Wednesday, February 17, 2016

From a distant shore...

An uncle visited us from my native village. Thin, wiry, beaten flat by life—but he’s a survivor. Not just that, he has a wicked sense of humour, a sort of dark humour which shines through unexpectedly. ‘Throw him in a desert and he’ll thrive there,’ says Mom, which is apt for him, although I’d say, ‘throw anyone in a desert and they’ll thrive’ because humans are designed for resilience which comes to the fore in the toughest situations even in unlikely candidates.

 I spent some time with him, chatting him up on the usual affairs, enquiring about the impending marriage of his second son, etc., and soon he left before urging me to come visit the village more often. ‘Come at least once a year,’ he said. ‘You don’t know how long we’ll all be alive.’ That was kinda enough to make me sentimental for a while but all along I was moving from the past to the present then back to the past, reminiscing on many events surrounding him. It was as if he had pushed a button, a trigger inside me, unleashing many obscure memories which were lying dormant from ages.

I was probably my son’s age when, on the way to school I would stop at this uncle’s shop and he would pass me a ten rupee note. Ten rupees!!! In the early 80s (probably 1982), it was like a bloody 100 or 200 rupees and I honestly didn’t know what to do with that kind of treasure except eat a delicious masala dosa in a hotel, then save up the rest for more delicacies later on. This guy was that generous, not just in handing over a 10 rupee note every single day to a 8 year-old kid, but in every other way, with many others around him. But then, there were roller-costers that awaited him.

He almost tapped on the door of death, and returned safe. I remember Mom carrying me one night, waiting by the roadside outside our house for Dad, and suddenly start wailing aloud looking at me, wailing for her brother who was almost on the verge of death. I distinctly remember my acute embarrassment and bewilderment at her outpouring of grief, not knowing what to do, how to respond or what to say. Why should elders cry their hearts out in front of kids who’re unused to such intense emotions, was a question that remains fresh even today. When I look back at anything traumatic in my childhood, one of the incidents that stands out is this—the grief and helplessness of elders. Strange that this harmless gesture leaves such a mark in ones psyche!

What’s really remarkable in this whole back and forth episode involving my uncle is that, a whole set of memories and impressions have started to come alive. And all these memories belong to a small place—a rented house in a locality on the southern outskirts of Bangalore city. We lived in that house for around 5 years. We grew up there before hitting pre-adolescence. There were friends, neighbours, an owner, his wife who died of jaundice leaving behind a small daughter, his second wife who ill-treated the girl, her stories of Mandya, her affair and dalliance with a relative who would drop by when the husband wasn't around. Then there was Venu. His parents and their orthodoxy. His first son-in-law who was a sleazy flirt, whom we suspected was eyeing our maid, the very maid who saved me from getting kidnapped once, and who was giving out lusty feelers towards him. There was Abraham and his television, and how we would go to their house to watch movie songs, and how they made us sit on the floor while they sat on the chairs. Another friend who got bitten by our dog. My school. The friends and bitter sweet memories over there. The rains, flooded streets, the sweat. The utter humiliation and happiness. Ganesha festival and deepawali. Standing in long queues in ration shops. Preparing delicacies on the eve of festivals. Sitting on a compound wall and singing ‘Akleshi Makleshi’. Fracturing an arm and then going with Mom at night to her colleague's place-- a house with a lot of young girls, and then to a hospital and having my arm in a sling for months. Then realizing, years later, that Mom's colleague ran a prostitution ring with those girls. The fights with local bullies and the trauma. Hearing sacred words like 'amman', 'akkan' for the first time. Dad and his anger. Calling sister as 'bewarsi' and getting thoroughly washed by Mom.

Like a million colours exploding, it’s a riot of memories, a sort of flood-gates opened rush of events, people, their lives and their imprint on me. That place—it exists no more. But it continues to live as a piece of vibrant past, as if it has an eternal existence in a parallel universe, and the life over there continues unabated even now. 

And it seeks an expression-- as a memoir, a novel, or a series of non-fiction write-ups.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that it seeks a verbal expression or written works. When people touch our lives in this way we must memorialize that. He sounds very important on this earth.