I am spending the summer with Dadu-Thamma in Begambari. Dadu talks of you all the time. You know, finally we have electricity here! And the roads are no more mud tracks. And Dadu has planted a new mango sapling called Amrapali and Thamma’s knitting me a new sweater, red with pompoms. God! There is so much I want to tell you about.
Summer is blooming and Dadu’s orchards are graciously ripe. The wind whispers and waltzes all day inbetween the trees. And sweet, wet rain comes pelting down at will, tapping the tin-roof, beating music out of the silence and suddenly the scent of earth and wood permeates everything. There are caterpillars everywhere, munching fresh leaves- half of them dying beneath feet of careless men, half curling into the chrysalis, metamorphosing into bright yellow butterflies. The sojhne trees are their favorite! Tall crowds of grass beckon you, waving their arms, from every direction. The sky is usually a perfect blue, with clumps of fat white and grey clouds lazing around. The atmosphere is scrubbed clean. Mimosas crowd the aisles inbetween fields, their fuzzy purple heads held high. I watch with delight as their pinnate leaves shy away at my tender touch. Today baba took me around the village, to see our fields and the village school. The palash trees are still in bloom- fiery red flowers blaze the naked branches. The ponds are full with hyacinths, their iridescent peacock plumed petal mesmerise me. You know maa, they have replanted the paddy and I slipped and fell into the thick mud. Had to claw out my sandal! My legs and arms were nicely splayed and baba said let it be and laughed! He laughs so little these days. Life is suddenly so empty without you.
Anyways, I made a new friend here, a girl named Papri, who calls her pet stray “Kulfi”! She is teaching me to cycle on the school grounds. We had a whale of time, rolling tyres on the lanes, eating sour mango pickles, chasing pigeons, waving at the train ofcourse, running like dryads through green green fields! Late afternoon, we came back home, our mouths stained with the vibrant violet of jamuns. Oh! how I love those juicy little fruits! We are planning to sneak into their neighbour’s orchards tomorrow- the litchi looks welcoming, hanging low in bright red clusters. But sshhh, this is a secret! And you know maa, there are spirits in those bamboo groves, she told me!
Day end, the cattles and the goats are herded back, and the scarlet sun throws long shadows of the sisals and palms on the flat fields. Blackbirds and sparrows play hide and seek in the shimmering shadows. Stars appear more youthful here, blazing bright like the cheeks of a maiden- just kissed. And the moon, I swear, has been repainted with fresh coat of nacre. The midnight rain bathes the drooping hibiscus buds as they wait for dawn to unfurl. Dewdrops sleep on broad chested kochu-pata and dangle from the tips of tightly rolled bamboo leaves. I wish you were here, maa. We would have walked in silence over acres of lush fields, or held hands and walked over the railway tracks. You would tell me stories of your childhood, how you climbed the mango trees in the backyards of mama-baari, and played hop-scotch under that ancient banyan. By the way, this scent of jack-fruits annoys me. Dadu says you loved it. Did you? Or is he trying to trick me into tasting it? No way! And not the fish either.
After sundown, the cicadas take centre-stage with their incessant song. Thamma still has to light her earthen lamps and kerosene lanterns because electricity is very irregular. Lithe coconuts, palms and arecanuts sway overhead like deceiving ghosts as the wind keeps whooshing around. The handpumps groan their sore-throated groan, the water splashes loud on the cement below, and frogs croak and hop away. Tommy turned 5 this year. He follows me everywhere, wagging his tail. At 8, the last train whistles like a bansheee past the signal. We sit on a charpoy in the courtyard, drenched in pearly moonshine, the sweet scent of mangoes sheathing us, munching on jhal-muri. I tell you, maa, that pungent smell of mustard oil and fresh chillies is ethereal! Conversations unravel easily over Darjeeling tea. Then the hot pakoras with hotter chutneys come in. The night seems endless.
We talk. We laugh. And in the midst of life, maa, I find you so close.
Reproduced from one of my childhood essays on summer hols! 🙂
Word notes: Dadu-Thamma is paternal grandparents, sojhne is Indian drumstick, palash is the Butea monosperma tree and its blazing red flowers, kochu-pata is Colocasia leaves.
Begambari is a small village in the Purnea district of Bihar.