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Sunday, October 28, 2012

Vaikom Diaries: And that's how the Narayanans roll!

“Come into the water, or I’ll pull you inside” I said to her. In return she laughed, nervously, for half of her believed that I was quite capable of such notoriety.  The other two hooted on, hoping as much as I did, that she would.

Lets open up the scene for you now.

It was not a dark, stormy night. Actually, it was a balmy summer afternoon. The Narayanan family, sans the father and the pooch or let us say sans the old man and the old dog, had driven down to Vaikom (near Cochin)  for a three day holiday. The distinguished party included a mother, one who would, throughout the trip, keep cutting off plant stalks from all over Cochin– the roadside, the resort, the farms, even the jetty – just so that she could plant them in her own garden once she was back home.  The party also included a sister, one who’s a journalist and the in-house bully. And it included a grandmother, she who thinks her grandson is a gem.  Last but not the least, it included me. The gem.

So yes, we had driven down to a resort in Cochin and it was quite a delectable place, with its cottages and lawns, small canals and moats, hammocks and birds. But the best part was that it was right on Vembanad Lake – Kerala’s famous backwaters.  The cottages opened up to the garden, and the garden opened up to the lake, without as much as a wall or fence to partition the two. The water was not as high as the garden, three feet lower perhaps, and all you needed to do to get into the water was to lower yourself till your feet touched the lake bed.

So right after finishing our tea, we had all plunged into the water, well all except for grannykins.
She just sat at the bank, happy that her family was happy. And we were. While Nishi and I were busy acting mature splashing water on each other, mother was busy losing balance, going under and coming up coughing and spluttering with half the lake in her lungs, and a little frog balancing itself precariously on her head. The water was cold, but not too much. Ahead in the distance, a man had gone kayaking. Granny, she looked happy.

It bothered me, that the woman we all loved so much had to sit by and watch us enjoy doing what she had loved doing all her childhood. It’s unfair, that we have all grown so much that now it is her who has to grasp my hand for balance.  My grandmother got married when she was 18. Mother says that before that, as a child, she was excellent at swimming and could beat all the boys in a race. Today, she is 78, has a balancing problem and walks slowly. Still, is as pretty as she always was.

“Come into the water, or I’ll pull you inside” I said to her. In return she laughed, nervously, for half of her believed that I was quite capable of such notoriety.  The other two hooted on, hoping maybe as much as I did, that she would.

“I don’t think I can” she said, “I’ll just stay here.” But she shouldn’t have smiled while saying that. It was too clear that, somewhere inside, she wanted to. In a trice, brother and sister were up, standing by her chair, coaxing her to come in. She stood up and looked down, testing her feet on the ground. Her mind were telling her not to go ahead with it, and we could see it in her face, but her eyes, they just followed the heart. And that’s the problem with these grandmothers.  They really can’t bear to disappoint their children.  And so, she bent, bent all the way down, till she was almost sitting on the ground, her knees hurting, her heart racing. I think all our hearts were racing too, maybe even more so.

And then the pain struck her knees. And when it did, I felt like kicking myself for suggesting that she go into the water. We rushed to pick her up, and did. But she said that she wanted to try again. No longer was I feeling as gung ho as I was moments earlier. And again, she bent and lowered her legs into the water, and we helped her down, all the way till her feet touched the lake bed. 

The next moment, both brother and sister let out manic yells and leapt in a most unsophisticated, un-Victorian unmannerly manner into the lake, just as Tom Sawyer and Huck Finn would have in those Twain books.

The only other time that I can remember being so, purely, happy in the water was when Hector (the pooch) swam for the first time.  They say that any emotion if sincere, is involuntary. And it was. For years, we had seen this old lady tend to her house, tend to people and live life as gracefully as can be. But today, here in this lake, she was just a kid. A kid in a saree, but a kid still. While the three of us hooted and cheered and yelled and laughed, she thrashed her hands and her feet, and  moved. It would be biased to say that she swam, for years and age and weakness had probably taken that away from her, but it did not stop her from trying.  And it did not stop us from surrounding her and splashing water all over her. At some point of time, the saree got stuck, but who cared. We had seen our aai swim, and not just swim but look as happy as can be, and the holiday had just become that much better.
Well, this happened last year. That night, her legs pained a lot, but she insisted that we go for a dip the next day too. This year, when I went to Kerala, we all went to Meenvellam waterfalls, old man and old dog too. When we reached, old man and his wife went off quite some distance into the water and yelled across the water insisting I click their pictures.  And grandmother sat again, looking happy that her family was happy. Such corniness, I tell you. 


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