Goodbye to a way of life

My grandmum’s death last week, I realized, is not just the passing away of the beloved person I knew and loved but the passing away of a way of life. I don’t know anybody anymore who uses a mortar and pestle to pound rice flour or uses the stone to grind coconut (ok my aunt is an exception)!

We need excuses to be with nature. Let’s get out from the maddening city, get together at a farmhouse, celebrate the kid’s birthday in the park for that one hour of refuge from the onslaught of the concrete jungles our lives have started to resemble. Office bus, get to work, get on the bus, go home, do more work…

At my work place, I’m blessed to have a beautiful campus rich in it’s flora and fauna. I do stop by to spot an occassional snake, a pretty fish, a flower that is an unusual color or a well hidden nest up in the trees. But that’s far from being one with nature.

I remember as kids we would ask gran to make us a ball and that was a very normal request coming from 6 year olds to a 60 year old woman! Gran would pick up a few leaves from a baby coconut tree, start braiding the leaves together and in 10 miutes flat we had a ball! I wish I had a camera back then to capture the magic of her fingers and the wonder on our faces!

We would all set out in the morning, the bumbling city cousins and the exciting country cousins on our quests for the ripest mangoes from the neighbour’s orchard. Oh there was a specific agenda each day. If it was not the mangoes then it was this beautiful water body we had to get to after half an hour’s trekking through a rocky little path. Creating crowns out of leaves, picking vines and berries to string them for our jewellery, picking huge colocasia leaves to eat our feast in, the little kings and queens of the day would come back blissfully exhausted. Aching hands dug into some simple, non-fancy fare that was laid out on the table, relished it without any complaint and fell into happy slumber dreaming of more adventures and quests in store the next day.

I long to be able to recreate this kind of magic for my children. Because I know that memories of nature and childhood are bound together. There’s no separating the two. It’s like kappa (tapioca in malayalam) and fish, or bread and butter, you think of them together, always! I fret about what my kids’s childhood memories would be like when they grow up – hitting a ball in to the neighbour’s compound and getting yelled at, a car that almost hit them while they were playing street football, watching endless shows on tv, playing video games at their friend’s houses…I can’t help but despair that my kids are missing out.

Huddling together in the cow’s shed and watching an aunt milk the cows, my aunt helping a cow give birth to her calf, all of us watching, waiting and praying. And the pure undiluted joy we felt when the little wet calf stood up on it’s wobbly legs and made that first comical sprint away from mommy,then
the legs giving in and the calf flopping down half way, but getting back to mommy eventually after innumerable flops. Cuddling kittens, chasing chickens and collecting the still warm eggs. Wonderful memories etched forever in my mind that I go back to again and again. They shine like pearls in comparison to what my kids’ memories would be like.

We get our eggs and mangoes from the supermarket, the milk comes in packets. We live in the heart of the city where it is impossible to not notice that there are more vehicles than humans. A sweep of your eyes and you can actually count the number of trees around you on your fingers, there are that few of them. Our eyes are rivetted to the mindless goings on on TV. Our interactions with friends have dwindled to the occassional scrap on facebook or a speedy SMS sent from the bus. The outings we plan are either to the movies or to a fancy restaurant. Between chasing deadlines, homework, yelling at the kids, school projects and recuperating over the weekends, nature outings have sadly been forgotten. Modernization and changed lifestyles have already left imprints everywhere. The ancestral homes I went to during the holidays as a child have changed.

Sometimes I wonder if it is even fair to want a liberal dose of nature in your children’s lives. Times have changed, landscapes have changed. It is only natural that our children will have childhoods and memories that are different and more apt to the changing times. Leave alone wanting to be amidst nature,is it even possible? Maybe not two whole months of living amidst nature, but alteast a couple of weeks once a year is not too much to ask. And I get a resounding yes to that from my eager heart. Well that’s my solution, a measely two weeks plucked out from our whirlwind lives, meanwhile I wave good bye to my grandmum, everything she embodied and to a way of life that has changed for ever.

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