Chapter 4 – A walk down the memory lane
A home video of my childhood would give the world an inside view of the population explosion in India. There were people everywhere.. on the beds, on the verandah, under the dining table – just everywhere.
My ancestral house stood tall in a huge compound with no compound walls, except for one in the front. I suppose the only reason it was there was that some wise man (or woman) thought a house needed to have a gate, and for the gate to be there, a wall – it didn’t matter if it was only on one side- was an absolute necessity. The only thing I still can’t comprehend is why the wall was built a good 100 meters from the road, the piece of land between the two overgrown with plants which sprouted and thrived there, only out of sheer negligence (that is where my house was built later on, and we promptly built a wall facing the roads on either side).
The whole day, there would be people moving in and out through this gate, and the non existent walls on the other three sides- sometimes bringing milk and provisions, for miscellaneous labor, or most of the time without any reason. No one would stop anybody from coming in, nor would people on the inside be asked questions about why they were there. Probably that is why when I hear about nations discussing open borders, the first thing that comes to my mind would invariably be my house and it’s imaginary walls.
just a piece of the pie
This miscellaneous labor I mentioned earlier most of the time had something to do with the coconut trees- either watering them from a stiff back hose connected to a makeshift kerosene-powered pump, climbing them to cut down the coconuts, or to tap toddy from the young shoots. I am sure the coconut trees used to share a very intimate relationship with the ponds in the compound as well, for it were these that supplied water to the watering pumps, and these were where the coconut climbers washed themselves and relaxed after a tiring day climbing the trees.
That's where I live now
Apart from the coconut trees, there were so many mango trees, and cashew nut trees, jack fruit trees, and numerous other trees that I don’t know the names of. These fruit bearing and other tees in turn harbored a host of birds, small animals and insects, and they stood there littering the whole place with dry and semi-dry leaves floating down in mini showers every time there was a breeze. There would also be other things falling of the trees at regular intervals which wouldn’t need a breeze to come down, and these most of the time were droppings of the little inhabitants.
Where the trees weren’t, there was fine white sand, and the house took a central position to this piece of land.
It wasn’t huge- just above the average size of homes of the time, with no gaudy appendages to it. I remember it had blue pillars(now they are painted brown), built only to support the roof – there was no artistic reason whatsoever as to why they were there. And it had floors of red, white and black oxide, with signs of little cracks here and there. At any given time, the floor would be covered with a light coat of soft sand which people carried in and out in small installments under their feet every time they transited through the house.
The largest and the most populous was the living room, with an old wooden TV on the farther end, supplemented by a long dining table, and followed by a sudden burst of unorganized chairs and couches of all shapes and sizes.
It is this room that accommodates most of my memories of the period. It would always be full of people, noises, paper and would never be neat.
7 in the evening was when the TV station would start transmission. About half an hour prior to this, the TV would promptly be shifted to the verandah, where all the village folk that had been working in the paddy fields, rearing cattle, spinning out coir ropes or doing nothing at all would be waiting anxiously for the program on black and white birth control, or black and white national integration (It was not until so many years later that Doordarshan started color). The programs would be in Hindi – it could as well have been in French, Latin or Afrikaans – there was not one person in the audience who could figure out Hindi any better.
By the time the TV was shifted back in, the couches would be occupied, and the bedrooms (except for a few which had people with permanent rights to them) would be accommodating at least one person extra than what they were supposed to seat (or lay).
There was one uncle of mine – who was much younger then- that had a very vocal right to the rectangular area under the heavy mahogany dining table, partly because that was only place he could assert his claim, and partly because it was bound never to be taken by anyone else. He would however, more than happily let me sleep with him at times.
Later on after he had graduated to sleeping on one of the beds, he would tell me the same story of the ET more times with the same exaggerated tone more times than what I can remember. The important thing is that I never even once got to the end of the story, because either I would sleep off listening or he would sleep off telling.
I owe a lot to this enormity of the number of faces and voices in my childhood. Thanks to them, I have never got lost in a crowd, or felt threatened by a grim situation - never felt like a fish out of the water – Well, at least not too much, and not too often either.