Home In The Hills

My favourite place is a place from my memories. Actually, that place still exists, and I visit that place every year on my vacation to India. But it isn’t the same as it was 10-15 years ago. My memories of how that place used to be are marked with profound sensory experiences that I would like to recount here.

I am talking about my paternal native place, Irumbupalam (which roughly translates to Iron Bridge, named after an iron bridge built there during the British colonialist period). It is located near one of the many hillstations in the southern Indian state of Kerala. 

Summer vacations were always spent in this place. Growing up in Kuwait, I had very little access to greenery or nature in its thriving form. So those two months spent here were like the proverbial rain in a desert. 

My typical vacation would start off with a very queasy ride from the airport to Irumbupalam. The long winding trip uphill would make me carsick, and elevation pressure would block my ears. Nevertheless once we approach the hills, the scenery would have me spellbound. The thickets of forests that we would pass through, the gushing waterfalls, the mindlessly steep cliffsides would send my heart racing. Too much stimulation for the eyes of a nine-year old.

Once we reach our house, I would race to the toilet. The sudden cold weather makes my skin tingle, and my bladders weak. While I do my duty, I cant help but notice that scary looking spider as big as my palm walk casually across the bathroom floor. That would be only the beginning of endless species of (mostly icky) flora and fauna that I will find in my home.

After a few initial slow days, vehicle after vehicle carrying my aunts, uncles and cousins would gradually find place in our car porch. 

Finally when everyone has arrived, my house would become a carnival ground. Little children playing in the mud. The big boys huddled in the front verandah bragging about themselves. The big girls circle up in corners, sharing the latest in gossips.

At mealtimes, a boisterous group of men, women and children would form in and around the kitchen. Laughing, jeering, huffing and puffing.. All of us would put together the trademark meal of Kerala’s mountain men: Tapioca cooked with meat and hot spices. Spicy as it is, my tender tongue would yearn to eat as much as I could. To cool down the heat, there would be baskets of sectioned jackfruits thay await us. After the heavy meal, the elders would engage in sluggish talk while we kids wouldn’t spare a minute.

My house is home to, as I found out gradually, a variety of living beings. They were always in their element; be it the slugs and the snails on our window panes or the praying mantis in our prayer room. Once I saw a scorpion ambling away under the dining table. From butterflies to rat snakes, you could find a whole bevy of questionable items lying here and there. My elder brother once sneaked a black beetle into my palm. Imagine my horror. So much for a sensory experience.

Then there was the lush greenery. The hills in the distance were a beautiful night green. The grass and shrubs shone goblin green in the bright sunlight. The brownish green of the moss. I have to say even the symbols of imminent decay like in the dead leaves added to my pleasure.

Rains – huge, heavy and fantastic ones – were a regular part of my vacations. The sound of it beating down at the earth, particularly at manmade structures, would give me the chills. In my tiny mind, it would stir up imaginations of God and His retribution.

After each rain, there would be waves of croaking from frogs from the stream banks. So clamourous was that sound that to this day I can’t think of anything more annoying. My cousin once told me that it was the sound of frogs emiting mating calls. I’m still not sure if I’m actually disgusted at the sound or at the picture of frogs mating.

When the rains subside momentarily, there was a particularly enticing activity I would engage in. Among the wild grass and shrubs that grew around my house, there were these long-leaved plantlets. At the end of each leaf, a droplet of water would hang. The droplet hung so resolutely at each grass tip that even shaking it wouldn’t splash it away. It seemed like a light film had formed outside the droplet to protect it. What was required of such a droplet to stay so firmly? My cousin would pluck out the grass shoot and ask me to ever so slightly bite into the droplet. Even if it was for a second, I tasted pure water. Water so pristine that it tasted sweet. She even suggested to apply it in my eyes; a daily dose of plant tears was the secret to her beautiful eyes, she would say.

After each trek, we children would come back to a delicious treat of melt-in-the-mouth cashew balls, made under the supervision of our grandma. My aunts would personally pluck out robust cashews from the cashew trees that grew in our backyard. Then they would roast them on burning charcoal, scoop out the nuts with bare hands and grind it in the traditional mortar and pestle. Then they would mix it with roasted rice powder and jaggery and roll balls out of the mix. 

In fact, everything boils down to these cashew balls. The smoky-nutty-sweet delight in our mouths. The smell of charcoal. The feeling of soot on our hands after the nut extraction. The sounds of smacking lips. The look of sheer satisfaction and happiness on everyone’s face. What a well-rounded representation of what it means for me to be in my favorite place!

Alas, we have come a long way since then. No more creepy-crawlies. No more plants crying tears. No more clamour in the kitchen. I have even begun to forget the taste of those cashew balls

I guess in the fight between man and nature, man has finally begun to win. Fifteen years ago, I could see nature actively invade every nook and cranny of our house with moss and insects. I don’t see that anymore. I see more houses, more roads, more people. More human presence, but less nature. 

As for my memories, I find them lying hither and tither in the back of my mind. And in the far-off eyes of my grandmother, who is slowly sinking into oblivion.

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An Act Of Redemption

She turned on the shower to let ice cold water wash over her bare body. Even as she struggled with the initial breathlessness, she held her head still. She wanted to know how it felt. She bent and sat down on the tub floor. She folded her knees upward and hugged her self tight. She shut her eyes.

“Its all your fault!” – the words of her distraught husband rang in her ears. She opened her eyes suddenly. She turned off the shower and sat there, sobbing profusely.

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She didnt even know when she had slept off in the tub. Her nose was blocked from the cold. Her hair was half dry. She picked herself up, toweled herself dry and put on her clothes

She sat on her bed. It felt like she hadn’t any energy left. She couldn’t rest either. Sleeplessness and undernutrition left her face hollow. Her relationship with her husband kept getting worse day after day. He couldn’t forgive her. He wouldn’t even look at her face. But saving her marriage was the last thing on her mind.

Because memories of her love kept haunting her. His smell. His laugh. His touch. His unkempt hair. His yearning eyes. Her grief knew no bounds. 

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It was just 2 months ago that a phone call had changed her life. She was bathing her one year old son in his tub. She carefully filled the tub upto three inches of water and put him in along with his favorite rubber ducky. Her phone rang in the living room. She had been applying for jobs and expected it to be an employer. 

“Mommy’ll be right back!” she said rushing towards the phone.

“Hello..” she said tracing her steps back to the bathroom.

“Hello good morning! Is this Zoya Siddique?” A polite female voice.

“Yes”

“Hi Zoya. I’m Sharon calling from IPR Publishing. You had applied for the role of Junior Editor at our company website, right? Can you tell me a little bit about yourself?”

Zoya gulped a big one. She hadn’t expected a call from IPR. She stood still trying to remember the paragraph that she had learnt by rote. She spoke about her education, amateur trysts during her college years, her attempts at freelancing, and that short job in a small company. She tried hard not to sound like she was blurting it out. Unknowingly, she had even wrapped herself with the curtain in the corridoor.

“Great! We would like to see you for an interview tomorrow at 12 pm. I will send you a location map to your email address. Thank you very much.”

“You are welcome”. Zoya set down the phone. She went into the kitchen absentmindedly, opened the fridge and stared inside for a minute. She mulled over the long break she had taken from her career, and how desperate she was to get back. Then she suddenly remembered that she had left her son in the tub.

She rushed to the bathroom. At the doorstep, she saw the tub but she couldn’t find him. There was no sound. She inched towards the tub clasping her chest. What she saw beat the breath out of her lungs.

He lay in the water, face down. His rubber ducky rested on the small of his back. Her knees felt weak. She bent to pick her baby’s still body. Without breathing, she set him on her lap and tried to administer CPR. The baby did not move. She shook him slowly at first, and then wildly. She called out his name many times.

His eyes did not open.

Putting the lifeless baby on her shoulder she called her husband. Ashkar rushed home and took the baby to the hospital. The whirlwind that ensued left their small family broken forever. Their only child, the meaning of their marriage, was dead.
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Zoya lay on her bed staring at the ceiling. She thought about the gathering at her little boy’s funeral. She clearly remembered how some relatives had given her accusing looks. Even now there were phone calls of curious people that poured in. Most people did not care to hide the shock and dismay in their voices when they heard about the cause of death.
She also thought of how drastically Ashkar had changed, right in front of her eyes. How many days had he gone to office with bloodshot eyes. He spoke nothing; except for that one argument they had one day. He slept on the sofa. Some days he never came home. 
When will this misery end? Zoya wondered amidst tears. It never will. She lost her son to death, now she will lose her husband to silence.

As if in a daze, she slowly got up and went to the kitchen. The scraping knife lay in the drawer. She went to the bathroom and filled the bathtub with water. When it filled halfway, she immersed herself in it. She slit open both her wrists uptil her elbows. And she lay down expectantly.

As the blood gushed out, Zoya felt oddly relaxed. She felt all her pain exit her body.

“Mommy’s coming, Ayaan” she whispered before slowly losing herself. She dreamt of herself emerging from a river bank and her son toddling towards her to pull her out.

The water in the tub turned crimson. Zoya drowned in her own pain, hoping it will atone for everything. 

The One I Love

A surprise conception.

A speck in the ultrasound.

The first thing that crossed my mind:

The delay in my career.

Fast forward nine months.

An engorged belly.

I was rushed to the hospital,

With broken waters and griping pain.

Four hours of labour.

Blinding lights in the labour room.

The doctor asked me to push

Like I had constipation.

And so I shut my eyes.

And sealed my mouth.

And finally plopped out

A three kilo wrinkled mass.

Delirious under gas and air.

Crying and laughing at the same time.

I clutched this wondrous piece

Of life that used to be inside of me.

Chubby pink cheeks.

And a small pouting mouth.

He shifted and smiled and gurgled

In his peaceful sleep.

Sleepless nights.

Fatigued days.

And unbelievable amounts of

Pee, poop, drool and barf.

Some days I’m beat.

Some days I’m hopeless.

And some days my life is stuck

In a loop of constant delays.

But then his pudgy fingers.

And his marble pair of irises.

And his pearly smiling mouth

Save me from my rut.

We fight and we wrestle.

We play and we giggle.

Together we conquer milestones

Of babyhood and motherhood.

Together we change.

Together we grow.

Like wild vines in the yard,

Forever intertwined.

I love him the most.

Second to none.

Through the words that he doesn’t speak,

I know that I’m his favorite.

Why I Want to Write

I want to write because that’s the only thing I believe I can do well. I was never good at math or science. I was never good at remembering dates of battles or the names of obscure leaders. The first people to point out my ability to write were my English teachers. When there came the question of choosing a vocation, I knew I didn’t look forward to a life of cooking three meals a day and keeping house. So I chose to write.

I am always wandering around with ideas clamoring in my head. If they are not let out through some channel, it feels like a suppressed bladder. Or even worse, like suppressed gas. Writing helps me relieve this suppression. Sometimes, in a fit of inspiration, I grab my phone and rapidly jot down stuff in my note app. If I have no access to writing, I talk to myself. So naturally, I could relate to the mind of a writer.

I would normally think twice before calling myself a writer. The label seems too accomplished for someone like me. With two failed blogs and a career that refuses to take off, along with a toddler who has an uncanny aversion to me picking up a mobile device or a letter pad, I have very little to prove myself. But I have always wanted a place inside the writer community, however peripheral it may be. Hopefully, this blog will be the beginning to a successful foray into my dream job.

In today’s age, everyone is obliged to write properly. It has become one of those everyday things just like addition and subtraction. If you have a social media account, you probably have an opinion about everything. If you want that opinion to be heard, you need a good hold over language.

But there is a difference between writing properly and writing well. The difference lies in seeing things creatively. In being affected by simple things. In being able to bring out to the world the magic in those simple things. In short, proving to us that we are still humans. Good writing, and art in general, reminds us that we humans are not doomed just to run the rat race that we run everyday. It shows us that we can experience a whole new level of consciousness filled with happiness, awe and inspiration.

It is, hence, a high aspiration to write well. And despite the nagging self-doubt, that is what I aspire to do.