MY WONDER YEARS

Some memories you treasure for life – remembrances that you love to relive over and over again. To translate Gulshan Bawra’s lovely lyrics (from the 1983 movie Nishan) – “memories like waves, keep coming back to crash against the heart and raise a storm”. For me, some of the best anamnesis have been after marriage and the subsequent birth of our daughter.

But one of my most poignant of reminiscences are that of our annual trips to my mother’s ancestral home in a remote village in Kerala. The notorious heat notwithstanding, summer vacations for us meant trundling off to meet sundry relatives, who with kids in tow would make their annual sojourn to Kerala. What a grand home we had – an ostentatious manse that has even featured in a few hit Malayalam movies! It was built in the traditional ettukettu architecture of a typical Kerala tharavaad (ancestral home). The ground floor was divided into a humungous sitting area, a few rooms (for the elderly), a couple of store-rooms, the dining area and a massive kitchen. The first floor comprised of rooms for the various branches of my mother’s family (matriarchal system). The second floor was a one huge granary, which in addition to being a storage area for grains, grams and pulses (harvested from our fields), also had cats and rats of various shapes and sizes, and was a natural no-go zone for us kids. A verandah ran all around the house where the children would play, while the women sat and discussed matters of grave importance – to be precise, gossiped. The compound was also substantial with multiple mango and other variegated trees, and also had a massive pool. Some parts of this compound were covered with a dense grove of trees, usually playing host to a few snake, that we children never ventured into. There were a couple of barns which housed cows, which would be milked every morning by a grand-aunt of mine. The only issue I had with the house was that the privies were in a remote corner in the compound, away from the main house. Imagine the dread in case of an upset stomach in the middle of the night!

This majestic mansion was witness to unmitigated chaos and cacophony from us along with our friends (from nearby houses), between April and June. Mornings for us would begin with a sumptuous breakfast, followed by a luxurious bath in the pool. The rest of the morning would be spent playing outdoor and indoor games, some which even adults participated in. Then came lunch with myriad uncles, who would ask us frivolous questions about our schools. The siesta after lunch was the best part of the day – the activities of the day tiring us to such an extent that the house would suddenly become a silent witness to us sleeping off our morning weariness. The evening found us in the pool again, for another bath, followed by a visit to the temple next door. Evenings would usually be spent playing indoor games and mostly trying to scare each other with petrifying stories of ghosts and spirits. Every village is a rich treasure trove of ghost stories – something to counter urban legends, and for us kids this was grist for mill during our evenings, which also found the adult males of the house enjoying the company of Bacchus.

Every year we children organized a musical show, wherein we would present songs and dances to entertain the adults. The events for this evening would be a well-kept secret, with only the participants being made aware of it. The planning would begin the day all of us landed in Kerala, and to maintain secrecy we would even venture up to the afore-mentioned dreaded second floor. Despite our fears, we would go up there in a group, and that too holding hands. Once the plans for the show were laid, the rehearsals would begin in right earnest. Me and couple of other cousins (who could sing passably well), had to sing the latest and popular movie songs, while others would take part in dances, skits and other such entertaining acts. The group dance, where participation by all kids was mandatory, would be the finale of the show. This stentorian show in nature, was amateurish at best, but the haimish bonding that we developed during the time spent together was unparalleled. If memory serves me right, my last visit to the tharavaad was during my ninth grade vacations. A couple of years later, it was sold (under questionable circumstances) and demolished completely. The buyer would have become a millionaire just by selling off the original teak-wood doors, pillars and other woodworks, with the land bringing an additional windfall!

As I mentioned in the beginning, memories have a magical way of elevating you – it can make you smile while simultaneously moving you to tears. For me those chimerical moments will always remain the nostalgic musings of my annual trips to Kerala. I am sure all of you have such memories, which lift your spirits during morose evenings…

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