It was yet another normal warm day, as it is usually in Chennai, until the dark monstrous clouds gathered directly above us, intimidating with loud thunders. Belligerent, cool winds rushed past the bus in which I was sitting near a window. The bus was almost full except for a couple of seats and the conductor walked up and down the aisle asking for tickets. The traffic showed its sight, now and then allowing the bus to totter like an old man. The drizzle was in a full view and all ran looking for a shelter. Suddenly everything turned into a mess. The traffic came to a still, people stranded under the shelters they could find, teenagers spending time in those tattered tea shops with a tea and a snack, vendors desperately trying to cover the products, the animals standing in the open places enjoying the rain, and there I was sitting inside the bus capturing every single vivid moment. A few minutes later, the downpour humbled to a slight drizzle and things turned normal.
Image : Harikrishna Raghuraman
I was on my way to my grandmother's home, where she had been living for the past 30 years, after she had shifted from a village. My grandfather is no more alive. I got down at my stop and the earth was still alive from those few minutes of rain. I felt the odour that enlivened my spirits and the roads with potholes became water stores for the dogs and the cows. They relished drinking water oblivious of the people shooing them away. The main road to the area welcomed me with a construction site which was once crowded with bushes, thorny plants and the local animals and birds.
It was a Tuesday evening and it had been more than a couple of months since I came here. I couldn't see any one down the road. Every house I crossed was locked from the inside with people either sitting before televisions or computers or sleeping. None bothered to enjoy this vivacious scenery and the pleasant smell. There were no children playing with the paper boats in the stagnant water. No adolescent out of their houses to stand under a tree with someone shaking the branches. No adults standing near the wall talking to the neighbours. Everybody seemed to love the virtual world. None came to see who was walking on their roads and none to ask me who I was.
It took me fifteen years back when I lived in other district and visited this place frequently, practically all those festival seasons. We used to take autos, not till her home, but only till the main road leading to hers. My dad did this because he was more than acquainted with all those in the area though it had been eight years since he left the place for a job. The bus stop near the road had a wooden furniture shop whose owner was a family friend. We usually spend some time there and move on. Everyone's gates would be widely opened with children in view playing and the parents talking. As we crossed each home, people used to come out and talk with my dad. They would enquire about my studies and my mom's welfare and would invite us for a coffee. My dad politely refused every time and they allowed us to leave with a word that we would have a coffee with them in that visit.
The shop at the corner of the street, we called it Murthy stores, irrespective of the change of the names (Murthy to Subha to Ayyanar), always made me feel at home. We, cousins, are more in number and we could get anything saying that we were from that house. The shop keeper Anna never refused to give anything and our elders always compensated it. The huge tree in front of a nearby house always had nice fragrant flowers and I have never left the place without sticking its petals to my nails and making demon-like appearances. And in each house, I always got a comment how my father was when he was young , many a time same set of stories repeated. My grandparents introduced me to their neighbors and proudly said that I was their first grandson. It used to embarrass me even at that ingenuous age.
The "thinnai" in the front always had people and kids on the wall in front of it. Whenever I entered, there would be umpteen people to tell, "Hey Hari, come!" with a smile. Practically there would be no place for us, more than twenty in number, in that home. We will form groups (usually the kids) and sleep in meighbours'. (When guests came to others', they too slept in our home). But all the kids, we slept together in one room. We talked and laughed throughout the night while the elder who was responsible for us that night used to have a hard time sleeping as we never allowed him/her to sleep. My dad or uncles or aunts.
The drizzle came down again bringing me back to present. There I was, in the street with my home at view, yet none noticed me. There was none on the "thinnai" and suddenly loneliness engulfed me. I opened the gate with none to receive me. My grandmother was working in kitchen and asked me to sit. Most of my cousins are married and a good number out of the city.
The nature retains its quality from the beginning. Same downpour, same heat, same fragrance of the first earth after rain, same wind. But people do change. That place looked like alien. I yearned for the old place with the old people.