Returning Home | Gauri Naik
In half an hour we will reach my ancestral home situated in yet another beautiful Konkani village. I felt the excitement bubble inside me as we neared home. A chest of many happy summer vacation spent here unlocked, as if it wasn’t almost three decades ago but just yesterday.
This place had been a major part of my summers. From dawn till dusk we were up and about, helping elders with the household chores, climbing on the trees, on those extremely heated afternoon taking a dip in the well. Sundays were extremely special; for Kaka (as we called in my mother tongue) would take us fishing in the sea. Admittedly, our catches were few, but we did learn to sail. (I think it will be safe to mention here, that if we get stranded on the sea, in a fisherman’s boat, I can bring us home.)
With the morning gone in chores, and the afternoon in dips and savouring the taste of fresh mangoes, the remaining time was spent chit-chatting with any one of the villagers who would stop to inquire about our day. Sometimes, scavenging for forest berries, all equipped with plastic bags and sticks, felt like Indiana Jones on a search of…well..edible fruits!
But the best part of the day was the night. After dinner, each night we all (parents included) would gather around in a closed circle and listen to Dadi’s stories. She told the most amazing stories, from the ones that would make you cry to the ones that made your sides ache from laughing too hard. Some made us seek our mom or dads embrace, for those were scary stories which, coupled with her narration, the general scare of the story and the fact that those were told in the courtyard surrounded by trees which rustled with wind and the crickets sounded a lot louder than the usual volume chilled us to the bones. Others made us wonder about the world we were yet to see. Her voice changed with the emotion of the story, with every up and down the story went through. I think it will be safe to say that, my Dadi is the greatest narrator of all time. (Although my daughter adorns my narration, I don’t think I’ll ever match Dadi’s). At the end of each story then, she would hand us each a sweet and then sent everyone off to bed.
On those nights when the heat was unbearable inside; when fans failed and no amount of ice-cooled us off, we all would walk out into the courtyard, bedding in hand and sleep there. During these times then, Dada, my grandfather, told us about stars and how the age-old people understood climate. To be honest, as kids this was closed to a mystic to us, but yet we listen on, learning about the North Star and the constellations in the sky.
Sky those days were much cleared than now. I tried passing my knowledge further to my daughter. But seeing stars in a city night sky, especially when you are living in the heart of the city can be difficult at times. Two weeks after the initiation we had to abandon the idea and go back to looking through a screen. But that too eventually was given up, on the accounts that it wasn’t the same as stargazing.
Summer was also a good time to stock up for the year and observe Dadi’s culinary skills first hand. Pickles, sweets from coconut, Mangosteen, Jackfruit, Karonda, and of course Mangoes were always in the process of making, drying, storing and finishing up. Admittedly, I can’t cook a single one of them now, but then it was more about sneaking fruits to eat than learning how to preserve them for the year.
Thus, our day could be spent, chasing one activity after another until sundown. When the sun rose again with the cock’s cry we rose to and repeated the entire previous day almost as it is again. We never got bored with the routine then, in fact, we liked it. We enjoyed always having something to do. Alas, that’s not the case now.
For years these happy summer vacations continued, then we grew up. Our summer classes and coachings took away our summer. Later it was the college and lastly the job and the family that took it away.
Now years later, we all ( my brother Rishabh and my cousin’s Kunal, Yash and Sakshi) are returning home, to relive our summer days through our kids.
“Mummy?”, my daughter Mira called from the backseat of the car.
“Yes?” I returned from my fond memories to her. We were about fifteen minutes away from the house.
“What were you telling about the welcome drink that Dadi use to welcome you with?”
Over the years, as a bedtime story routine, time and time again I had recited my childhood days as stories to her. And just as I was excited to go back to my childhood, Mira was excited to see the actual setting of my stories.
“Traditionally any visitors who came home especially during the morning was offered a glass of water along with some jaggery, like a refreshment, sort of like our fruit juices. Each year when we would reach home, Dadi could be standing there with a tray in her hand and a smile on her face. We would wash our hands and feet by the well and then seat in the courtyard enjoying the refreshment before stepping inside. No one told her that we were near, she just knew. And she always was there to welcome us.”
“Will she be there this time too?”, she asked innocently.
But, I couldn’t answer her. Afterall Dadi was in her late 80s now. Whether or not she could still wait on us was a slightly impossible possibility. I was well into my rumination of the past and the present when again Mira’s voice brought me back. We had reached.
“Mummy look! There’s that gate through which a dog chased you..and that tree from which Massi fell. ….Oh, look! Look! There is Dadi. Like you said she would! And look there’s Kaki by her side with a tray full of glasses and a bowl of jaggery!”
It’s hard to say, which one of us was more excited. Maybe we both were equally excited. I think excitement is good for summer. It lets you try new things, explore, to relive. And yes to see a beautiful tradition passed on to someone who would carry it forward.
Written by Gauri Naik