On being home…

It started with a coffee conversation with a friend who said “Unlike you, I actually like staying at home you know.” I was stunned. When did I ever give the impression that I hate staying at home? He just shrugged his shoulders and said that it is quite obvious that you don’t really like staying in Kerala. I opened my mouth to argue, but words seemed to have dried up. Goodness gracious – have I really been giving that impression? I know that I crib about home, but have I really been permeating that impression?

I realize that I have. But the worst discovery was to realize that I have become the kind of person who cribs about everything that she once believed was sacred. Of course, I have changed a lot over the years and my priorities and perceptions have changed. But the past has not – and I have no reason to believe that the present is different from the past – so when did I become this person who has given up on nostalgia; who has moved across time with no appreciation for each moment; who has left behind people, relationships, love and faith and traded it for a life which has no past, no heritage?

This time I went to Kerala I met one of my cousins after a long long time. This was the guy I had a crush for the first fifteen years of my life. And I was actually dreading to meet him. The first few minutes were very awkward where I groped for words. But within minutes, we were confiding to each other and it seemed like the connection had never ended. Oh I was no longer in love with him, but there was this comforting familiarity and affection, which seemed to make no demands on me. I was left wondering as to why I hadn’t written to him over the past five years. I made a resolution of keeping in touch with him. The visit ended and a month later, I still haven’t. Is this some kind of inertia or is it just damn indifference?

And my gaga talk about Kerala – does it sound like the gushing of a tourist? Does the beauty I describe, the people I depict, the culture I profess to love – some kind of snobbish fantasy? As I talk about loving the rains in Kerala, I forget that not once I have danced in the rains (in the past 5 years). As I discuss heatedly about Mal movies, I forget that I am no longer living the scenes which have inspired them. As I go to a fancy Mal restaurant, I forget that I haven’t eaten had the sadya at our tharavadu for years now. As I listen to Mal songs, I forget that I don’t really know what they mean. As I write about Mal tourism, I forget that I should have been writing on home instead.

Home was once a village – a huge house built on over the years in all directions – set in a hollow with rubber trees all around. Home was a family sized family with three uncles and two aunts and a bunch of over bearing cousins. Once upon a time, a little girl would be counting the days to the summer vacation. Each trip from Nasik to Kerala would be a huge adventure. The train journey took three days but she would wake up early on the third day and watch the dawn. She would climb on to her father’s lap and gaze at the lush greenery, totally fascinated. When the auto reached the house, there would be a group of people waiting around to see the family who have come from ‘Bombay’. She would hang around shyly, before running to visit the rubber thottams. As she played around, she dreamed of growing older, getting married to the cousin and singing around in the thottams. Each day was special – and there seemed to be too little time for everything. Going to the temple early in the morning, going to the river for a boat ride, trying to walk on the coconut bridges over the thodu, sleeping with some ten cousins on two huge beds in the afternoon, the ‘nammal cholal’ in the evening, and playing cards on the terrace, late at night – she loved every moment of it. When there was a wedding, it was even better. She enjoyed the hustle and bustle, loved the huge gold necklace that her mother put on her, loved the “mulla mottu” in her hair, loved dancing in front of all the crowd. She put in her cousins in the “palla” and pulled them around in the courtyard; made “chaka pazham” curry in coconut shells, and pretended to be a Mal movie actress.

Few years later, the little girl actually settled in Kerala. By then there were money troubles in the family, and she was old enough to see the cracks in the relationships. There were joys – but there were far more resentments. Through a child’s eyes, everything looked beautiful. Everybody was nice or bad – no half way shades. As an adult, she found the term “shades of grey” and started using it in every other sentence. Simple things now seemed complicated. And then there was education – and exposure. Once upon a time, a wedding just meant lot of people and lots of fun. Now there was outrage at the amount of dowry given, the gossip, and the unnecessary expense. Once there were people and there were people. Now there was ‘society’, and with it came the terms ‘apathy, narrow-mindedness, inertia’ and so on. There was the occasional burst of patriotic zeal, but she was now more used to ‘voicing the outrage’ – so much so that it had almost become a habit.

Then the little girl actually left Kerala. Distance makes the heart fonder, and it did. She missed Mallu food, mallu greenery, and mallu people, but she didn’t miss home. Over the years, people at home seemed much more alien – people who didn’t share her beliefs, her convictions, her principles. Oh she didn’t develop these principles overnight, but back them, it didn’t matter that nobody believed in her beliefs. Now it did. While she pretended that it didn’t matter, she slowly distanced herself. It was easier to pretend at a distance.

Today, a silly comment from G, actually caused some pain. It was suddenly scary to realize that I did care. That I did miss home, and I didn’t want to ‘hate being there’. That life was not about the home that I wanted, but the home that I have. That somewhere in time, I have lost the little girl who absolutely loved her home. As I write, the memories flood through forgotten alleys; somewhere in those alleys I search for that little girl. For now, it suffices that she still lives.

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