Thud!! Thud!!! A loud sound, I was taking an afternoon nap, and then again, another thud!!
I woke up and went straight to the veranda and saw the culprit, it was the toddy tapper plucking tender coconuts and throwing them on the ground. I wondered how he climbed up those 20m high coconut trees? Quite a fascinating sight to behold.
My early childhood days were spent in my ancestral home in Pattazhy, a calm and peaceful village situated near the Kallada river in Kerala, India. My paternal grandfather, George Melathil, (Melathil is our family name) was a farmer turned coconut businessman. It’s no secret that Kerala got its name from the word ‘Kera’ meaning ‘coconut tree’ hence the land of coconuts. So, I always feel proud saying out loud that I am the granddaughter of a coconut businessman.
Everyone in the village knew everyone personally. You just need to mention your family name and there’s an instant familiarity. Living in a village has its pros and cons. An advantage would be when you are in trouble, the entire village comes to your rescue. There is this unique strength when you have an entire village backing you up in difficult times. At the same time, you can never keep a secret as rumours in a village spread like wildfires. It’s a small world you see.
Pattazhy is famous for mainly 3 things- One, we have a place in the Guinness Book of world records for the ‘Longest Bamboo’. Two, we have an ancient Bhagavathy Temple, Pattazhy Devi Temple. Three, there is an asteroid (a tiny planet) named after Pattazhy. During my childhood in Pattazhy, I have witnessed an inclusive culture be it all religious communities coming together to celebrate the 10-day long festival ‘Onam’ across Kerala or be it the cultural programmes at my elementary school or my parish church, or even going to the Muslim neighbourhood during Ramzan to eat the delicious dessert ‘seviyan’. There were also nights when people would gather together to watch a movie on a big projector in an open area, I think one of the movies I watched was ‘Jesus’.
Even though I lived there when I was 3-7 years old, I have such strong memories of this village, its people, places, smell, taste, some sharp images that have been imprinted inside my brain I could never erase. Those days, my maternal grandpa, Chacko Mathew, a retired FCI (Food Corporation of India) manager, returned to Kerala from North India and was trying his hands in farming. I remember accompanying him every day to his rubber plantation, he would ask me to pick cashew seeds from the ground, sometimes if lucky I would get sprouted cashews; my grandpa would ask me to eat them. After the stroll, he would draw water from our well using a rope and bucket, it was not an easy task, but Grandpa was the strongest man I knew for his age. Most traditional houses in Kerala have their own well. He was someone who believed in a sustainable lifestyle, I remember we used to have these gigantic storage containers for rainwater harvesting. The moment it started to rain Grandpa would go get all his containers and place them under the corners of the entire house.
There were days on the farm when we had a lot of uninvited guests, the Macaques. One of the most annoying clans of monkeys I tell you, they create such menace all around. I remember trying to shoo them away, we even had a toy gun to scare them. I think they came for the Jack fruits and cashew apples.
We used to also have hens, it was my responsibility to collect eggs and make sure the hens are brought back to their coop. Tommy, my grandpa’s dog, would occasionally help us with the same. Grandpa’s house was 6-7 km away from my mother’s house, most days we would walk to his place. Village folks preferred walking. I don’t remember anyone having a car or a bike those days. Most men rode bicycles or would take the public bus. But my grandpa’s house was in a hilly area, so not all buses would take that route. In fact, during strike days, you have no choice but to walk.
I will turn 30 this year, of all these years, my happiest memories are of my childhood, I always wonder why? There is a sense of delight and satisfaction every time I think about it. When I delved deeper, the self-analysis side of my brain suggested a lot of reasons. The most important one being the lush green landscape itself which has imprinted on me and the high levels of oxygens that I was exposed to, which would have ignited dopamine in large quantities in my tiny little brain. Being able to breathe clean air has a positive impact on our mental health too. Green has a calming effect; my mom says the colour green can give you a relaxing feeling.
The amount of time I spent on the farms, me walking barefoot in nature, the smell of soil after rain, using a banana leaf as an umbrella, drinking tender coconut water from our farms surrounded by rubber trees, plucking mulberries or mangoes on my way back from the dense green farm, helping my grandpa with the rubber sheet processing to harvesting and processing black pepper, swinging and hiding under the cherry tree, singing along with the Malabar whistling thrush( a deep blue feathered bird found in the western ghats of South India), waking up to the thunder and rain. That place was heaven for me. My experience was so rewarding, meditative, and satisfying that I still feel that pleasure when I revisit my memory lane. As a 5-year-old I never realised the benefits of eating farm-produced food or even breathing clean air. It’s an irony that today we pay extra for organic food and instruments like air purifiers.
Enter Delhi, my birthplace. It was 1999, I turned 7 years old, and my parents finally decided that Delhi is the place for us if we need to grow together as a family since Delhi has the best schools, colleges, and career opportunities. As I spent my early days in a village where wandering in nature and doing nothing was a way of life and people were nicer and kinder, the shift to a fast-paced urban life in Delhi was nothing more than a struggle. I had a cultural shock, first the language, then the temper issues of my Hindi teacher which led her to slap me right on my face because I just couldn’t understand what she spoke. That was my biggest shock, coz teachers or even parents in Kerala never slap you on the face. Going to school was extremely difficult, I feared everything, I didn’t like anything about Delhi, be it the people, the fact that we lived in a small apartment, or even the extreme weather conditions. In Kerala, there was no need for a fan and here we couldn’t survive summers without a desert cooler or an AC. If you step out all you witness is the overly crowded markets, noise pollution, congested buildings, almost nothing green, dry suffocating air, nowhere to go out to play, even the river Yamuna was not even an inch close to being called a holy. It was that polluted.
My morale went down, I would get nightmares, sometimes cry while speaking to my grandpa, even for that I had to wait till night to get a chance to call him as those days STD calls were cheaper post 10 pm. I would request him to take me back to Kerala. But no luck. Thereafter Kerala became a vacation spot for me. I would desperately wait for my summer vacations, I couldn’t wait to go back to my memories, go back to those green landscapes. We would travel in Kerala Express, a 3-day long train journey from Delhi to Kerala. The third day was the most awaited day and we patiently looked forward to it. After seeing dry and hot regions of India for the first 2 days we got to see Kerala on the 3rd day. The first Kerala railway station was Palakkad, I can’t describe my happiness seeing the greenery of Kerala, those banana farms, paddy fields, and coconut trees. It was something out of the world. We would reach our destination district, Kollam by evening. I would spend 2 months of my vacations every year at my grandpa’s house basically doing nothing and still be the happiest.
Returning from vacation is one thing to be sad about but returning to Delhi was the most depressing thing for me as a child. Things changed when I grew up, I started seeing this city from a different perspective. I understood that Delhi has provided a livelihood to the thousands of daily labourers who otherwise had nowhere else to go. It brings all the 29 states, languages, and cultures of India together under one umbrella. It is home to the refugees of partition, it is home to the foreign diplomats, it is home to these daily wage workers who build our city every day and make it look beautiful. People have changed for good at least we are aware that Delhi is apocalyptic hence we are having continuous discussions, we have several environmental NGOs taking constant efforts to try and make it a better place. We have more trees now, we see more greenery now, we have started to think of ourselves as world citizens and hence the need to think beyond boundaries and adopt a sustainable lifestyle for a better future.
My family and I live in an apartment and having a garden has always been our priority to the extent that we chose to live in a ground floor apartment for years near a park just so that we could plant trees there. We thought if we can’t go to Kerala then let us try and bring Kerala home, basically bringing greenery to our home and to Delhi, that is our way of putting an effort. Our garden is full of plants, it’s a constant effort that we as a family have maintained for years. Wherever we go we take our plants with us. We have had many birds nesting in our garden, I have documented it several times. We also have a seasonal kitchen garden.
Since I have experienced 2 different cultures there is always an identity crisis that I face wherever I go. Some say I am more like a Delhite, some say I am a fake Malayali. I feel Delhi has given me everything be it my education, my career, my friends, it made me a self-reliant, strong & confident girl and I will forever be grateful to Delhi. No matter where I go, Delhi will always be my home and Kerala my vacation getaway. But at the same time, I might have developed a shorter life span because of the noxious air I breathed all these years. It is a difficult conundrum for me where I am aware that the atmosphere is not conducive for my well-being, but at the same time I can’t abandon Delhi as it is still my home so rather than complain I adjust and make an effort to make it better from my end.
All I know is people need more GREEN in their lives.
Trust me, it will bring you happiness, it will keep your worries and anxieties at bay. You will eventually fall in love with Green.