Njaan Koodeyude Koodeyalla. Ningalo?

Njaan Koodeyude Koodeyalla. Ningalo?

Am I the only one left underwhelmed (and if I am being brutally honest, thoroughly bored) by Koode, Anjali Menon’s latest?

Because no review I’d read before walking into the theatre prepared me for the slow, mind-numbingly predictable fare that was Koode.

Koode had me excited long before it was released. It had one of my favourite writers (Anjali Menon, of course), some of my favourite actors (Parvathi and Nazriya), a beautiful setting, and the promise of an interesting plot: the relationship between a brother and sister. Yet three hours later, I came out of the theatre sadder and wiser. It doesn’t matter how good the ingredients are or how foolproof the recipe; the dish can still go horribly wrong.

We watched Koode as a group and I must admit that only two of us were utterly disappointed by it. The others were in the “Hmm, not bad” zone. However, we, who discuss every movie we watch down to the last detail long after getting back home, did not speak a word about Koode. We came out unmoved, unchanged, as if we had never watched it. As if it had been written with a finger on water. Slow, unclear, and dissolving into nothingness.

Koode is a movie about relationships, familial responsibilities, and the journey to self-discovery. As the director, Anjali Menon’s biggest win is how she was able to bring out nuances of each of the characters with great economy of style: a flash of expression on someone’s face, an arrested gesture, a clever camera angle, all of it become effective storytelling tools in her hands. I wish she had been able to exercise the same tautness and control in the writing itself.

Because that, to me, is where Koode really fails. The writing is loose, almost lazy in parts.

A great many of Nazriya’s lines are irritatingly preachy, the kind of thing Anjali Menon had steered clear of so assiduously in her previous ventures, and which made them such fine creations. To make things worse, Nazriya’s delivery and expressions were over-the-top in quite a few places and her character sounded more like an overexcited tween than the twenty-year-old she was portraying.

The movie starts off slow and I mean really slow: a good forty minutes is spent in just introducing the main characters and their relationships. This time frame wouldn’t have mattered if what we were watching had been interesting. But all we get is a string of visuals of the (admittedly stunning) Ooty landscape and close-ups of people and places, while a forgettable score drones on in the background.

At one point, Nazriya’s character says “ഞാനും കൂടെ സംസാരിച്ചില്ലെങ്കിൽ ഇത് പിന്നെ ആര്ട്ട് സിനിമ ആയിപ്പോകും.” There was a collective chuckle in the theatre and I thought to myself, സത്യം!

The story never really picks up pace but meanders on like a tourist walking aimlessly through the streets of a new city. You keep waiting for a twist, a reckoning, a moment of truth, but sadly, nothing happens. By the second half, even my ten-year-old niece could predict each and every turn the story would take. Some clever fellows in the rows behind us even started calling out the dialogues before the characters could spout them. And they got the gist of the lines right every single time!

Koode has neither the charm and humour of Bangalore Days nor the magical realism of Ustaad Hotel.

The dialogues are not memorable, let alone quote-worthy. And it doesn’t have characters you want to care about: they are all two-dimensional, like the card soldiers of Alice In Wonderland.

Overall, Koode is disappointing fare and I hope Anjali Menon’s next venture is better than this.

 

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ചെരുപ്പ്

ഞാൻ ഇന്ന് ചെരുപ്പ് മാറിയിട്ടു.

അമ്പലമുറ്റത്തല്ല അബദ്ധം പറ്റിയത്. ഇവിടെ. നമ്മുടെ വീട്ടിൽ.

നീ കുളിമുറിക്കു പുറത്തു ഇട്ടിട്ടു പോയ ചെരുപ്പിൽ ഒരെണ്ണം ഞാനിട്ടു. മറ്റേ കാലിൽ എന്റെയും. ഞാനും നീയും തമ്മിലുള്ള വ്യത്യാസം എന്റെ ശരീരം മറന്നിരിക്കുന്നു. ഇന്നൊരു ദിവസം മുഴുവൻ ഇതറിയാതെ ഞാൻ നടന്നു.

നീ തിരിച്ചു വരുന്നില്ല എന്ന് വിളിച്ചു പറഞ്ഞപ്പോൾ ഞാൻ വിശ്വസിച്ചില്ല.

“അപ്പോൾ ചെരുപ്പോ?” ആശ്ചര്യത്തോടെ ഞാൻ ചോദിച്ചു.

“ഓ, ചെരുപ്പ്!” നീ ദേഷ്യത്തിൽ പറഞ്ഞു. “അതവിടെ കിടക്കട്ടെ. ഞാൻ വേറെ വാങ്ങിക്കൊള്ളാം.”

നിനക്ക് പുതിയ ചെരുപ്പുകൾ പറ്റുമായിരിക്കും. പക്ഷെ എന്റെ കാൽ ഇനി പഴയ ചെരുപ്പിനെ സ്വീകരിക്കില്ല. ഇനിയുള്ള വഴികളിൽ ഒരു കാലിൽ നിന്നെയും പേറിയാകും എന്റെ യാത്ര.

കാലം

നാട്ടിലെ വീടിനടുത്തു ഒരു ചെറിയ ശിവക്ഷേത്രം ഉണ്ട്. സമാധി കോവിൽ. അഞ്ചാറു വയസ്സുള്ളപ്പോൾ മുതൽ മുത്തശ്ശിയുടെ കൂടെ ഞാൻ അവിടെ പോകാറുണ്ട്. ആ അമ്പലത്തിന്റെ ഒരു വശത്തായി ഗർഭഗൃഹത്തിന്റെ മതിലിൽ ഒരു നടരാജരൂപം ഉണ്ട്. കോൺക്രീറ്റ് കൊണ്ടുണ്ടാക്കിയ, കരിങ്കല്ലിന്റെ പ്രതീതി തരുന്ന ഒരു സുന്ദരരൂപം.
ഞാൻ നേരെ നിന്നു ഭഗവാനെ തൊഴുമ്പോഴും മനസ്സ് മുഴുവൻ വശത്തിലുള്ള ഈ നടരാജരൂപത്തിൽ ആയിരിക്കും. ആരും കാണാതെ ഞാൻ ആ രൂപത്തിന്റെ മുന്നിൽ പോയിനിൽക്കും. അത് എനിക്ക് മുകളിൽ ആകാശം മുട്ടെ വളർന്നു നിൽക്കുന്നതായി എനിക്ക് തോന്നും. എത്തിനിന്നു ഞാൻ കുറച്ചു ഭസ്മം നടരാജന്റെ നെറ്റിയിൽ തൊടും. അത് കണ്ടാൽ ആരെങ്കിലും വഴക്കു പറയുമോ എന്ന് എനിക്ക് പേടിയായിരുന്നു. ഭഗവാന് നമ്മൾ കുറി തൊട്ടു കൊടുക്കാൻ പാടുണ്ടോ?
സമാധി കോവിലിലെ പോറ്റി മെലിഞ്ഞു ദുർബലനായ ഒരു മനുഷ്യനായിരുന്നു. വെളുവെളുത്ത താടിയും കാറ്റിൽ പറന്ന മുടിയും. അയാളെ കണ്ടിട്ടാകും അപ്പൂപ്പൻ താടിക്കു ആ പേര് വീണതെന്ന് ഞാൻ കരുതി. എപ്പോൾ കണ്ടാലും “സുഖം തന്നെ?” എന്ന് അയാൾ കുശലം അന്വേഷിക്കും. ഉണ്ടിയലിൽ ഇടാൻ ഞാൻ കയ്യിൽ ചില്ലറപൈസ കൊണ്ട് പോയിട്ടുണ്ടാകും. പക്ഷെ അയാളുടെ മെലിഞ്ഞ ശരീരം കാണുമ്പോൾ ചിലപ്പോൾ ഞാൻ അത് അയാളുടെ തട്ടത്തിൽ വെക്കും. അപ്പോൾ അയാൾ മെല്ലെ ചിരിച്ചിട്ട് എനിക്ക് ഒരു ചെറിയ പഴമോ റോസാപ്പൂവോ തരും.
മുത്തശ്ശിയുടെ മരണശേഷവും ഞാൻ സമാധികോവിലിൽ പോകുമായിരുന്നു. മുത്തശ്ശിയുടെ കൈ പിടിച്ചു പതുക്കെ നടന്നു കയറുന്നതിനു പകരം, സൈക്കിൾ പുറത്തു ചാരി വെച്ചിട്ടു ഓടി കയറും. കൈയ്യിൽ ചില്ലറപൈസക്ക് പകരം അഞ്ചിന്റെയും പത്തിന്റെയും നോട്ടുകൾ ഉണ്ടാവും. പോറ്റിയുടെ ചിരിയും നെറ്റിയിലെ ഭസ്മകുറിയും മാറിയിരുന്നില്ല. പക്ഷെ വിളക്കിലെ കരിയും ചന്ദനത്തിന്റെ പാടും പുരണ്ട അയാളുടെ ഒറ്റമുണ്ടിന്റെ നിറം പിന്നെയും മങ്ങിയിരുന്നു. ഞാൻ കൊണ്ട് പോകുന്ന നോട്ടുകൾ അയാളുടെ തട്ടിലേക്ക് മാത്രം ആയി.
വളർന്നപ്പോൾ ഞാൻ തിരുവനന്തപുരം വിട്ടു വേറെ നഗരങ്ങളിൽ ചെന്ന് ചേക്കേറി. എങ്കിലും നാട്ടിലേക്ക് വരുമ്പോഴൊക്കെ ഞാൻ സമാധി കോവിലിൽ പോകും. ഇപ്പോൾ പേഴ്സിൽ നൂറിന്റെ നോട്ടുകളാണ്. അങ്ങനെ തിരക്കിട്ടു വന്ന ഒരു യാത്രക്കിടയിൽ എനിക്ക് തോന്നി ആ പോറ്റിക്കു നൂറു രൂപ കൊടുക്കണം എന്ന്. ഞാൻ അതും കൊണ്ട് അമ്പലത്തിലേക്ക് കയറി.
നോക്കിയപ്പോൾ പോറ്റി വേറെ ആളാണ്. കറുത്ത് തടിച്ച ഒരു മധ്യവയസ്ക്കൻ. “സുഖം തന്നെ?” എന്ന് എന്നോട് അയാൾ ചോദിച്ചില്ല. പഴയ ആൾ എവിടെ എന്ന് ഞാനും ചോദിച്ചില്ല. അതിനുള്ള ധൈര്യം ഉണ്ടായില്ല.
പോറ്റി അകത്തെ മുറിയിലേക്ക് പോയതും ഞാൻ വശത്തിലുള്ള ശിവരൂപത്തെ തേടി പോയി. അവിടെ ചെന്നപ്പോൾ വീണ്ടും ഒരു ഞെട്ടൽ. നടരാജന് പലനിറത്തിലുള്ള ഒരു മേക്ഓവർ ആരോ കൊടുത്തിരിക്കുന്നു. ചുവപ്പും പച്ചയും നീലയും വയലറ്റും അങ്ങനെ എല്ലാ നിറങ്ങളും വാരിത്തേച്ചിട്ടുണ്ട്.
പിന്നെ അവിടെ നിൽക്കാൻ തോന്നിയില്ല. വേഗം പുറത്തേക്കു നടന്നു. കൊണ്ടുവന്ന നൂറിന്റെ നോട്ടു കയ്യിൽ തന്നെ ഇരുന്നു.
അത് കഴിഞ്ഞു ഞാൻ അവിടെ പോയതേയില്ല. ആ വഴി നടന്നാലും മനഃപൂർവം അങ്ങോട്ടേക്ക് കയറാതെയായി. എന്റെ ബാല്യത്തിന്റെ എന്തോ ഒന്ന് നഷ്ടപ്പെട്ടു എന്ന ഒരു തോന്നൽ ബാക്കിയായി.
കഴിഞ്ഞ മാസം നാട്ടിൽ പോയപ്പോൾ ഞാൻ അമ്മാവന്റെ മകന്റെ കൂടെ നടക്കാൻ ഇറങ്ങി. “സമാധി കോവിലിൽ പോകാം,” അവൻ പറഞ്ഞു. ഒരു നിമിഷത്തേക്ക് ഞാൻ പിൻവലിഞ്ഞു. പിന്നെ തോന്നി, ഇതിൽ എന്താണ് ഇത്ര വലിയ കാര്യം, എല്ലാം ദൈവം തന്നെയല്ലേ. ശരി, വരാം എന്ന് പറഞ്ഞു ഞാൻ അവന്റെ കൂടെ പോയി.
നേരം സന്ധ്യയാകുന്നു. വേറെ ആരുമില്ല അമ്പലത്തിൽ. നിലവിളക്കുകളുടെ ചെറിയ വെളിച്ചം മാത്രം. ഓം നമഃശിവായ, ഓം നമഃശിവായ എന്ന് പഴയ ടേപ്പ് റെക്കോർഡറിൽ നിന്ന് കേൾക്കാം. ധൈര്യം സംഭരിച്ചു ഞാൻ അവിടത്തെ നടരാജ രൂപത്തെ പോയി നോക്കി. വീണ്ടും ഒരു അഴിച്ചുപണി നടന്നിരിക്കുന്നു. കടുത്ത നിറങ്ങൾ എല്ലാം തുടച്ചു മാറ്റപ്പെട്ടിരിക്കുന്നു. ശിവൻ പഴയതു പോലെ. കരിങ്കല്ലിന്റെ പ്രതീതി. കാലം പുറകോട്ടു പോയത് പോലെ.
ആകെ മാറിയത് ഞാനാണ്‌. ഇപ്പോൾ ഞാൻ ആ നടരാജന്റെ നേർക്കുനേരെ നിൽക്കുകയാണ്. ഇത്ര പൊക്കം വേണ്ട എന്ന് എനിക്ക് തോന്നി. കുറച്ചു വളഞ്ഞുനിന്നു. പിന്നെ സാഷ്ടാംഗം നമസ്കരിച്ചു.
തിരിഞ്ഞു നടന്നപ്പോൾ പെട്ടെന്ന് എനിക്ക് തോന്നി ഗർഭഗൃഹത്തിൽ നിന്നു പുറത്തേക്കു വരുന്ന രൂപം വെളുത്ത താടിയുള്ള മെലിഞ്ഞ ഒന്നാണെന്ന്. ഒരു നിമിഷം ഞാൻ ശ്വാസം വിടാതെ നിന്നു.
അല്ല. പുതിയ ആരോ ആണ്. നിരാശ മാറ്റി വെച്ച് ഞാൻ പേഴ്‌സ് തപ്പി.
പോറ്റി എന്റെ കയ്യിൽ പ്രസാദം ഇട്ടു തന്നു; ഇല തുറന്നു നോക്കിയപ്പോൾ അതിൽ ചെറിയ ഒരു പഴം!
ഞാൻ ആഹ്ലാദത്തോടെ തല ഉയർത്തി നോക്കി.
അയാൾ ചിരിച്ചുകൊണ്ട് ചോദിച്ചു, “സുഖം തന്നെ?”

Difficult Questions

Difficult Questions

Two weeks ago, I quit my job. As I went around saying goodbye to the people I had worked with for over 3 years, most of them asked. “Where are you joining next?” It seemed natural in this age of job-hopping and I took pleasure in saying that I wasn’t joining anywhere.

“So what will you do next?” they asked. I said I didn’t know.  Somehow, nobody seemed to find this easy to believe.

Are you planning to start a family, wink-wink?

Tell me really, where are you joining? Why is it a secret?

I’m sure I will see you updating your LinkedIn status in a few weeks!

Are you being let go? Was there anything wrong at work?

Are you going to do something amazing? Like travel the world or save the whales or write a book?

All good ideas, but unfortunately, not one is mine. I quit my job with stars in my eyes and a million questions teeming in my head. What do I want to do with my life? Do I have a calling? What will it take for me to find happiness and fulfillment?

When I walked out of the office fifteen days ago, I felt liberated. Because I had done something simultaneously brave and stupid. While on an upward career trajectory, I had given it all up. My time was suddenly my own and the days seemed to be stretching out ahead of me, brimming with possibilities.

But I also felt something follow me out—the shadow of all those questions. It loomed over me in everything I did in the next few days.

I hummed to myself, chopping away red bell peppers and broccoli and tossing garlic and chilli flakes in olive oil. But just as I lifted a forkful of spaghetti to my mouth, I froze: should I have taken a picture first for Instagram?

I sat at my dining table, my fingers poised over the keyboard, about to write, and suddenly, I remembered all the people who would be reading it and thinking: G’s first piece of writing after she went on her break; would this be her best work yet?

Friends texted, asking what I was up to. Nothing, I started to type, then changed my mind. I wrote in brightly coloured words about long, lazy days with my dogs and the short holiday I had taken. Satisfied, they told me how they envied my freedom, how they wanted to get out of it all themselves and were just summoning up the courage to do it.

My mother called every night, asking me if I was feeling better, whether I had any regrets, and what I had been doing the whole day. Nothing, I told her in my head. And steered the conversation gently to my upcoming trip home and my brother’s wedding preps.

Why did I feel this sense of shame, this fear, in admitting that I was doing nothing? That I was, somehow, wasting precious hours in mindless pursuits and sometimes, none at all? Great things were expected of me. I had to prove through my pictures and my words that I was making the most of this time. That my decision was justified because I was getting equal or more value in return through my experiences.

Once upon a time, I had thought that I would use my break to sign up for belly dancing and driving. Learn to swim and speak Kannada (not necessarily at the same time). Walk around Bangalore, discovering new localities and eateries and unexplored spots. Travel solo across the country.

Instead, what have I done?

Slept and woken up when my body felt ready. Cooked when I felt like and ordered in when I didn’t. Watched entire seasons of The Middle without guilt, until I purged it out of my system. Put on face masks in the middle of the day and forgotten to take them off while caught up in a book. Watched obscure biopics on YouTube. Eaten tubs of ice cream at midnight…

As I write this, I realize for the first time, that I have not been doing nothing. I have been doing everything.  

Everything I really wanted.

There may be no glory in lounging around in one’s pajamas—but there is definitely pleasure. Nothing great about reading and re-reading, except the indescribable joy of finding new worlds. Nothing to post on social media but a stitch in my side from laughing.

Perhaps there will come a day when I feel the urge to take up water colour painting or take the metro to VV Puram’s famous food street, and I will do it.  Until then, I’m just going to enjoy the biggest freedom of them all—doing just what I want to do, without having to prove anything to the world.

Friend. Lost.

Friend. Lost.

We met Jo six months ago on a trip to the UK. She was our host in Teign Valley, Devon. Today, when I got on Airbnb again to plan another trip, I suddenly remembered Jo and Lorenzo and their lovely cat Frodo. And felt a surge of shame at how I had never bothered to stay in touch.

I typed out a long, long email with abject apologies and a recipe for pulao that I had promised to share after spying some spices and long grained rice in her kitchen. After the message was sent, I made a startling discovery: that listing no longer exists.

I furiously googled ‘The Old Barn, Dry Lane, Teign Valley’ and came up with this Stags listing. The house had been put up for sale some time ago and for all I know, is already sold by now. That means Jo’s quaint, lovely barn-home is not just not on Airbnb, but is also no longer hers.

I remember the day we drove up Dry Lane, counting the houses after the Post Office and turning at the Church. It was late evening and the shadows were deepening. As we parked in the shared driveway, Jo came out of the house to welcome us in. She seemed a little apologetic about how small the house was and somewhat anxious about how we would react to it.

But to us, everything seemed delightful–the low roof held up by wooden beams, the narrow stairs we thumped up to our room on the first floor, the teeny, yet utterly cosy bedroom, the shelves and shelves of books Jo had lined up against the walls, and the lovely cats: Frodo the Golden and the shy tabby whose name I forget.

We seemed to hit it off really well and sat in her kitchen talking late into the night, swapping stories about everything from food fads in India and England to contract teaching in England, her years in South America, the problems faced by working mothers, and the twisted logic of picking up (biodegradable!) dog poop in plastic bags in the name of eco-sensitivity. Together, we pored over a map of Dartmoor National Park and Jo marked out for us the best route to take and the key zones to explore, given our limited time in the area.

There was a teary moment that night for me when Jo’s eight-year-old son Lorenzo brought out his piggybank of savings and offered it to us “for the elephants in India”.

“Come to India,” I told him, “The elephants would love to have you feed them the bananas!” And his face lit up at the prospect. I could see the pride in Jo’s face as she hugged him and later, she told us Lorenzo’s father was half-Pakistani and he was thus one-quarter Asian.

That night, I borrowed The Wind In The Willows from Jo’s shelf and read it through the night. I acquainted myself with Rat and Mole and Mr. Toad, their adventures on the River all the more real and delightful because I’d just walked by the Thames in Oxford a few days ago, along the very paths and under the same trees that they had lived out their fabled lives in.

The following day, our foray into Dartmoor, culminating with a hike up to Bellever Tor, was sheer delight, mainly because of the tips Jo had shared. We came home exhausted, yet exhilarated, only to find that things were in a bit of a tizzy. Lorenzo had had another nosebleed and Jo had gotten her mother to pick him up from school and she had an interview the following day for a teaching role that could be more permanent. “I hope I get it,” she said and we saw a flash of anxiety flit across her face.

To cheer her up, we made instant noodles out of the packets we’d brought with us from India and got her to taste some of it, while Lorenzo rested on the couch with tissues to mop up his nosebleeds. That was our last evening together. By the time we came downstairs the next day, she had left for her interview leaving behind a cheery little note. We made breakfast as Frodo looked on with interest, cleaned things up, and left her our card with our contact details on the dining table.

As we lugged our bags down the stairs, the driveway, and into the car, the cats followed us, as though to say goodbye, and I felt a little pang. “We’ll come back again,” SR said cheerfully, “We should explore Dartmoor so much more!”

Afterwards, she left us a review on our Airbnb profile:

It was an absolute pleasure to host Sreeram and Gowri. They were a delight to have around and two of the most considerate guests we’ve had to date. We enjoyed great conversation and a taster session of Indian (fast) food! I can’t recommend them highly enough, and only wish they could have stayed longer 🙂

Today, as I sit here writing this, I am not even sure if Jo will see my Airbnb message. She is still registered as a host, so I hope she gets my message. But if she is no longer active, she may not see it at all. And with that, I would lose someone who could have been a friend.

We read so much about how travel expands our horizons and lets us meet new people and experience new things. But Jo was one of the few people I’ve met during our travels who wasn’t a caricature. She was real–vulnerable, yet strong, an amazingly interesting person, and a very, very kind host.

I mentioned this in my message to her, the one I don’t know if she will ever see, and I will say it again: she and Lorenzo and Frodo will forever remain in our hearts and our prayers. I hope wherever she goes, she finds happiness.

Memories in a chocolate box

Memories in a chocolate box

It’s Saturday morning and we’ve all woken up uncharacteristically early.

It’s all SR’s fault. He has woken up bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, and wants the entire household to follow suit. He takes first S and then B for a walk. He gives them their breakfast and gets them settled down. Then he finishes some stuff for work. And then starts sorting out a drawer full of old bills.

All before I’ve even finished my morning coffee.

I want to feel useful myself. So I look around for something easy to do. Clean the fans? But we have no step ladder. Laundry? Already done. Take the clothes for ironing? It’s too hot to get out – I can do that in the evening. Prep for lunch? I don’t even have an excuse for this one.

So I drift into the bedroom and pull open my accessories drawer. I’ve been meaning to sort things out here for ages. Now is as good a time as any.

One of my prized possessions is my earring box. It’s an old plastic Ferrero Rocher tray that I have repurposed to keep my earrings sorted into pairs. But over time, they’ve gotten all mixed up. I empty everything out on the bed and start sifting through. B jumps up at once–he loves everything shiny–and S follows suit. I tell B sternly not to put anything in his mouth and then cave and give him an old cloth purse to chew on. S, the angel child he is, needs no such sop. He watches with interest for a couple of minutes, then lies down on his side and drifts off happily. No doubt dreaming of chicken legs.

I set the earrings out in pairs and and all of a sudden, it’s like sifting through a box of old memories.

There are the long, glassy green drops with gold accents that ammai bought for me from someone at the bank. Turquoise blue raindrop-loops a friend got me from Amsterdam. A pair of flat, jimikki-shaped earrings with white stones–the first of many pairs that amma has gifted me over the years. Violet twine hoops that I bought from Brigade Road to replace a similar pair I’d lost on a flight back from Singapore. Every piece seems to trigger a memory, a reminder of happy times.

There are even four mismatched presses that hold the earrings in place. I keep them aside as backups, in case I lose the originals.

I’m nearly done putting everything in place, when I come across them. A pair of pink and silver studs that I have worn perhaps thrice in my life. It’s the very first present SR bought for me, over 9 years ago. It’s not the prettiest of earrings and I remember him telling me he’d bought them from a Coimbatore street-side vendor for thirty rupees when he went to write the CAT exam. They’ve been with me all these years, but I’ve seldom worn them because I have prettier, bigger, longer pink earrings. Multiple pairs, in fact.

They’re slightly dusty and I wipe them with a soft cloth. As I hold them in my palm, I realize they look just as good as new. The stones haven’t fallen off. The silver hasn’t blackened. I’m suddenly reminded of all the good memories from our years together. The houses we’ve moved. The journeys we’ve taken. The food we’ve shared.

Like every other couple, we too have our share of ups and downs, disagreements and frustrations. But somehow, in the face of this little token from a long time ago, those seem small and unimportant.

I put them on, wondering if SR would notice or remember. I know it’s highly unlikely that he would–but I’ll still wear them through the day. As a reminder to be grateful for what we have, something precious not in value, but for what it stands for.

 

 

Of old dreams & new ones: A trip to Agatha Christie’s Greenway.

This trip we just came back from is special for many reasons. At 16 days, it has been (and most probably will remain) our longest holiday yet. It was our first trip to Europe. And more importantly, it was a bucket list item for me.

My obsession with Agatha Christie is something I have not written about on this blog, but which quite a few good friends (at least, the readers) know. I have read and re-read every one of her books; I carry her autobiography with me when I travel and almost know it by heart; I am constantly on the lookout for books about her life and work written by other people. Safe to say I am a real enthusiast, a Christie nut.

About 10 years ago, I owned maybe three or four of her books. Everything else was borrowed from, read, and returned to Eloor library. During my early days of dating SR, I remember telling him that an ideal 50th birthday present for me would be the entire collection of Christie’s works. In a bizarre but welcome turn of events, SR’s mom, who was a librarian, was given cartons full of Christie’s works by a well-wisher just a few weeks later. And she was kind enough to give them all to me. So, what had looked like a major life goal suddenly had a large, green tick mark next to it.

It took me only a couple of years to discover that Greenway House, Christie’s summer home in Devonshire, which she described as a ‘dream home’ and ‘the most beautiful place in the world’ was now a National Trust property and actually open to the public. I spent many happy hours reading about the house (she has some interesting stories about it in her autobiography and it’s also the scene of three of her murder mysteries: Dead Man’s Folly, Five Little Pigs (one of my all-time favourites) and Towards Zero) and poring over the website.

“How amazing it would be,” I would sigh to SR, “if I could actually go there one day! Imagine walking through the gardens, down to the boat house, gazing at the boats sailing down the River Dart from the battery…” SR would smile in his usual patient, indulgent way and say that we would go there one day. Even in 2013, the prospect seemed like a distant dream.

So I kept reading and sighing and dreaming for months, years, without ever doing anything concrete – like saving up. In the meantime, life went on its way and we went on other holidays. Then in May this year, an old, old mutual fund I had invested in matured and I got a lump sum of money. We had two options – be prudent and reinvest it or splurge. “If you are okay, I am okay,” said SR, knowing fully well that I am the worrier, the one more averse to taking risks. But this time, I tossed my fears aside and we booked tickets to the UK.

In the past two weeks, we have toured the South of England extensively, from London to Oxford, up and down the Cotswolds, all the way south to Devon and Torquay; then onto Exeter via Dartmoor, from there to Norwich in the east, and finally, back to London. I’ve seen more than I remember and remember more than I have seen. But the biggest, most important item on the list? Visit Christie’s Greenway House.

I spent a whole day there, walking through her house, listening to tales and tidbits that the volunteer guides shared, matching the things I was seeing with what I had already read and knew about her life – the fresco in the library that an unknown American navy man had painted; the ivory and mother-of-pearl chest she had bought in Damascus, having fallen in love with it at first sight (the chest itself had been cheap but she had paid its price five times over in getting it shipped back home to England and then getting the wood relaid because of a woodworm infectation); the scratches on her bedroom door made by her little dog Bingo as he asked to be let in…

I walked around the garden, explored the boathouse where Marlene Tucker, the victim in Dead Man’s Folly had arranged herself neatly as a corpse in Mrs.Oliver’s murder mystery game, minutes before actually being murdered. I stood at the battery, imagining Elsa Greer in her yellow dress, leaning against the battlements, an enigmatic smile on her face, as Amyas Crale painted and died in front of her. Standing there, I recalled the photograph of Christie and her husband Max Mallowan sitting at the exact spot on the battlements, gazing out at the river, Max lighting up a pipe, Christie dressed in a sensible coat and skirt.

Back in front of the small, beautiful white house, I lay back in one of the deck chairs, squinting in the sun, and looking down at the river, and asked myself what I was feeling. I had seen the same question flash on SR’s face through that day. He was understandably a little bored, but knowing how important this visit was for me, managed to amuse himself taking photographs and walking around the garden. But he wanted to know if I was enjoying myself, if it was worth the wait, if the place lived up to my expectations.

I don’t think I ever gave him – or, at the time, myself – an answer. Now, a few days later, I have put enough distance between myself and the memory to know how I felt that day. There is a paragraph in her autobiography in which Christie talks about how she feels about walking up hills to admire views.

You climb up a path to a hill top – and there! A panorama is spread before you. But it is all there. There is nothing further. You have seen it. ‘Superb,’ you say. And that is that. You have, as it were, conquered it.

I always used to take these lines literally but today, I understand what she meant.

I had a dream, a dream that became more and more magical with each passing day, shimmering and sparkling where I held it in my mind’s eye. When it came true, it was real enough to seem dreamlike.

And now that I have been there and done it, I am at a bit of a loss. I have, as it were, conquered it. So what happens next?

For a while, I think I will sit back in my armchair and dream about my dream. I will pinch myself again and again, excitedly reminding myself that it all actually happened. Today, Gowri is sitting on her brown single sofa typing on her laptop; but a week ago, she was in England, in Devon, arriving at Greenway House by steam train just as Poirot had. She had walked around the property, her feet stepping where Christie’s had stepped years ago. She had lived a dream and woken up, clutching photographs to prove that it had all been very real.

And then perhaps a few months later, I will be browsing or reading or watching TV, and something will catch my eye. A walkway through woods turned blazing orange in the fall. A drive along the winding cliffs, the salty tang of the sea in the air. A cruise ship gliding majestically over azure waters.

And I will be captivated once again, the excitement of a new dream stirring inside me.

Until then, here are some snapshots from the Greenway visit.

Greenway House
Greenway House, Galmpton, Devonshire
Greenway Chairs
The view of the river Dart through the trees.
Fresco
A World War II fresco painted along the library ceiling by an unknown American navy man. Christie never got this removed and referred to it as her ‘very own war memorial’.
First Editions
First editions of all of her works.