Here’s my story about an unforgettable journey from a lost time. Part 1.
Do you recall a time when you were caught off-guard by an experience/moment that you were surprised at your own response? Have you ever felt that a part of you freezes forever and those moments are so deeply etched in your being, that you can teleport yourself to that exact moment anytime you want??
It was a busy summer evening back in the 90’s and our quaint temple town Srirangam was bustling with festivities. One cannot ignore the repetitive beat of the drums- Dum-DumDum-Dum, Dum-DumDum-Dum in the distance indicating the oncoming procession of the temple deity, the robust scent of camphor carried by the gentle wind, the aroma of mom’s pepper rasam on the stove, the random whistle sounds of pressure cookers from the various neighboring homes, the fragrance of the new jasmine blooms, the clinking clanking bells from the cows in our backyard as they become restless waiting for their evening meal, and all of this come together to create a yet another charming small town evening.
The breeze was cooler than normal and our household was way louder than the local market. Boxes, bags, tapes and packing material were scattered on the floor everywhere. The three of us (my siblings and I) and our parents were busy running around taping the boxes and packing the bags. Our grandpa aka Thatha (in Tamil), an accomplished Ayurvedic doctor, a retired Sanskrit scholar/school teacher was pacing up and down the entrance to the kitchen and back. One can tell that Thatha is anxious and tense just by his signature walk with hands folded to his back. He was quite an interesting personality and describing him would have to be an entirely separate article or even a book!
On this beautiful evening Thatha was quite restless. He was asking everyone in a loud tense voice, ‘Is everything ready? Are we good to leave tomorrow morning? Did you pack everything? Have you let the milkman know not to come? Who is going to receive the morning newspaper and the mail? And on and on and on he went about his rapid-fire questioning. In one extremely unbearable instance, I think all of us shrieked at the exact same time “IT IS AAALLL TAKEN CAAARREEE”. There was absolute silence for a single moment. Think we shocked ourselves!!!!
Thatha stopped his pacing, looked at us in disbelief and gave a disappointed expression. If you thought Thatha would have been offended by our irritated response and ended his rapid-fire round, well, well, well, let me remind you that there was NEVER, ever met a man as gritty as him! He does not get intimidated that easily. With a stoic look, in a calm yet disciplining tone, and enunciating each word with a light whisper, he said “Ssshhhhh…..SPEAK SOFTLY, TENSION IS NOT GOOD FOR HEALTH”!!! All our annoyed faces turned red in and before anyone could muster up an appropriate response, he continued to pace up and down even faster. Oh, as for his bags, they were packed almost two weeks earlier!!
Okaay, back to packing! Cooking stove, Propane gas tanks, Utensils, Rice bags, vegetables, oil, Blankets, Pillows, chairs, all packed and ready. Kitchen check. Bedding items check. Puja items check. The packing for clothes and personal items started.
Now, if you are thinking that we are packing to move to another house, just wait for a second! Hold on….Let me finish rolling on the floor laughing!!!!! Welcome to a brand-new world! THIS IS US, Our very dear family going on a holiday road trip to a neighboring state!!!!!Did I say neighboring state?? I don’t know what items you carried when you went on vacation, but the western families I saw on TV back then, packed Hats, Camera, Beach dresses, Shoes, Sunscreen and Sun-glasses!!! Oh No, that’s NOT our family. You may wonder why anyone would pack rice bags, cooking stove, propane cylinders when they go on a vacation.
Well, we packed it all because we rarely ate out during our trips/vacations. Yeah, you heard it right. We cooked “AAAALLLL” our food during our vacation. Most of the time it was a simpler version of home cooked meal. Essentially because Thatha never ate out at restaurants. Believe me, for a person as gentle as he was, he was a tyrant when it came to his strict dietary restrictions.
A few weeks earlier, when dad first mentioned about the road trip to Kerala, we were all jumping in joy. Thrilled at the idea of travelling in a van, we started calling our friends and cousins to share the news. Before we could realize the true enormity of “news going viral” our party of six very quickly became a party of 20 with uncles, cousins, aunts, my friends, grandpa’s friend and one of dad’s acquaintance who was so intrigued by this trip idea even recommended his distant nephew to the trip. “The Fellowship of the Trip” had formed! Thinking back on the level of excitement our trip generated in close circles, we may as well have travelled to Mars!!
Remember, these were times when we didn’t have Facebook or Trip Advisor or Google maps or Yelp. The moment news got out that we were going on a trip to Kerala, advice started pouring in. I can assure you that no Facebook update in the history of updates could have received as much a viral reaction as our trip did! Many of our family and friends came to check in on us the evening before our trip just to see how we were doing and if they could help out! Everyone from neighbors to milkman to temple priests gave us recommendations on best routes, all the stopover locations, and best restrooms in what area, where to rest, best coffee along the route etc….
Now, back to the evening before our big trip, in spite of all the nervous pacing, Thatha was quite busy and excited to entertain our guests regarding the on-coming trip. He fondly spoke of his childhood days and the trips he took with his parents and the whole house was full of people and in utter chaos and commotion. Oh, but it felt very joyful. I felt happiness in a way I hadn’t experienced before Isn’t it true that joy and merry compounds in multiples when you spread it around?
I was 14 years old and super excited to go on my first long road trip. I had read of Kerala’s landscapes in books and have even seen glimpses of it in movies. Dinner came and I couldn’t taste anything. The more I heard from others on the big beautiful world out there and all the adventures that this trip could expose me to, a movie started unfolding in my mind. I dreamt of people who would look/dress different than the people in our town and imagined temples with huge structures and columns, could feel the sunset in my face as I sat on the van looking outside into the world. I wondered how the mountains and lakes would look and feel in person. I was hoping to a taste of the local food and seriously charted out rescue plans if at all I got lost. Oh! those days!!Innocence is a blessing of humble times and imagination is the gift of innocence!
It was midnight and mom’s words “We have to wake up by 4am in the morning as the mini-bus/van will be here” kept ringing in my ears. In the absolute silence and dark of the night, eyes wide open with a few tears of unknown anguish, I could hear my heartbeat. That moment I was experiencing could only be described as “Resfeber” – Resfeber (n.): the restless race of the traveler’s heart before the journey begins, when anxiety and anticipation are tangled together; a travel fever!
And the much-awaited morning came and the unexpected happened and it was much more than Resfeber!!
To be continued….
Categories: Nostalgia and Insights