Thursday, April 1, 2010

Of ice cream, pretty girls and hill-top houses

I have this friend whose Facebook profile is literally a link to my childhood. Now-forgotten-but-once-best-friends; blokes I couldn't stand; and even that unforgettably beautiful girl I saw just once at our annual inter-school meet - they're all there in his friends list. Now, how this human paraquat (if I may use an insult phrased by The Dude) whom I, even after all these years, sometimes still feel like doing in with a brick, ever managed to keep in touch with all these people is a subject for study by far subtler minds than my own.

The other day I came across one such familiar face. She was 4 or 5 years my senior in school. And as she is very pretty, I still remember her name and her face. Which is more than I can say for most other former schoolmates of mine. If you think I'm going to entertain you with some story where I made a fool of myself all those years ago, you're in for disappointment. 4 years is an unbridgeable chasm in school. She might as well have been 20 years older. This is more of a topography reminisce.

When I cast my mind back geographically, there are these usual images that come back to me. Not because they're the most beautiful places from my childhood, but because they're the ones that were just by the house gate, as it were. I was never the outdoor sort.

There was, for instance, what I always referred to as the desert cliff. It may be amongst the cornier of names, but that being what I named it, we're stuck with it for the rest of this post. Unlike most other places in the vicinity of where I lived, this one wasn't green. It was brown and dusty - and all the more beautiful for it. It was so shaped that the land beneath was cut off on three sides. The fourth was sealed by the walls of a few houses; almost a perfect rectangle and overgrown with weeds and wild flowers. And on top, the brown and the rocks.

To the left of all this was the road that led to my house. Beyond the road, the land sloped not-so-gently down. This was rocky at parts, and barren too, save for a few bushes and one of those microwave towers. If you were standing on the desert cliff, you could see a part of all this, through a wide path between the walls of 2 houses; and since it lay westward, you could catch the setting sun too. Even as a kid used to sights as these, it still took my breath away.

The desert cliff has since been mowed down, and the rectangular patch has a hostel on it. The land west of the road slopes as ever before, but the setting sun no longer looks the same. The tower, not as melancholy with so many little friends around it now, somehow looked a lot better as a loner. It had character then. The many paths through there, those numerous shortcuts to everywhere else, most of them, they're gone. Houses everywhere. And even more walls. Sometimes, there's nothing between them; just empty walls, marking property and keeping out strangers.

Then there was that big pond with a huge rocky face on one end. I suppose the more adventurous folks would dive down from there. Or maybe not. It was quite a long way down. It was big, had clean green water, and there were grassy fields on the way there that hosted numerous football and cricket matches in the evenings. Perhaps it was on that grass that a young Tinu Yohannan honed his skills? If I were the sentimental sort, I would've cried when I was told a couple of years back that it had been filled up to free more land.

Ooh, and I almost forgot that stream with a couple of coconut trees for a bridge across it (or ex-coconut trees, as Cleese would put it - coconut trees tend to grow vertically, and as such are difficult to cross streams with), that I used a couple of times when the jeep that took us home from kindergarten wasn't there. Where was it? I remember not! The longer I type, the more fragments I seem to come up with. I wish I had a better memory; and that I was more of the outdoor sort.

My then best friend lived in a place which, even if I knew how to spell correctly, those of you reading would only mangle up in your mind's voice. The shortest way to go there, for someone with only a bicycle at his disposal, was a narrow, winding road, parts of it tarred, parts of it untarred, and parts of it really just a footpath cut through fields.

I hated it then. It was way too long for my liking. And Kerala is hot; it has just 2 seasons - one hot; the other also hot, but with a lot more water around. When it rained, I had to slosh through shin-deep water to use the path through the fields. And it was rather hillier than ideal. I had this joke, which admittedly isn't all that very funny, that the first person to discover the earth isn't flat must have been a cyclist.

But it was also beautiful in a way that, having been a city dweller for a decade now, makes it almost painful to remember. The road wound through paddy fields, a temple courtyard, kissed an unused water tank, skirted coconut trees and even passed through an open meadow. About half-way through, there was this little shop where you could buy really cheap sweets. And a little further down was a fork in the road. The one on the left went up a hill, and the one on the right led to my friend's house.

On this particular day, my friend was with me, too, and as we came to the fork, we halted. Nine times out of then, we would take the road on the right. But today we were feeling philosophical. We wanted the road less travelled. We decided the path up the hill was "just as fair, and having perhaps the better claim, because it was grassy and wanted wear." Besides, we could see an ice-cream cart at the gate of the house on top of the hill.

Just as we had smeared the stuff all over our noses and our chins, the door to the house opened and this gorgeous girl, whom we recognised as a senior at school walked out. I have half a mind to describe the beautiful little house on top of the hill, with its charming garden, but truth be told, I don't really remember it at all. She may have smiled or nodded at us, but we ignored her. It was way too uncool to acknowledge girls. She bought an ice cream for herself, and went back into the house. We stood there, successfully smearing the rest of our faces with ice cream, and made no comment about her. It was uncool also to talk admiringly of girls. And then we went home.

I suppose that story sucked. Anyway...

Until that link on Facebook, I had forgotten all about the shortcut to my friend's place. Maybe I'll see if it's still there, the next time I go home. Most likely, I'll run into a wall somewhere. We like to build walls, don't we? Not that I have a right to sound high and mighty. If I didn't like to build walls myself, I'd remember more.


Neha said...

Love the last line!

Mr. Ordinary said...

Agreed that nature is losing its beauty but dear friend, my advice to you, don't ignore beautiful faces, else you might end up having none :)

Anyways, It's always good to see you in action but yeah I am missing your painting skills here, that could helped some not-so-intellectual-minds like me to visualise it.

Anonymous said...

Loved the description of the small town you referred to. Having grown up in a few such, I have a longing for them which brings about a pain that ends up in a smile, always!
And, by the way, I presume that you don't give undivided attention to ice-creams as much, these days! It is,you know, uncool :-).

-- Nirmalya

Rohan said...

I'm afraid the bad karma of my boyhood is catching up with me now. It's the girls who ignore me now!