SEVEN YEARS COST ME FOUR WALLS
“Once upon a time, there was a kid who played a prank on his mother. He hid in a cupboard, thinking that his loved ones will unleash a search for finding him. His father may beat him up and the search party will despise him for sure. Nothing matters because, eventually his mother will appear on the scene, hold him to her bosom and console him… a grand bonus for his rebellious escapade. Sadly, no one came searching for him. Days and months passed by and for a long seven years he remained closeted inside the cupboard. There were some late voices of recall, but by that time, he had turned deaf and insensitive.”
Let me spill the beans now. I behaved like that kid when I vanished from my home at the age of 22. I don’t know how a tame, God-fearing boy turned out to be a perpetual rebel, despising everything and everybody around. Somehow, it happened. May be, I was fed up of being part of my father’s plan for the future. Maybe I wanted him to stop ‘investing’ in me for sake of a future prospect. May be I wanted others to stop taking me for granted; and declare how emotionally vulnerable I am. So, I left my home to a strange and unfriendly city, cherishing the prospect of being a free-bird, a ‘self-proclaimed orphan’.
After seven years of self-imposed exile, I retraced the trajectory to my home… to cremate my Grandmother- who continued to love me in spite of all my short comings. When the news of her demise reached me on the morning of 18 December, I withered like a fallen flower. I knew that her life was shortened by many sad elements, including the devil called ME. Anyhow, I wanted to see her face for the last time. I knew that my return will spur unending queries about the ‘lost years’, but I was ready to face it. As in a trance, I boarded the 3.15 pm Mumbai-Goa-Kochi flight and started my journey back. Soon after the flight left the Goa airport, the plane entered a turbulent zone and began to falter. An Italian named John Antonio piloted the flight. In his heavily accented English, he began cautioning us and the flight attendants appeared in tight minis and began demonstrating how to use an Oxygen mask if the air pressure goes down and how to convert your seat to a life jacket if the damn plane fall in the sea. The eternal pessimist in me murmured, “Damn it. This plane is going to crash. You have lived a life without purpose and now you are going to die without a purpose.” But, after some anxious moments, everything was back in place. Seat belts were released and sighs were in air.
I alighted on Kochi by 7 o’clock and rushed to Kottayam. My pride was still playing tricks with me. “I am not going home. Tomorrow morning, I will head straight to the church cemetery and offer my condolences to the dead person. I will appear and disappear like a ghost.” – asserting my plan, I booked a room in a hotel, checked into it and rested for a while.
Meanwhile, another brainwave capsized me. ‘If a death occurred in a house, anybody can make a visit there. Strangers and beggars can go in and have a peep. I can go too.’ That fixed it. Getting into a taxi, I traveled to my village. I reached there by 1.00 am in the morning. All through the journey, I searched for the winds of change. I found none. It was the same as I had left it.
When I got out of the vehicle, I was a little dizzy. There stood my house, illuminated by flash bulbs. Shall I run back. “Come, on! One final thrust.” I encouraged myself and walked towards the portico. Nobody recognized me except a younger brother of my father had broken the sad news to me last morning. He rushed to me, grabbed me in disbelief and said, “Thanks my dear boy. You came eventually!” He took me to the room where my Grandmother was sleeping like a baby. I looked eagerly at her face and I could discover a faint smile, asking “How was my plan to bring you back?” I wanted to cry but I couldn’t. (As a matter of practice and principle, I don’t cry in public. Nobody has ever seen my tears.)
A slow sense of recognition was creeping through the crowd like a wave. My younger aunt was the first, followed by others. My mother rushed in from the kitchen. She looked well. All the ladies rushed towards me and I was mobbed. There were kisses and complaints. I was taken to another room and was scrutinized. I felt pampered. After seven years, they found me. Not in the cup board, but while I was making the way out of it. It was heavenly to be there. All my life, I never wanted to be big. I wanted to be a kid. Even while I was a toddler, I was treated as an over-mature creature, to be kept away from all the fun and frolic. I despised myself for that.
Then appeared some VIPs, our village ‘pradhans’- my father’s friends. They wanted me to go to my father and apologize. “Goddam your counsel! I am leaving this place right now.”- I contended. But before I could act on that decision, my mother intervened and handled the mediators. “He will talk to his father later. Let the boy rest first.”- It put the matter to rest. I sat there, asking my mother about all Xs and Ys in my family, whether they are alive or not and how they are coping with life. Suddenly, there was a shuffle in the crowd. Wading through it, came a tall lanky figure – my father himself. I stood up and was searching for emotions. My father extended a hand of comrardie and I embraced him. We walked out to the outskirts while talking. He was primarily concerned about my job and salary, I presume. He looked tired, but still retained the ability to hit below one’s belt. “Your former class-mates are taking + 60,000/- salary, you know.”- He reminded me. “Thanks for the information.” – I muttered knowing that here is a man who is never going to change.
I saw my young brother who has grown fat, tall and mature. Though he is only a student, he talks like a 50-year-old, and I was instantly worried about him. He was very happy to see me, never leaving me alone for a moment. “Be of your age and enjoy your life.” – I cautioned him against blooming early. He took me to my room, which now serves as his study room. The room looked the same, but the walls…. Once decorated with portraits of revolutionary leaders, the walls are now occupied with umpteen pictures of Christian saints. St. Gregorios and company evicted Mao and Marx in a bloodless coup. Then and there, I confronted a bitter truth. In a span of seven years, I stood my ground, only to lose my four walls.
My grandmother was cremated next morning in a grand yet sober function. The ceremonies at home were led by Rev. Yohannan Rambachan, who heads the MGM Group of Educational and Charity institutions in Kerala. A long procession followed to the church and my Grandmother’s coffin was carried by her grandsons – me, my brother and cousin brothers. In the church, the mass was led by the Metropolitan himself – head of Kottayam Diocese of the 18-lakh-strong Syrian Orthodox community. Finally, her body was kept to rest and all of us left for home.
While we were negotiating our way out of the church, my brother asked me, “When are you leaving?” While I remain stunned by the directness of his query, he explained, “Don’t think that I want you to leave. I am afraid that our father’s act of mending up with you was an act of diplomacy. When the crowd leaves, he may revert back to his old self. So, I recommend that you better leave soon.” Being a perennial romantic, I could not foresee it. Yes, He was absolutely correct. Wrong doings of seven years cannot be corrected in seven hours. If my father retains a grudge with me, I won’t blame him. After all, it was me who destroyed his dreams and theories.
So, I came back to Mumbai city, to its enclosures, misjudging that somebody will miss me here. But, instead my friends asked me, “Why did you return so early?” Ancients said that it is bad to be caught in a place. I would add that it is worse to be caught between places. With my traits of self-doubt, impatience, bad judgement and emotional bipolarity withstanding, I am enjoying a temporary victory over unhappiness. And, I am left believing about absolute surrender, about an angel, about a fallen star and oscillating fortunes………