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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.