Life is full of bittersweet memories; memories that make you cry, some memories that make you smile.
For Jenifer and I, Kerala was a home away from home. It was a welcome respite from the humdrum and monotony of city life. It was a strange world, after all. A world of the dismal ant -elephant whose disappearance was thrilling to watch, a world where we could wake up smelling the rich aroma of fresh coffee and the distant sounds of cock -a- doodle -doo.
Our paternal house is a single storied standalone house with quite a broad area around it; a well, a cow shed with 2 or 3 cows, a hen house, rubber trees at the backyard, and fruit trees on the sides. The first few hours of our arrival was a joy to behold as we were treated like kings, but soon the glory starts fading away. A typical day at grandma’s house begins at 5.30, breakfast at 8, lunch at 1, evening tea and snacks at 4 and dinner at 7 and off you go to bed!!
We all are well fed before we were put to work. With the unenviable task of drawing out gallons of water from the well, to the nonsense of clearing the courtyard of dried foliage, one becomes a trained worker at granny’s house. At one point in time, we are six girls in the house. Granny decides who will do what. Elder ones are given brooms made out of coconut tree leaves, and the area is divided for cleaning.
Granny gave me a furrowed look as she peered through her spectacles and muttered, “You are late for the coffee..Look! Jenny has finished, and she has started sweeping the courtyard!” I gulped down my coffee, which I would have otherwise enjoyed sipping. I grabbed a sweet rice cake and ran to join my cousins for the morning exercise.
Yeah! It was an exercise. An exercise of the body matched with one’s wit and expertise of ‘who does it well’ and gets the minimal area to sweep. After that Herculean task, little did we realise that granny had more on her platter. In her singsong voice, she said, “Jenny! Look at those coconuts there, see how well the husk is removed! “”So? I wondered…what then?”
“Well! “Granny continued. “That was all done yesterday by your cousin Jeniffer“.
“Gosh!!! Jeniffer?? “I wondered.” What’s wrong with her?” She has come all the way from Delhi to do this horrendously laborious task of peeling off coconut husk” I groaned. So, she has set a precedent, and I was no match for her abilities, so I reclined and ran away, much to my grandma’s criticism. She will remember it and take it up next time.
When 6 of us got together, we could give anyone a tough time. Watching TV was never so exciting in Kerala. A task we generally ignored in Delhi, to our surprise gave us much pleasure and fun in Kerala. We used to compete and fight over channels. Eventually, the smartest would settle with the remote and others had to sing the same tune. However, none of us could outsmart our only sole rival in the contest. Guess what? Yes! Electricity supply! The moment we got the choicest of channels to watch and voila! The power supply failed! The mystery seemed to get murkier every time it happened. Finally, the detectives in us got to the bottom of the matter, and the case was cracked, the culprit was caught red-handed.
Well! He was none other but our dear grandpa. Of course, we knew the reason for switching off the power supply! The soaring electricity bill in a village was a matter of grave concern. It used to be discussed in the family get together, Church functions, over the dining table, in the toddy shop, the list is endless! The inflated discussions were done by our dear granny, grandpa, aunts, uncles and the list goes on…till the entire town knew of the shady deeds of two prodigious girls from Delhi. Eventually, we mastered the art of misgivings and the art of sustainability. So much so that we were the best examples to emulate when it came to saving electricity and phone bills.
However, that fame was short-lived thanks to my cousin Jenni. Jenn was an avid reader, and she was fascinated with something all girls of our age (the teenage …or ache!) were fond off. Guessed right! Mills and Boons. She had brought five books neatly tucked in her suitcase and proudly displayed her collection to me. I took one book eager to comprehend the enigma of Mills and Boons when my dad caught me. The cover gave me away, and my dad looked like my worst nightmare come true. Both Jenni and I had to face the brunt. She didn’t open her mouth, and my dad concluded that I was the culprit! Phew…that was one hell of an experience. The next day we couldn’t even locate a single copy…they seemed to have gone with the wind, and as the days passed on, no one uttered a word about it. We forgot that scandal as we spent more time with our friends and relatives.
We used to love our relatives as much as they loved us. However, there is a difference. Not that the love of money had made us greedy and materialistic. It was just the sheer pleasure of filling our pockets with the lovely goodies they gave that we looked forward to them. The parting days were full of anguish and excitement—the anguish of leaving our native village and the excitement of earning a few bucks. On our way back we used to ponder when our next trip to Kerala would be due with the prospect of gifts and money doubling with every visit!