My mind often wanders to those notorious corners of the brain that store self-shaped theories of incidents ridden with guilt, hesitation, stalling, anger and procrastination. From time to time, it prods awake the precarious train of thoughts that have been pushed over time, and conscious efforts, to an unmindful recess. To a moss-gathering nook that so diligently maintains an account of all trespassing and hypothetical what ifs. What if, my bank balance runs out tomorrow? What if, plan A fails? What if, I had chosen a different course of study five years ago? What if, I wake up one morning to discover that Pachai is no longer by my side? What if, plan B doesn’t pan out in the way it is meant to? What if, there is no plan C or D? Would I leave the city? Would I look up to an automatic, run-of-the-mill backup? Would I choose family? Or, go someplace where I can push one more bitter thought to that moss-amassing corner and start afresh?
Aside from the self-proclaimed tags of being a musician and a writer, travel is an effusive companion I inevitably look up to. It is like a faithful escort that invokes in me a different kind of pleasure every time I feed off it. I am yet to find my comfort zone while travelling solo without an agenda, yet I have discovered its certainty as of the one drug I can’t do without injecting. Over time, its aim and purpose, and mode and distance have become subjective to the point of not mattering anymore. As one travels over more and more places, the taste buds unravel acute flavours in the process. Letting the gallivanter settle on the ones they find appealing. My palate is towns. Or, places the areas of which do not exceed a radius of fifty kilometres. Because they invoke in me a sense of belonging. Without ado. They bring about an attachment that is unquestionable and demands no looking beyond. An instantaneous affiliation to the extent that I do not dismiss the possibility of settling in it should the need ever arise. Kochi, Havelock Island, Valparai, Patnitop, Koh Samui, Madurai, Pahalgam, Kanyakumari, Manali, Kodaikanal and Masinagudi are some places I would hop off to over and over. Towns and cities with which I have felt an unsaid and unexplainable bonding. If the chance were ever to materialise, I would not mind living in any one of these locations. While the course of travelling enables us to reflect upon the dearest bits off our appetising salver, in the process, they also (in)voluntarily unearth our treasure troves. The jewel in the crown. The best-loved. Our first choice.
Hands down, Valparai tops my charts.
I first visited Valparai in October 2016, and my second trip was in June 2017. Although the people, the purpose and the weather were different at both times, Valparai’s elegance is abiding. I was already charmed by the simple-mindedness that swathes this petite hilltop, yet my holiday a week ago felt like the town had washed me over. By bringing me back those savouring moments, reminding me why I had so hopelessly fallen in love with this hamlet in the first place. As hopelessly as an unrequited love that doesn’t worry about what it receives in return, for it can’t let go of its lover in the first place.
There hangs a lull of mist in the town’s air around the year except for the two summer-inflicted months. Showers in the monsoon combined with a chill in the atmosphere and otherwise cold temperatures spawn the need to snuggle up in cosy corners at most times. The central town spreads for a few kilometres where inhabitants generate and go about their daily employment. Built-in retail stores sprinkle the market’s thoroughfare like dots to attract vain-glory tourists through sales of locally produced goods. Immigrants and a fair share of locals earn their way through toiling their brawn in resorts, inns and homestays, or the numberless tea estates. A noisy atmosphere resides in the five kilometres of the town’s central and only marketplace. Else, there’s silence. A golden one at that.
Tea and coffee (at select locations) plantations bed out nonstop like motifs embroidered in an unimpaired loop of stitches. Forests, trees and animals are given significance over us – humans. They have the right to the roads here and we, as a self-proclaimed supreme race, are mere encroachers of the town. The laid-back lullaby in the air, the draping greys over the horizon, the welcoming warmth of the sun on days it peeks over the ashen-faced clouds are heartening blemishes on one’s mood. It is like listening to a happy, sad song. Like noticing the moon has flecks. Trees, greenery and any branching structures run amok and wild for as far as the eyes claim sight, embracing every bit of the earth they can burgeon upon. If one were to get lost amidst the woods, none might know until the news of the death reaches the thick of the town, a time by which it may matter no more. An incident the woodland may whisper hereafter amidst them. Passing the avid details like a dirty little secret from leaf to leaf and trunk to trunk, of the individual who was gorged like a grotesque gargoyle in the wee hours. While the forest may divulge the details of the incident openly, a mockery of Chinese whispers could flow between the greens, passing snide remarks about us simpletons having the audacity to call ourselves a supreme race, despite being unable to comprehend their language; the basis that differentiates humankind from other things living. As humans, we cannot discern the rustling of the leaves or the ensuing quiver of the air. And here we are, declaring our dominance and intelligence over everything and everyone else.
The beguiling silence, the fetching greenery, a dreamy weather and inhabitants’ simplicity at its best. I suppose it’s easy to fall for a town as such. Much so, that departing at the end of a holiday can feel gut-wrenching. To the point of throwing a crybaby tantrum.
A prodding when there is no design in sight and the occurrence of an eventuality when there isn’t any expectation helps because when it happens, it isn’t as if we didn’t see it coming. As human beings, we are clueless of the curveballs we will be thrown with at the next bend of the lane we are walking on. Nothing lasts forever; it isn’t meant to. In a second, we are celebrating the arrival of a newborn and snap! we are in an inverted headrest attempting to compose our gushing adrenaline. The impermanence of it all brings with it a beauty, because the moment we are bestowed with powers to predict our future, we will forget to live our today.
And so, at the confrontation of a life-altering curveball, maybe I will leave home and all things that are neither fish or fowl. Travel to a town that bears no connection to any of it. Go someplace I have found easy to belong to. Seek interim solace by getting lost in it. And maybe, find my home there.