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The song of the open road recalled

illus: for TH

illus: for TH  

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A walk across memory lane of a deserted path where you were all alone and sang to yourself heartily

It was hot as usual in my Madras those days, half a century ago. The sweat made a track from my scalp through my forehead to my cheeks, plastering strands of hair in front of my ears. I walked alone. I had a school bag made of cloth — I even remember the multi-coloured threads of green and red and blue than ran through it, anchored on my shoulders. There was no concept of a backpack then. My textbooks and notebooks of Class 6 weighed down my thin arms.

It was a mile’s walk from school to home. It began from the school gates opening with the 4.30 p.m. bell, a small gate in a big steel one, and all of us kids rushed to squeeze ourselves out through the three-feet-wide opening. Outside was freedom, conversations, loud laughter and goodbyes, till we met the next day.

The road was tarred to begin with, with some two-wheelers and cars hurrying along though the small lanes. Then I turned into a mud track, formed by human feet, through open land with hardly anybody around.

It is here that I began to sing. All kinds of songs: the ones that I learnt in my music class, classical ones, or contemporary movie songs that I liked. I sang in a fairly loud voice, tweaking the inflections of every sound, trying to get the right notes, attempting the same lines till I was satisfied!

And it was here that I transferred the weight of my schoolbag on to my head. I made a hair band out of the sling of my bag, and centred it, balancing it on my head. This way my hands were free, to move around, provide the beat for my songs and generally swing around.

I also told myself stories. Made-up ones, of teachers and cousins and heroes and heroines. Dramatic ones, with some catastrophe or the other that the hero had to overcome, and always ended in success. The ground was full of small pebbles, brown and shiny. Some were big enough to be kicked along, and I transported them to the path to the main road. Some I picked up to throw at imaginary villains and vanquish them.

The open ground ended in the main road. In fact, the ground was a short-cut, and I gained a good ten minutes by taking it. The main road was full of people and vehicles. I stopped my self-chatter and my singing. Down came the bag from head to shoulder, and I transformed myself into a regular, short schoolgirl going back home. My secret stories and songs lay in wait for me, in the open ground, to be continued the next day.

Not once did I feel fear. It was a testimony to the safety of those times, that I walked all alone, and no one bothered me. Closer to home, my stomach rumbled, and mouth watered imagining the snacks and coffee that my mother would have made for me.

When I turned into my lane and opened the steel gate with a particularly loud bang, I could hear my dad saying, “She is back!”

His laughter rippled through his voice. And my mother rushed to take my bag from me, as I kicked my shoes off to free my feet.

Some journeys in life are just sheer joy. It was a walk that I thoroughly enjoyed.

vsagar33@yahoo.com

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Printable version | Dec 6, 2019 12:38:34 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/the-song-of-the-open-road-recalled/article28422978.ece

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