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There are two reasons why you’d find a crowd in front of a shop in Kerala. One, it’s pouring: aunties with their big black umbrellas, hold up their sarees as the roads turn into rivulets; men with their well-oiled hair and their lungis tucked above their knees, won’t risk riding their bikes in this rain. The only other reason is that there is a strike/ a hartal, and there’s a queue of men outside an unassuming looking rickety old shop, with a small board in yellow that reads TODDY. Today it’s both. In the peak of the monsoon season, Kerala rid of its tourists and its sweltering heat takes a break and watches the rains. Life comes to a standstill. Nothing here works when there’s a strike and no one moves when it rains. In a country that celebrates religious holidays every other week, communist Kerala depends on the rains and hartals for a celebratory glass of toddy and fish fry.

Kerala, a small coastal state in the south of India is a place of indescribable beauty, and describable cliches. There’s green everywhere, in every possible shade- the green of the paddy fields, the green of the mango too raw, in the peacocks, in the hills, in the moss on the streets, in the ponds and the luridly painted houses. It’s an artist’s muse. But that is the tourist’s Kerala. The Kerala that is my native place and feel forced to visit every year is that of pettiness, party politics, overbearing relatives and houses that reek of fish and wetness. A place that rings of familiarity while still being completely alien to me. My romance with Kerala, comes from a nostalgia that doesn’t exist. Nostalgia for a past I created through stories.

My father is a brilliant storyteller. His stories of growing up in his hometown were coloured with the idea of growing up in a large ancestral home- a joint family household that owned most of the land in the village. He had 5 brothers and two sisters and numerous cousins for company, they played in mangroves, had little interest in school, and had servants to cater to every need. He also spoke of times of strife, of experiencing poverty as the landlord system changed after Independence, the caste system being abolished, the family separating. Having grown up in a big city and never having seen his ancestral home, this was the Kerala I dreamt of. The reality only disappointed me year after year. I wanted an elephant in my courtyard, a temple in my backyard, and to walk down streets my family owned. We merely retained the name, as new houses were built on old land and old servants became the new elite— nouveau riche, if you will. It was class over caste.

excerpt from Vidooshakan- the Harlequin

liSts foR the rAins

against the rain
The rains are here and so are my 5 o’clock allergies. Not that it comes dot at 5, but come it does. Around 4, I know it’s right round the corner. That’s about when the precautionary measures start. While the water is boiling, the itch creeps into the insides of my eyes. Right first, I wink rapidly. A watching pot never does boil, I increase the temperature. Left next, I shut my eyes tight and open wide again. I know if I scratch, it will only intensify. The water has just started boiling over when a single tear rolls down my right cheek. I add a big tablespoon of coffee into the vessel and let it boil once more. Turn off quickly and grab the nearest cup. The vessel is too hot. I pause for a second or two to deliberate. Sneeze first or pour the coffee into the cup. I go with coffee and sneeze comes with it. I stare at the cup, most of the coffee is in it. I decide to forget what else might be in there.
I shut all doors and windows. the house is covered in all kinds of weeds and creepers and creepy flowers. A single blow of the wind… I sneeze, once, twice, and then a marching band of sneezes. I pour the coffee into the sink and wash the burn off my hands.
I try again- a big roll of toilet paper, a giant blanket and a thinner bedsheet, switch on the fan, turn on the laptop, and all kinds of big and small eats. The blanket is too warm, and I sweat through sneezes 45, 46 and right through 59. I opt for the bedsheet. I sit up straight, throw the bedsheet off and switch on the fan. I can’t watch this anymore, to sneeze one has to concentrate. And one has to sneeze to rid oneself of a stuffed nose. Besides, i can barely see through eyes as small as beads. I rub both vigorously. An eyelash is in there, I’m sure of it. The right one, always the right one. I stick a finger in to pull it out. A finger covered in red and yellow and salt. Both eyes resolutely remain red, no eyelashes pulled out.
x
I think of the long summer before, the dry heat and the wet one as I watch the lizard on the ceiling. I think of that Christmas dinner last winter, I wore a black sweater. Many writers have written about autumn. It’s raining outside and the raintree is in a frenzy. Sneeze 83 to 86 and the lizard disappears. The rains outside have turned into a thunderstorm. It’s quite the sight.