Gone With the Soil

“Mahan, look, is the hill visible?” Vaappaa’s squeezed voice oozed out, as he lay leaning against the thatched wall. “Yes Vaappa,” I respond. A question that he has been asking with anxiety for the past four or five years, and parrot-like I give him the same answer. Whenever I say, “Yes, I can see,” an indescribable burning sensation rises within me.

In whichever direction one viewed it from the village, the peak stood proud. Its splendour enamoured the heart. Vaappaa had started his prating as usual. I stared intensely at the crest of the hill. That hill belonged to the soil of my birth. My thoughts get entangled at its base. They rake up the fragrance of the soil buried within me, shred my heart and scatter it about. The hump of the hill has the lazy look of a ripe old man covering himself with a coarse blanket. The river rushes with froth and foam past the foot of the hill. Vaappaa always hasd stories to narrate.

“Mahan, do you know about this hill?”

“No, Vaappaa.”

“It has seen generations of royalty….There, look there!”

My eyes leap in the direction in which he points. I see pillars of ebony sticking out at the foot of the hill and the remnants of a dilapidated palace a little further away.

“That, mahan, is their palace.”

“Hmm….What can I say?”

“It was a time when the money in our hands did not trickle down.”

“Hmm,” I would hum from within his lap and stretch out asking “Then?”

Vaappaa’s lap was warm like a pillow. It took away the cold.

Our garden was to the north of the Sodhayan Hill. It was a vast garden with an abundance of flourishing mango and jak trees. There was a shed in the middle of the garden. Vaappaa had built it rather elaborately for the guard to stay in. the whole garden was shaded. Rays of gold that slip past the gaps between the leaves would slither on the ground like black cobras, and fill the heart with joy.

If one stood near the boundary in the nights, the loud noise of the waves would slam against the ears. The glitter on the humps of the leaping waves was just the magic performed by the silver rays of the banana moon. The waves practiced alchemy as my mind rolled over in an embrace with the silent moon.

There was no shop to speak of, except ours. Business was brisk. The tamarind tree at its front provided shade for those who came in distress to rest. Vaappaa would boastfully call it the proud one that never bowed before wind or water. It was an honour bestowed upon it for its defiance. He would say, “Everyone should be like that. One should never bow before another, however mighty the other may be.”

At the time our garden was the abode of the militants. The stove in the kitchen was always on the boil. Sellam akkaa, with her legs spread wide, would be cutting the vegetables in the veranda. Kamalam akkaa, sweating all over, would be serving food on banana leaf to the guests. With no expectation of anything in his heart in return for any of this, Vaappaa would walk back and forth between the veranda and the shop.

Opposite the shop were MK’s sheep farm and the shepherds’ huts. In the rainy season, the wind would carry the disgusting odour of sheep’s droppings mixed with their body odour. On the left was the paddy field spreading out like a long straw-mat. The draught cattle would plod through the deep mud. Along the border, country vegetables and greens thrived under ummaa’s supervision.

Beyond the field was sprawling ghost-like banyan tree that was home to the god Bhairava. The stray dogs, fattened by eating Sellan’s unfailing monthly ritual offerings and the animal sacrifices, always rested in the shade of the banyan tree. I have always been a little intimidated by the tree that stood blocking the view of the Kochin bull belonging to uncle Kottaar. This is a soil famed for the toil of its people and their generosity. The pride and majesty of this soil was reflected in the people who lived there.

My heart sank as I heard Vaappaa cough aloud and I dashed into the house. “Are you all right?” His breath rose within his rib cage that heaved up and down. With great difficulty, he bought out phlegm and spat it out into the coconut shell by his side. My younger sister came running, stroked his chest genty, and fed him a little water.

With my heart laden with deep sorrow, I came out and sat once more on the bench in front of the house. Agony welled up within my inner heart. Once more, I buried myself in the base of Sodhayan Hill. What a great pleasure it is to plunge one’s self into the pleasures once enjoyed but lost now! What an