Landscapes of Memory

LandscapesOfMemory

“If we opened people up, we’d find landscapes” ~ Agnès Varda

One late April evening, sometime in the early eighties, when summer has smeared itself over us all day and our skin feels like a sieve, filtering anything that touches it, my sister squats on the beach, burying me deeper into the sand.  Her brightly coloured ‘beach set’ spade moves up and down in a frenzy of rhythmic movements. The sun is like a wedge of succulent ripe peach, as it clings to the horizon, reluctant to leave us. The sandpit feels like a warm bath when I sink into its grainy folds. Amma lounging on the beach mat leans over to hand me a glass of chilled Rasna, the garishly orange-coloured, deliciously synthetic flavoured drink that is a staple summer feature of my childhood. I stick out a fiery orange tongue at my sister, who after having successfully buried me, is now foraging for snacks in the generously loaded picnic basket. Bite-sized white bread sandwiches, slathered with butter and tangy green chutney, layered with thinly sliced crunchy cucumbers and succulent slices of juicy tomatoes. Chicken cutlets are crisp on the outside, giving way to a tender, subtly spiced, succulent filling, as you bite deeper into them, thick, chunky slices of Amma’s homemade chocolate cake, moist and melt in your mouth; a true testament to Amma’s brilliant culinary alchemy; turning mundane ingredients into a delicious treat.

My sister suddenly looks up and gives me a toothless grin. The sea is calm, like a sheet of silk, the waves ever so delicately nibbling at bare ankles, the sand feels alive and shimmering, like powdered gold; the very air, so thick and sultry that you could almost slice it, has become light and breezy, slowly teasing out Amma’s loose plaits, as it comes undone and her face, luminous against the setting sun. I carry this landscape within me, in a sand-toned crevice of my memory; the peach-coloured sun, the orange-tinted tongue, the red plastic spade and the silence that swung between us that day, like a well-oiled pendulum. On certain days, when I visit the beach as an adult, if I’m very lucky, the sand feels alive under my feet and I can almost taste the chemical-flavoured, syrupy, orange squash on my tongue and the breeze washes over me like rain. But it has to be summer, and I have to bring my eight-year-old self with me to catch a glimpse of my sister’s toothless grin, as the sun, like a wedge of ripened peach clings to the horizon.

One early evening in February, sometime in the late eighties, just before tea time, my cousins and I splash about in the emerald ‘kulam’ (enclosed pond) with little fish nibbling at our toes. My aunt sitting on the roughly hewn stone steps, leading down to the pond, washes my sister’s hair with a thick, viscous, homemade shampoo, made of tender hibiscus leaves, known as ‘thali’. Her delicate bangles tinkle, as she massages in a slow, rhythmic movement and suddenly she throws her head back and laughs before planting a kiss on my sister’s cheek. The pond looks like a jade mirror, into which the sky has fallen, so placid that it’s a true mirror image of the sky. I float on my back, on the homemade floaters, made of empty coconut kernels and gaze up at the cloudless sky, littered with coconut palms. My older cousins splash at each other giggling and screaming until my aunt finally threatens to make us all march inside. I carry this emerald green landscape – infused with the silvery laughter of my cousins, the warmth of my aunt’s affection and the serenity that seemed to envelop us all in that little jade cocoon, – in a little mint green pocket of my memory. The house that housed the little emerald pond, is long gone, physically. It is alive only in a few of us, who have known love and peace within its walls.

One early evening in December, sometime in the early nineties, just before the workers wind up their work for the day, my sister and I walk around the coffee estate, with my grandfather. It is chilly as we pull up our sweaters closer to us and walk briskly, to keep away the cold. We have stopped at the coffee drying ground known as ‘kalam’. It’s a vast, open space, stretching as far as our little eyes can see, hemmed in by a little gurgling river that can turn treacherous in the monsoons. All around there are bales of hay, stacked up to dry. My sister and I giggle with delight as we jump up and down in the bed of hay. We flop down with helpless laughter and the warm, sweet, and earthy scent of sun-warmed hay envelops my senses. Our dogs bound up to join us we have a dog each, at the estate; golden retrievers, brother and sister known as Pebbles and Elsa. I snuggle up to pebbles, burying my head in his silky fur, only to be rewarded with a very wet lick.

My grandfather is shouting for us to get back, darkness descends swiftly in hilly Wayanad, and my grandmother is waiting for us back at home, with mugs of hot milk and snacks. We call out to the dogs who bound back obediently tired but deliriously happy.  We race to my grandfather and smother him with bear hugs, as he envelops us in his warm embrace. The air is scented with pepper and cardamom as we trudge back home and from somewhere deep in the coffee bushes, a lone cuckoo calls. I carry this vast landscape with me, safely, in the pale yellow, hay-coloured, woollen knitted sock of memory- each purl and knit looped with the comfort of my grandfather’s arms, the silky smoothness of Pebble’s fur and the unbridled laughter of my sister.

What are the landscapes you carry?

  • Anupama Vijayakumar

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