Whose house is this, I think I know..

The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.” Dorothea Lange’s quote is truly relatable to many of us. Don’t we tend to imagine things beyond what we see through the lens? Many a times, a scenic vision tickles your imagination to let it run riot and you start weaving stories around it which may, occasionally,  die within you. At times, it remains in you, nourishes your soul like a soft breeze that kisses your face to make you feel refreshed.

This green dale with a solitary house near Chatsworth House is one such picture which has bewtiched me immensely. It has spun webs of tales with its finest threads of silk .. The house stood in a wide span of greenery with a line of trees holding it as a treasure not to be encroached upon. There is definitely something dreamy about it, my imagination has whispered to me.

Isn’t it the abode of a Medieval Knight who is polishing his armour and sword to set out for another battle? (My imagination knows how to deliberately ignore things-  the four-wheeler, in this case!) Didn’t I visualise the teary-eyed Lady in the room heaving a heavy sigh and looking out through the windows, thinking about the young man and the warfare?

Or…….

Is this the abode of an elderly couple who, having spent their entire youth in this rural setting, is deliberately wiling away the hours, finding solace in each other’s company? Will they be waiting to hear the tiny footsteps and the laughter of their grandchildren to sweep off the monotony and boredom of their lonely old age? Will there be a corner in the house yearning to be adorned by a Christmas tree?

Each time I come across the picture, it still puzzles me , making me wonder about the inhabitants.. Sitting in this country far, far away from Derbyshire, sometimes I regret at my own cowardice (or was it my utilitarian mind?) which stopped me from going there and knocking at the door to find out who resides there.. The next minute, I feel happy about not doing it. Had I done that, I wouldn’t have been looking at the picture, still wondering and thinking about its enigmatic charm and mysterious inhabitants. I don’t regret…

The dale is lovely, green and deep

And it still quaintly amuses me….

“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”(As You Like It)

The dawn had whispers to tell me. It was an April morning and true to what The Bard has quoted, “the uncertain glory of an April day” exhibited all its beauty through the glittering rays and blue sky. It was at the crack of the day, we started our journey to Stratford-upon-Avon. The sky hadn’t had enough time to sweep off the ragged shreds of satin clouds. The air was clear with a cool breeze humming tunes to make the cherry and elm trees dance in unison. The day was dreamy and road to Stratford-upon-Avon from Sheffield was irresistibly alluring.

Nothing can match the greenery of a country side with the winding roads. Adding to its beauty are the scattered fluffy lambs on the meadows, on both sides, idly lying down, too lazy to start their grazing. “Why hurry? Take it easy”, they seem to tell us, the mortals!

For me, the excitement of visiting the birthplace of the greatest playwright was immeasurable. Being a literature student, my five years of study was predominated by Shakespearean sonnets and plays.  The universality of his themes, the originality of his characters and the freshness of his language still amaze anyone, regardless of time! The road trip turned out to be a smooth and pleasant one thanks to my friend who was also equally excited to show us the place where the poet grew up.

Stratford-upon-Avon got its name from Celtic and Saxon words. It is a combination of strǣt meaning street, ford which means a shallow part of a stream and avon which means river. Henley street on this famous, historical town, stands with all its splendour and pride – proud because of its status of being the cradle to the world’s greatest dramatist. When you walk on the streets, you can feel the pulse of each tile on the pavement, throbbing to tell us these stories through their silent screams. As the welcome board says, beautiful Britain was in bloom, welcoming the tourists and leading them through the streets which still has an old charm.

At the end of Henley Street stands the bronze statue of the Jester, Touchstone, who with a cynical smile on his face, seems to be calling the onlookers ‘O Noble Fool! A worthy Fool’. For a fraction of a second, he tears apart the veil of wisdom we wear, exposing the hidden shades of follies and foibles in us! Our mortal forms are downsized by this life-like statue on a stone plinth.

The cobbled street of this town has lots to offer to the visitors – Shakespeare giftshops, half-timbered traditional buildings, performers dressed as Shakespearean characters and the list goes on.

And the street leadeth you to the humble abode of the poetic genius. This well maintained 16th century house amidst neatly cut flora and fauna has a mysterious charm  – do you hear some heart beats in the air that surrounds the house ? Do you see the phantoms of his characters gazing at you, who still talk about them, mercilessly analysing their flaws?

A winding pathway from the Bard’s house, for a mile, takes you to Anne Hathaway’s farmhouse. This house and its extensive garden (garbed in a radiating feminine charm, with a streak of wilderness) will attract anyone! The thatched roof top of the cottage, with its head held high, seems to be on a watch out to guard  the idealistic, rural setting. One can see nature there in abundance in the form of traditional thickets, shrubs and fragrant flowers in bloom.

This is where the courtship between Shakespeare and Anne Hathaway had taken place centuries back! The grains of sand in slumber might remember him singing to his ladylove:

 “So are you to my thoughts as food to life,
Or as sweet seasoned showers are to the ground…”

Fragrant Flashbacks..

“Memories triggered by scent have some of the strongest emotional connections and appear more intense than other memory triggers.” This scent doesn’t come so easily; it needs a mixture of right ingredients to invoke that same feeling to take you down memory lane. And when the right time comes, it makes you reminiscent and nostalgic. You are transported to your carefree days which always give you a handful of threshed grains..

Down Memory Lane..

Today, my sister and I were talking about those certain scents and those certain memories!  We were always together in the corridors of childhood, never been parted, one being the shadow of the other (I was always the shadow while my sister led the pathway!). Hence one of us can easily associate the smell the other attempts to describe, when she starts to dust off the pages…We were talking more about scents that bring in memories of places. Those memories, indeed, make those dusty pictures shinier and brighter. Can we exactly describe the smell?  No, it is often associated with other senses too.

One of our much-awaited trips was a trip with family to Madras to visit Achan’s brother, our uncle. Lot of attractions came along with the planned trip. Of course, a trip with family had all its charm with our loving parents and ‘sibling time’. Another attraction was an overnight journey in a train with a bonus of spending time with our dear Radhamama, Saralammayi and fun-loving cousins. Madras definitely was a La La Land for us. It was then, for the first time, we saw a black and white TV. I used to wait for the popular show ‘I Love Lucy’ aired at that time, even if I had not understood a single dialogue by the characters sprinkled with strong American accent! This was way back in 1981, I guess. I was mesmerized by the idea of sitting and watching moving figures at the comfort of home while eating dinner! They had a courtyard with a heavily-laden mango tree at the back of the house. This had its own peculiar smell – a sense of perception stimulated and garnished by all these ingredients -mangoes, a majestic iron swing, Tamil songs from a transistor and the typical ‘chennai air’ with its scent of jasmine gliding in!

The monsoon days have its own smell and its own collection of memories. The wet earth with its different shades of green, glossy leaves has its own smell. Along with it comes the fresh smell of books. It takes me to the living room in our house where three of us sit together with Achan and Amma to do an exciting activity – covering our books and sticking name labels on them. Monsoon was the harbinger of a new school year. We had limited collection of name-slips; so, we used to equally distribute ‘the name slips with good pictures’ and ‘bad pictures’ amongst us. (I don’t remember us having fights to grab better things for ourselves which was quite a common activity among most of the siblings! In spite of being the youngest and ‘a boy’, our brother was also always ready to give in! ) Our parents used to neatly cover the books for us, tucking in the paper on four sides to  keep the jacket tight and neat. We used to place something heavy on the books to give the books a neatly ironed coat. We used to take extra care to make it last for one whole year. It was easy with the textbooks; but not so easy with note books. A scent mixed with wet earth and its lush greenery on a cloudy day accompanied by pitter-patter rain, definitely brings in memories of a special time at a special place!

Sometimes, the feeling can also be something unwanted, something which barges in to mess up with the carefully built equipoise in your life… and you feel stuffiness entrapping you with memories that you love to forget. The smell of a particular ‘masala’ and oil mixed with a humid air that seems so oppressive reminds me of my Mumbai life which I hate even to think of! It stifles me, makes me feel ensnared! I make sure my kitchen should never smell like that! I realise a scent can be appealing or appalling because it is conditioned by the memory you recall…

As Oliver Wendell Holmes says, “Memories, imagination, old sentiments and associations are more readily reached through the sense of smell than through any other channel.”

Cor(o)nered!

A glimpse of the sky with cotton ball clouds floating around….Not the transcendental sky which posed questions to me. It is a threadbare sky I see through my glass windows…. Are we going to be caught within the walls? Are we cornered?

My heart swells up with emotions when I go back  to our sepia tinted lives of yesteryears!  Is it sepia tinted? No, those are the vibrantly coloured pages of our lives. We did not have the most luxurious living, we did not have things of our own..  The word that was sparingly used during that time was ‘my’; it was always ‘our room’, ‘our blanket’, ‘our umbrella’ or ‘our pencil’…. Everything shared by everyone! I remember the time when I could boastfully say something as ‘mine’, definitely with an excessive amount of pride, was when we got a pocket diary. We got it from our maternal uncle who was in Singapore. At that time the concept of diary writing was totally new to us. Achan gave us a  detailed account of the purpose of diary writing  and told us  how diaries could be kept as ‘secret diaries’ from others. (We still fondly remember how our father took delight in encouraging us to explore anything new!) It was quite unbelievable for me, a 7 year old at that time, to hear that there was something like a ‘diary’ which we did not have to share with others!

Now look at the generation around us! Look at us! Do we like to share our space? Do we like to share even the simplest of things? How easily could we replace the word ‘ours’ with ‘mine’! How our lives are changed!! We call it progress. Does progress mean neglecting human values and destroying Mother Earth? Does it mean stomping over tiny blades of grass, tearing apart the delicate woven nests and dismembering huge trees that gave us shades? Now where do we stand? The whole of humankind at the mercy of a miniscule virus! Look around us! We have fallen down, helplessly! Cornered by Corona. Do we still believe that we have the supreme power, we are the only ones who deserve the best and we are the rulers of earth?

Believing myself as a strong optimist, I don’t want to be intimidated by the darkenss. Let us believe that our future is not so bleak. Our resilience cannot be jeopardised! Mankind will not accept defeat. We are still holding our hands, standing united, lending our shoulders to lean on, yet practising social distancing. We will get over it; we will come out as winners, stronger and tougher. Let us not forget the lesson we have learnt from being cor(o)nered. Let us keep a promise not to take things for granted! Let us understand that every living being has the same right to enjoy the bounties of nature, just like us. Learn to accept that fact and respect it.

Can we go back to the way we lived? In simplicity, in gratitude – sharing things with others and showing care for others! It is not late! Remember the joy of living  in a small house surrounded by nature… The open doors inviting our neighbours… the open windows tempting the fresh fragrant air to come inside. Walking to schools and markets , meeting  familiar faces on our way and returning their smiles. Then coming back home and sitting together with our family or friends to share the day’s events, carefully colouring it with hues of imagination. Imagine the pleasure of finding a few souls at home, intently waiting to hear your anecdotes with the same fervour that we show now to watch a new Netflix season! These were enough to cheer our days! Wish to live in such a wonderful world after the Corona effect fades away!

The Silence of the Trees

“In nature, nothing is perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.”

Alice Walker

Trees contorted, yet majestic; bent in weird ways, yet reaching the clouds – I saw them in a narrow pathway in the courtyard of Good Shepherd auditorium in Bangalore. Webbed branches of these trees fill you with awe! Looking up, you can only see the chained sky with its scattered clouds trying to escape from  the tangled boughs. Can sky be so intimidated by trees? Standing under these trees, one can sense the helplessness of the sky prisoned between the majestic contorted branches.

How many generations have these trees seen? How many stories do they carry in their heart? Being a silent witness to the sorrows, smiles and pains of the passing generations of humankind has added many wrinkles on the trees. Wouldn’t their imprisoned hearts wish to spill out those stories to the newest generations who walk past them? Wouldn’t they be waiting to unburden their hearts of the many untold stories they still hold? 

The buttress roots of these trees have been a nurturing place for some money plants. These roots are the ones who decided to grow laterally on their own when they find the trees are not deeply rooted or lacking nutrition. They help the trees from falling off or malnourished. The gigantic trees at the mercy of these roots!! These roots are cradling the money plants with their wrinkled limbs reminding us that they all live in harmony.

The air underneath these trees has a profound wisdom. The soft breeze that blows here has a mysterious rhythm. It can fill you with a sense of enigma,   a sense of bewilderment and a sense of longing to be a part of them! When you are forced to leave their presence, a sense of abundance lingers in your mind….

Let our eyes feed on a morsel of nature, our ears the rhythm and music of Mother Earth. Why fret and hurry? As the poet says, let Nature be the anchor of our thoughts, the nurse, the guide, the guardian of our heart and soul!

“Once again I see
These hedge-rows, hardly hedge-rows, little lines
Of sportive wood run wild: these pastoral farms,
Green to the very door; and wreaths of smoke
Sent up, in silence, from among the trees! “

Wordsworth

An Ode to Kanthan’s Wife

Who is Kanthan’s wife? This question came to my mind when I first listened to the Masala Coffee version of a folk song called “Kantha njanum Varaam Thrissur Pooram kaanaan..”.

The song is in the form of a series of requests (Is it really a request? That’s the question!) from a girl to her husband (Kanthan, a Malayalam synonym for ‘husband’) to take her to the famous Thrissur Pooram. Or it can even be looked upon as a song which talks about  a girl’s extreme desire to go and see Pooram. Through the lyrics of the song, we get to know how she expresses her wish to her husband. Just like any other folk song , the lyrics go simple – constantly repeating the same words which adds an ounce more simplicity to the song. She goes on listing out what she wants to do when she is being taken to her much awaited trip to see  Pooram . If you think her desires are limited to buy bangles, sindhoor or kajal you are mistaken! Here comes the feisty spirit of Kanthan’s wife! Don’t underestimate her. She is different! She makes her voice heard!

The song begins by addressing Kanthan and telling him she is also going to see Thrissur Pooram with him. She doesn’t ask; she says “ Njanum varaam” (I will also come).  Isn’t that so contrary to the concept of a mild and shy woman living in a male dominated society of yesteryears? Then she gives her reasoning one by one. And one wonders why Kanthan is so quiet!  His voice is not even heard once in the song! Is he pondering over reasons to wash off her adventurous spirit? Or is he too awed to speak?

She starts her list by saying that she wants to see the instrument thimila, a percussion instrument in the Panchavadhyam -the temple orchestra.  Don’t think that our lady will be happy just with the sight of a thimila; she wants to play the thimila too. Then she jumps to the next instrument and expresses her yearning to see it first and then to try using her skills in playing it. Kanthan still remains quiet! Awestruck? Dazed? I am sure he has all reasons to be happy to have a wife whose heart fans the flames of a knightly gest! And she dares to speak about it to him!

 The ending of the song is the most exhilarating one with Kanthan’s wife stating her wish to see the famous Pooram fireworks followed by her desire to light one of the firecrackers. Her spirit cannot be tamed, guys! Seize the moment, Carpe diem! She does not believe in being trapped inside the four walls.

And did you notice the manner in which she lists out her desires to her husband?  She talks about the simplest wish first – her wish to see; then takes  it to the further level of being an integral part of it- be it playing the instrument or lighting up the firework. And each wish is followed by her sweet way of calling him ‘Kantha’. Can Kanthan say ‘No’ to such innocent and ‘uncomplicated’ requests? 

The repetition of ‘Kanthaa’ gives her an image of a soft spoken and domesticated wife who is totally dependent on her husband. Concealed inside this image, is her free spirit -the bashful bride turning into a daredevil by the end of the song. If you notice the rhythm of the song, it begins at a slow pace with a slow increase in its pace as her wishes go each level up. And she does not implore , she does not plead. She is clear with what she wants and she expresses it without any reticence! Isn’t she simply superb? Someone who wants to go with what her heart yearns for. Isn’t that the hyped up idea of 21st century ? And Kanthan’s wife believed in it centuries back! Salute her!

What was Kanthan’s decision? Did he too share his wife’s youthful bravado? Could he take her to the Pooram and fulfil her wishes (the last one does not sound easy to me!) ignoring many raised eyebrows from his family?  I am curious…..

The wardrobe that opened to a new world..

Childhood memories never fade. At times, these memories are pushed into a corner unconsciously; but quite often we stumble upon that abandoned corner only to take out the pieces together to find out that the colours are as bright as before. I always feel sad when someone says he/she does not have any coloured memories of childhood days.  I can see the pain in their eyes and hear the ache in their words when they say so. If you have a happy childhood, you grow into a happy person -a strong one. Agatha Christie has rightly said, “one of the luckiest things that can happen to you in life is, I think, to have a happy childhood.”

A picture speaks thousand words. I am sharing something about a picture which I  saw recently while searching for some images on the net. And it did speak to me – loud and clear, flooding my mind with a thousand memories, bringing in an aching joy. It opened one of the wonderful pages from my childhood.

We (my sister, brother and I) were brought up in a small sleepy town which preferred to be in a reverie most of the time. It neither did meddle in people’s lives nor meddle with the world’s latest issues. It was a small world, yet the best one for us – a world of happiness and love with our parents in the  company of each other and,  of course, books.

I still remember the thrill of getting a new book from our father- be it Amar Chithra Katha, Phantom/Mandrake comics or children’s magazines Poombatta or Balarama. I still remember the exhiliaration we felt while waiting for Achan’s story telling sessions of English classics. The books took us to a new world, from the sleepy little town to the snow-capped mountains of Russia, the meandering waters of Thames or to the unreachable outskirts of fairy lands. And we loved it!

This picture is from one of the books Achan had given us when we were children. The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. Nothing did I know about the fantasy fiction that C S Lewis has written to enlighten children; nothing did I know about the ‘whiskered furry face’ of Aslan, the great saviour of the happy land of Narnia. The girl who held the book then, never ever imagined  that her daughter would be watching movies about Narnia years later … Or her students would be discussing the new Netflix adaptation of The Chronicles of Narnia with her in a faraway country, so far away from her old laid-back town! It was just another book for me, back in time. The pale green cover with the beautiful illustration of two girls playing with a lion was the first thing I noticed. And I saw the garland, a garland of bright orange and yellow flowers, clearly and unmistakably! When I knew the book had illustrations, the more I was interested.  

Picture Courtsey – Google

Everything in that book was new to me – the huge wardrobes where you can hang in coats were new to me. A wardrobe where  a child can get in was new to me! We only had small wooden or iron cupboards during those days and  you can imagine the wonder of a child who gets to know about something called a built-in wardrobe through which you can enter into an unknown world ! First time in my life, I heard about the mythical fauns, and the book showed me his black and white picture too.   I was totally captivated by one of the pictures in the book. And after three decades the same picture popped up bringing with it a rush of memories – the picture of the siblings sitting with the Beaver family in front of a table.

Picture courtsey – Google

Just like any other child, I did not miss out a single detail in that picture. The reading stopped when I saw the picture, me eyeing at each and everything in that picture, my imagination running riot beyond the scene. Though it looks like a cluttered room to me now, what I saw then was a beautiful home.  I admired the way the beavers hung the utensils and stacked the boots. I wondered what was boiling in the pan on the stove to which C S Lewis did not have any answer. But he could make me believe that animals had homes and they too had happy meals time! 

Wasn’t our childhood wonderful? We had visions which made anything and everything enchanting. We were not unhappy with our lives. We were extremely excited to see new things, to know new lifestyles and new people. Even if they looked better than ours, we never felt jealous! We knew how to derive vicarious pleasure. Ours was a small world, but we could take anything to our small world, and it rubbed out the boundaries making our world expansive, merging it with other worlds. We could find happiness, delight and excitement even in the pages of a book. Those are the simple pleasures. The memories of childhood fill you up with a special emotion, a special kind of warmth which cannot be put in words. Or is it something like what C S Lewis says in his all-time favourite book?

….. “Perhaps it has sometimes happened to you in a dream that someone says something which you don’t understand but in the dream it feels as if it had some enormous meaning — either a terrifying one which turns the whole dream into a nightmare or else a lovely meaning too lovely to put into words, which makes the dream so beautiful that you remember it all your life and are always wishing you could get into the dream again. It was like that now.”