We are at my mom’s home. My son calls out that he is unable to close the tap in the kitchen. My mom tells him that there is a small hack to solve this problem. She brings out a pair of tongs, idukki, and strikes the tap gently on the side. And lo! problem solved.
We all have these hacks in our homes – to close a window at a particular angle, to know how to balance some old pots and pans on the stove, to use blunt pencils in electric sockets, when there is just a two pin plug that needs to fit into a three pin socket.
We all become proficient at discovering such hacks that make our lives simple and easy, without having to call the handy man every time. Most moms are champions at this!
Many a time, we also know intuitively that we are coming down with a cold, an allergy or a stomach bug. Our bodies are finely attuned to such cues. Sometimes, we can preempt these incidents, and use home remedies or other hacks that work for us.
So also, we have life hacks. When our mind and intuition tell us about people, make us feel comfortable or uncomfortable, give us good vibes and make us feel positive. Most times, due to the crazily busy lives we lead, we don’t stop to listen to these life hacks. Our minds are so full of thoughts and plans that we miss these cues.
That voice within us that can help us lead better lives – simple things like learning to switch off the tap in the mind, which allows the flow of so many unwanted and irrelevant thoughts, to learn to be mindful, and to focus on things that truly matter.
A couple of years ago, I went back to my hometown, after nearly 15 years. I hadn’t really gone back all those years, as our big joint family had moved out to different cities; to universities, jobs, marriages and kids, and there was really nobody to go back to.
But I wanted to share the magic of my childhood with my children – better late than never, I thought. I was very excited as my husband and children were going to see my beautiful town that nestles in the hills, with me.
As we drove up the snaky roads with their hair-pin bends (that’s what they are called), the stale air of the city was replaced by the crisp,fresh and cold air of the hills. The smells of eucalyptus and cypress trees invigorated us.
It was a grey, bitterly cold day, when we finally reached. I first took them to the hospital where I was born, to my favourite bakery where we ate ice-cream cakes, and to my favourite tea-shop, where we hung out after high-school.
It was nostalgia in bold, italics, font size 100.
We stopped to buy tea leaves and chocolate fudge. Everything had changed – the roads and buildings looked so small, probably because I was a kid then. We went to my school and as I saw my Alma mater, tears pricked my eyes. I could see all of us in our smart school uniforms, walking down the wooden staircase, greeting the teachers and having so much fun.
We then drove down to our home, where I had lived for most of my childhood. Our home was in a block of four houses. There were many similar blocks lining the road. The end of the road led to a thick forest of eucalyptus & pine trees.
As I stood before our home, my eyes were drawn to the window of one of the bedrooms. I was shocked to see that the window still had a sticker that my sisters & I had stuck, when we were in middle school, 1985, I think. It was a sticker on oil conservation. My happiness knew no bounds. I felt that our home still retained us in its heart.
I could picture us, as little girls, plastering our noses to the window, watching the monsoon lashing against the window, watching button rose petals breaking away because of the rain, and decorating the steps leading to our home. I could smell the tea that my mom made for my grandma and aunt in the afternoons.
The house looked occupied, as I could see curtains in the windows; the garden was a little unkempt though. I remembered our little rose garden, our pocket lawn and our strawberry patch, which we protected from naughty sparrows and crows.
I remembered how we filled empty coconut shells with water and left them outside during winter, to find that the water had changed to ice, overnight.
Simple, simple and wonderful pleasures.
I turned to look at the neighbour’s yard to see if the peach tree, on which we built swings, was still standing. I was very happy to see that it was!
I walked down the road, absorbing the new and remembering the old.
I could see myself, a little girl in pigtails, and all my friends, running down the road playing games like hopscotch, kings, satholia, seven stones, land.
I saw the huge cypress bush, inside which we had our kids club. I could see the silvery lake in the distance. I looked up the hill to see if I could still see the temple. The trees however, blocked the view now.
I could see my entire family – grandma, uncles, aunts and cousins, noisily having a Sunday picnic. I saw myself sitting on the steps outside my home, reading a novel.
The sticker had probably seen many, many residents after us. I felt tears stinging my eyes for all those lovely days, for those innocent moments when we stuck the little sticker on that window, reveling in the joy of a freebie from the gas station.
Little did I know, that this very sticker would wait so many decades for us, to help me reconnect to my childhood and relive those memories, with my own family.
We reach the station in typical Bollywood climax style…with barely 10 minutes to spare. We’ve been looking forward to this 36 hour train journey, on the Rajdhani Express, from Delhi to Bangalore for a long long time. Water bottles, Tinkles & some magazines, and we are good to go. My husband and I have hyped it up a bit for the kids, loaded as we are with memories of our long train journeys as children.
The typical last minute chaos of thestation fades away as the train slowly trundles out…..bringing into focus another ecosystem, the inside of the train.
I watch with interest, as people settle down. Strangely, most people are intently focused on their smart phones. Nobody talks or acknowledges their neighbours. So very different from when I was a child. Nobody has the ubiquitous junk food plastic bag from home filled with ‘thattais’, ‘murukkus’ and chips. I smile at this change…as I remember boarding the train and a mere five minutes into the journey the crunchy munching would start. People would talk loudly, share their food and a sense of camaraderie would prevail.
I look up to see what my children are making of this journey. They are very excited…each of them has made the berth their home and invite the other to visit. They do not seem to miss their electronic gadgets at all. They play noughts and crosses & ice cream soda on & off. They relish every meal…and wait for the next one. They like the excitement of cooping themselves inside their berths with the curtains and peeping out now & then to talk to us.
I look out of the window, small towns and villages breeze past. Dots on a map, now here, now gone…the enormity & beauty of our country hit me, as the long serpent chugs away relentlessly. Flashes of people, animals, level crossings …..life goes on outside at a steady pace. From within, they seem to happen in fast forward. I dream about everything and nothing, feeling philosophical and sleepy at the same time. I enjoy every moment, more so, because the children are having a great time.
I yearn for tamarind rice and idlis soaked in milagai podi, curd rice & pickle, another flash from memory.
Before we know it we are in Bengaluru, back to the real world!