Saturday, December 25, 2010

Once upon a time...

The wrought iron gate creaked unexpectedly loud into the cold afternoon sun as I pushed it open. Shouldn't have been unexpected. Afterall, it had been shut for the past eight
years. The part of the gate where my hands touched suddenly struck a sharp contrast with the rest of the dust ridden metal. This gate used to be my airplane when I was six. I
would hop onto it and swing to faraway lands, in search of adventure. And it never failed to bring me back home.

I crossed the porch. Two padlocks later, I was inside the house. My grandparent's old house. A cloud of dust and cobwebs greeted me. A cursory cough, and I stepped inside. It was
dark. Not your normal dark. It was the kind of dark you get when a place hasn't seen light for a long long time. Its somehow, darker, as if light needs time to get reacquainted
with the place. Furniture lay exactly as I remembered it, draped with cloth that used to be white, a long time ago. A lizard scurried behind the cabinet, evidently astonished by
the sudden breaking and entering. This was where I had spent all my summers as a kid. This was the safest place in the world.

It was happy that I came, the house. It even had a present for me. Somehow, magically, it had preserved and bottled up all of its smells for me. Underneath all the layers of dust and
grime, I sensed familiar scents. I closed my eyes and followed the trail. My Grandfather's betel nuts and elaichis near the mantlepiece. The crisp parchment from the half open drawer.
The distinctive sea smell which the conches and seashells still carried after all these years. Seashells my Grandfather had picked up from the shore; once upon a time, like the
stories. The sandalwood murtis. The huge bed, where I would lie in my Grandmother's arms as she taught me all about stories. Everything had a story behind it, she said. And
everything here did. Every wall had a trapdoor. Every cupboard had a secret compartment. The bookshelf was a top secret weapons base and the wardrobe was a time machine. Oh, and my
Grandfather's walking stick was a katana. Actually, still is.

The garden, once disciplined by my Grandmother, now grew haphazardly all over the place. But still, the scent was the same. The mixture of all the flowers, whose names no one else
knew but her. And the all so familiar guava and neem trees. The swing in the porch where I would spend afternoons playing my first harmonica. Evenings would consist of the ritualistic
watering of her plants. I would trundle alongside her, half buried under the huge pipe, as she spoke to each plant she watered. Each plant had a name. Each plant had a story. I
listened intently. And implored her to tell it again the next day. Ritualistic imploring begetted ritualistic storytelling.

Nights were spent on the terrace, under the moonlit sky. As she taught me about the overhead stars. Here came the real stories. Of Gods and men and wise old creatures. She traced
them in the sky. Pointed them out to me. Somehow, the sky has never looked the same. You might not believe it, but my Grandmother is friends with all the stars.

I went around the all so familiar spots. Felt them one more time. I remembered so many forgotten things. The festivals and the reunions when the house laughed along with us. This house had seen me grow up. And now, two days after my twentieth birthday, it gave me the greatest gift of all. It made me feel small again. Thankyou. I whispered.

What can I say. We re like cats and dogs. We attach ourselves to people. We attach ourselves to places. People die. Places turn into dust. And we? We realise that we are only human.
The wrought iron gate groaned as I grabbed it and swung on to faraway lands, in search of adventure. One last time.

Sigh, December. Always makes me feel nostalgic.

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