Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A 32-Year Day

(February 9) The day began with us packed into the three-wheeled auto-rickshaws (tuk-tuks) that swarm the streets. Off to the train station and onto the sleeper car, India style. The food and drink sellers with their nasal musical calls were there on schedule—“Chai! Chai! Juicey! Biryani!! Wadawadawada!!" Happy to see—and hear—that this hadn’t changed, one of those marks of a musical culture. Not so happy to see the metal containers from which you ate and then returned to the seller replaced by disposable aluminum bread pans. All Indians on the train and traveling “with the folks” not only felt right, but the right price as well—$1.50 each for a three-hour train ride.

My excitement mounting as we passed familiar town names, finally getting off at Shornur. A quick tuk-tuk ride across the river and left turn up the hill to the Government Guest House. And there he was, sitting on the same steps where we met 32 years ago. “Raymond!!” I bolted from the tuk-tuk and hugged him and felt his body shake—and mine to follow—with big, heaving sobs. Then he broke down again as he hugged Karen and met Kerala and Talia for the first time. Like me, a larger belly, his grey beard to match my grey mustache, but indisputably Raymond. This was a promising beginning, what felt at once like the next moment in a long 32-year day and an unexpected chance to resume a friendship after so much had happened in-between—the long trail of marriages, births, deaths and day following day as we spun out the threads of our destinies.

But no time to jump into all that yet. First get settled in the old Guest House, with its beds pushed into the middle of the room under the ceiling fan, its still unpainted walls and its still ridiculously cheap price, up to about $5 per night. These clean, but simple, accommodations were set up years back for traveling Government officials, but as far back as ’78, were open to other guests. Once we were settled, the five of us went down to Main Street, Cheruthuruthy for a meal. The place where we used to eat had closed, but sat in a similar place and ordered some dhosa and uttapam, two pancake-style dishes typical of Kerala. Post-dinner, a hunt for toilet paper and an attempt to stroll down the street. But the first thing that had changed noticeably was the amount of traffic. Back then, an occasional bus or taxi, lots of bicycles, carts pulled by oxen and people walking. Now bus after bus, tuk-tuks, taxis, cars, all honking their way through the chaos—and no sidewalks to walk on. 

The second thing that had changed—and this I expected—was the garbage on the side of the street. Back then, all meals were on banana leaves, things bought at stores were wrapped in leaves or newspaper and the crows and goats were the unpaid sanitation department. But now plastic had come to town big time and people used to tossing banana leaves had not learned new habits. So between the noise and hub-bub of traffic, the garbage, the constant crowds of people, I walked alongside my daughter imagining her thinking, “My parents named me for this?”

“Patience,” I said silently to her. More will be revealed. 

And it was.

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