chatter of the vessels in the kitchen (Hey, there had better be some nice cooking, the young one is home!) the calls of the neighbors seeing me, everything repeats as clockwork. My grandmother would sit in the dining table right behind me and would read the paper aloud. The servants, who are as much a part of our household as I am, would lovingly scorn at my grandmother for having done something she should not have. And with all the youth and vigor that only a young women of 70 can posses, she would bite back.

There is only one thing that can break my reverie and hurry me to take my bath. The spittle of water and hiss of oil in the dosa tawa before the ‘maavu’ is spread on the tawa! The oil on my hair would have been replaced with water (not completely toweled ) and my dirty clothes would have given way to a nice white mundu- shirt as i sit on the dining table joining my grandmother in front of the hot and yummy dosas. In between eager mouthfuls of dosas dipped in spicy chutney, I would update my servants on the latest happenings on my life and also update myself on the happenings by trying to read the paper. I am sure the ladies of the kitchen must be equipped with some kind of telepathy, for just as I tend to stop with the seemingly unstoppable hand-to-mouth actions, the steaming glass of tea reaches the table.

With a satisfied belly and very satisfied heart, I would lean back, enjoying myself the uncivilized pleasures of licking my fingers and sipping on the ever-silver glass of tea.

My grand mother would sit next to me, massaging her legs with oil – as a part of the preparations for her bath. She would hum some nice song or talk to me about the plans of what we have to do in the coming days together. Usually, I exist in that world for a weekend, so it would be either plans to go and watch a new movie or some movie that she had missed. But this time it was slightly different. The entire family is to gather for this Vishu. And the conversation revolved around who were there previously and who had done what and how and when everyone is coming to the celebration; what crackers have we gathered, who likes what crackers… and the tea!! Life could not get better. And this already sweet tea was interspersed with more sweetening of the instructions to the servants to ensure that they have procured all the vegetables and ingredients required for the big ‘sadya’ on the eve of Vishu!

With a wonderful smile, my grandmother would then finally say “So, let me take a bath!” The entire procedure including the mise-en-place and the actual event of a bath would take more than an hour. I walk to the kitchen to request for another glass of tea and retire to the living room, sitting comfortably in the easy-chair, which was a fixture of the house from the days I could remember, with my legs over the arm rest, the glass of tea delivered to the window still, and a paper on my hands. Everyone knows the outcome.. the glass of tea half consumed, the news on the paper not even half consumed, I would land in the world of dreams.

We can jump onto internet, do commerce at the speed of light, make friends with any person across the globe in seamless realization, but nothing can ever take away the peace and pleasure of being where you belong. It makes me wonder, where does civilization take me, or is it that I belong to the side-lane where I prefer to stand back and look and amaze at the technology movement? I am reminded of ‘Agent smith’ in the cult movie Matrix, who while searching for Neo, stands in a railway station and puts his head in a moving train to look through the entire train as the trains race ahead. I guess that is how I also feel. Deep roots strongly within this realm, I feel i dip my head in the racing technology train to get a glimpse! There is only one problem. Almost the entire world is in the train and that makes it imperative for anyone to make a trip in the train, so do I, so do I! Also, even in this serene tranquil world, where time is told not by digital beeps but by the patter of the multitude of school children’ feet running after the school hours (which signifies four o’ clock and time for another glass of tea and evening snacks), technology has started to creep in.

The day goes on with the love and care of my grandmother. The next day, one of my uncle and his family arrives. The huge house which anyways never looks empty was becoming even more alive – with sounds of little feet running around, with sounds of little bodies tripping and falling, with warning cries of parents… the home was building itself up. My uncle has two kids – I should not say kids anymore, they have grown to the age where you feel you are an adult and you should be treated that way! It was after a long time that I was seeing them and it was nice being jumped on (albeit from heavier feet and bodies!) and being hugged! The pleasures of technology have enabled me to bring in the power of visual memories capture through my handy-cam. The memories and the sound became even heavier and louder when my second uncle arrived with his son. His arrival was announced, as he blew the small bugle that he keeps in his car!

On check with the stock of crackers, the expert opinion was given. They are not enough! There was no second opinion. “Let’s Go! Let’s Go!” But before this aim was to be achieved, there was another small unfinished business to be attended to. The all-so–awaited bath in the river! The whole battalion of my cousins, led courageously by me, started to the river. Nothing comes free of cost, does it? As much as the creep of technology had brought TVs, radio and a plethora of convenience equipments, it had also caused erosion of sand from the river-beds for construction use. So we had to walk a couple of kilometers to reach the place where we could conveniently take bath. There were no complaints, all of us would love the walk though the unpaved roads, teasing and victimizing each other. There was nothing that could stop those young naughty guys to jump into the river directly, once we reached the banks.

Some memories are frozen in time as photo prints of the time when I was small enough to be led by my uncles to the river. One of them, shows me and my two elder cousin brothers in the river, frozen in the moment of jumping over each other! It is one of the most loved photos in the album.. and today, I felt a sense of deja-vu. I was sitting on the bank of the river with my handycam on my hand watching the memories etch itself on the cobalt tape as my cousins splashed water around everywhere and jump all over each other! Time had come one full round and I was still here. Civilization had not drugged me, technology had not corrupted me. The only thing that was corrupting me that moment was the temptation to jump into the water. And I indulged. After few minutes of memory generation, I put everything aside and I jumped in to meet my cousins in the water.

It was only when we were trying to walk back to our house, late in the evening when we realized, how far our enthusiasm had carried us! We had to actually mark a pit stop in the middle of our trek back to stop in a shop and force the shopkeeper – cum – juice maker to make ‘nannari-serbath’ ( a concoction of lime, soda and a flavored syrup) for us. It was not a surprise to us that we kept on drinking for a long time, until he ran out of lemon, but it was definitely a surprise to the man on the other side of the counter that his serbeth had suddenly become so popular. Had he belonged to the ‘techno-civilized’ era, he just might have measured the amount of ingredients he mixed that day, maintained the recipe as one of the most closely guarded secrets in the world and started bottling his product! The second pit stop came when we came across a shop selling crackers. We stopped there to balance our load; My load was lightened with a largely light wallet and my little cousins shared a lot of my weight by way of the new cracker packets got in exchange of my wallet contents!

The night before was alive with my grandmother making preparations for the Vishu morning. The traditional vessels came out, were filled with the fruits and vegetables in front of the picture of Lord Krishna and a mirror. This was the arrangement for ‘Kani-kaanal’, the event that marks seeing the Almighty as the first sight in the morning. In the morning, the children were bought in by their parents, eyes covered, in front of this arrangement, now complete with ‘Konna’ flowers and the yellow glow of the lamps glowing in front of the arrangement. All of us would sit in front of this arrangement and would open our eyes to be greeted by this wonderful sight of the Almighty himself covered in the yellow glory of the lighted lamps. It is a sight unparalleled by anything at all in the whole world. It is not just the sight of the Almighty, but also the realization of the anticipation of seeing the result of preparation on the previous night. And suddenly, everything gets back to normalcy and eh, a little urgency! The crackers, are waiting!

When you look at it for the first time, there is a huge load of crackers, but three generations of hands trying to reach into the packets deplore them in a speed that challenges the speed at which the Chennai Auto-rickshaw meters move! The whole front yard, well swept by the ladies of the household the night before, echoes with booms, cracks and fizzes. And in between this run down and flying booms, the elders of the house would search for you to give the ‘Kaineettam’, the first earning for the year. We would all accept it with blessings from our elders. Without age bar, all of us across the generations would seek blessings by touching the feet of our elder. I missed my grandfather then. Of the vivid memories etched in my heart, I would accept the token money from him which would come to my hand with so much of love, affection and a big smile which even now I cannot forget. He is one man whom I have found very difficult to imitate and very easy to admire. I am taken out of this reverie, as soon as I get into it, by my cousin who was ardently waiting for me to light a cracker that was too dangerous for him to do himself!

The dawn would wake up to he rough sound of sweeping broomsticks across the loose gravel of the front yard. These thin sticks sweep the cracker remains off the yard, but nothing could take away the lingering smell of crackers, the sense of enthusiasm and the sense of peace and happiness that enveloped all of us that morning. There is a dome in Pondicherry, I have heard, that houses a crystal in the center and allows a ray of sunlight to be hit on this. This crystal disperses the sun ray and provides light for the dome. People say that as u walk towards the crystal there is a moment, when your eyes fall on the strong rays and you are blinded for an instant. That instant, you feel absolute perfect peace. But, they warn you, it is for an instant as the next moment, you are back in this world.

I experience the same peace, the same sanity, the same absolute serenity when I revel in this atmosphere. My people. My home. This is where I belong and irrespective of what I do where I go, I would always belong. Nothing, absolutely nothing in this world, can take this away from me. Until, death do us part, that is. But even after, I know, that ‘The music in my heart I bore, Long after it was heard no more.’ How much ever I discover new technology, how much ever technology eases our life, whatever distance the rockets can take you, I wonder if they would ever be able to take this out of me. I do not search for a realization here, nor do I make a derivation from the facts. I know this and I always knew this. If not for this, I would not be what I am now. My body might be constituent of blood, flesh and bones, but this is what makes ME. ‘This’ is a constituent of the sunlight, of the green leaves, of the dust that sifts in the sunlight, of water that flows in the river, of the happiness that surrounds us all and of the energy that moves through this all. ‘This’ is my root, my identity, me.

The wonderful smell of brewing tea wakes me up and I happily consent to being a part of the noise, to the songs, to the cries (“look amma, he has taken my glass of tea!”), to the clear voice that reads aloud the news, to everything. Normal life takes it toll again, the rush for taking bath (and the long walk that comes before getting to the river! – bathrooms, did you say a bathroom, the enclosed room?). the day passes in its own hum, after a wonderful lunch which is a subjective realization of all the vegetables and ingredients that piled up right in front of my eyes in the previous days! As we all crowd together in the same room, trying to watch TV and sleep off as soon as we convince that others that the movie that you want to watch is the best, the house becomes slightly less noisy. Only till the evening arrives with more energy and more talks!

As days pass, some uncles have to leave and some stay back for some more days. One of the days we decide we must make a small trip to a temple nearby. With no schedules or no bosses to stop you from, there was no delay in the trip. This temple is to be accessed on foot, crossing fields and railway tracks. The temple is a single sanctum sanctorum covered by a wall. It stands on the bank of a river, by the side of a huge banyan tree. With no cellular phone beeps, no ‘sundall’ sellers and no plastic waste dropped around, it is a sight to behold. The huge banyan tree flaps its leaves with a murmur sound, set on a base made for people to rest and a temple silhouetted against the horizon next to it. The setting sun adds to the beauty of the temple. You walk down the irregular stone steps to the river and dip in it before entering the temple. It is not the sounds that fill your senses, nor splendid sights that fills your eyes, not phenomenal smell that fills your nose, but the entire feeling that fill your senses. The climb back up the stones lead you to the temple, where the Almighty gives his darshan to you as a ‘Swayambhu’ ( a deity formed out of natural causes). The walk back to the car on the road is a dream one, with my grandmother’s hand in my hand, and filled with talks of the era not yet totally bygone, but still on the rolls of ‘past tense’. Once we reached the car, my grandmother had a small request “The ‘mannaathi’ (the lady who washes, starches and irons clothes) have not come for a week. I heard she is sick, can we go visit her?” It is one big family in the village. And we go.

The house was well known to the people sitting under the darkening sky in the road side tea shop. Directed by them, we went up an alley. A small girl was sent to direct us to the right house by the inhabitants of the first wrong house we visited in the alley. A simple village girl, she marched and jumped while leading us to the point where she pointed the right house to us. Civilization made me utter the words in reflex ‘Thank you’. It was not the reply that surprised us, it was the speed and reflex with which the reply came ‘You are Welcome’!

As Gandhi once said “Western Civilization. A Good idea”!!!!!!!!!!