Monday, August 01, 2005

The Middle of Nowhere - II

Continued from here.

Bats. Dozens of them, hanging upside down on the giant tree. Most of them were still, sleeping no doubt, but some of them gave out intermittent shrieks; some shook themselves every few minutes, while others flapped and stretched their wings.

I couldn't understand why I'd never noticed these creatures before, in all the years that I'd been visiting the place. They must have been hanging up there every time I came. And I'd always taken the shrieks for granted and never bothered to look up at the tallest trees, so busy was I with climbing the dead snake vines.

I stood there for a few minutes. My grandfather soon became bored - after all, he had been visiting this place for years - and went outside. I followed him out.

We sat down on the half-wall surrounding the one-roomed temple. It was peaceful. The noon sun was warm, there was a slight wind, and the paddy fields stretched out below us like a green waving carpet. There were a few white birds here and there, paying scant attention to the scarecrows.

Soon, a figure came into view, leading a cow. My grandfather sat up and said, "Look, that is my brother." I squinted at the figure, but couldn't see much. "He'll cross the fields and come here to let the cow graze. We'll go down and meet him."

We clambered down. The figure was still only half-way across the fields. Appooppan went and stood under the shade of a coconut tree while I investigated a low-walled well. There was a tulsi plant growing nearby and I idly plucked a few leaves and ate them - they are supposed to be good for the body. The water in the well was dark and unwholesome-looking. I remembered that there was some story attached to this well. Perhaps somebody had jumped in and died and now haunted the well. The waters didn't appear deep enough for drowning, but, looking up at the jungle brooding above me, I felt that I could well believe that a ghost might choose to hang around.

Appooppan, meanwhile, had gone to welcome the figure. I followed him and Appooppan asked the other man, "Recognize her?" It wasn't a very hard question, since I am the only female born in my father's family in two generations. The man scrutinized me carefully and said, "How can I not? After all, she is family."

He smiled kindly at me and went to tie the cow around a tree, in an area where there was plenty of grass. Then he made small talk with us. He discussed the weather and the crops and how long it had been since he had seen me.

While I was listening, I couldn't help but wonder why I had no memories of him. Perhaps he was only a cousin. He was a short and scrawny man, with pleasant eyes almost hidden by folds of skin. Unlike my grandfather, who doesn't look his age, this man looked as if he had been baked by the sun all his life and had dried out as a result.

Soon, their talk turned to local matters and I was left to my own thoughts. I looked out at the fields and thought of how different the place was from Delhi, how much more peaceful. The only sounds were the voices of the two men, the harsh crying of crows and that beautiful sound that coconut trees make when they are swaying in the wind. In that moment, I couldn't, for the life of me, understand why anyone would want to leave this place.

Only for a moment, though.
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