"Wading neck deep in a swamp, your revolver is neither use nor ornament until you have had time to clean it" Mary H. Kingsley (1897)

home

Looking Back: Part 3

SONY DSC

Heading home..

Picture taken in Karnataka.


We Need To Talk About Dalila…

SONY DSC

While I am happy a hen has adopted us,
Dalila is positively delighted.

But is her joy maternal or culinary…

Picture shows Dalila, my amazing cook, walking through the house with our hen


The Sounds Of Mission Creep…

SONY DSC

Here in coastal Kerala, late evenings are played out against a gentle orchestra of cicadas, while night is punctuated by pye-dogs‘ alternating howls and barks. The cries soon summon restless answer from their housebound cousins. And, lest tedium ensue, variety is on-hand from rapturous choirs of toads.

Inside the house, mosquitos’ persistent drones buzz the ears of those who risk sleep without fan or nets.

But, well before the sun’s first gleaming and muezzin’s call to prayers, neighbouring roosters arise en masse, in boisterous anticipation of the day.

Our new lodger presumably escaped from one such neighbour’s clutch. Though, no sooner had our guesting hen settled and laid than Shaji, Dalila and Anu bought wheat grain to enhance her feed, and sat in conference to plan her continued well-being. Chickens are social animals and apt to pine if kept alone. It seems that acquiring company for our paying guest is to be Shaji’s new project.

………………………..

Hens are thought to have been first domesticated in either India or China, maybe almost ten thousand years ago. Their original appeal to humans lay in cockfighting. Notions of eggs fried “sunny-side up” or chicken tikka masala, came considerably later.


Unexpected Guests

I receive frequent visits from welcome but unexpected guests:
sparrows who fly in from the yard.

Like most Indian homes, during daylight hours I usually keep the yard gates closed but the house doors wide open.
The birds would previously fly in and out through the ventilation gaps in our coving.
But, since moving in, I have had these gaps meshed, to keep the mosquitoes out.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

The birds, like everyone else, now have to use the main doors,
though they still check-out their old access-points.
________________


Home From Home, Of Sorts..

On arriving in Tsomoriri  the driver and his cook immediately set about trying to find us accommodation.
They returned to the car looking just a little glum, worried that we might not be happy with what was on offer.

It was certainly basic:
no beds; just a mattress upon the floor.
But our experienced carers had wisely brought sleeping-bags, and a gas-fired stove.
While, fortunately for me, the room did have a sofa, of sorts, to sit on.

My life has been relatively privileged so it is no bad thing to experience the simpler life.
And on occasion, I have slept in even more modest style.

Despite the limitations, our cook produced an amazing supper.

But as far as the bathroom facilities were concerned,
a discreet veil of silence might be in order..

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

________________


The Wanderer Returns

Sicut cervus desiderat


________________ 

Picture taken in the Kerala backwaters of Cochin.


A Day Of Sunshine

Morning sun lights a home in New Zealand
________________


________________


An Art Installation?

Or maybe just parts of Shaji’s bicycle-frame hanging in my yard,
and in the process of being repainted.
________________


A Returning

We have returned:
to workmen refurbishing the doors and wood panelling;
to stained glass windows, mask-taped and newspapered;
to fine coatings of wood-dust on floors and on furniture.

To Dalila and Shaji: their cooking and caring;
to the familiar;
to comfort;
to home.
________________ 


Home Before Nightfall

An often long and winding road..
________________


________________

Picture taken in Chellanam, Kerala.


Back In The Driving Seat?

________________

After a very happy month in Britain: the country of my birth, childhood and entire working life;
I am now back at home.

I am back in India.
________________

Back to the charms of chaotic, but generally well-intentioned, transport and shopping.

________________

Back to riding pillion on my houseboy’s bike, whenever there are local errands to be run.

________________ 

Back to constant warmth and frequent sunshine, despite this being the monsoon season.

________________

Back to pretending I’m running the house.
When I know perfectly well that it’s my kind staff who keep this show on the road!

________________


In Transit

________________

I sit in the airport lounge.
Fragmented English memories of both failure and happiness now behind me.

The warmth, excitement and comforts of life in India await my return.

An apt metaphor of my life:

A life in transit.

A muezzin sounds its plaintive summons to prayer:

An invitation extended to all who travel light, or with heavy burdens.

My heart is touched.
But lies elsewhere.

Picture of the June sky taken in London. Those of the airport are taken from the Emirates transit lounge in Dubai.


Homeward Bound

________________

Our tour was over:
Ten days exploring the wondrous temples and palaces of Karnataka and Tamil Nadu.
We were now homeward bound.

________________

Our journey had spanned a small arc of the subcontinent, from the Arabian Sea to the Indian Ocean.


We had crossed the Western Ghats to watch wild elephants, then slowly ambled our way through the Deccan Plateau:
From modern beaches and ancient temples to British architectural fantasies and bland concrete hotels;
Bustling towns to ruined cities

We enjoyed meals in both grand restaurants and humble bamboo food-stalls.
Tea fuelled our road travels while cool beers soothed our evening stops.
We had explored and watched and wondered.
Our time spent in observation of people
At work, rest and at prayer.

Like life itself,
An amazing journey encompassing delight, despair and discovery.

 ________________


Reciprocity Of Sorts…

________________

Most often, I eat alone.

Shaji,  Dalila and Anu serve my food but prefer to wait until I have finished before they sit down to enjoy their meal.

Tuesday mornings are different.

Robin joins us and we all eat breakfast together.

Vegetable oothapams, Kerala Sambarcurry meen,

________________

This may be stretching the idea of  reciprocity.

Shaji went shopping for the ingredients. Anu helped prepare the vegetables. Dalila cooked the meal.

“Sir” was having his regular ayurvedic massage!

But if I had made breakfast

At the end of the meal, we would certainly not be looking at five empty plates.

________________



An Invitation To Breakfast

On Sundays, with Shaji & Dalila taking well-earned rest, we normally breakfast at Sri Krishna Café.

But Shaji & Dalila moved into their new home last week and yesterday they kindly invited us to a house-warming breakfast.

________________

Shaji’s mother was introduced.

________________

Gifts and congratulations were proffered.

________________

Appams and a delicious chilli fish curry was served with fresh chilled melon juice.

________________

Finally, a farewell family pose:

________________

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

________________


________________



Monthly Measures

Every month the thing in the corner must be seen to:

The fish caught and the water changed.

________________

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

________________


________________



Travels To My Aunt

________________

When my sister and her husband come to Kerala, we always enjoy a visit to our aunt in Kottayam.

________________

________________

Matriarch to a vast and global extended family, she lives in the old family home, built at the beginning of the twentieth century by our grandfather.

This is the house in which our father spent his childhood, my sister lived as a toddler and I was conceived.

________________

________________

My grandfather and two of his brothers bought three large adjoining plots of land in what was a quiet rural area just outside the city. Each built themselves a family home.

Over one hundred years later, one of the plots has been sold up and developed into a commercial complex. The remaining two estates sit slightly uneasily, their houses with massive coconut, mango and banana-filled gardens, marooned like peaceful tropical islands in a bustling ocean of inner-city life.

________________

________________

Our aunt, as always, offered bright, entertaining company

And delicious food.

________________

________________

Maybe not quite Brideshead but, none-the-less, our ancestral home revisited.

________________

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

________________


________________



Makeover Month

________________

With the monsoon safely months away,

Justin and Paul‘s reappearance herald the annual exterior makeover.

________________

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

________________

A decidedly upbeat event:

________________


________________



Banana Benefits

My banana plant continues to flourish.

Five new plants have appeared around its base.

 

While above, flower scales open sequentially to reveal row after row of banana flowers.

With many more scales left to open, I am in hope of an ample harvest.

An elegant sufficiency of bananas.

________________


________________


Deck The Hall…

________________

My son and his beautiful new wife are soon to arrive.

The house must be ready to welcome them – in its sparkling Christmas livery.

The staff have been feverishly busy, ensuring all is as it should be.

On Monday their attention turned to our Christmas tree.

________________

________________

purchased the tree from London, some time back, during the height of summer. And, as serendipity would have it, in the bemused company of both my sons and their partners.

The tree is not small; measuring two metres (seven foot) once assembled. Its weight is considerable: transporting the tree to India cost more, in excess baggage fees, than the original price. With all the traditional paraphernalia of Christmas, it lies boxed up for most of the year, in the roof terrace store-room.

Setting it up is a major task; positively daunting. But fortunately the staff will help me.

________________

Who am I kidding?

They do all the work.

I supervise from my rocking chair, with a cool glass of something in my hand!

________________

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

________________



In Exile

The hall furniture has been shifted

And I have been banished.

The sitting room’s redecoration begins today.

________________

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

________________

I shall seek asylum in the bedroom.


Home Work

A small fleet of bicycles announces the workers’ arrival.

________________


________________

The house is due its annual repaint.

Prolonged monsoon rains have prevented a start on the exterior. But work can begin on the first floor (second floor to American readers).

An Air-Conditioning unit needs moving from the house-boy’s room to a guest room. The whole house, plus the roof terrace, needs redecorating.

Shaji, my “house-manager” diligently supervises the work force. Dalila, my cook, prepares food for the men’s lunch. Babu, my electrician, oversees the dismantling and shifting of the AC components. Anu, the house-boy, clears his room and acts as general go-fer.

________________

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

________________

Exhausted by the sight of so much activity, I capture the scene for posterity, then ask for a Kingfisher and retire downstairs to recover.


The Lady With The Lamp

Yesterday marked the festival of Diwali, when Hindus celebrate the triumph of light over darkness.

Dalila my cook, is Christian, but each evening she follows the Indian practice of lighting an oil lamp.

Our lamp is a heavy piece of hand-crafted brass. It sits upon a purpose-built solid wooden stand.  Here in Kerala, coconut oil is burnt, using a number of short cotton wicks.

Hindus follow this tradition at dawn and dusk, as puja is performed.

Ours is not a Hindu household but celebrating light triumphant is something we all share.

________________

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

________________

________________


The Thing In The Corner

When I first viewed the home I now own, I took this picture:

It was impossible to miss one particular feature of the house – the thing in the corner.

Into the bay corner of the sitting room, a walled pool had been sunk. About three feet deep and five feet wide, covered in swimming-pool blue, mosaic tiles, the base resembled a health club jacuzzi.

From the centre of the pool, on a short sturdy column, rose a white concrete, lotus-shaped fountain base. Above the lotus, a golden drum.

Crowning the folly, perched at a rather jaunty angle, sat a massive silver jug.

From the jug’s spout, water could be cascaded to deafening effect.

This fantasy of concrete, ceramics and colour rose about seven feet above a marble floor.

________________

Somehow, I never felt quite at home with such Levantine exuberance.

On gazing at my newly acquired water feature, it seemed I might have taken a wrong turn and wandered perhaps into an Abu Dhabi shopping mall.

When friends or family visited from Europe or the States, as they said their goodbyes,  I was invariably advised, “If I were you, I would do something about that thing in the corner”.

The problem was, knowing quite what to do.

________________

For several months, with more urgent renovations needing attention, I turned my back on the thing in the corner, and tried to ignore it.

But one morning, in a paroxysm of decisive action, I made my wishes known to Shaji, my house-manager. The silver jug and golden drum were to be amputated – with immediate effect.

Workers were hastily summoned. A pneumatic drill and hand-held chisels were requisitioned. Emergency surgery was performed.

The feature was now definitely smaller but its crudely pruned form and garish colours still offended.

The walls of the “jacuzzi” were occasionally handy for craftsmen to sit on but the thing in the corner had little function and no aesthetic appeal.

It was neither use nor ornament.

________________

Three months ago, with the impending arrival of more guests, I was finally spurred into having the pool re-tiled in more suitable colours.

The fountain was tamed: just a quiet trickle of water now falls gently from the white lotus top to the pool below.

Plants were purchased to soften its geometry.

Fish were introduced to its waters.

________________

Shaji has taken the project to his heart. He is rapidly becoming an expert on aquarium management.

Dalila, my cook, and Anu, my house-boy, are entranced by the various fish.

Babu, my plumber and electrician, now calls by each week, to check on the pump and the piping.

As for me, I have more ambitious developments in mind:

________________


________________

But for now, I am content to continue sitting with my back to the thing in the corner.

________________

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

________________