I am in the balcony waiting to capture flying pigeons on my phone when it hits me that this vacation is drawing to a close. The clothes flap above me on lines and the smells of cooking from the adjoining apartment waft my way.
I head back to the cool interiors to beat the heat and settle on the sofa. The kids are scattered throughout the home. Two on another balcony playing pretend kitchen. Another is swiping furiously on Amma’s iPad. I lean forward to get a closer look and notice Laddu is getting adept at small puzzles.
In the month and half we have been away from home, Ammu and Pattu have picked up Tamizh, learned to drink from tumblers without holding it against their lips, perfected the art of piling into autos, become adept at polishing off giant dosas and puris at restaurants and imbibed my love for open terraces.
I am in the kitchen making dosas and I watch Ammu navigate the drawers to find a plate. She discovers the stack of plates and roots around. I pause watching her. She pulls out the oval plate that I once used as a child and one my Appa used while he lived. I flip the dosai and ask her why she picked that plate.
“You loved it as a child didn’t you? That’s why I want this plate,” she says and walks away. I choke up. In that fragile moment I feel my Appa’s spirit envelop my children. The kids devour their breakfast and appeal to me for their tablets. I remain firm asking them to use their imaginations instead.
Each day we meet new people. People from my past. People I only know as handles on social media. People I meet on each trip to Chennai. My children come along on each of outings and answer shyly each time they are asked their names, where they are from and treated like precious pieces of me. They seem to bask in the adulation only ever resenting it when strangers pause and stare.
I press open a custard apple, its apparent hard shell masking the soft fragrant flesh. I scoop the innards with a spoon and relish each bit. My children look on, fascinated. I offer them a piece and they decline. We load up on plums, local oranges, bite sized bananas and crisp pears on each grocery trip. We eat chocobars and strawberry stick ice creams every other day. We stand on pavements relishing each bite and swat away flies. We walk, carefully stepping over wet patches, wilting flowers and crushed berries as we go home. I point out the orange gulmohar, the lushly fragrant jasmine, huge hibiscus flowers, native almond trees and neem as we walk home.
We will be back home on familiar ground, attuned to a different routine this time next week. As I unpack suitcases and put away clothes and the knick knacks I bought at different places, I will be reliving these memories. As for the kids, they will someday own the vocabulary to process this experience. Until then, I will have to be content with arbitrary phrases and the broken Tamizh while it lasts.