K S S Pillai
Thanks to a virus born in a faraway place, I have missed my usual visit to Kerala during the summer as well as the Diwali vacations. The rail and air traffic remain disrupted; the quarantine rules are different in different states.
I may, if and when I reach my destination, find myself and the members of my family hauled to a quarantine centre and asked to stay there for a couple of weeks. Another reason for the cancellation of the visit is my grandson. He passed his higher secondary examination months ago and has taken several entrance tests but is yet to get admission to a college.
During our visits to Kerala, our flat in Kochi remains our base camp. That suits all of us, as our ancestral home in the remote village lacks many of the facilities available in city homes. After spending some days in Kochi, we begin the tour of our native place, where most of our relatives and friends live.
Such visits and the average time spent at each place have been coming down gradually, with death intermittently snatching away some of them. Though the younger generation seems to be happy to see us, the bond is no longer strong enough to warrant spending long hours with them. When these visits are over, we heave a sigh of relief and rush back to the anonymous atmosphere of Kochi.
The residential complex where we live has a typical Kerala ambiance. The names of residents displayed outside show that they do not care about the caste or religion of their neighbours. Neither can I guess the religion of a resident by his attire or the general appearance. In the evening, several children of pre-school age, without any kind of segregation, are seen playing on the ground near the parking area, while their guardians, mostly grandparents, sit chatting with one another.
Over the years, our relationship with most of the residents has changed from nodding acquaintance and polite smiles to casual friendship. We have even started paying short visits to one another. The newspaper vendor, the laundryman, and some shopkeepers are now lavish with their friendly smiles. We chat about the pandemic, weather, traffic jams, pollution, and such topics. Knowing that we would leave after a few days, both sides take care to steer away from controversial topics.
We make it a point to spend a couple of days in Munnar with its cool weather even in the summer season and undulating tea gardens, where a large number of labourers from the neighbouring Tamilnadu work along with the locals. The district of Idukki, with its hills and mountains, is blessed with pristine natural beauty. A boat ride in the Thekkady lake brings one very close to roaming herds of elephants, sambar, tigers, gaurs, and other wild animals.
Another place we never give a miss is Fort Kochi, where we enjoy walking along the paved roads with colonial buildings on both sides and forlorn cemeteries where natives of faraway lands lie long buried. We enjoy sitting on the seashore for hours, watching ships, and smaller vessels cruising in the distance.
Most of my evenings are spent on the balcony of our seventh-floor flat, enjoying the sight of crows and pigeons that produce a cacophony while flying in complete disarray over the trees in the nearby plots, and abandoned half-finished housing complexes.
Far away, a lone aircraft flies across the sky, its drone barely audible, trailing lines of smoke that dissipate slowly long after it has disappeared among the multi-hued clouds. There is silence all around, broken at twilight by the ringing of bells in a nearby temple and the azan from a mosque.
(The author is a retired professor of English. His articles have been published by The Kashmir Vision, The New Indian Express, The Deccan Herald, The Tribune, and elsewhere)