‘We are all going on a summer holiday, no more working for a month, fun and adventures on a summer holiday, no more worries……’this song would be on my lips a week before our actual holiday, between mid April and mid May began. This was a much awaited annual retreat of coming together in our ancestral home, in ‘God’s own country’, in South India.
Our first taste of the good times to come, on alighting the train, would be a bullock cart ride from the station to home. My cousins and I would take the rear seats, with our legs hanging out, to feel the caress of the summer breeze.
Our ancestral home sat along a narrow lane. The facade of a humble front, did not reveal the vastness inside and the orchards beyond. The jackfruit trees brought to their knees, heavy with produce, ready to be picked. Green mangoes dangling by their stems would tickle our senses and carry the aroma of ‘Mangai Thokku’ (mango pickle) to us. A long veranda, hugging the lane, with a massive door in the centre was the way to enter. The veranda covered with slim wooden reapers, allowed air in the hot summer months and privacy.
Accompanying our aunts to the ‘kulam’ (pond), was a daily early morning ritual, not to be missed. Change of clothes bundled under our arms, we balanced our steps on the narrow mounds dividing paddy fields. Bathing had never been so exciting! Our aunts, were expert swimmers, but we the city bred, were allowed only as far as we could feel the ground beneath. Nevertheless, standing in the cool waters with the gentle warmth of the just risen sun on our faces, and the feel of the silky plants encircling our feet, was uplifting. Plants or so we thought. Our aunts not wanting to be party poopers, did not tell us till the last day of our stay, that not plants, but water snakes were moving around our feet. Whoa! unknowingly, a ‘brave feat’ had been ticked off our bucket list.
Early to bed and early to rise was the mantra to keep our energies flowing. We cousins were divided in groups of similar ages. Beds for the six of us was laid out in the living room. Every night would be spent awake, till the wee hours of the morning. We came from different cities and there were many tales to be shared. As the night wore, our whispering grew in decibels to be heard above the loud snores of the elders.
Most nights, what started off as a whimper and a thud would escalate to a raucous party in the attic above. Our detective minds, fed on Enid Blytons and Agatha Christies would be thrown into a frenzy………..ghosts, murderers, robbers, cats, rats…….would draw horrendous pictures of the scenes above; till our aunt would very casually say, ‘go to sleep, that’s only the marapatti’. Marapatti or the Malabar Civet is an elusive animal, only heard, never seen. We could not ‘google’ a picture. An uncle, our ‘ walking talking google ‘, who had seen it darting across in the dark attic was our source. We built our versions on his descriptions. Half a century later, a Malabar Civet was spotted on the streets of Calicut, during lockdown, last week. Must say, the picture I drew is quite close to the real.
To escape the harsh afternoon sun, we would move indoors and gather around Grandma to hear stories. One such story was quite fascinating. It was the time when my father, my aunts and uncles were children and would attend school, a mile away. The only mode of transport being their legs, which would walk them to school. Half way, it was customary to take a break. The girls would find a stone to seat and rest themselves. Once, a few girls perched themselves on a fallen bark, which was long and broad enough to make comfortable seating. Suddenly, they felt the bark move. They jumped up in fright and ran as fast as their tiny feet could carry them. They had accommodated themselves on a Python, who was on a noon siesta after a hearty meal!
Sneaking into the pantry to lay our hands on goodies gave us a sense of achievement. The forbidden fruit always tempting and stolen ones the most delicious. The pantry was dark, and we learnt to feel our way, knowing that light would alert other cousins or elders. The combination of aromas in the pantry was overwhelming. It smelt like, the orchard had walked in, giving itself up, for delectable transformations. Neatly arranged urns held varieties of pickles, tins of savories and sweets sat on the other side. We would sneak out the way we had tiptoed in, returning with what our hands could carry. We would then meet in a safe corner, exchange eatables to get a taste of everything.
One afternoon, we six girls followed Grandma up the narrow wooden stairs to the room above. We huddled around her as she opened a wooden trunk and brought out her heirloom. She wanted this divided among us for safekeeping. Miniature birds, chairs, tables, cots, pots and pans carved in wood, painted in bright colors, was spread out before us. Each piece, a work of finesse and patience, the artisan worthy of applaud. As we gathered our share, happiness was writ large. We could decorate ‘a doll’s house’ and put the birds in the adjoining park. The most precious inheritance indeed!
Time has flown and this is history. The best experiences in life are free…..hugs, love, laughter and happy memories. Going down memory lane, makes one nostalgic, brings another song to lips, ‘those were the days my friend, we thought they’d never end, we’d sing and dance for-ever………’.