My Own Time Capsule

This morning, the first thing I saw when I opened the front door was a solitary hibiscus flower, blood red against a foliage of emerald green leaves. I stood staring for a moment, then shut my eyes. And there they were, pressing hard upon my eyelids, scenes from another day, another place.

To me, the hibiscus or shoeflower is invariably connected with Brindaban, my ancestral home in Kerala, a large rambling house tucked away among paddy fields, far from the madding crowd. By the porch there stand two slim but sturdy hibiscus trees, almost always hung over with scarlet blooms. I can see myself as I was then, all legs, crooked pigtails and inexaustible energy.

Summers were halycon days when most of the widespread clan would converge at Amma`s house to relax, exchange news, catch up, meet far-flung kith and kin. It was sheer bliss for us children. We`d gorge on everything the orchard had to offer: gooseberries, mango, jackfruit, chikoo, cashewnuts, the cashew fruit. We`d munch salted tapioca chips all day long, roaming the area restlessly, thinking of ways to expend our excess energy. We`d build tree houses on the thick low branches of mango trees, we`d skin our knees trying to shin up the coconut palms. We`d fish in the bathing tank, play Cowboys and Injuns in the incongruous setting of the paddy fields, we`d chase calves around the barn. We`d sneak into the attic, pull the stoppers off the giant stone vats and taste the hottest mango pickle ever; we`d devour the huge golden bananas hanging from the low beams in the room.

On festival days, we`d go over to the family shrine and watch the procession go by, the stately tread of the elephants carrying the deity`s statue, the wail of the nadhaswarams, the beat of the chendas, the roar of the crowd. Some days, a pooja would be held in the house and we`d all be shepherded for a dip in the tank. After seemingly interminable hours of priests chanting mantras, we`d all squat on the dining room floor and enjoy the many course sadhyas off plantain leaves. At twilight, the paraffin lamps would be lit and we`d gather around Amma to hear that evening`s story from the Ramayana or the Mahabharata.

I close my eyes now and I can see it all, so clearly. The antique brass-knobbed doors of the house, every inch of wall space devoted to family portraits (with Gandhi and Nehru inexplicably amongst them). I can see the scrolled oak dining table where we would all sit chattering like magpies while the cooks brought in plates of steaming idlis, bowls of spicy sambar, mounds of coconut chutney, the meal winding up with heaps of fried bananas, ghee drizzled over them. 

With Amma ill, the big house locked up, the cows sold, those summers seem a thing of the past now. Our already fragile roots are inexorably weakening and Kerala, with its green fields, coconut palms and backwater lagoons, seems so far away to me here in Punbjab. Except for one thing: that I too, have beside my porch, a small shoeflower tree. My own time capsule.

(In case readers are wondering why this Rava Stores snapshot appears here, it`s because the Palghat shop stocks  the best chakka varattiyathu outside of one`s wok!)