I like going home. If possible once every year.
My home is far away. Roughly 8,500 miles away, across the Atlantic, past the gulf countries, across the Arabian sea, in a tiny state called Kerala at the southernmost tip of India.
Going home is always a memorable event. It looks different now. Concrete buildings have buried the landscape. What I like to remember about home is a collection of moving images that I carry close to my heart. Memories from my younger days. The days when I was working in Bombay. Flights then were expensive. Train is the popular option for travel.
I like traveling alone. Curl up with a good book. Occasionally eavesdrop on the cross section of society travelling with you and get a glimpse into their inner world. I can hear a couple talking about their daughter’s marriage. They are worried about the amount of gold she should wear for the wedding. Two men are heatedly discussing politics and forcing serious recommendations on one another. A large family is settling down after an elaborate meal. They tucked the little ones away on the upper berths and they themselves turned in for the night.
The moving world of humans and metal sped through the vastly different countryside. I dozed off lulled by the rhythmic sounds of the train.
[Faster] Takataka dukudukum. Takataka dukudukum. Takataka dukudukum.
When I woke up the day was beginning to break. The landscape had changed completely. I opened the glass shutter slowly. The window had four parallel bars. I gripped one of them. They had rusted and were painted over and over again. The rusted parts formed bumps on the otherwise cool and smooth metal. I rested my face on them and closed my eyes. I took in the wind. Tasted the smells. And absorbed the sounds.
[Medium fast] Takataka dukudukum. Takataka dukudukum. Takataka dukudukum.
The train slowed down. It began to crawl across a river in spate and stopped in the middle of the bridge. I strained against the metal bars to see what was causing the delay. I imagined the train driver was just being cautious. Maybe a cow was caught in the middle of the bridge.
A vallom* in the middle of the river caught my attention. An old man leaned on a pole and walked from one end to the other pushing the boat with his foot. He was wearing an umbrella made with palm leaves firmly stuck on his head. The rest of his clothes were in tatters. The boat was laden with coconuts and the swirling waters came up dangerously close to the edge of the boat. It was as if the train stopped to watch the old man make it safely to the other side. Then it sighed; a long hearty whistle. The old man waved back.
The train started again.
[Slowly] Takataka dukudukum. Takataka dukudukum. Takataka dukudukum.
I dozed off. When I opened my eyes the train was taking a bend. I could see the locomotive in the distance spewing dark clouds into an absolutely green landscape. I knew I was getting closer to home. Neatly arranged paddy fields along the side looked like a giant quilt made from every possible shade of green. In the distance palm trees swayed and waved at me from the foot of a long chain of mountains covered by mist. The sky became moody and threatened to cry.
Then it began to rain. I closed my eyes and felt the big droplets wash my face and trickle down. Were they tears of joy? I felt the water go deep down and wash my soul. I was happy again.
I want to go home.
* Vallom is a long narrow boat with a scooped inside and is popular in the backwaters of Kerala and even at sea before the motor boats took over.