Images - Shama Nair
Before I begin, you should know I’m only a wisp of unattended, southern, coastal breeze, caught in another hemisphere writing to you. Nothing more. Nothing less. What am I writing about, you may ask. But, don’t. It’s not the kind of narrative that fits profound syntaxes, ruminating on profound meanings. Only an envious greeting from elsewhere:
In this country, I collect wildflowers. They’re mostly yellow and smeared heavy with pollen. I sneeze, look for less cumbersome blooms, give up in precisely three minutes and settle. These will do. What of the mushrooms hoisted on long-fallen grandfather tree trunks—should I collect them too? Maybe another day. The small of my back lay on dewy grass, eyes gazing at strange, northern skies. It’s impossible, this terrain. No coconut trees, no humid sea breeze nor a tiny ounce of turmeric. My grandmother’s monsoon concoction of turmeric, ginger, cumin, and love wasn’t my favorite. It was bitter, gut-wrenching but believably good for the soul. It’s become forlorn because I can no longer recreate it, just the same on this side of the planet. It’s impossible, this terrain. Mesmerizing, yet haunted by the ghosts of another land. There are far too many things hung between their borders:
Somewhere inside our garden porch and its stairwell, in Madras, there live dark greens of tropical leaves, sandalwood agarbathis, and of course, my family. Just like yours. On most days, my grandmother, against the will of her daughter, cracked open freshly harvested coconuts and laid bare their tender white insides against scorching summer afternoons. They’d have to be completely, unrecognizably dry she’d insist. How else do you press them for home-made, grandma trademarked coconut oil? My mother never approved of the process. To her, it was tedious and unnecessary. I knew she secretly appreciated the effort. With her thick, long, black hair, how could she not. Here, I pay eighteen dollars and ninety-nine cents for the world’s most unloved bottles of coconut oil. I try to soothe them, tell them someone’s grandmother somewhere hand-pressed them, but they know I’m a liar. So do the turmerics, the gingers, and the other-worldly, agarbathis on this hemisphere.
Could I blame them though? After all, I’m only a wisp of unattended, southern, coastal breeze hung in the past—gravitating back to our garden porch and its stairwell, in Madras.
Letter to the Future
Nostalgia is a strange emotion – rooted strongly in the past – memories resurfacing like ocean waves that must eventually return to their vastness. Photographs can barely capture a sliver of that enormity.
Just last month, I visited the beach – you must certainly remember it – tufts of untamed green emerging from sand, speckled with wild pink petals, the kind that almost look crafted out of colourful tissue paper. I crossed it to go sit near the shore, eating sundal that was heaped with coconut shavings and dug my toes into individual pits, waiting for the water to consume the sun.
Is there a word for feeling nostalgic for the future? Longing seems too prosaic. There must be a word that relays this deep pining for what has not yet transpired. The way you pine for Madras. I often catch myself wondering if I would survive beyond this coastal city. I have barely ventured too far out from here in flesh.
Sometimes, I dare to imagine myself amidst the sparseness you must experience: tall greens that one could lose themselves in, little olives that seem to appear out of nowhere; a neigh in the distance cutting through the northern wind that loves to tease the poppies; I can almost hear the crunch of freshly-baked and toasted bread that I have never tasted before.
I have new interests in this imagination, ones that involve trading in saris for leggings and my flip flops for sturdy sneakers. My fingers that are accustomed to warmth begin to adapt to biting cold as the world around me sheds its colours temporarily. I have a housemate that has evolved to fit this new portrait; they come with far more legs and hair than my present ones. We build strange figurines in the backyard, add twig-limbs and berried-eyes to their existence. Once we are done, we go indoors for hot coffee.
I too will wrinkle my nose in disdain due to its inauthenticity, whine about missing the filtered decoction back home, much like your craving for home-pressed coconut oil. When I make dinner, I will complain about the paleness of my kuzhambu because the turmeric there refuses to take my preferred shade of yellow. I will call Ma and Chitti and Paati to tell them I how I crave their food. They will remind me that I wished this upon myself and I will reassure them that I am content, just a tad nostalgic.
“You can always return.”
i find myself
in Paati’s embrace
A coconut tree
amma’s tea table -