Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Summer Hols and Nostalgia

When I was younger and still in school, every summer vacation my sister and I would be dragged by our mother for our yearly 2 month stay to our native place in Kerala. Now you have to understand, Kerala of those days is a long cry away from the Kerala of now and a further cry away from Bombay which is where we used to live. Kerala is full of picturesque villages by the sea or a lagoon and thatched or tile roofed cottages surrounded by acres of courtyard, endless seas of paddy fields, thousands of nodding coconut trees, men in mundus (dhotis) and girls in pavaddai (long skirts), huge temples, ponds, wells, tiny boats, small dusty roads, lemonade stalls selling extra sweet lemonade, beedis and banana fritters. And now picture Bombay...with its busy roads, busy people, concrete jungles, planned housing societies, matchbox sized flats, sound pollution, air pollution...

In those days getting to Kerala meant a 2 night travel in the sleeper class compartments of "Jayanti Janata" which was what used to run between Bombay and Kanyakumari in the days before Konkan Railway was born. Dad would usually join us later for a week or so and hence the train travel was under the watchful eyes of Mom who would cook and pack food and fried snacks to suffice us the duration of the travel. At the end of the train journey on the 3rd day, in the wee hours of the morning, sis and me used to emerge excited, sleepy eyed, dirty, hoarse(having played 'antakshari' for 2 whole days at the top of our voices) and best pals with the kids in the neighbouring cubicles of our compartment. The after effects of the long train travel persisted the rest of the morning and well into the afternoon during which time S and me both would feel as if our whole body is still swaying and the train's 'chug-chug-chug' would still echo in our ears.

The next 2 months would be heavenly... no homework, no studies, no exams, no tests, no ear-twisting. Mom could not scold/punish us since we had our grandparents and uncles and aunts to save us from her wrath. We would spend these months being spoilt by a clan of relatives.

My grandma owned a cow which she used to milk every morning around 5:30. I would wake up early and go help her, by holding the tail of the cow to prevent her from swishing it at Grandma and fanning the cow so that no flies would disturb her calm. After this chore and some strong hot coffee (no Bournvita!!) I would go help Grandpa pick cashews in the orchard... this was one of my favorite things to do... Grandpa and I would walk for hours and he would tell me stories from his youth and also of my Dad's childhood days.

After lunch when everybody would be inside enjoying their afternoon siestas and escaping the sun I would play by myself with my imaginary pets (I had a dog and a horse), read a book by the pond, climb trees, eat mangoes, talk to the calf, sketch, write long letters to my school friends and dad, rummage in the attic for my dad's comics or just sit and watch an army of ants or spiders going about their business.
Summer vacations were also the times to watch Amitabh movies and Tom and Jerry cartoons in an endless loop, eat hundreds of mangoes/guavas/jackfruits, play in the sand and drink gallons of Rasna.

Every evening Grandma would light the 'diya' at the altar and me and my cousins would all sit down and sing our repertoire of bhajans at ear-splitting volumes. I remember the evening power cuts which were spend playing cards or carroms or better still sitting out in the garden under the endless skies, surrounded by the perfumes wafting from the Jasmine, Parijatha, Mogra bushes and watching dozens of fireflies twinkling all around, lying in Grandma's lap while she fanned me with her antiquated fan and listen to stories from the Ramayana and Mahabharata.

As I write this am slowly overpowered by the memories of those days, the food, the smells, the sounds, the stories, laughter, games, fights... how lucky I am to have had these experiences, to have had the chance to enjoy these simple things and to now have such powerful and lucid memories which I can recall whenever I wish.

And I pity the present generation of kids. Them with all their electronic toy marvels, their Mc Donald's happy meals, E-story books, Cable Television, Air conditioned malls, Video Games, X-boxes, Mp3 players and low fare domestic flights! They have no clue what they are missing!!