The other day, excited by the sight of the overflowing brook that runs through our backyard in Kerala, I called out to my 11 year old son to go out and enjoy the view. Giving a disinterested peek out of the window he resumed his play on the computer.
This set me thinking of how footloose and fancy-free our childhood days were and how we enjoyed the outdoors, especially the days we spent in Baroda.
We were put up with my uncle’s family as my father had to go abroad. The cottage was a quaint one in the IPCL Township in Baroda. It was on the last row of houses on the last street. A few furlongs from the garden fence began the woods. A huge wall marked the boundary where it began. We’d go as far as the wall to collect all sorts of fallen feathers of birds -brown, black ones speckled with white, green ones and most of all peacock feathers. There was a gigantic mango tree that stood out from the rest of the trees. Often in the twilight, we could see the silhouette of pea fowls and peacocks with their long plumes as they perched on its boughs and hear their eerie We always welcomed the rains in Baroda. Green was the predominant colour. We loved to splash about in the grassy green puddles. My little cousins took great pleasure in squishing leaping green frogs with mud baked bricks. I was always in the vicinity keeping count but I could never bring myself to join them in this garish act. Once we noticed a squirrel popping in and out of a fuse box outside, on one side of the house. Sunil who was barely six then, climbed up the pole and informed us that there were baby squirrels inside. Each of us took turns to climb up and we managed to smuggle a baby out. Then the mother squirrel darted up and down the pole miserably, not knowing what to do. For days on end, its frantic cries resounded in my ears. I still have a hazy memory of walking around with a guilt laden heart.
As winter slowly drifted in, the rains left behind grass so tall that we had to separate them with our arms to walk through to our sandy patch, where we played along with all the kids in the neighbourhood. We would trap butterflies with clumps of tall weeds that we pulled out and allow them to crawl all over the net inside our window. We delighted in marvelling at the splash of colours moving about and argued about who had caught the most. Baroda was home to a tiny red velvety bug called ‘gai mata’ that was rare to find and we literally worshipped it, when one was discovered. Farther on the other side of the left boundary wall lived foreigners in their posh villas and well maintained gardens. We’d sit on the wall and watch them from afar, mouths agape, fascinated by their mannerisms, so unlike ours. Once we even clamoured down the wall to get a closer look only to be chased back by a well-bred dog.
Today, I find it hard to reconcile to the fact that our kids prefer the colours and glare of the T.V and computer, to the vibrant hues of nature. They enjoy the blare and beep of vehicles and mobiles and do not care for the gargle of a brook or the hoot of an owl. They do not mind the closed spaces, for they do not miss running across the meadows. But then, I cannot fathom how decades ago my mother had to walk 10 kilometres to reach school and perhaps my son would think it ridiculous that his mother had once been chasing butterflies for a sport.
I’ve never visited the IPCL Township after I moved on to join my father. The people who lived there are all settled in different parts of the globe. The township, that was as big as a village is deserted now, I heard, from my cousins who visited the place recently. The garden that I remember was a riot of colours with its mix of zinnias, dahlias and fragrant jasmines. My uncle, who is now no more, had allotted each of us a space beyond the garden where we grew our own vegetables. How we rejoiced at the sight of the first cob of corn that sprouted! The rows of cottages and the gardens are now overgrown with thick foliage. We hear that a multinational company has taken over and that the school building and everything else will be demolished. Concrete jungles may come up soon and the place may teem with people. Children may perhaps run around the place once again. But sadly this time around, they’ll never breathe the air of freedom that we as kids once enjoyed.
Teacher, Amrita HS