Friday, September 21, 2012

The Backdoor VIPs

Rural Kerala is discretely chauvinistic. Even the houses. Even modern, upper middle class houses. But these houses only gave the woman of the house much more personal space than other normal houses. Let me explain.

Every home (unless they are the unimaginative new apartments that are mushrooming everywhere!) has a boundary wall (varying from mud mounds lined with the thorny pineapple plants, to imposing structures with spikes and electric lamps) with a gate (again varying from little bamboo strips to iron), which then leads through a pathway into a front door.

The front was a signature for most homes - this was where the man of the house would spend most of his 'thinking' time. Morning teas to after dinner debates were all held at the veranda of the front door. One could often see a worn out easy-chair that usually belonged to the patriarch of the house.

Looking closely at the pathway, one could see another smaller path winding itself towards the back yard of the home. Usually in close proximity with the kitchen or the wash-up area, the back door was a little less glamorous than its pompous brother. If one overlooks this minor superficial point, the back door had much more character - maybe because of the colorful variety of  visitors that door saw through.

In my home, the back door was always open, unlike the front door, which was more anglicised. The front door was of carved wood, with a fancy door knob and an even fancier door bell. Traditionally, all houses in Kerala had open doors. But then, what was the point of keeping a fancy door bell if one did not have to summon someone to open the door? So, the front door evolved into being the 'closed' door, while the back door had sunlight, random noises, and happiness streaming in throughout the day.

After much prodding, my mother relented and allowed a net door to be placed, which could be closed without interrupting the senses. This also meant a stop to the stray visitors who flew in along with the sun - little sparrows looking for the rice that managed to sneak out along with the husk while Mom had sifted the two; or little lost squirrels who suddenly discovered that the floor was a lot cooler than the one outside.

But other visitors were not dissuaded by the net door - my Mother's "VIP"s (as we all liked to call them). The old lady servant who had, in her better years, bathed, powdered, kohl-ed and trudged the little kids of the household to a school many kilometers away; the neighbour's mother who did not hear too well anymore; the slightly deranged schoolteacher who was once a freedom fighter, but was hazy on the difference between fantasy and reality; and many more such interesting old folks - the ones who have the time to pause and admire the drawing of a child; or the ones who have the time to sit and tell you fascinating stories of kings and queens.

Every day, there would be one or more of these visitors. They came just to chat sometimes; or just to have a cup of tea served to them with a smile. They came because they saw in Mom, a connection to the good days they had witnessed; or maybe because they were hungry and wanted a few bites without seeing a frown. As young children, we were fascinated, sometimes scared, and yet sometimes, entertained, by Mom's VIPs. This then changed to irritation at the perceived loss of privacy, and then to just plain indifference.

As we moved on in life, we saw them only once in a few months, and then heard news of them moving on to a different world, one which, in all probability, would treat them much better than this one did.

Why do I write about them today? I don't know. Maybe I seek pardon for having been irritable and indifferent to people who really did care without a reason. Maybe I realize that life does mean all about little pleasures - like the sparrows and the squirrels who mistook the back door balcony for their homes....

20 comments:

  1. Wonderfully written...Took me back to my childhood days during the vacations when I spent time with my grandma and uncles at the ancestral home.Come to think of it...Kerala right from the north to the south , your description would match a lot of folks memories..The backdoor area used to be called the pathayapura ? ...and just behind outside used to be the Erithil where the domestic goats and hens were housed..surrounded by a triumvirate of the boastful jackfruit tree, the royal mango tree and the quiet tamarind tree. Sigh...thats a chain of memories you started..Thanks for that Meena.:)

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    1. Anil, I think what connects most of us so strongly is that thread of humaneness that grew within us when we were all growing up in that world you just described ..... I actually pity the generations who will miss out on these visions... thank you!

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  2. This has the overpowering fragrance of nostalgia,and one of the best word-pictures ever.I have never been to Kerala but was almost there in that space with the VIPs !!

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    1. Thank you so much Pooja, for the kind words. Yes, these are pictures close to my heart, and is very much part of who I am....appreciate that you understand it, inspite of not having been there yourself!

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  3. hmm this description reminded me of our village house.. brought a lot of memories


    Bikram's

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    1. Thank you Bikram.... I think all of us are nostalgic children of the villages we come from :-) !

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  4. our house still has them... the faces change across decades.. but not the presence of these VIPs

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    1. You are lucky if you still encounter these VIPs ... I think they are a vanishing breed. Each one of them had a story worth a million words, and yet, these were untold.

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  5. Very beautifully written. I can sense the emotion in this post and for me that is the connection. loved it.

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    1. Thank you GBTP .... appreciate the kind words - and you caught the emotion indeed!

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  6. Neatly written. They brought back to me lot of memories from my childhood and the times spent with my grandparents.

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    1. Thanks Kanthu .... am sure we all have precious memories of growing up!

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  7. Touching post, seriously. Your words always touch a chord. It's a gift, believe me. :)

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    1. Thank you Sri .... something like that from an acomplished blogger like you is huge!! :-)

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  8. A sweet bit of nostalgia aptly captured!!

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  9. I have never lived in such a house but my mother has a lot of friends whom she feed regularly in the front balcony. There is a whole lot of bird population that depends on her.
    Beautifully written.

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    1. Amit .... that is so beautiful! Thank you!

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  10. Aaah, the sweet charm of the rustic hinterlands.. I cud so relate to u on this one Nirvana.. had almost a similar experience on my dad's side where we used to go for vacations and somehow when we were kids, we cud never appreciate those lil village charms, those unique individuals and idiosyncrasies.. today, it looks so far from the hurry burry life has now become...

    lovely post, Nirvana.. kinda took me back to a place in my mind that I had thought was long forgotten... :)

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    1. Thank you RAJ.... yes, these forgotten memories are such gems, no?

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