I have spent the last month in my village, Puthupally – not a vacation but for other far important reasons that tend to throw your routine life out of gear. But here, this time, there were celebratory instances that surprised me no end. Some of the instances were about catching up with things that you have forgotten over the years. Forgotten not by volition but because time has this intrinsic ability to act like a kaleidoscope – turn it over and you lose that particular view forever.
But, more importantly, let me first describe Puthupally for you. This village by the Kayamkulam backwaters is a quiet one, rustic by miles when compared to the city I live in presently. Relatively, on a scale of time, it exists a decade back, if not more. It also happens to be a place whose mosaic of images is something valuable we are fast losing out on. And that is definitely a point of anxiety for us who fall to the whims of a naughty villain named nostalgia.
Here modernity is an intruder; the cellular signals do get through, though they largely get decapitated in the last mile when it comes to voice quality. The other predominant sign of civility is the tarred road bisecting the village. This road is surprisingly well-maintained than the roads I am used to in the capital city of Kerala. Trust me, the only reason for that is the modest traffic – a few buses until evening, no public transportation after 8pm, and then the few cars in the neighbourhood on their way back home at the end of the day.
The emergent positive of such a miniscule traffic is the quietness that pervades the village to a surprising degree. Add the lush landscape lounging under a complicit sun, and you are looking at a rare pocket of rustic goodness, hidden probably by the sleight of a Supreme hand.
Of course, there is the village provision store at the junction, walk a bit more and you see the ration store with its huddle of oil drums and familiar waft of kerosene. Right next to it, you find the barber shop with its wooden benches, covered with tattered film magazines and the creaking antique barber chair. These props from memory, which you thought exists only in movies these days, still do rule the roost here. The tea-shop around the corner, right next to the bus stop, with its posse of newspaper-wielding intellectuals caught in their debate on global issues completes the picture.
And as you pass by, you come across some of those characters you remember from your childhood. With or without nicknames, their familiar smile is not so easily recognized at first because of how time has flown, their faces altered by the daub of age. Then memory has sweet mercy on you and a surfeit of emotions, locked away in little ornate wooden boxes, floats out. It is almost as if you have just stretched through the veil of time and set off a trigger that works on the premise of remembrance – of a smile, a smirk, the toss of the head or some quirk that you have stored away in memory as an associative remnant. The soul, fettered by the years of accumulated angst, is then free to take leaps of gay abandon through the lush paddies in the countryside.
When I say leaps of gay abandon, I picture them associating with wafts of steaming puttu sidling up to the silken brown of kadala curry, accompanied by steel tumblers of steaming tea, all of which comes infused with the trace of smokiness characteristic of cooking done with firewood. Now, this smokiness which we speak of is what defines the years of our childhood, especially those who spent considerable time living in a rustic setting. Be it a fluffy omelet, a tumbler of cow-milk, or lunch with fish, beef or chicken curry, the smokiness was right there, a free but crucial ingredient becoming the associative remnant I mentioned earlier. And here in Puthupally even today, almost as if it would be sacrilege if done otherwise, the daily fish curry gets made on a wooden fire, instead of the easy-peasy flame of the gas stove.
Puttu and Kadala Curry – Kerala Breakfast