Of memories in a bottle

My mother often tells me it is almost unbelievable that I remember so much about my childhood. Some memories even trace back to when I was just three. It is probably a memory of a memory now. But I can still recall them in flashes, of images, hazy faces and dusty backdrops and everything. It’s a strange thing these memories. Over years they stay to catch mold; but the more filters they gather the more you want to hold on to them.

Of my maternal grandmother who passed away when I was six, I have a sole living memory, of playing with the colorful saw-toothed plastic soap savers with her; almost like a dream. I recall it from time to time lest I forget the only memory I have of her. I was probably three then and I vividly remember how excited I felt with those mundane pieces of adult life. It helps me understand why my son gets more excited about my kitchenware than toys.

I also remember watching my mother weep in the arms of our tamilian neighbor aunty in Patna. A city so alien to her and away from everything she held dear and sacred. I don’t know how the news reached her. It was probably a telegram or a phone call to the only person we knew in the city who had a phone for emergencies. I can still remember the aunty patting her down with “azhade kanna” and for the life of me at six I couldn’t fully understand what was going on. We left in a hurry on a train to Calcutta and then flight to Cochin. 90s weren’t the kindest to find easy transport. North India was probably as alien as Kazakhstan to a true blue south Indian back then.

She didn’t make it in time for the final rites. We were welcomed to her home with solemnity and my younger cousins, toddlers then, running and uttering “thathi tata poita” unintelligibly. It took me years to understand the import of that moment and how my mother must have felt. How not being able to see her mother even in death, because she lived so far away that it took more than 24 hours to get home must have seared everything else she felt; a guilt she probably couldn’t escape but has mentioned so many times over years.

The other novelesque moment which tears me up, was the day we left to Patna from Trivandrum. It was pouring like any other notorious Kerala monsoon day. Our car was loaded. I stood on the back seat watching thatha, thathi and periappa wave ever so sadly from the verandah of our home and the water gushing down the rear glass as we drove away to the station. That picture has stayed with me like a painting and probably in the last few years I have come to realize how my grandparents might have felt that moment standing there and watching their youngest son also take flight and move on. Probably they also felt proud amidst all the emptiness, I may never find out!

They come back to me, these memories every time we debate on returning home and staying on. The infamous dilemma of the immigrant! Or the closet Patriot! Call it what you may. The reasons to return must overlook a lot of things and must overpower everything else to feel strongly about it. I am starting to fear that strength, is ebbing; for now I am holding on with all my might, to memories, stories, desires, wants and everything that show me the way to where I want to create that “home”; so that someday the memories don’t just stay in a little bottle of regret, while running the long run of life.

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