Old and new, familiarity amidst the newness

I root around for a plate to serve dosai on and feel a flood of happiness at seeing the oval plate that my dad and later I used to eat on. I pull it out and fold the dosai on it. Stacking two more, I take it to the hall under the fan to eat it. I savor each morsel and sit there reflecting on why it means so much to me. All through this week I have been stumbling on pieces on my childhood. Plates, bowls, keepsakes, pictures, people.

I cross the neighbor from our opposite house on the street. She is running behind her daughter on a bike with training wheels. Images of her going to school flash before my eyes. I walk up to the terrace late at night, my kids running before me. They stop as a shadow passes the door, hands linked, cautious. I switch the lights on and smile as I see yet another neighbor on her nightly stroll picking fragrant jasmine and enjoying the moonlit openness of the motta maadi. We exchange pleasantries. She asks about my siblings and I ask after her children. We catch up and she walks down.

The view from the flat terrace is altered, yet I see relics dotting the landscape. The gulmohar, the mango tree, the islands that are homes that have not yet caved into the high-rise dreams. I watch as lights wink from open kitchens and living rooms. I see television sets, people walking and lives unfolding before me.

I put the kids to bed and sit with my laptop as Amma carries on with my sister over the phone. I chuckle as they share notes and I continue writing. It occurs to me that most days it is me on the other end of the phone. There is something very refreshing about spending time with my mom in her natural habitat watching her go about her day. She circles the local grocery store piling stuff into her basket. She walks, eyes wary, her handbag clutched to her bosom. I amble along, a silent purveyor of her life. She discusses her medication, trades tidbits with her local pharmacist and looks both ways before she crosses the main road. I watch her slow as she reaches the cul-de-sac that our home is on. Her shoulders relax and I suspect she is letting out a whole evening worth of stress.

The phone rings, a sharp trill that punctures the stillness of the night. Even as Amma attends to the caller, I look around our home. The floors are shiny, the layout different. Thick maroon curtains frame the full length windows. The balconies are covered with frosted glass. I expect to feel lost in this new place but it surprises me that this feels as much home as the old one. The silver horse with its front feet up still graces a corner. The old redwood chest of drawers with rickety doors still stands mute testimony to our lives. The armchair that looks out of place amidst the new sofa set reminds me it is still my home.

I sit on the floor, scraping coconut using an aruvamanai. My children are crowded around me. I am surprised by how muscle memory works, the flakes fall, soft as snow. Grubby hands reach for mouthful after another. We talk about where coconut oil comes from and exclamations punctuate the air. Each meal teaches me why coming home for the summer has been a great idea. I watch my children experience India in ways I never can. As they eat off banana leaves and try new variations of milk based sweets, I find myself struggling to explain how all of this was once a regular part of my life.

I grin when Pattu figures how to use the Indian style toilet and wonders what people did before there were toilets. We enter into an animated discussion on potty habits before being shushed by the people around us. I watch my children play with a kitchen set and I am reminded of the days when wooden toys were all that I knew. With a few more weeks to go, I am now eager to add in a few more experiences. I reach out to people, google for places to visit and enjoy playing tourist in my home town.

Facebook throws up an old post from my blog and I realize this summer has been much different. We are past the halfway mark and school year will begin before I am ready. One thing is sure though, we will fly back home carrying with us newer images and fragments of my past.

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