A new year is supposed to be about new beginnings, new resolutions, noble intentions that we know for certain will not be sustained past the first month or two and hope. Hope for the better.
But for me, the New Year was something else altogether. It was about growing young. It was about wanting to become a child again, while at the same time not being willing to give up the memories acquired growing up. It was about having to leave a place which you still called home though you never really did when it was home. It was about simply lying in my old room and watching a Malayalam movie while outside the window stars mingled with aeroplanes and apartment windows and palm trees. It was about inhaling in that smell which I can’t really define, at least not the way people will understand; it smelled of routine, but not quite routine because it felt like something new every time; it smelled of being bored but so excited you wish it never ends; it smelled of happiness and nostalgia; it smelled of desperation and calm; it smelled of my tears and the ghosts of past laughter and the promise of new ones; it smelled of slapstick humor exchanged between my mother and her sisters while they talked and talked; it smelled of the endless nights we spent dancing in there with the lights out while the glow from the TV illuminated our laughing eyes; it smelled of the lazy afternoons spent in there lying with naanu and naani talking about school. It smelled of home but a home you knew was more than that.
I had a very enjoyable Christmas break, but what I remember most about the trip is the last night I spent in my home, not my cousins’ place, not the resort we went to, not daada and daadi’s place, but the last day I spent in the apartment I called home instead of home. The night I spent alone in the room watching the Malayalam movie while my parents were out for some last-minute shopping; the night my sisters and brother were in the drawing room watching t.v while I was in the room. The night my dad bought 4 tubs of ice-cream because we told him we had a craving for it. The night I spent alternately looking at the screen and out the window at the stars and apartments and trees and planes; the night I couldn’t suppress my grin because I finally got a minute alone with my home while at the same time a huge lump formed in my throat at the thought of having to leave it the next day. The night I spent eating ice-cream and laughing while tears of sorrow flowed down my cheeks as I watched the movie.
I know it is weird to be so attached to a simple flat. There wasn’t anything extraordinary about it, at least not to people, except it was the ‘our first own’ home. Looking out the window you would see this great expanse of land stretched out several floors beneath you. There was a great expanse of the most brilliant green, the huge garden of an Ayurveda clinic not 10 feet from the apartment, and it would be the first thing to catch you eye. Then as your eyes floated further, there would be small houses and trees and several flats. The beautiful Vivanta could be seen in the background, perhaps, if you look at night, its roof ablaze with swirling lights and fountains as music floated towards you. Here and there, you would see splashes of the brightest yellow, the flowers of the laburnum tree, with its magical flowers cascading down its branches laden with bright leaves. Looking to the right one could see the occupants out in their balconies as the sun began its red and purple descent; an old man rhythmically nodding his head to the music pouring from the old gramophone in his rocking chair; a smoker or two; a teenage boy out with his headphones and drumming in the air; a mother and her children sitting on the balcony floor, eating cutlets or meat rolls; a middle-aged woman talking into the phone; a couple laughing together and pointing as the different birds flew home; a child or two feeding the ample pigeons that hung around grooming their iridescent blue and aquamarine feathers. This was home. I don’t know what it was about the place, but simply walking into it would make me feel better.
For me, the New Year was about leaving this home once again to return to my home halfway across the country. Leaving behind the smell; the contradictory feelings it evoked in me; leaving behind my grandparents and the rest of my family; leaving behind the theatres with Malayalam movies where the audience whistled and hooted at the entry of the hero or the villain; an audience which would tease the authorities if the electricity was cut for a few minutes and the movie was interrupted; an audience which would deliver loud one-liners for the benefit of the rest of the people, when a particularly interesting dialogue or a lame one was uttered; an audience which would openly criticize a character or scene quite wittily; an audience which was a pleasure to be a part of. The movie theatre was a place which summarized the essence of home, no false pretenses in the form of undue sophistication, no judgments, at least for the duration of the movie; a place where the shy whistled along with the outspoken; a place where the ‘sophisticated’ joked across the theatre with the ‘common’ stranger; a place where you laughed in sync and voiced your thoughts freely, because, for the duration of the movie, you were among your own. Having been away from the place for a long time, having watched movies in ‘modern’ movie theatres where the seats were perfect and the floor carpeted and the atmosphere scented, and the audience polite, I yearned for the movie theatres I knew and loved, as much as my home. The New Year marked the end of this theatre, for now, my favourite theatre too, was ‘modernized’ with seats that slid and unfolded perfectly and a carpeted floor, but the one consolation was, the audience was more or less the same, though perhaps a little more subdued now.