It is not yet 6:00 AM. I have been up for about an hour, throwing open windows and tying back curtains. There is no breeze yet but the humidity inside the house lets up. Amma turns on the TV and sets the volume on high. I wince but carry on realizing that it is impossible to hear what is being said over the loud noise of two ceiling fans that do more than push air around. At that speed, even mosquitos have trouble flying.
In a few days, I will be back home. A home I created for my family. This is home too and I can feel sadness waiting in the wings to settle in as I pack my bags and empty out closets. It is in all the little things.
“Plantation B and Peaberry,” says Amma to the guy at the counter where a man fresh roasts and grinds coffee. Just the names bring back memories of buying quarter kilos of fresh ground powder. Some things have always been the same I muse as I watch Amma drop three packets of milk into the basket. Images of carefully clipping the edge, pouring the milk and washing out the packet to remove the milk fat come rushing.
We get into the auto by our home. “You are beginning to look just like your dad,” says the driver, a man who has morphed from auto driver to friend. “Thanks to your dad, I have seen most temples in the city,” he says and laughs. The kind of laughter that comes from reliving good memories. Tears sting my eyes. I am not sure if it is because I rarely hear from people other than Amma about Appa. Each nugget I hear from people outside the family makes Appa three dimensional. Facets to a person I thought I knew well. It does not happen often and when it does, I feel the ache deep inside for a life gone too soon.
Saathi, the kids and I visit a neighbor downstairs. A couple who attended my wedding and probably heard of our struggles with building our family over the years. They look at us, a family of five now and the joy seems genuine. She hugs me and caresses the kids’ cheeks. I feel touched. “I lived across from you,” she tells Saathi. “I’ve watched Lakshmi grow up.” It occurs to me that home is more than four walls of the house I grew up in. It exists in pieces, lodged in unlikely places, surprising me at unexpected times.
I run into a family member at an apparel store. I feel a rush of genuine affection for her, opening my arms to hug her. It surprises me. We talk for a bit and move on. She leaves a little while later, inviting us home.
As we sit at Sangeetha’s polishing plates of puris and dosais, watching people around me doing the same, it occurs to me that long past the physical home is gone, it will live on in places, memories, things and in my head. It will be on the streets that whisper secrets as I walk. In the aging name boards that remind me of people who once inhabited those brick and mortar buildings. In the air that haunts the neighborhood passing through neem and mango trees and opening itself up to me as I slice open a mango continents away.