Mangalore is a coastal city in the southwest of India. Coconut trees, paddy fields, buffalo races, temples, beaches, a life that moves at it’s own pace is what makes this place so different from the other cities in India. It was the only place I visited year after year, every summer holiday because it was where grandma lived. I don’t remember being bored or wanting anything else. I would look forward to these holidays with enthusiasm every year.
Grandma’s home had many, many rooms that could house the entire family at any point in time- uncles, aunts, cousins, their children.A home which had paddy fields at the back, the village school in the front and neighbors on both sides, who knew each other for generations.
Writing this post today, makes me nostalgic. I vividly remember loving every moment of my time there- right from the minute the flight hovered over the little airport built on a mountain top, to reaching home 16 kms away (though it always felt like a never-ending distance with the number of turns, bumpy roads and slow moving traffic). Stepping out of the airport, the tall coconut trees, the fresh country air, the smell of the earth after the rains, seemed to say that nothing had changed . The warm, humid air, the sound of “Kannada”, “Tulu”, “konkani” (languages spoken in Mangalore) were as welcoming as everything else (when one is away in a foreign land, the joy of hearing one’s language is unfathomable). I was home! Getting in to the car at the window seat, I would roll down the window, to take in the smell of salt and fish in the air, to feel the wind in my hair and the drops of rain that kissed my cheeks. Rickshaws, cycles, buses spilling with people, grazing cows, fishermen selling fish on the roadsides, fleeting sights that my little heart pined for. When the car approached ‘Pumpwell roundabout‘ my heart would beat faster. That meant grandma’s home was near. Another few kilometers on the road, passing by a temple built on a lowland , then two little hills on either side of the road and the final turn into the village in which Amma (that’s what I called my grandmother, that’s what my mother called her and it actually meant mother) lived. As the house came closer, I felt my heart would burst. It’s funny how I felt the very same feelings every holiday , every single time I went to granny’s house and though years have passed, that feeling remains the same; not dimmed by age or dulled by the experience of travelling far and wide. The car would screech to a halt at the gate and at the door would be Amma, eyes filled with love and the kindest of smiles.
Holidays were spent following Amma like a lamb… watching her grind the masalas for the day’s meal on a grinding stone (everybody in the village said Amma had magic in her hands; she could make the simplest of dishes special (she would close the windows and doors while the food cooked as the aroma could tempt the neighbors, she would tell me wisely).
There was a novelty about everything she did- bringing ‘life’ to normal daily chores. In complete amazement, I would watch her as she drew water from the well, cleaned the fish sitting humped on a small wooden seat to which was attached a sickle; see the crows dive down to get the insides’ of the fish that she would throw at the foot of the coconut tree, watch the cat scare away the crows, see her ‘shoo’ away the neighbors’ hens from the compound as they would destroy her well-tended plants or chase the street dog away , that had made the unpardonable mistake of wandering in through the iron gates; with a volley of words and a swinging baton. Grandma was like a soldier- alert on all fronts and at all times. Even the unpredictable Mangalore rains couldn’t get her family’s clothes wet as she would swoop down to pick the clothes on the line before the drops touched the ground.
If all this was not enough, at night she would tell me stories from the great Indian epics –Ramayana and Mahabharata. I knew the stories verbatim but I loved listening to her soft, mellodious voice against the quiet of night; only to be broken by the sound of crickets. With one hand on my head patting me to sleep, she would tirelessly fan me with a newspaper as power-cuts were a norm in those days…and still are, though much lesser.
During the day-time, on days she was not troubled by the rains or a wandering animal or the little kids of the village who threw stones at the mango tree in our compoun hoping to get some of the sweet, juicy, ripe mangoes, she would tell me stories of grandfather and show me treasures of the past- a “Turkey towel” that grand-dad got for her in 1945 when he was posted as part of the Indian army, in Chandigarh- white and soft- as fresh as the love with which she spoke about him , her wedding sari – orange brocade, wrapped in a white, muslin cloth. The zari (gold thread-work) on the sari had dulled over the years but her eyes were still as bright as they may have been on her wedding day as she touched it – the work so intricate and rich. I had heard these stories a hundred times but I could never tire of listening to them again. It was our special time together , when I felt like a responsible adult discussing important things with her.
Grandmother was far ahead of her times- she had completed her grade 10 which was a significant achievement in the 1930s, wore heels on ‘katcha’ (unpaved) roads during her young days, kept abreast of the news and loved discussing politics. It was from her that I learnt to fight for my beliefs and to stand strong in the face of troubles. Grandma was my first hero and will always be…
Twenty years later, the house has been renovated but it still has albums of our childhood in an old wooden cupboard which is not opened regularly (the cobwebs between the cupboard doors tell the story), books that I had read as a child, line the shelves on the walls- Malory Towers, Famous Fives, Nancy Drews, Ramayana, Mahabharata , Tell Me Whys and many more; the pages have yellowed with time but the memories they bring back are fresh. I remember the hours that I would spend on the terrace under the shade of the guava tree, lost in another world until I heard Amma calling me down for lunch. My coin collection which found it’s way to my grandmother’s house from my parents house lies on a mantle untouched (but dusted); bringing back memories of my dad’s many travels and the coins he brought back.
The steel Godrej cupboard shrieks (it obviously needs oiling) as you jerk it open. In it, lie my oil paintings- the ones I had done in Grade 9-safely kept like they belong to Michelangelo or Leonardo Da Vinci. There is an old diary, a letter pad, some other papers, each with a story of it’s own, even some college notes and a cassette player, just as I left it. This room was mine during my college days and though it’s been years that I moved out, it still feels the same. For a moment it seems like time has stood still and these paraphernalia lie there awaiting my arrival; each visit they bring back a new memory of the past – some sweet, others not so sweet, yet memories that I would not erase for anything in the world. Each little belonging, a piece of the jigsaw puzzle that makes ‘ME’ – a stark reminder of my roots …admonishing me, no matter where I go or what I do, this place is my history, as true and real as the blood that flows in my veins, my harbor to which I need to return to and anchor myself just once in a while…to be able take the journey forward.
No matter how far one travels and wherever one goes, one needs to return to the harbor and anchor oneself just a little, just once in a while and just take a moment to remember how far one has come…
My kids, my younger sister with their great grandmother at the revamped portion of the house…
Not everyone may be as fortunate to have the luxury of having a room full of memories to return to…because of time, distance or no reason at all.
Memories then need to be engraved in the heart, etched in the mind or utmost carried in a backpack. Roots need to be hard-coded to have an innate sense of belonging and identity and a soul that is nourished -not shallow, blurred and lost in the noise and chaos around the world for that is what makes us…our roots!