Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Nomad That Is Me - Part 2 (The Story Of My Homes)

Calicut beach (digitally altered photograph)
Kozhikkode (a.k.a Calicut) has this magical feel to it. Lush greenery as you come down the table top airport, the smell of rain in the air, the signs all around – even on buses – written in Malayalam – it is quite literally – another world in itself. And that was exactly what I thought, when I came down to live there for the first time. I had left behind some of my best friends back in Muscat, and it was horrible for me.
We stayed at our ancestral place (you could not call it ancestral per say, since the house of my grandparents (mom’s side) was built in the 1970’s.) Our family is originally from Mahe, the erstwhile French colony (a lot of the Frenchness can still be seen around, and this Mahe is on the Kerala side, not Tamil Nadu.) My Grandad moved to Calicut to start his own business – Mahe Tea Mart (wholesale and retail sales of tea, coffee and later even milk powder.) The ancestral place was huge. There were around 5 rooms and as many families to fill it up (the need for a nuclear family was not even in the heads of anyone till then, and everyone felt comfortable living with each other as a joint family, almost.) But my mom thought if we too moved into the same house, then it would get a tad overcrowded. So we decided to head out and shift into an apartment close to the ancestral home itself. Thus came my third home – Shikha Apartments.
It was just barely 50 metres away, and it was a normal sized building with around four apartments in them. We took the one on the right hand corner on the ground floor. This time around, Dad was not there (he was still in Muscat, making ends meet.) So it was just Mom, brothers and myself at the new 2 bedroom apartment. I don’t think I have too many memories of this place, but I can muster up some enjoyable moments I had outside of it.
It was while at this home that I was able to cultivate the passion of cricket in me. Every weekend I used to go to the nearby ground in Jawahar Nagar Colony, where the neighbourhood boys (most of who studied with me at the Madrassa) would get together to play some of the most engrossing games of cricket (or any other sports for that matter) I have ever played. We also used to have cross-neighbourhood, wherein we would be challenged by the chaps from the Nadakkavu junction (the neighbouring locality.) The bet used to be for a meager amount of 10 or five rupees. But there used to be a lot of tension since it was the case of upholding our pride. I used to be sent in as a pinch hitter, and I was good with that (I guess) – a couple of sixes here, a couple of fours there, and then get yourself out. And yes, I used to be on the boundary line always – good fielder you see. The Nadakkavu boys used to hit hard, and I used to be there to catch hold of any ball that came my way. 
Shikha Apartments is also the place where I got my first bike – a Hero Devil. It was awesome – since I never had a bike of my own. Ever. And it was my pride. I used to take it out to go and play. I remember my elder bro had an accident with the new cycle just weeks after buying it. And surprisingly I had remained cool about it. It was my brother after all, and it was a cycle, not his bones (but yeah, he did lose one tooth.) Oh and I remember me throwing down my brothers bag on the floor thinking that he had replaced my bag from the chair. I was a very disturbed kid, who’d have his tantrums every now and then. I must have been beaten up by every other uncle and aunt I know.
School was another thing that I didn't enjoy much. After getting the adoration and admiration of the teachers in Muscat, how could I start building my reputation from scratch? I used to go to the Hill Top Public School (yes, as the name suggests it was on a hill-top). We used to go in Amba Travels, a trusted old tempo van that used to pass through the lane in front of us. Again, not much great memories with that van, since most of ma friends used to go in another – ultra super cool van – whose driver was kick-ass. Our tempo van consisted of most of the snobby kids, so it was not that great. But then again the travel was quite beautiful. We used to take the same path everyday, through our lane, in through Kottaram road to the magnificent Azhakodi Temple road and then out through Arayadathupalam to the congested Puthiyara junction and the beautiful winding road up to the top of our school (which was incidentally surrounded by huge chimney’s of large tile and brick factories that you could (and can still) see dotted around that place.) The winding path was made up of red bricks from the very factory. I should say this – it is one of the most picturesque schools I have ever been to. Life was pretty normal. Nothing major out here.
But getting back to my home, as I said earlier – not much to talk about, not much to cherish (we didn’t even have a TV out there, but yes we had an aquarium.) I have more memories of my ancestral homes in Mahe and Calicut, during the time we used to come for vacations from Muscat than of the two years I spent here. Yes, we shifted after two years, back to where I belong, back to old friends, memories, but old home? Well for that you have to wait for the next one. So it is adieu to an almost memory-less Calicut for now.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Nomad That Is Me - Part 1 (The Story Of My Homes)

Its true when people say that this generation is not going to have a hometown to support or be passionate about or even boast about. We have become nomads. With very few people sticking to their roots, people are travelling anywhere and everywhere their jobs take them. I am no exception, but with the case of job being my reason, is only very recent.

I was born in a small yet historically relevant city in God’s Own Country (Kerala, in South India) called Calicut, a.k.a Kozhikkode (historically because that was where Vasco de Gama landed almost five centuries back.) But I didn’t stay there for long considering the fact that my father was one of those millions who had shifted base to the oil-rich Gulf in the 1970’s. (and yeah, I am the only one born in Kerala among my siblings. Both my brothers were born in Muscat, Oman.) So sooner than later, I was in the Middle East getting used to the constant air conditioning and biriyani or ghee rice on Fridays (it used to be a tradition for up until the late 1990’s in our home – Mom used to make neychor (ghee rice) with chicken curry or different biryanis on Fridays, so that the whole family sat together and ate peacefully after the men came back from the Friday Juma prayers). Oh yeah, I forgot to mention – the sweltering heat, even though nobody ventured out before it was at least 4 in the evening.

I vaguely remember where we used to live when I was really very tiny (I have to ask ma mom one of these days about it), but yeah when I was around 5 years of age, I clearly remember staying in this flat in Muttrah. It had huge halls and there were around 10 apartments within that hallway. It was fairly a huge apartment with two bedrooms and very friendly neighbours. It was the 90’s, people did talk to each other then. My mom, used to being the clean and practical one used to even get out of the way into cleaning the hallways, clearing it off the cobwebs and dust from time to time. I remember a Malayalee family, with whose children I used to play around with. When my mom left for Hajj, dad used to make us breakfast in the morning, cover it with a plate and head off to his office. Me and my brother after having our breakfast (which mainly included bananas or Upuma) used to head out to our neighbour’s place, where we played our hearts out until it was evening and our dad came back. It was a fairly nice place to stay. I remember my mom walking me down the steps towards the bus to take me to the school, which was situated towards the Corniche side of Muttrah (and yes, this very school would metamorphosize into the once prestigious Indian School Al Wadi Al Kabir).

That apartment was also the site of one of my worst personal accidents. I had burned myself real badly when I knocked over a mug of boiling hot water, which was being used as a vaporizer to clear off blocked noses. Ugh, the pain of having my skin peeled off when my dad pulled down my shorts to help take the scalding hot water away from my body was absolutely excruciating. For the next one month, I had to visit the hospital every day to have new dressing on both ma thighs. But that was just one of those many things, that you will encounter in your life. You will never know when the next incident that will scar you for life can come along.

The Al Fayha Complex as in 2009 (courtsey: Jonathan Kotker)

But after living there for almost three years we shifted base to Al Wadi Al Kabir, when the new school came up there. It was called the Al Fayha Complex and it was the company building. It still remains to me the best place I have ever stayed in my entire life. We lived through there from 1993 until 1998. We started at the second floor, and after my Uncle (Dad’s brother) brought his family down from India, we shifted our flat to the fourth floor. It was a two bedroom apartment with a sitting room, two bathrooms and a very nice kitchen. We lived a very comfortable life there, with mosques on all four sides of the building, the school was just walking distance and I made quite a lot of friends, with whom I still keep in touch.

I also remember heading off to three buildings to the left, behind the Adam and Sons Jewellery (who have been robbed quite a number of times), where my close buddy Jasper used to live. We would take out the Four Square, mom had gotten for me when she came back from India attending her sister's wedding. We'd go on out to the road, and make the pipes on the side of the wall our wickets and play gully cricket. Occasionally we were disturbed by the Omani hooligans, who didn't take a liking to us just minding our own business. But we did have a huge Asian contingency there. The Pakistani boys in our building used to get together in the evening and display some of the most awesomest gully cricket i have ever seen. I was basically blown away by their fast bowlers and big hitters. Being the small me, i was not able to be part of their teams, but time to time i too got a chance to see my wickets being shattered with a 100 km/hr ball.

Other than that our building had so many interesting people. There were the sisters (i don't remember how many they were) from Hyderabad, who used to always come out in their Hijab, which made them all the more mysteriously attractive. There were also the bachelors on the first floor, who used to work in the printing press on the ground floor. There was Jijesh uncle, one of the coolest friend's my Uncle ever had (he even got me a walkie talkie from Singapore when i asked for it, but leave it my elder brother who asked me not to accept it, since he thought our Dad won't like it.) I remember the time when me and my brother got into a fight destroying the huge balcony window (and the subsequent punishment by Dad, who beat us with his now famous cane stick.)

I also remember the time when my Uncle decided to cook for his sick wife, and literally got the pressure cooker to explode by trying to open it before it had lost out on all its pressure (the dal was all over the ceiling.) Relatives used to visit us. We had parties. This place sure did have quite a lot of memories and anecdotes to go along with it. It was a beautiful time. It was a beautiful place.

But all honeymoons get over. Sadly, my Dad hit a rough patch after his Sheikh expired and people were in danger of losing their jobs. He decided to send us back to India at least for the time being. So there, after almost 12 years in the Gulf I was heading back to the place I was born in - Calicut.

I didn't like it one bit that we had come back to our motherland. I was getting comfortable with the kind of life i lived in Muscat - quite, slow and relaxing. Its not like i hated Calicut or anything, but you know how it is when you leave your best friends in the world, and come to a place to begin a new life all over again. It was quite tough. And this was one of the main reasons, i initially didn't like the place. But things change, and it sure did for me. But that is for another blog post, when i move into our second home.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

I Got An Incomplete List To Complete Before I Say I Do

I mean how much more hilarious could life be? You have people getting married left, right and centre. What is it with people and getting married so young? Well with the kind of things happening around us, I believe that they are taking the Mayan belief that 2012 sure is the end of the world (courtesy my buddy Ashwin Gopinath - yeah we discussed this seriously idiotic topic and why people can't just go suicidal instead of getting married). But c’mon now, does that mean you get married even before you get a job, even before you can stand on your two feet, even before you’ve seen the world, before you’ve even had a hangover or two? You know what it is? It is ridiculous? Now don’t tell me that you’ve done all that even before your 23rd birthday. And no I’m not being jealous nor am I being stupid. But that’s the deal people. You got so much more to do. If it were me, this would be a list of things to do before I hang my heart out:

  1. Take a road trip to Ladakh
  2. Hike across the Himalayas
  3. Get wet in the rains of Cherapunji
  4. Be in a band (again) and play to an audience equal to that of the number of people out on the street during India’s Cricket World Cup win
  5. Gift Dad and Mom a foreign holiday for their anniversary
  6. Drive MY car around one of the two drive-in beaches in India
  7. Enjoy the littlest moments (a promotion, a raise, an award – it can be frikking anything – even your first swim with sharks) with your friends, no matter how busy any of them are
  8. Put a smile on the face of everyone who cares for you and not
  9. Get a book published (which is almost partially fulfilled ;))
  10. Grow my hair long (It’s been like this unfulfilled wish for so long! ;))

And so much more people. So much more. If I continue with this list, I don’t think i’ll be able to finish it anywhere now. It might even take me time until my bachelorhood finishes, thereby guaranteeing that I will still have so many things to do before I get hitched. As for 2012, I tell, bring it on. I can wait. As long and as peaceful as I want.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

A revisit

3 years back, on a very sunny March morning, i had put up a story on this very blog. It was written after the devastation of the 2004 tsunami. It pained me to see the number of people who had lost their lives without warning, without a final goodbye and without a word to their loved ones.

The very story has now been chosen by New Asian Writing, a Bangkok based independent press to be published in their yearly Short Story Anthology.