The world changed when I wasn’t looking.
In the earliest memories I cherish, I remember going to my grandparents’ homes, the homes of both sets of them, and spending the warm, golden days of the summer holidays there, wading through cool streams filled with minnows and tadpoles, or sucking at mangoes and chaampaka fruits.
At the rustic homestead of my paternal grandparents’ homes, at Pullad, not far from Thiruvella, day began early. From our city home in Trivandrum, this haven was a good three hours away by road. The tiled homestead stood in a property of over five acres, replete with mango and jack fruit trees. By the time I awoke in the early morning, my grandfather, Appachan, had already left for his morning constitutional, lota in hand, walking over the grass glittering with dew. The mist was hanging light over the still slumbering earth. He would return soon, as I was brushing my teeth and washing my face with the cold water drawn from the well. Ammachy was by then in the dark and sooty kitchen, cooking the best food I have ever tasted. In the morning was appam and stew, or salty tapioca, or yam, with a hot and spicy side-dish. There used to be a special bottle of ghee for me, to pour into the fragrant puttu, a rice dish; it was my delight to feel the warm ghee squelching through my fingers as I kneaded the rice between my fingers. Suddenly a hot fried egg, splattered with pepper and salt would land on my plate and I would gorge on its golden gooey mess. Not far away, at Mavelikara, was the home of my maternal grandparents. The sand there was white and warm to the touch. I still remember the massive mango tree in the backyard with the small yellow mangoes that one could crush between the fingers and then suck out the heavenly juice. I used to gaze long at the cows in the shed and marvel at the smooth skin under the neck of the calves. The hens and the chickens followed me around.
By the time I was in my late teens, they were both gone; the well-loved earth of Thiruvella and Mavelikara both sold off in the wake of the unstoppable demise of rural economy. That part of my childhood was gone forever. The world around me juddered a little before starting to spin again.
At Trivandrum, a small city still struggling to keep the balance between a metropolis and a village, I stayed on till I completed my Masters from the University College and entered the Civil Service. Trivandrum was the bedrock of my memories: they are chockablock now with images of growing up, jostling for space with my siblings, the dreamy days of school, the steady intellectual growth of college days and then finally, the University: a good dozen and a half years, from my wonder days to young adult hood. The city was a solid platform to find my feet, to read at the many libraries, to interact with my young peers and then to sprout wings and fly off to find my own destiny. And though through all the years of my working career, I returned often and almost every year or two, that world of Trivandrum too was gone. Just a year ago, that haven too had flown, disposed off in the remorseless reality of the changing needs and requirements. Another shift in the movement of the earth around the sun.
In the discharge of my official duties I spent the next three and a half decades of my active life in Rajasthan. When I heard that I was to be posted there, it was initially a shock and a disappointment; from Trivandrum to Jaipur; from lush green valleys and rice fields to harsh sand and scorching winds. And yet, the years swept by, as I rushed from one assignment to another, seeing but not acknowledging the greying of the hair and the wrinkling of the skin. The solid fundamentals of marriage and family, the parenting of a beautiful daughter, the long and steady rise in my career: all these and more gave a bountifulness, a matchless blessing of love and life. And who would have guessed what Rajasthan would come to mean for me. To love a foreign soil and a strange people; and to be loved in return. There is a gentleness and a calm behind my eyelids as I think upon those years. How could those days have fled so fast? And then, before I knew it, it was time to say good bye again. Did I feel the earth stagger a little on its axis once again?
And now here I am once more, in new environs in Bengaluru, strange and wonderful at the same time; basking in the love of little baby Zaara, finding my feet again in this new orbit of the planet around the sun. There are old people in the home to care for, there are concerns of health and ageing. But then, as much as I know, the earth beneath my feet may not change again for all the days I have left to live.
As each foundation of my life had vanished under my heels, good fortune had stirred new roots to spread in the waiting soil. The longing for past steadfastness, the stolidity of the days gone by, they never destroyed equanimity, for with each new turn of the planet’s sweep across the galaxy, new beginnings were made, new foundations laid, new grass grew under my feet. And each time, I did not even realise that the brick and mortar of my experiences were firming under my soles, giving me strength and confidence for the space of time I spent there.
The world had changed each time I was not looking. But then, with the unique adaptability that we humans are capable of, we learn to start afresh, learn to seek out ‘fresh fields and pastures new’. The past is gone now, leaving behind countless memories, some sad, but mostly good and kindly. The future will too bring its own set of experiences and emotions, and layer by layer, will build the solid earth under my feet once more, teaching me to love all things that come my way, to cherish them, never in regret and always with good hope and cheer. Happiness is a gene we can grow in our chromosomes, notwithstanding the random turn of the dice.
We must make our own little refuge, to shelter us from the chaos that surrounds us. It is in our hands to do so.