“nothing about her has changed…see, even after all these years she’s run to draw water from the well as soon as she stepped in.”
she didn’t forget.
–the time we stole away from our mother’s eyes and scampered off into the fields to the little rock where we played ‘house-house’, or simply stared out and waited to be caught;
–the mounds of hay in the backyard on which we jumped and pounced, and often, limped back to our mothers to pull out a thorn or two from our feet.
–the stone stoves in the kitchen that required lot of dry fuel and how i’d insist on blowing into it through the clay pipe, only to end up coughing smoke and ash.
–the narrow cowdung-washed corridor leading to the pond…on which i never used to tire of running barefeet, to and fro and to and fro, even under a scorching sun. and the flowers we made rings from and pretended to be princesses.
–the high old black wood blocks that formed the kitchen ceiling, and the black cat that walked across it on the night of the powercut, and how it still gives me nightmares.
–the endless meals at the endless houses, and how i always ate so little “like a bird”.
–the day we all wore sarees and swayed to the ‘only vimal’ tune, only to realise to our horror, that one of our sarees got the tablefan swaying to our tune too! and of course, the unforgettable spanking we all received that afternoon.
–the little wooden almirah from which my little cousin and i stole milk powder, and never managed to gulp a spoonful without spraying it all over our faces, giving us away.
–how i tried and tried every time to peep into the padijnaar arra dreaming of hidden treasure until she would shake her head and get me a torch, and narrate tales of all that happened that harvest season; and though i never could grasp much of what she said, i would press her to go on with questions…
there have always been at least ten of us or more visiting her at any given time, and still, my achchamma did not forget.
nine years flew by. all that i remembered of mundakottakurisi was the beautiful house, the villagers who blindly believed a dreadful manthravadi, and how thankful i was to be born and brought up in bombay.
amidst our rather rushed schedules in india last week, praveen and i managed to squeeze in an hour for my grandmother. no sooner had i reached the house and taken off my sandals, that i found myself running across the long corridor to the kitchen, to draw water from the well again. i was giggling at my own childishness. a little disappointed though, that most of the kitchen flooring, and the stone stoves were refitted with gleaming pastel green tiles and a gas stove, “for more convenience.”
suddenly every passing minute in the house seemed to fill me with a rush of memory i did not anticipate…here i learnt to separate a coconut from its shell, here is where we pretended to sleep and told ghost stories, here is where the saree got stuck in the fan, here is where i tried milking the cow…i showed praveen all around, excited to be back home.
running along barefeet on the cowdung washed path again to the pond, i wondered where all these memories were bottled away for so many years…
i reached the steps from where i would survey the fields, hands on my hips, waiting for a familiar face, or mischief. there i spotted the pit where my sister had fallen in and had begun to wail while we laughed, and then the little rock we used to run to. i also saw the route that led to the manthravadi’s house. i smiled. it’s all forgiven now, i thought, how angry and hurt i’d been then…
it was not necessary.
they thought it was about time i got married. but the panicker (traditional astrologer) said ‘no’. he drew some squares on the floor, and determined i was afraid. that i should stay away from water. that i was too much of a rebel. also, that i was blessed. so they took me to the manthravadi to flush the deep-rooted fear and anger out of me.
when my little cousin told me rather naively “chechi, everyone who go to him collapse at the end of the session, you too will…” i did not believe him. i trusted reason over religion, and i guess that’s how i knew why. with not a lot of road lights around the fields, houses deeper inside like this one are almost eerie in the pitch darkness, add to it the crimson-red pieces of cloth swaying in the breeze, and the white-bearded manthravadi’s harsh voice shouting incantations that even the dense sambrani (strong incense) fumes could not drown. we were seated on the cold stone floor and another grid of rice-sprinkled squares lay between the black magician and me. at intervals, he seemed charged by some inner force, and then he would throw sharp paddy grains on my face, little bruises from which were to last for over a week. about an hour later when my feet were almost dead with lack of blood circulation, one of his assistants got a black hen they would later sacrifice….
i looked around for answers, angry, almost humiliated, but when i saw the helpless look in my mother’s eyes, i grew up. had my cousin been a few years older, i would explain to him that i did not collapse because i was not afraid. and that no one should be. looking back today, i realise that somehow the incident had indeed made me stronger.
on the train back to bombay that year, i flung away the silver amulet that the black magician had asked me to wear, and along with it my memories of mundakottukurisi. and then i promised myself “i will never come back again.”
my aunt’s call for tea and unniappam, and achchamma’s voice brought me back to the fields i was staring at. it wasn’t necessary, i argued with myself again. anyways, with or without that episode in my life things had turned out for the best, and i was very happy with praveen. suddenly i knew why i was there…i had to erase the anger from my heart, and my promise. mundakottukurisi was a storehouse of my childhood memories.
i had to come back.
as i sighed and hopped back over the steps as i used to before, i heard grandma tell praveen “she grew up running among the trees and the fields here… but see, even after all these years, my child hasn’t changed at all!”
i felt a painful lump in my throat as i swallowed a tear.
no achchamme, this time, you forgot…