The wind carries many memories.
Here, stranded in a foreign land, away from friends and family; I am reminded of home as I sit in my room and listen to the wind outside.
It is the breeze from the mountains, cheeky and fresh. I feel like a grandpa trying to amuse my mischievous 12 year old grand daughter. She darts this way and that, pulling at your hair one moment, hiding behind the trees the next. Her presence and gaiety awaken a spirit in me that I thought I had lost long ago in the scramble of growing up.
The wind carries many memories.
As it touches my face, I am reminded of sleepy mornings at my father’s home in Palakkad. I spent many childhood summers in that ancient house. Going there used to be a ritual that our family went through every summer. Achan (meaning father in Malayalam) would take a couple of days’ leave from work and we would take a train to Palakkad Junction.
The trip to the country was an adventure for me and my older brother. Amma (mother) would dress me and my brother in our best clothes. We were visiting our old relatives who would judge my parents based on how well-behaved my brother and I were. Before leaving, Amma would coach us on how to conduct ourselves. In the city, I was allowed to be a tomboy. But at Palakkad, I had to be a “girl”. “Don’t splay your legs out in front of you. Sit neatly. Always keep your hair neat. Don’t ask me stupid questions when we are there,” Amma would go on the day before we left. The plastic earrings Amma sent me to school in (for fear that I would lose the gold ones) were discarded. On the day of the journey, I was all decked up in gold and silver. My hair was oiled and neatly tied in a pony tail. I even had to wear kajal and a bindi. I was ready to take on the countryside and charm my way into my aunts’ good books.
The train journey was our favourite part of the trip. My brother and I would fight for the window seat. He usually won. I would have to wait until some passenger got up to claim my seat next to the window. We would eagerly wave goodbye to the familiar places of our city as we passed them. The rest of the journey was a visual treat for eyes that were used to the drab landscape of cities. Green paddy fields stretched on for acres and rivers calmly flowed by. Achan would point out the Chalakkudy River, the Kerala Kalamandalam, the Bharathapuzha and several other places on the way. We never got tired of these sights no matter how many times we travelled on that route. We munched on hot parippuvada and pazhampori brought by the pantry staff on the train. My parents would sip tea in paper cups with the strings of Taj Mahal teabags hanging from their rims.
Soon it was time to get off at the station. Achan insisted that we cross the railway lines carrying our luggage so that he could take his old shortcut home. On the way, he would stop to greet a white haired old man he had known as a child. He would smile at us and we would smile back although we didn’t know who he was. We didn’t understand what he said to my Achan because he had no teeth and this distorted his speech. After he walked past, we would ask my Achan who he was and he would struggle to explain the long chain of relations that connected us to that old man without teeth.
Our house was situated on an upward incline. The gate creaked as it opened and this would alert my aunt to our arrival. She came out and stood on the doorstep to greet us. We would lug our bags up the incline and deposit them by the door. We would stand there, panting, and survey our surroundings. The elders would comment on the reduction in the number of fruits borne by the mango tree by the front yard and the health of the coconut palms. Once this ritual was done we would go inside and freshen up. We would be given tea and then be left to our own devices.
My brother and I explored the house and the grounds. The house managed to look old no matter how many times my aunt got the walls painted. The clay tiles on the upper floor threatened to give away as we kids ran all over it. Despite its age, the house remained handsome and graceful; like my grandmother’s portrait hanging on the sitting room wall.
The only person who ever walked around the compound during those days was the girl who came to sweep the ground and keep it clear of weeds. Achan and his siblings had left the old house to live in their own cities. An old aunt looked after the house while we visited her during the summer vacations. The house came alive as my brother and I discovered its secrets.
Amma would wake me up the next morning and send me off to brush my teeth. She can go about her day’s work peacefully only once I’m bathed and fed.
The bathroom indoors is for the older people. The children brush their teeth standing by a low tap outside the kitchen. The cold water and the fresh breeze pried my sleepy eyes wide open. From where I stood, I could see the outline of the distant Thoni Mountains, hidden behind wisps of cloud. The wheel, to which the bucket for carrying water from the well was tied to, creaked as the wind pulled at the bucket’s rope. I could hear the sound of rodents scampering over the firewood dumped in the old cow-shed.
The cool mountain breeze was all around me as I stood there – a 10 year old girl – mesmerized. The memory was to be etched in my mind forever, taking me home when I was lonely and tired in the city.