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More than a whiff of fresh air

A city-slicker finds some temporary relief amid the calm of village life

I went there with a pain in the neck but came back with a smile on my face, for I had fallen in love while I was there. Not the impetuous love at first sight, but one of the slow variety – where the love gradually creeps in on you.

It all began on the ‘Bogi’ day of the four-day Pongal festival, when the family grudgingly set out to my husband’s native village to celebrate the holidays – an annual ritual with us (the kids and I were not so happy to miss out on the events the city offers during this special holiday). I was wallowing in my own sob story – life was stressful, life was unfair, and to make matters worse, there was this constant pain in the neck.

On the next Pongal day, the kids dug up pit to build firewood stove for the making of ‘vasal’ (yard) Pongal. Later the whole family enjoyed a sumptuous lunch of white rice cooked in milk, jiggery-sweet rice and aromatic sambar made of a mixture of seasonal vegetables. The next day of ‘mattu’ Pongal had the family’s lone cow and her calf bathed and decorated with traditional leaves and flowers, and the whole neighbourhood assemble their cattle in open fields to celebrate them. The fourth day of ‘kaanum’ Pongal was when the entire village woke up to loud blaring of chartbusters from the latest Tamil movies interspersed with evergreen rustic melodies of Ilayaraja. The day came alive with sporting events for the young and the old alike with generous prizes for all. The celebrations culminated with dance/drama performance for everyone to enjoy. In the midst of this all, the annoying pain had vanished — and I realised why.

When I had watched the flames of the firewood stove on top of which the meal was being cooked, I had lost myself imagining the primeval days in the forest, of the man whose stare into the fire stirred in his heart deep and strange thoughts. When the cat brought in a live baby mouse the length of my forefinger to play with, I had let out a horrified shriek, while everyone around me had nodded in

appreciation at the young adult cat’s improving hunting skills. At the water tank I had sat alone and quiet on a low stool, doing the laundry and watching algae-eating leeches, big ants and strange insects going about their day apparently oblivious of my presence.

When the cow that was very much a part of the household had been lovingly fed, taken to graze and her calf looked after, had generously given her milk, I had spared a thought for the nameless, faceless cows from the assembly line at the milk industry whom I had never ever thanked before for the ghee and curd I liberally use in my own kitchen in the city. I had gazed with wonder at the mother hen and her brood of chicks scampering around the yard uncomplainingly for the whole day for their peck of food.

I had seen the dog zealously guarding from his rivals, his territory on the homestead even at the cost of a threat to his own self. I had plucked curry leaves off the tree only to inadvertently startle a caterpillar from its lunch and had put it lovingly back on its perch among the branches. I had sat under the neem tree and stared at nothing but the sounds of birds singing. I had looked up at the night sky to be greeted by surprisingly innumerable stars instead of the pittance I get to see from the terrace of my city home.

I had been tied down to a life in the big city with its big schools, bigger jobs and much bigger entertainment. I had now unwittingly had my therapy in the form of a break from the dictates of the stern clock in the city where I had been ferrying the children around to their regular examinations and competitions and performances. Nature here in the country revealed to me that life is to be savoured and not lived as a race against time.

On the train journey back to the city, when the green and gold of the fields began to be replaced with tall concrete structures, when sights of flowing waters were supplanted with garbage strewn on pitiful stagnant excuses for waterbodies, the heart sank a little. But I bucked up and remembered that I can brace this life until my next break in a few more months when I can go back to my solace and new-found love - the village.

anandhi252@gmail.com

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Printable version | Apr 6, 2020 9:43:48 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/more-than-a-whiff-of-fresh-air/article22482045.ece

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