Home, at Last

Six years ago, on May 11, I came to an unknown city with nothing more than an offer letter to join work at a multinational corporation. I was seeking job opportunities in India; I wanted to return to my homeland from the Gulf, having only begun my professional career. A family friend introduced me to a promising portfolio and work environment, four months after which I bade goodbye to the tranquil and retire-worthy sultanate of Oman. While looking up career openings, I was open when it came to the location and the scope of my job. So, accepting employment in Chennai was no big deal. However, apart from the family friend who helped me get into this IT enterprise, I was neither familiar with the radius of the city nor its people. And so, receiving a culture shock when I landed is an understatement.

Everyplace I went to the native tongue caught me off guard. My trials with the local language were thwarted in an intimidating yet straightforward one-liner – your Tamil is different. It felt like I was getting caught red-handed in some daredevil act. Like, my attempt to speak Tamil wasn’t boding well with the locals, a madcap venture they saw as one no less than committing a criminal offence. At first, it was the dialect, then the pronunciation, and then the intonation each of which catapulted me two paces backwards whenever I wanted to take one step ahead. Even today, I don’t feel confident with Tamil; my command over the language isn’t any cleaner, clarified or eloquent. I shy away from speaking it in public, seeking refuge in the same excuse I had covertly created upon freshly arriving in the city in 2011 – my Tamil isn’t that great.

My colleagues at the workplace were the first of my friends in the city. But, there was only so much I associated with them over five working days. I hardly spent any weekends with them; almost never. The accommodation I had to finalise within two weeks of my arrival didn’t help. Tamil dominated my roommates’ conversations, television channels, and daily meals. I couldn’t communicate with them in any way they resonated with and also, failed to follow their ordinary and harmless exchanges. The unknown realms at all nooks and crannies felt like an overload, and it started getting the better of me. Be it the language, the daily lifestyle or the eating habits, I didn’t connect with an origin of such kinds because my upbringing is seeded in a different atmosphere belonging to cities in Western, Eastern and Northern India. Every single day, Chennai bestowed me with sightings and sensing unlike the previous, and an inexperienced one at that. While my roommates seemed content in their dailies, I struggled to adjust to my surroundings. Set aside weekends, I could not spend any other time looking for places to rent or explore the surroundings close by. And so, I began seeking shelter in a space I felt the most comfortable in then – my office.

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I avoided coming back to my accommodation unless it was time for the last shuttle to leave the workplace facility. Maggi and my laptop were dinnertime solaces after I reached by half past ten, a time by which most of my roommates had either retired or left for working night shifts. I felt creepy cooking for myself in a kitchen that coated and refurbished in grimy floor tiles, slabs, stovetop and gas burners. It was surprising to discover no rodents sneaking or goofing around with such filth to chaperone. Even the exhaust fan in here dispensed rolls of dirt cakes, and there was only so much endurance I could sustain to boil a packet of noodles every night. I failed to communicate to my roommates of the unhygienic living we were inhabiting.

Despite the momentary and exclusive struggles, I didn’t despise the city. I couldn’t; it gave me my bread-n-butter, after all. But, nothing more. At least not for the first three-quarters of the year. I earned time-off from work on December 30 and 31 the year I joined. And I spent that New Year in Chennai, alone.

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Photo Credit: Vishnu Kumar Prasad

In February 2012, while the last of the little traces of winter this seaport receives ebbed away, I travelled to the Western Ghats in Karnataka in a company of thirty-five others. A colleague from work had introduced me to a non-profit trekking organisation. Upon enrolling into it, I came across people – a variety of them. Like-minded, able-minded, sound-minded, dissimilar-minded, different minded and some unmindful. I found friends while in the company of these thirty-five, a circle I could make plans with outside of work. Back then, I couldn’t have asked for more, however, and apparently, that wasn’t all. The sociocultural backgrounds we came from, the nature of jobs we were into, the individual interests we as a collective group had (apart from travelling), couldn’t have been more contrasting. But they took me in their stride without so much as a question about my background. They accepted my poor grappling of the local language, and that they will need to Peter vittu-fy if I had to understand them. From this group of thirty-five and outside of my friends’ circle, I found a boy to my liking. We got into a relation. When I left for a vacation from my job back home to my parents, I missed him. He did too. As I returned two weeks later, the feeling of being unacquainted with the city coupled with the unpleasantness of having to return to my accommodation turned me sour. I felt unsettled in that temporary phase of desperation. When I expressed my irritability about it to my lover, he reminded me of him being a part of the same city I was whining about. It was enough to shut me up.

As time passed, the traffic congestion from my accommodation to office increased. So did the frequenting with my friends. I went to the cinema theatre and was introduced to contemporary film stars in the Kollywood movie industry. It was an experience like I hadn’t had before. Or, it was just the bunch of people I was with. The boy I’d taken a liking to and was in a relationship with broke it off. We’d had fun when together, but it was time to fall out. And apart. Our needs were different, so were our priorities. All too soon, he flew out of the country for an official assignment in a foreign land, and I started being around my circle of friends all the more.

Within this bunch of friends, I met another boy. And I fell into another relationship. Only, neither of us ever called it one. Per se, we didn’t date, we didn’t court, and we didn’t go out. We weren’t doing anything except, we saw each other. We met whenever we wanted to. Whenever it worked with the two of us. My accommodation started becoming bearable. But the commuting time now was long and dreary, curtsied by the traffic. This boy was a resident of Chennai, living with family. He got me homemade food. He took me to parks and zoos. He got me detergent packets when I ran out of it for my laundry. He got me some more homemade food when I was sick and taking leaves at work. He took me to the doctor. His mother inquired about my well-being when I was unwell. He got me piping hot dosas with finger-licking sambhar and coconut chutney on the sides – at first of his accord, and then, every time I asked for it. Anbu kadai dosas had transpired as my dinner starting a week later. He met me after work when I’d had a long or a low day, despite him reaching home. He took me out for dinner at such of those times even if that meant looking for an open eat-out after eleven in the night, only to drop me back afterwards. After I figured I could no longer manage the daily commute of such distance to and fro from work, he took me house-hunting. We spent two consecutive weekends from morning until evening looking at houses; I had some lessons learnt, so I eyed my potential roommates as well this time. I don’t know if I had it in me to live and manage alone then. I don’t even know if it was him or sheer luck, but I found a place of stay where I could gossip late into the night with my new roommates. My hours in office decreased as my repertoire of friends in the city shot up. In here, there came in a cook who did dishes per my taste. Although I was yet coping with the language, the town nonetheless began to seem welcoming. When I went for a vacation from work back home this time, I still felt alienated upon my return. As I whined about it in a moment of weakness, this boy reassured me all was okay. He didn’t bring my attention to the fact that he was a resident of the same city I was cribbing and carping about.

That October of 2012, I married him. And we went house-hunting once more. Only to live together this time. By then, Chennai was transforming into a city I liked being a part of; yet no further.

Work began hitting a low after three years. I got promoted with some amount of dirt staining on the linen’s inside, but the step-up didn’t feel fulfilling. Something seemed amiss. The old circle of colleagues I was once around had fast dissipated each carrying their course of lives, only to reunite if ever chance and choice permitted. The task portfolio I looked into was now managed by a new set of hands, a pair that couldn’t have been more dissimilar and discouraging from the previous one. While my vivacity had swerved a complete U-turn, the reason I had first come to the city was fast slipping from my hands. Ebbing away into the horizon. With time, I figured there was little I could do about it. In fact, there was little I wanted to do about it because it was in this city I realised of my attraction in creatives. I wanted to sing. Write. I began to explore Chennai’s boundaries by myself, as I discovered my areas of interests. I got into music circles, singing classes, and writing abodes that connected me with like-minded people. With my interest soon waning from the IT enterprise I was employed in, I was trying to establish my ground, my mojo. And the city was handing me it all, as it always has, unconditionally.

With time, I only understood that the city of Chennai was befriending me in a way that no other had. It was lending me itself in ways I hadn’t seen was coming. It was granting me all that I sought, and way beyond. A teacher whose wavelengths and ideologies I look up to and the one from whom I learn singing. Nightclubs and discotheques alongside some strong and remembrance-worthy souvenirs from each of those late evenings and early mornings. Events, functions, gatherings and concerts for dramas, theatre, musical performances, spiritual rituals and comedy clubs. There is nothing this city doesn’t have. If I wanted to be a part of something, all I had to figure was a set of people to match the need. Or, wait to discover my mojo to travel solo.

Travelling from Chennai has been nothing short of a boon; into the woods, the wild, the islands, local, national, and beyond the country’s mapping boundaries. Be it luxury or pauper style travelling, road trips or backpacking, sleeper-class journeys or coupe sojourns, Maharaja-styled seats or the Dreamliner way, there isn’t a page left unturned. The end of every one of my travel tales have had me sulking, but Chennai has only welcomed me with warmth and an embrace every time I have returned from a trip. It took me time to soak into the city’s pulse, its vibe, and its rhythm. But I wasn’t complaining about any of it. I have never had. After all, it has given me all the time I have demanded.

My job and the corporate sector in due course lost my respect and purpose. The shell no longer appeared radiant. With the internal conflicts, mind games and politics most invested their time in, I found the lustre of my work tapering off. It all seemed like a pitiful waste of energy. Although it was that very pole of a magnet which had brought me to Chennai in the first instance, it now felt like I was trying and attracting like poles with that magnet. The career path repulsed me. It was boring sitting in the cubicle, typing on the keyboard anything other than work deliverables. I felt disgusted with the vain money-making and money-churning process. Chennai took me to its grits when I did what I know I wanted to. Calling it quits. Not only from my job but also from leading a corporate-dominated lifestyle. Chennai accepted it with a face, for it relies upon a spirit and psyche of its own. At the bottom of it all, it is likely to cost a lot to shackle the core of this city, for it is unlike any other, I have been in or lived in thus far. I only had to choose to accept what this quaint little, secluded town offered me; moreover, trust in its bestowals. And it became my spine. Just like that. It transfigured into my backbone, a glory I bask in today. It accepted me for who I was. For what I was. Needless to mention, four years later after I came to the city, I began to like it. By 2016, I had become somewhat friendly with the city’s geography, landscaping and topography. I spoke enough Tamil to bargain with roadside vendors in the city market. In turn, Chennai allowed me liberty enough to rely on its public transport system no matter where I went, day or night. 6 AM or 11 PM.

Till date, I don’t rely on any Ola or Uber. But I thrive and flourish in the city’s commuting system. It has never failed me, or my trust. Unlike the former.

Last week I was visiting Bengaluru on account of the long weekend. I was convalescing from a bout of cold, body pain and general symptoms of being under the weather. Although the trip was meant to unwind and take my mind off a few mental preoccupations, a purpose I considered consummated by the end of my vacation, the sight of the city outskirts couldn’t have appealed more in the wee hours of the morning I had returned. I felt uplifted by some force unknown as the Basin Bridge junction came looming into view at 4:40 AM. I was shaken awake with a couple of sharp raps on my shoulder. The train wasn’t moving; it had held its ground, awaiting the signal to pull itself through the last leg and reach us to our destination – the Chennai Central train station, a distance that otherwise was five minutes away. I discerned the faint whistling of the engine as I noticed the inky heavens pave the way to first wake-up calls of the cuckoos and the crows. As the driver gently tugged its followers, chugging metal on metal in the slow motion of a rhythm, I glimpsed the platforms of the Central station. It was a warm morning, and yet I felt goosebumps on my arms. As I stepped out with an airbag and a shoulder bag I grinned like a Cheshire cat, unmindful of the prospective stares from the coolies and the active platform salesmen.

Nothing had changed about the city or in the way it greeted me this time. It was all the same – the warmth, the wide-open arms, the familial cuddle, and the ultimate sense of belonging. A clutch-and-cling I was able to reciprocate this time in all sincerity and entirety.

For I was home. At last.

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Arohara

Tiruchendur, May 2012:

I was aware of our travel itinerary bearing a visit to you. However, I wasn’t prepared for the series of seamlessly accidental incidents that were to follow suite. Little did I know, that I was on my way to striking one of the most intense and honest chords with someone. You. As we found a comfortable parking spot near your abode, I trotted off with my friends to the entrance of your shrine. I remember passing on subtle signs of liking this boy from the group I was with then; you knew about it even before I toyed with the idea of ‘what next?’. But you held your quiet. I am not sure if you paved the way for him, but I do not recall receiving any benevolent signs from you back then. You stood sheltered under your rajagopuram, as beamy as always you have been in this sanctum in the aftermath of banishing that fateful asura in the conjoining sea. Your face was clad in wet ash in a coating so thick that your kohl-sketched eyes and lip-line were as vivid and discernible as the outlines of the pictures in a kid’s colouring book. Vibhuthi Alankaaram or Vibhuti Alankara, they told me. You stood there calm and unmoving, while your fans yelled your name, pervading the air with a numinous aura. Your smile failed to waver and needed no support in itself, for it was a finery capable of holding ground by itself. I felt drawn to you like an insect to pollen. My nape tingled, and I felt butterflies in my stomach. Till date, I cannot place my finger on the ‘why’. I felt attracted to you. I stood there one amongst the throng that was besieging you and drawing your attention towards them. I was no different. For, I hoped you had spotted me. I wanted you to look at me. I desired for you to remember me. I was unlikely to forget you; more so, your face. Ever. It was the first time I had felt captivated by a stationary idol. The air was different. The crowd’s callouts failed to bother me; they sounded distant and unconnected. Rather contradictory to my sentiments for you, I must say. The push from the priests to keep moving the queue did not annoy me for it only seemed natural. I could stay there admiring you all day and still not get enough of you. I could continue to stand and look at you without getting tired. Or bored. Your heartwarming smile, the lucid posture discharging an ambience of victory, and your acceptance of me as simply as the air does the breeze had had me arrested. My dreamy temper lasted until the boy whom I liked tapped my shoulder. It was time to leave. I fluttered out of my reverie thinking, what had just happened?

Tiruttani, September 2014:

A native insect had bitten me. My body had begun to itch. It failed to cease, giving way to crimson rashes seconds later. In under a couple of minutes, my lips had swollen to the size conjured in the aftermath of a bee’s sting. I was unable to speak for they felt thick, dry and extremely itchy. I felt unable to fold my hands or flex my fingers as my limbs and flesh had ballooned. I was unable to move, for my feet and toes stung, and my legs felt heavy. As if I were injected with elephantiasis without warning or ado. Tears dripped in a steady column across my puffy cheekbones soaking my feeble eyelashes. The boy I had told you of a year-and-a-half had now married me and was smearing the holy ash all over my limbs to stop my skin from burning after the constant itching. He asked me to close my eyes and think of you. He promised me that we would visit you in the abode that sprung to my mind at that moment, soon after I get well. I believed him and did as he told. Your ashen-faced grin silhouetted my reticent contours. When we visited you a month later, I realised that Vibhuthi Alankaaram is not an exclusivity reserved for your seaside abode and that your dressing and elaboration were transferable. Nonetheless, all that time I had held an unrealised desire to see you adorned in the embers of the holy ash, and you gave me what I had asked for. Even if, at another residence. Without premonitions. Or expectations. Who does that?

Swamimalai, September 2014:

It took me time to record the memories I had dotted with you over seasons. I enjoy(ed) visiting you, no doubts; however, the process of collecting my souvenirs with you was gradual. Every time we entered your shrines, I made a mental note to remember something – anything – significant that would help me memorise the way you are in that specific abode. For, you are different in each of your six homes. Your carvings vary, and distinctly. As if the sculptors had deliberately wanted to be careful while reflecting your vibes to the analogous tales of the particular abodes, without tampering. While each one of your six padai veedu is back linked to a mythological story, it was in this veedu you preached your father the meaning of a mystic monosyllable. You became his guru and asked him to sit down signifying his discipleship towards you – a demand the latter beckoned to. After all, a child’s mischief can warm the cockles of one’s heart. May be, this is why the sight of your face lustred in a golden paste of sandalwood with a sizeable circle of sindoor on your forehead imprinted in my memory. Chandanam Alankaaram or Chandan Alankara drew my attention to your fair-sized face you have in this veedu. After Vibhuthi Alankaaram had (un)knowingly begun to top my wish list every time I met you, little did I realise that Chandanam Alankaaram will follow the sequence. For, I secretly kept hoping for it in my subsequent visits.

Pazhamudircholai, December 2015:

A babble broke out in the queue. A group of people screamed and shoved their way inside the rajagopuram. As the line inched forward, I felt a push on my back. I tripped as the crowd that was the source of the din pushed its way past me. They did not give me a second look. Pachai asked me to ignore them and focus on the reason we were here. The sequence of people in the queue progressed, and I saw you. Settled with your two-thirds, one of them by each of your side. A look of peace manifested from your countenance, the solitude transferable. Your silent gaze had an acupuncture-like effect on me – piercing and calming at the same time. I forgot my anxiety and displeasure I was engulfed with seconds back. Like nothing had happened. The corresponding tale of concluding your quests in your five other padai veedu and choosing this mountain amidst a reserve forest for penultimate settlement couldn’t have borne a finer justification. As if to complement this untroubled aura, a circular mark in red pigment adorned your forehead, and your face was smothered in a velvety layer of sandalwood paste. Watching your fans grow emotional in your presence is your routine, I believe.

Tiruchendur, December 2015:

By now, I had almost by-hearted the cheerful beam you preserve in here. This time, however, I had the chance to admire you beneath and beyond your facial profile because you were ornamented from head to toe. Your head was bedecked in an ornately sequinned and patterned crown. An equally grand, if not more, and suave dhoti swathed your legs. Garlands of flowers, big and small, pink and white, yellow and green cloaked your torso in a manner that no less than complimented your upper and lower attiresRaja Alankaaram or Raja Alankara, they told me. Perhaps, it was a pearl from your palatial garb that convulsed as a teardrop on the brim of my lash. The first of my many open and unabashed sentiments in your midst. That feeling of karunai. Long live the grin!

Palani, January 2016:

You denied me utsavam tickets for that afternoon, although we had come in at the last minute. However, by now, I knew you enough to bear in you a blind faith. When you did not permit me to attend your purpose-built prayer rituals, I was angry for a whole minute. Then I argued that you must have a reason for your signalled inklings and that you will not disappoint me had it not been for a cause. You beckoned to my thought-process for, not only did you let me feast my eyes that day on you ornamented in Raja Alankaaram, but also you treated me to utsavam at my kula deivam (the deity my clan worships) the same evening. Could I have asked for more?

Pazhamudircholai, July 2017:

Two people engaged in a discussion in front, as I stood with my fingers intertwined, the palms of both hands turned inward resting on my thigh. One asked if you were decorated in Vibhuthi, and the other pointed to your crown and sparkling dhoti disputing the suggestion altogether, calling it Raja Alankaaram. While I had believed it to be the former, after the superiorly declaration, my mind became disputed. I was confused to the point of being in turmoil. Because Raja Alankaaram would have meant that my belief of seeing you in Vibhuthi Alankaaram was false. It would have meant that my wish in that trip would have been left unfulfilled. It was past dusk and the day was drawing to a close. So was the temple. The priests were rushing the crowd in the queue. Soon after, they closed the curtains for you had to be readied to sleep after the last worship for the day. We made our way to the exit and sat for a couple of minutes near the entrance, ready to leave. The security guard who mistook us for people waiting for the curtains to reopen urged us to reenter the shrine. Why must we see you from near the exit when we had a chance to do so from far closer, he reasoned. We obliged. The curtains opened as bells began to be rung and mantras chanted in similar timbres. One of the priests offered you a sequence of wick lamps soaked in ghee in repetitive circular motions. You stood in peace as you always have, clad in a plain white dhoti. Your head was devoid of the crown, and so was the rest of your body from any sequinned or patterned attire. All of it had been removed except the layer of ash and kohl-smeared eyes and lip-line. They remained as-is. My mind automatically unknotted itself from the conflicts it was strung with in the past half hour.

Thiruparankundram, July 2017:

By now, I had souvenirs from five of your other veedu but none, even in fragments, from here. I climbed the flight of steps leading up to the shrine hoping to catch a hint, a take away at least this time. Upon entering the sanctum, I got a chance to stand close to you; the priests let me be, for the crowd was minimal that day. Rows upon rows and columns upon columns of wick lamps drenched in sesame oil hung low from all sides, close to your face. Your eyes were open, your face devoid of any makeup or coating, and your lips curved upward an inch or so. The sculpture appeared a shade of military green in the lights. The seconds stretched into minutes, lapsing me into the world that was oblivious to calls and beckons from the crowd. I thought I saw water surfacing on your eye. A droplet the size of a pearl seemed to trace a fine line on your right cheek. Was it a carving sculpted to resemble a tear-stained cheek? Or, had a tiny cleft developed in the recent years? I thought I saw your eyeballs move in circles, creating illusions of mischief. You rolled your eyes like a child up to something naughty. They orbited to corners you commanded them to. It was an impishness that revealed a playful side of you. Apparently, the wick lamps were tricking me, conjuring illusions out of a delightful kaleidoscope. I had only hoped to strike a chord with something – anything – significant when I had entered. And I had oodles of it on my way out. Who does that?

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You accepted me without premonitions and reservations when I stepped into your seaside abode five years ago. It was as if you had stamped your seal of fate when that boy I liked and I walked into your sanctum. As if there were no further questions to be asked and nothing left to be discussed. I am indebted to you for it. You let me demand from you whenever I wanted to see you in one of my three favourite alankaarams. You let me be angry with you when I thought you had failed me. Despite which, you have never judged me. You have taken it all in your stride and more so, you have answered each one of my indecisions in ways I understand.

A friend once suggested that Lord Muruga is my close friend, and so visiting you feels like visiting friends. I think it is true. The journey of getting to know you has been unhurried, nonetheless a fulfilling one. Have I ever confessed to you, that you made it this easy for me only because you took to me without any questions? I walked into your durbar, and you claimed your ownership over me. I became yours. Just like that. Which, in turn, and over time, translated into affection. Fondness. Homage.

Your sight invokes tears in my eyes today. I let them flow without restraint.

You have given me Pachai. I could not ask for more. You have rewarded my wish of seeing you in my all-time favourite silhouettes of sandalwood paste, wet ash and the ruler’s crown every time I have considered it. I should not ask for more. It took me thirty years to realise that you have been alongside me all this while in the form of two fathers – Subramaniam Kumar and Sivakumar. I need not ask for more.

Arohara.

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Inked

If there isn’t any Plan, Knit one then & there

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?

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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.

Valparai

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.

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