Quite a few personalities have spoken about the joy of being a child forever; about not growing up at all. Some grieve the curiosity that is lost in growing up and others reminisce about the pure silliness of being a carefree child in this vast world. I want to rally behind the second cohort.
While the life of responsibility I lead now with all its diversity and obligations is tasteful in its own way, on occasional evenings, I still sit back and reminisce about things past, which are somehow vivid and fragrant in a corner of my crowded mind.
The episodes I keep remembering are my annual visits to my grandmother’s place in Trichy during summer vacations. I along with my parents and my little cousins chug in a train bursting with people on vacation, accompanied by mother and her sisters, with a promise from the husbands that they would join us in Trichy as soon as their jobs permitted.
My mother being wary of outside food, would prepare a simple yet tasty meal of Puliodharai (tamarind rice) packed in boxes of aluminium foil along with fryums for all. After lunching on this, as the train touches its interval point, we would buy cups of steaming tea from platform vendors and unwrap the long packet of milk biscuits brought from home. Once the train arrives at Tiruchirapalli Junction, we would all be carefully unloaded and packed into a heavily bargained taxi for the short trip to our grandma’s house.
Grandma would be waiting outside the doorstep, looking expectantly out of her myopic eyes. After the cab is discharged, mother and her sisters would speedily rush to Grandma, as if they had been waiting for this moment for a long time. Keeping her introductory moments brief with her daughters, Granma would bend down to us kids, asking us all sort of questions, and would then curse herself for holding us on the doorsteps. A meticulously prepared elaborate dinner would be served us all. Over this dining, numerous stories would be exchanged, rumours would be confirmed, and fights involving ludicrous reasons and little limbs would ensue.
The vacation plan would definitely involve a visit to the temple of our family deity, with us restless cousins observing the necessary gestures and discipline at the behest of our mothers. Another ritual was to visit the Malaikotai temple atop the hill, whose 417 carved steps we would feverishly climb, often competing with one another, with our mothers cautioning us to be careful. With cameras being rare back then, we would enjoy each moment as if we wouldn’t come back again, without having to pause every now and then to record the personal moments to share with others or announce to the world. Such immersive experiences are now only available in the film of our minds.
When compared to our cramped city apartments, grandma’s house was a large mansion with numerous rooms for living, dining, pooja and storage. Obviously, the numerous nooks and attics provided an ideal space for us kids to play around. Evenings would be snack times, with Grandma preparing one speciality of hers each day, assisted by her daughters. The rationed snack would be enjoyed on the terrace amidst waves of chill breeze and a peeping red balloon in the horizon. People of the past, dead relatives and ex-neighbours, would be leisurely reimagined by the elders, and we children would be chasing one another in a corner, unaware of the things of future, and what we may come to be down the years.
Few days later, husbands would arrive either as a group or individually to be welcomed by the same pleasantries and enquiries. And then for the rest of the vacation, our fathers’ proximity would be our living space, far away from the ladies’ mature conversations we cannot participate in.
Then would come the day of having to say goodbye. Grandma would hesitantly embrace her daughters and tightly embrace us children and flower with good wishes and last-minute advices. Our fathers would smilingly join palms to the old lady and lift the trunks. The return journey would be enjoyable for us cousins, immediately nostalgic for the mothers, and business and work for the fathers; always the same, until we had matured enough to be the receptacle of silent exchanges among our mothers.
Now, writing this makes me feel how different I had been then – a bird in the sky, a flower in the wind floating around in my little free world – as compared to me now. To feel like a child again, I am craving to go back there, accompanied by my grown-up cousins and our old mothers, but we don’t have any excuses left. Grandma has died long ago and our ancestral house has been sold. If we have to go to Trichy now, we would have to stay in a hotel, eat food prepared indifferently, and roam around temples accompanied by the continuous disturbance of calls and messages from work. Today, I truly mourn the end of childhood, that blissful world that was!
Arjun Shivaram – A moonlighting writer in search of his voice. You would also like to visit his blog. https://arjunshivaram.wordpress.com/