Treasures of the Past

As I walked through the security gates, and bade farewell to Basil, a strange sense of calm came over me. The day before my departure, I’d been mildly jittery. I’d never been good at handling long distance travel. And now, being alone, it didn’t seem to be much. I strapped my bagpack across my shoulders and wandered around Incheon airport. On my flight, I intentionally chose movies that were perfect for light viewing, and I was happy to have the seat, beside me, empty. Occasionally, I’d look outside the window, and marvel at the night sky. It’s the closest I would ever get to the million or trillion odd stars out there. I found it hard to contain my excitement. So, this is what it felt like being a solo traveler? After a 5 hour flight, we landed in Bangkok. The 6 hours layover was the challenge, I thought, I’d find hard to get through. My eyelids felt the pressure of gravity to be excruciating and fought a silent battle — against every nerve impulse — sent by my brain to concentrate on the flight schedule. After losing out to sleep, 2 hours later, the gate numbers made an appearance. Over the next 3 hours, sleep took over. 5 hours later, it was time to land in Mumbai. As I made my way out of the airport, words started to make sense, and I became a linguist — once again. And yet, I knew, the next day, on my flight to my hometown, I’d lose all those superhuman linguistic abilities, as soon as, the wheels of the plane touched the narrow runway of my hilly hometown. 

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As a child, I never truly appreciated our summer visits to my hometown. Partly because, the rest of my friends, would spend their summers travelling across the country or across the ocean. And I could never have competed with that. Every summer, we’d follow a similar pattern. We’d either spend the day with cousins, or change multiple buses to visit folks on the other side of town, or visit the local park. And then, there was the not-so-slight problem of language. I’ve never understood, why my home state, had to have 3 languages; or why, I could only understand the language, spoken by a very small section of the local community. Trips back to my roots seemed like a displacement of sorts and a sense of confusion was inevitable.

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The days spent at home seemed extremely long. Back in the day, when my siblings and I were kids, the old kitchen worked on a simple concept of brick and firewood. Logs of wood (from the yard) were cut and fed into a hungry fire, in the hearth, fuelled by coir of old coconut shells. A thin metallic pipe was used to blow air into the flames. Soot covered the walls of the kitchen above and added to the spookiness of the old tiled house.

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Water was heated in a similar mechanism, with logs of wood and scraps of paper lighting up the old furnace, in turn, heating a gargantuan copper vessel. The old well doubled as a source of water and a mirror of sorts. We’d peep in and try to find out what lies beneath the depth of cold darkness. This was long before the movie, ‘Ring’, had released. I remember imagining scary creatures lurking in the mossy waters below.

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The front and backyards were our grounds for exploration. A ramp leading from the road above, would eventually level onto, the ground below. One summer, my sister and I felt very inspired by the plot of a ‘James Bond’ movie that we’d seen. The ‘bad guy’ threatened to feed his enemies to piranhas. My sister was known to have quite a vivid imagination; imagining piranhas wasn’t that difficult for her. However, squealing to get to the safety of the old stone ramp, above, was quite the challenge, when hungry piranhas were out to grab your tiny foot.

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It wasn’t just the house that provided fodder for our entertainment. The neighbouring compounds played their part as well. The desolate woods  were teaming with scraggy trees and shrubbery. During the day, my sister would read books on paranormal activity or crime, or ask my mum to narrate tales of ‘alleged’ possessions. She never really thought of the night — when ‘fear’ comes out — before the creatures of the dark. On a warm summer’s night, my sister and I were woken by a voice. On a crescent moonlit night, standing near our gate, was a shadow calling out my sister’s name. The next morning my parents and brother laughed it off. Strangely, it is a memory that is quite vivid, even today.

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Over the years, things have drastically changed. The old hearth doesn’t exist anymore, a fresh coat of paint has washed away the soot, the neighbours have torn down the trees, metallic sheets compete for sunlight, and a highway connects the road, outside the house, to the new international airport. And yet, my mum has miraculously protected our childhood memories, in the confines, of our ancestral yard. Going back doesn’t seem strange anymore. It’s like stirring a strong stew of childhood memories and letting nostalgia take over.

41 responses to “Treasures of the Past

  1. Well, you totally immersed me in your past Cheryl. A beautifully written post that made me feel as though I was there with you. Thank you for sharing. xo

    • Thanks a bunch, Miriam! This trip (back to my hometown) was emotionally overwhelming for me. But, I didn’t feel like talking about things that pulled me down. Maybe, I wanted to get out of the circle. I wanted to remember the memories that keep me going. And I’m so happy to see it get appreciated. Truly means a lot! xo

  2. It sounds like a very exciting journey back to your hometown recently, Cheryl. Looking to hearing more of it. I can relate when you say you didn’t appreciate trips home when you were younger. I didn’t use to think much about trips back to Malaysia and my parents’ hometown when I was a kid and where I also spent quite a bit of time. Looking back, those were the days where you could run around the yard and do anything you want without a care in the world 🙂

    • I think, there are few things that can match the joy of seeing your folks –after spending months away. The arguments don’t matter, the differences of opinions are thrown out of the window, and then, everything seems to fall into place. 🙂 My hometown, for me, is a treasure chest of memories. One I get to open, on visits back. 🙂

    • Back then, I’d never think I was fortunate! haha! Going back to your hometown is never ‘cool’. 🙂 But, after travelling across the globe, and spending so much time away, I’ve started to see what a ‘gift’ my parents, especially my mum, gave us. The ‘chilly’ shot is inspired by you, Divya. Helped mum in a lot of traditional recipes. The effort was worth the pain of standing! 🙂

  3. I so enjoyed your trip back in time. That outdoor freedom and days filled with imaginative play remind me of my own childhood – happy memories, it seems, no matter where in the wide world we grew up!

  4. I am not sure there is a great feeling of nostalgia than a return to the hometown of our youth…the memories, while needing to have the dust shook off, still remain fresh which makes the comparison of how we saw things then versus how we see them now so enchanting. You do it well with your words and your photos. Wonderful post of feelings…

    • Thanks so much, Randall! You say it well! 🙂 As I’ve grown older (not sure wiser), everything in my distant past, has changed perspective. Those trips back home don’t seem so bad after all. 🙂 Have a great weekend!

  5. Pingback: Nostalgia: ‘Mijn Vlakke Land’ | What's (in) the picture?·

  6. Isn’t it amazing how much we can see in a foreign land that is different from our own country? Even the cats look different 🙂 These are so gorgeous! 🙂
    I absolutely enjoyed your post – I feel the same about my childhood memories and our home. We made discoveries and learned about the world around us. Now we know a lot more, but our memories of the places from our childhood still have a mysterious flair. Sometimes I think that places are as alive as people 🙂 I am sure that our lake remembers me, and when I saw that empty place where the woods used to be, I felt a physical pain of loss.

    • Those are our neighbour’s cats. Two take after their father and one after his mother. Gene play in action. 🙂 Cats were an integral part of our childhood too. We’ve seen so many come and go. I’m so glad you enjoyed reading my trip down memory lane. 🙂 A lot has been changing in my hometown. A lot of trees are getting cleared for high-rises and the pain of seeing it all go is real. I understand what you mean. I hope, someday, we realise how important the natural world is and how important it is to preserve it — before it’s too late. 😦

  7. When I left my hometown at 18 years old to do my undergraduate studies in the United Kingdom, little did I realise that I was never going to see the home I grew up in when I returned three years later. I have visited my hometown and old neighbourhood several times but everything has changed and I end up feeling very sad at that I will never be able to relive that part of my life again. Until now, I sometimes wake up feeling slightly disoriented, thinking that I am in my old room from so many years ago. I still remember every piece of furniture and where they were placed. Those carefree days of past Decembers, the mind still sees, the heart remembers! 🙂

    • I guess that’s the toughest part of growing up — everything around you changes. If only there was a way to capture those memories in a bottle and hide them for later viewing. 🙂 Thanks for sharing your story with us and being a part of the conversation.

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