The night was dark. But my spirits were light. Why would they not be? I was done with one more grueling year at school and had 2 months of summer vacations to look forward to. In the distance the lights from the rock fort temple could be seen. The huge rock had been feeding on the sun’s rays the entire day. Now the rock was generously sharing its solar energy reserves with the entire city. The tides of March never brought good tidings for anyone. Why should the town of Trichy be an exception? If March was like this, how was May going to be! But thankfully I was not going to find out. Bangalore awaited me. Pleasant, green Bangalore, India’s garden city!
The much awaited hour was upon us and still the vehicle of our salvation from the Trichy heat was still not in sight.
“Why has the train still not come, ma?” I asked irritably.
Obviously my mother was not privy to any special information on train schedules. So she was as clueless as me as to the reason behind the train’s delay. And even if the reason were known, there was no conceivable use this information could have been put to by a 12 year old school kid. But still kids have the habit of asking some questions just for the sake of asking, some of whom carry this irritable habit even to adulthood. On a normal day, my mother would have given an equally irritable retort. And any further exploration of the topic may have even landed me a slap if she was in one of her bad moods. But the holiday season and the thought of visiting her parents and siblings seem to have put her into an excellent mood.
“Well, my dear! Don’t get restless. Moments in life are too precious to be spent waiting for it to pass. Treasure these moments of idleness and just relax. I still have fond memories of waiting much longer at this very station every year when I was a child.”
I could see a twinkle in her eyes at the mention of her childhood days. She continued, “We used to be seven of us, us five kids and two adults. It was usually a 4-5 hour day train from Trichy to Thiruvarur. Our mothers would pack delicious idlis rubbed with molagapodi (mixture of powdered red chilies, lentils and spices mixed with oil) for the journey. Those days not many people used to travel by train and the bogies used to be literally empty. So we usually had almost the entire coach to ourselves. As the train started chugging, we would start of with a game of cards. And before we knew it, the train would be at the Thiruvarur station.”
By now her gaze had become a stare into the nothingness far beyond. She was no longer in this world. She had been transported back in time to her childhood days and I was being whisked along too.
“Govindaraj would be waiting to receive us at the station. Seeing his slight frame one would not imagine he could singlehandedly carry our entire luggage all the way to the bullock cart waiting outside without even showing even a sign of fatigue. It took an hour and a half by bullock cart from Thiruvarur to Amaiyappan. A bullock cart does not offer the luxury of a card table. But only a mad man would want to want to play cards instead of enjoying all the lovely scenery on the route. It was one of the most scenic routes, lined with rice fields, banana and coconut groves and mango orchards. Motor vehicles were virtually nonexistent in Amaiyappan. The fresh village air would breathe life anew.”
“You people had all the fun in life, ma! Why have you have never taken me to stay at a village ever?” I complained.
Mother laughed, “Well, dear! It is all fine and dandy to read about country life in your Enid Blyton books. Real life poses real challenges that you don’t read about in your books. You get so restless if there is a current cut for 1 hour in the night. At Amaiyappan, there was no electricity at all. Do you understand what that means? No fan, no television and no reading after 6.00 in the evening.
And how much fuss you kick if I wake you up at 8.00 in the morning during vacation! In our grandpa’s house we had to be up by 5.00 every morning. He had served in the army during World War 2 and imbibed the military discipline. And he used to enforce it at home. Breakfast was served sharp at 6.30. If you missed breakfast there would be nothing to eat till lunch time at 1.00 pm. We could play and have fun only till 5.30 in the evening. Once grandpa was home we were supposed to maintain pin drop silence and we were not allowed outdoors either after sundown. Dinner consisting of curd rice with tender mango was served sharp at 6.30 and we were expected to be in bed by 8.30 pm.”
This was no longer sounding like a vacation at all. So that was the fine print about the wonderful village life everyone talks about, eh? I would be having much more fun at my own grandparents’ place at Bangalore. I would sleep till 10.00 in the morning and then grandma would wake me up with bed coffee. Wealth, women and wine are the 3 W s that most men chase after. While I was too young for 3 W s, I had my 3 C that I was mad after – comics, cartoons and computer games. I did not have a computer as such those days. But I had a lot of hand video games and I would keep pestering my uncle to get me newer ones. Grandmother would cook the choicest dishes I would demand and whatever she could not make, Grandfather would be dispatched to procure form the local baker. However it was still too early for me to pronounce the verdict whose vacations were better – mine or my mother’s. For she still had a few cards up her sleeve!
“Vacations in the village were definitely hard. But life does not dole out any free lunches. Real happiness has to be earned. Challenges are what make life exciting. What’s the fun if everything is handed out on a platter? Two hours of waiting with a rumbling stomach made the lunches at Amaiyappan heavenly. I have not even enjoyed the food at the best restaurants so much. Few hours of morning sleep were a small price for the wonderful sights a village dawn has to offer.
Not having any of the usual means of entertainment forced us to use our creativity. We would invent our own games. We were able to connect closely with nature and with each other. You can see even now how close your uncle, aunt and I are to our cousins. It is all the result of the bonds formed during those days in Amaiyappam.”
Mom should have been a lawyer. Possibly she had inherited the skills from her great grandfather who had been a successful criminal lawyer. The case was open and shut. No more arguments. However whenever my mother spoke about her childhood, it had an entrancing quality to it and I wanted more of it. So I asked, “What kind of games did you play, Ma?”
“Well, we used to spend most of the day time on the river side. We used to combine all our architectural skills to build houses, castles, temples and whatever structure came to our mind using the fine sand of the river bank. We used to build a whole town and fortify it with a moat around it. Did you know that if you dig a bit on a river bank, water would come out? We would be really excited seeing the water emerge where we dug.
We had cows in our grandparents’ home and there always used to be at least one calf at home. And such playful creature, calves are! You never know how time flies when you start playing with a calf.”
Suddenly we were interrupted by a sudden surge of commotion in the platform. The train had finally arrived! I had been so absorbed in my mother’s narration that I had not even heard the sound of the train. I wished the train had taken some more time in arriving. Some of the most priceless moments in life just come and go before you notice. I was glad I had not missed this one.
All the pictures on this post are licensed under creative commons with attribution. Below are the credits for the pictures in the order of appearance on this post
1. Railway Station from Wikipedia
2. Bullock Cart from lankapura
3. Calf from Photos for you