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Sunday, September 13, 2015

“Give the Soldiers Hot Food” – From 601 to Kannur

A patch of green, a temple celebration or the sight of a village instantly transports me to the childhood trips to Cherukkunnu (a sleepy village 16kms North of Kannur) during summers. For a city-bred child, the simple life that Cherukunnu had to offer, even for those few days, was heaven. The grand old ‘naalukettu’, the deep wells, the unassuming people, coconut trees, the temple pond, the grocery vendor who identified me as Major Sekharan’s grandson (my grandpa was a mighty well-known figure, mind!) and the evening walks with him that culminated at the temple, the place and the people have retained the simpleton charm always. The village adorned in all possible colours during Vishu festival looked (still do) straight out of a fairy tale.

Days would start with grandpa’s wake-up call for breakfast. The benign disciplinarian that he was, his idea of a perfect family was to sit down as a whole for breakfast and most importantly, for lunch. The age-old custom of men-eat-first-women-eat-later did not apply to him. Everyone crammed together around the square dining table helping each other with dishes that were free from pesticide; fish that my non-fish eater grandpa would specially pick for me, the elaborate evening tea sessions – life seemed perfect for those few days.  Drawing water from the well for a bath and the aromatic coconut oil my aunt used to force on my hair were the highlights of pre-lunch activities. After lunch, I was the privileged one to share the charpoy with grandpa on the vast verandah for an afternoon siesta (with me always oversleeping) hearing the birds chirp and the breeze grace us throughout those sultry noons. Television was not even a necessity those days. Come evening, the proud ex-serviceman would open his quota of the ‘golden liquid’ while my mother prepared scrambled egg or fried tidbits to accompany. It is during these sessions that grandpa would open his vast chest of treasure – stories from his army days. The rise of a foot-soldier to a Major. His stints at various places across India including the wars that he was a part of and the medals he won. One story that I distinctly remember is the one that he would often repeat – of a superior officer who would order “Give The Soldiers Hot Food” after a long day at the battlefield. Somehow, till date, that sentence resonates in my ears every time I see hot food or someone relishing a cup of steaming hot soup. The very sound of those words tasted delicious to the ears.

Cut to 2015! The grand old naalukettu is on its way down. Beside it has risen a 3 storey modern house. I miss the simple pleasures that the grand old house had to offer. Again, being a grownup is no fun and you really do not have the inclination to stop and smell the flowers. Cousins grew up to be fine young career-oriented women, I can see less green and hear more noise. The conviction grew bigger recently when I noticed my two year old niece fervently hopping up and down the staircase like the stairs were going to disappear any moment. The little one probably never saw a multi-storey house with staircases or had so many relatives milling around the house petting her like a princess. Or had a stray cat to pat every day. Or was fed one single meal by ten different people from the same plate. On the last day of her visit, she bawled her heart out with the words “I don’t want to go back to 601. Cherukunnu is my home”.

I sit back and wonder whether she would ever have a relaxed childhood like I did. One full of stories, cousins, grandparents, staircases and wells, old chests filled with dusty books and designer bottles, a grand old mansion which she would fondly recollect later on a piece of writing like this, a life far far away from the hustle and bustle of Bombay, a childhood to remember! I hope and pray that the cat you patted every day, the birds you chirped with and the steps you climbed stay in your heart forever, for one day when you look back, your smile gets wider with such small, yet, big memories.

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