Note: This as an entry for the short story writing competition at The Banyan Trees.
In the monsoons, coastal Maharashtra revels in lush greenery. Flora abounds with an obscene fluorescence. Every local hill boasts a multitude of waterfalls cascading in all their effervescent glory. Even the concrete jungle of the Mumbai Metropolis, unable to deter the onslaught of greenery lies decked with festoons of moss, garishly leaved branches and a confetti of a permanent light drizzle. Within homes tea was consumed in clattering china cups, steam wafting upwards before becoming one with the light morning mist. Dark mornings loomed with the promise of collapsing infrastructure and powerless nights, sweaty in their embrace with the promise of love, lust.
Aparna imagined all of this, envisioned as a rich tapestry of colours. A screen overhead displayed a map with a diagrammatic aeroplane flying in a wide arc over Iran. 47 dashes to Mumbai, Aparna counted on the map stirring awake. A few hours later just before the flight’s rocky monsoonal descent into Mumbai Aparna craned her neck to get that first elusive view of Mumbai from the air. She spied sheets of gossamer threads moving in symmetric waves and spotted far below a sequence of yellow lights. Landmark after landmark she postulated incorrectly and the aeroplane made a final lunge piercing through a pregnant cloud, looming overhead flimsy slums and landed with a mighty heave as a collective sigh left the passengers.
Sadly, Aparna was disappointed with her imagination, or rather with the fecundity of it. Life was undoubtedly the picture perfect monsoon she imagined, it also co existed with pools of fetid slush, never ending humidity (and besides, sweat ceased to be sexy immediately after lust was satiated) and damp corners and clothes that were somehow never completely dry. Distance romanticizes, she concluded. Even the people around her seemed somehow more intense in their flaws, and muted in their munificence’s. Moss however pretty did beget slime, cracked walls and made humans slip. And fall.
December was undoubtedly the best time to visit Tamil Nadu. It was merely hot, unencumbered by its nastier superlatives, dawn and dusk were actually pleasant and then there was the music. Setting out from Chennai the very atmosphere exuded mellowness. The normally fierce sun shone benign, the sea waves lapped softly, the delicate sea breeze was only broken by the clang of a distant temple bell. Aparna’s parents set out to appease multiple Gods, three planets and in the process enrich a few corpulent priests.
They travelled in a rented Ambassador, the symbol of a solid, accident proof India along a circuitous route all over Thanjavur district (the old district as Aparna’s father continually reminded her). Every town seemed to look the same; a tangle of wires dangling overhead, buildings looming over a narrow central street, a mammoth tample ‘gopuram’ suddenly rising into view. And despite this unerring familiarity every temple was different. Well of course they were different; what Aparna felt, or what she thought she felt was the soul of each temple. Despite the neck craning and subtle pushing to get a good view of divinity and the hurried giving away of a 100 rupee note for a few more seconds of gazing into a dark statue, despite the rotten bananas and comforting smell of camphor.
They camped overnight at an ancient relatives place in a village near Kariakal. In the evening as they ate by falling light, someone sang an apt Kalyani from within the dark confines of the house and the sun left with a final bright orange ray with birds flying over. Sadly for our city bred, foreign returned Aparna this postcardness was not to continue for more. The next morning saw her aghast at the thought of deposing her bodily wastes in a field with an old dalda can filled with dubious brackish water. When she finally did finish her task and rose, she realized with a creeping horror someone had been spying upon her. Disgusted and frustrated she made her way home as a pig broke into a run and happily gorged on the recently departed contents of her bowels.
January however is undoubtedly not the best time to visit any part of Northern USA. Airports, with their propensity to insulate one from the outside world, don’t help matters much. After perfunctory procedures Aparna squinted at the bright sunlight and a minute later frowned deeply, many lines etching her dark face. This sudden induction into coldness always left her flustered no matter how used to she was to it. She reveled in the crispness of the cold air and confidently crunched snow with her boots always sure of her step.
She felt comfortable with every increasing mile and eventually risked it to get off the freeway and step onto a country road. The small road had not been salted and earlier vehicles had left deep ruts in the packed snow. Slowly she inched across passing by a frozen expanse that passed off as a lake in the summer. The bright white ground contrasted with the blue sky, with the occasional scrawny branch bringing in browns. The ruts slowly disappeared with the advent of a light snowfall and within minutes Aparna was relying on blind instinct as she fought to stay on the road. At length she stopped knowing that she was lost. To her credit she only panicked after she discovered her cell phone wasn’t reachable in this wilderness. She desperately tried to reposition herself using her practiced geography but gave up, parked her car and began trudging back when it hit her. With a slow dread that turned her bowels to water she realized she had driven off right onto the frozen lake. She half ran, then went back, retrieved her cabin luggage alone and made the most arduous walk of her life, over ice and snow towards the nearest tree. Her fingers had almost frozen over her phone keypad, poised to hit 911.
Later she warmed her hands considering herself terribly lucky to have escaped. While her computer whirred to life, she thought of wording the incident and posting it on facebook, then decided against it. She settled down, logged onto gmail as her contacts flashed by, some green (available), some red (busy) and some orange (away). The screen showed a cluster of unread mails, and someone pinged her. Aparna finally felt at home.