It’s yesterday once more

I hate rains. And I mean it.

By Suresh Pattali (Writing on the wall)

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Published: Wed 27 Jul 2011, 9:08 PM

Last updated: Tue 7 Apr 2015, 9:49 AM

In my childhood, it never rained cats and dogs. They said it “rained boys and girls” because once the sky was overcast and streaks of lightning crackled in the distance, village urchins would creep out of their huts. They screamed when the heavens opened up. They closed their eyes in reflex as the first drops fell on their frail bodies. They danced to the rhythm of the falling rain and splashed water at every passerby. But the look of sheer exhilaration in their faces pained me. I had my reasons.

Rains heaped miseries on my hamlet. Diseases plagued poor homes. Families starved as the rough, heaving seas halted fishing. Some stole and some begged. Schools closed down to shelter refugees. Vulnerable men folk were hired by political parties and feudal landlords to settle scores.

Much blood flowed under the bridge. Many daggers and swords were washed to clean off the stains of sin in the swollen rivulet. I watched silently when human blood floated along and discoloured my paper boats. All in the name of politics. An overdose of ideology tore apart the once-tranquil village. Neighbours, who once slept fearlessly side by side in the open, now lurked in the dark to kill each other.

Children watched silently, when the teacher was killed. Fishermen were hunted down on the beach, already strewn with animal carcasses and bones washed ashore by the ruthless waves.

Then the postman.

The toddy taper.

The teashop owner.

I was wide awake when the wails of widows, sisters and brothers were finally drowned in the sound of the sea and the downpour. I was pained when the smell of human blood from a heap of clothes in the corner of my neighbour’s hut swished past my heart. They were the clothes my friends wore in the morning. Death was in the air and on the ground.

In a few days I am setting out on a pilgrimage to the village I shudder to call my birthplace. When a surge of nostalgia chokes me, I am dusting out my memories, some painful, yet hauntingly beautiful.

The beach used to be empty in the afternoon, after hectic fishing activity that brought hundreds of people onto the powder- white sands. There were agents from far-away markets to buy fish. There were also common men who wanted to buy cheaper straight from the boat.

And there were curious onlookers like us, children of peti-bourgeoises who were told by parents to keep a convenient distance because the fishermen mouthed obscenities to hype up the auction.

After a warm bath in knee-deep waters of the little pools on the beach and a chili-hot lunch in dark, thatched huts, the fishermen, clad in dark-coloured dress, headed off to the village centre for more fun. I used to spot them in the porch of a house that looked like The Best Little Whore House in Texas. They seemed to enjoy every bit of their life, for they knew about human frailty in the wilderness of the Arabian Sea.

While the fisherwomen caught their afternoon siesta, their sons lazed around or played cards. Peeping Toms brought in stories about their teenage daughters. I am told they once “hogged” one of the Toms!

At times, the whole beach belonged to me. I told off the little kids when their cattle feasting on green creepers trespassed into my solitude. It was MY kingdom and characters from the stories and novels I read under the shade of a palm tree came alive to talk to me. I let The Sons and Lovers play around on the sticky sands. Romeo was never given a chance to climb onto Juliet’s balcony, because her hut didn’t have one. The Old Man discussed politics with me at the beach teashop before Hemingway discovered him.

As a child who loved to chase waves, I was thrilled to read Elizabeth Coatsworth’s lines The pause of the wave that curves downward to spray. I wouldn’t fancy them anymore. The death of my friends and neighbours shook me so badly that I became too philosophical about life. Then paranoia set in. I smelled death everywhere. In the wind that blew from the mountains. In the white pearls Coatsworth’s beautiful waves sprayed on the mounds of graves, some still soaked in tears.

At night, I frequented the beach, hoping to talk to their souls. It was frightening to be alone there. As rain clouds blotted out the half moon, I sat there numbed, staring at the roaring sea and wondering why people kill each other. The waves seemed to play out dances of death. The deafening sound of their foot beat hammered my heart. They threw their white anklets that licked my toes. A cold kiss. They smelled death, and I ran home.

Life has been in the fast lane since. Too fast that images disappeared in the rear view mirror in a blink. The more I wished to slow down, the faster it went. At what point in time, did my son grow up to tell me love hurts? At what point in time, did my daughter grow up from her pencil-case days to give me her dose of philosophy: One life, live it?

It’s my unquenchable yearning to live life again. And live with all its follies. Give me a second chance. I would tread my own footprints. I would sing the songs of experience with the same village girls.

The dreams that I would weave sitting in the shades of palm trees wouldn’t be different. Let the colour of the music that flows from the flute of the destitute be blood red. Let there be mischief in the gaze of fisherwomen oozing the smell of the seas. I would still forgive them.

Suresh Pattali is Khaleej Times Night Editor. He can be reached at suresh@khaleejtimes.com



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