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Travelling home

I landed at Kochi, Kerala, India at about 12:30 AM from Singapore. My parents picked me up and took me home. ‘Home’ was a town called Potta about thirty kilometres north of the airport. It seemed dead at 1:30 when we arrived. There are no lamp-posts from the main road to our house. We drove through the dark, narrow road through which two vehicles could not pass simultaneously. The house is a hideous, two-storey monstrosity with a covered terrace at the top. It is quite comfortable […]

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I landed at Kochi, Kerala, India at about 12:30 AM from Singapore. My parents picked me up and took me home. ‘Home’ was a town called Potta about thirty kilometres north of the airport. It seemed dead at 1:30 when we arrived. There are no lamp-posts from the main road to our house. We drove through the dark, narrow road through which two vehicles could not pass simultaneously. The house is a hideous, two-storey monstrosity with a covered terrace at the top. It is quite comfortable inside. One would easily spend five times what my parents spent on it to get one of the cheapest of flats in Singapore. It had been raining when my parents met me at the airport. As I went to bed, the rain had gotten heavier. I fell asleep to the sound of the rainwater running down drainpipes and slopping into puddles.
Vaguely familiar noises woke me up the next day. There was some cooing, some cawing and even some chirping. These sounds would have been common background noise ten years prior, but this time I was quite alert to their existence. I went downstairs. My mother served me appams, crepes, with chick peas for breakfast. I sat for a while at the table with my laptop after breakfast. The women busied themselves for hours cutting, grinding, frying, steaming and boiling things for lunch. I smelled the warm spices and watched the steam get illuminated by the light streaming in through the windows. Lunch was rice with fried fish, beef curry and a concoction of grated carrots and coconuts. Back in Singapore, it would be a stop at a nearby food court or bread and cold meats and cheese. I had given up on cooking long ago. One only has time for so many things.

We have seats designed to look like the wooden benches seen on the porches of traditional houses. I spent a couple of hours reading on the porch. Elon Musk’s biography describes him as a driven man who thrives on very little sleep and does little else but work. He needs to figure out how little time he can possibly spend with his woman while planning humanity’s future on Earth and on Mars. He would rapidly get bored of this place. So would I.

It was 3:00 PM and the sun was, for a change, not shining too brightly. I walked out the narrow path from our house and found some other narrow paths. I came to an intersection where a canal sent water under the road that I was on. There were paths on either side of the stream; I picked one. The place had changed. There were no more thatched huts; the houses were made of brick and had cement or clay-tile roofs. A group of men were doing some work on an electricity pole that must have come up in the past few years. The path got narrower and narrower. I finally came across some wooden houses. The noise of television blared from it. I doubt that it would exist in this form upon my next visit. The path ended. A temple marked the southern edge of the town.

I turned around and found myself another path. A woman was untying some goats where they had been grazing. A little girl was dragging a reluctant calf along. A bunch of children saw me and started shouting “sayipp” (meaning foreigner; previously ‘sahib’, a way of addressing a European in colonial India). Women stared at me as though I had come from space.

Everywhere I looked, the plants and humans were fighting for space. It was not always humanity that won. Old paths of mine had been overgrown with ivy and weeds. Mountains of greenery sometimes rose up on either side as one walked along a road. And yet it was not for lack of development. What had been plantations or tiny, cosy houses ten years ago were now palaces with two or three floors, nice balconies and traditional clay-tiled sloped roofs. One even had an Audi and a Land Rover parked outside.

The best scenery was available when I walked through the green fields. Palm trees rose, tall and thin, in the distance. Buffaloes grazed in the fields. The mountains were visible in the background. Water gurgled through channels cut between plots. I walked back in to the house almost three hours after I had set out.

I spent five days in Kerala. Much time was spent visiting people. I also managed to squeeze in a lecture for university students. While much had changed, much had indeed remained the same. Most of my contemporaries had departed to other places as I had. My younger cousins who remained were planning their own futures, most of them away from where they had grown up. The reasons for my departure from this place remain, but there are things to enjoy upon my return – however brief.

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