It is snowing outside as I begin this blog. It is hard to imagine that just a few days ago I was in Chennai in India where the temperature was around 80 degrees Fahrenheit!
I never really completely adjusted to the change in time zones during this trip to India. I was up well before the morning hours almost every day during my three weeks there. I did not let this strange affliction bother me. I found something or the other to do – spending time on the computer, or reading a book, or doing something else that did not require me to get out of bed and disturb everybody else.
This trip was a little different from my past visits. I actually had time to relax at home, even keeping visits with friends to a minimum towards the later part of the stay. But the trip was also exhausting, and also a little emotional in some sense, since I made the visit to Kerala, the state where I was born, the place where our family is originally from. I have blogged in the past about the nostalgia associated with traveling to Kerala as a child, and also writen more recently about how my love of the mountains may have blossomed with one such trip.
The quick trip I made to Kerala this time was different from the journeys of my youth, when I used to stay there for the long summer holidays, but it was also about being taken back to the days of my youth. I was going to visit relatives who lived there whom I had not seen for many years.
For starters, because I did not have time to do so, I did not go to Kerala by train. Instead, I flew into Kochi airport.My first stop was to see an aunt and uncle in Aluva whom I had last visited about 12 years ago. Life has changed for them since then in ways both happy and sad. The joy of the growing grandchildren in the family has been balanced by the impact of a devastating accident a few years ago that has changed their lives in a dramatic fashion. After some conversation and lunch, I took the opportunity to go down to the Periyar river that flows next to their property. They had been forced to evacuate their apartment just a few months earlier because of flooding of the river.A long taxi ride in the evening got me to my next stop in Irinjalakuda to see my cousin – whom I had also not seen for a long time. Along the way, it was interesting to see that they still paint the state’s public transport buses the same way they did as when I was a kid.I have very little recollection of having visited my cousin’s home (which was built in the 1980s) before, even though we have met a few times since then. Most likely, I have never been to this house.
The emotions welled up in me as I talked to my cousin about the days of her youth and her connection with my parents when they were young and had just got married. (My cousin is significantly older than I am.) I felt a sense of the passage of time, and a sense of how lives lived in the past lead into the future. This was one of the nights that I woke up earlier than usual in the morning and lay in bed unable to sleep – this time simply thinking about the connections of the lifetimes. I was somewhat of a wreck by the time day broke, but I did take the time to go out and take a picture or two after recovering my composure.The bonus of my stay in Irinjalakuda was the opportunity to meet a high-school classmate whom I had not seen for 43 years! I got to go to his home and also meet his wife. It is interesting to to see how how circumstances in life can take you in very different directions, and to many different places, but that you can end up in the end at similar places of peace and happiness. You can define success or failure in your way without allowing others to define it for you.Then it was off to the railway station to catch a train to Palakkad.The train journey was an interesting experience, but I must move on without talking too much about it, since this blog is already getting longer than I would like it to be. The only thing I will note is that my experience of the train journey left me feeling that I was still in the 1970s!
The train journey was to take me to Dhoni, near the Palakkad railway station, where I was going to visit another aunt of mine. I had not seen her for decades. We have a little bit of a language barrier since I do not know the mother tongue well, but I need not have worried. That did not stop our conversation. My aunt has gone through the struggles of time since I last met her, having had a somewhat painful physical setback. She manages. She now cheerfully oversees the larger family, including her own children’s families, who have already set up, or are in the process of setting up, their own roots all around her. During this visit she insisted that I needed to eat well (more than I am used to eating), to taste all the foods from my youth. It was a treat!
Dhoni lies in the shadow of the Western Ghats. I set out to explore the place at sunrise. The village’s charm has not changed over the years. While the population of Dhoni might have increased since the old days (there are more houses, and even a management college started by one of my cousins), it is still not crowded, at least in my eyes. The roads are broad and also empty the time of morning that I was out.The waking hours reveals the feel of the village, the only distraction being that of the trucks from the local rock quarry that kick up a dust and do not slow down as they speed down the road. The family house in Dhoni begins to catch the light of the rising sun in the morning.The mountain of my youth (or maybe I should call it a hill) still remains, still looking a little formidable to the young child who has now become an older man. I am not sure if the hill is as accessible as before. New property lines lie between me and the peak that I can barely make out in the early morning light. There was no marked trail for me to follow, although my cousin might have known a way had he been able to accompany me.
Habitation on the road that used go past my aunt’s place has extended towards the mountains these days. There is a bus service, and I saw a couple of hotels when I looked on the map. Kids climb into the back of the auto rickshaw to go to school in the morning, while the dog runs freely on the street,and the roadside tea shop is open for business early.There are farms that did not exist a few decades ago.A couple of peacocks fly away from the field when I point my camera at them. Somewhere, a cow grazes surrounded by egrets – probably cattle egrets.I did also visit my cousins’ farms closer to the mountains. You could see the Western Ghats in the distance as we walked past an open field, just before the entrance to the farms.I am told that elephants have come to roam this space these days, and there is an electric fence around the fields for protection. One of my cousins takes care of all the properties and grows fruits and vegetables on them.He tells me the story of having been given seeds for what he was told was cabbage, and finding out that he now has tons of lettuce growing on the property! That is the way it goes. Life still seems to have a certain simplicity to it. I could get used to it. I wish I had learnt to speak the language better as a youth. There is a certain sense of loss.
I had to leave Dhoni even before noontime to catch a flight from Coimbatore (across the border in the state of Tamilnadu) to Chennai – but not before my aunt plied me with more food. The short, intense, and tiring, trip was coming to an end. Back in Chennai I went to bed early, and then slept like a rock, waking up a little later than usual.
And then, less than a week later, I was sitting in my room in Gaithersburg in Maryland watching the snow falling.It is quite the change. Life can be that way, I suppose!