Wet mud rushed out through the gaps between his toes as he waded through the harsh swamp created by the incessant rains over the recent past. He despised the routine, since childhood, of setting up barricades all along his father’s farm every time it rained. He had removed all of the barbed wires just yesterday when the weatherman announced that the monsoons had departed. He cursed the rain as he finished fixing the fence.
He hated pigs, and weather forecasts. Vinu was a fifteen-year-old boy back then.
Viinu was now twenty five years old and had been living in the city. His visits home, once every three months, were usually brief. They started with his mother bringing out a silver plate with little specks of floating vermilion with raw rice submerged in water. The raw grains wore a brilliant deep hue until water played spoilsport. But then, his homecoming ritual had to be carried out, like always. This was followed with the many stories of his life in the big city. Vinu had moved to the city six years ago for getting an education and had subsequently landed a well paying job there.
His first days in the city were blissful. The sounds and smells were delightful. The ring of the alarm clock which failed in its purpose most days, the never-ending whistle of the pressure cooker of the room next door, the unusually loud flush tank in his toilet, and, most of all, the traffic. The furious honking added to the chaotic sounds, along with that aroma from a nearby bakery, that made the city what it was. In a few weeks, Vinu could identify a vehicle based on just the sound of its honk. He loved the movement, the absolute chaos that he saw around him.
Such a battery on his senses was a far cry from a usual day back in his childhood where he would wake up to screeching roosters.The deplorable stench of dung and rotting plants had defined the baseline for his olfactory sense in his nineteen years of growing up there. He could not detect the smell of cow dung in the air as a result.
The clock tower chimed once every hour. It was an uneventful place, his native village.
Six years, three months and twenty seven days later, he stood against the railing of this grandfather’s dilapidated house after a satisfying lunch. His mother was sitting a few yards away from him, on the ground, cutting areca nuts. The crackle of the nutcracker predominated the scene whenever a nut went under the knife. The sound of the winds blowing through the the nearby coconut grove hinted at the rain that was to follow. His hands gripped the railing and he ended up crushing a couple of chrysanthemum flowers that were stringed there. The humble chrysanthemum never imposes its fragrance on you, unlike most other haughty flowers that demand dedicated nasal attention. Yet, the modest fragrance found its way to his senses and he acknowledged it with a quaint smile, loosening his grip on the railing.
And that is when it started to rain. He could hear the hooves of pigs and their oinks. The raindrops started to splatter against the tin roof creating a din that exaggerated the magnitude of rainfall. Then it hit him, the aroma of the water droplets mingling with the earth. The petrichor emanating from the ground put him into a trance and with this, homecoming was now complete.
“So, when are you going back?” asked his mother, who was now packing the ground areca nut into a betel leaf with copious amounts of fennel seeds and cardamom.
Her question, in a moment, transported Vinu into the traffic -ridden road on the way to his office. The sounds of rising tempers that took the form of honks. The stench of the concoction of oxides that predominated the air. The bakery close to where he stayed, that had now given way to a jewellery store. The city had changed a lot from the first time they had met. So had he.
“Soon” he said.
As he went out to put up the fence around the farm, he was reminded of an excerpt from a poem by C.P. Cavafy that he dreaded in his childhood. I went something like-
You shall not find new places; other seas
you shall not find. The place shall follow you.
And you shall walk the same familiar streets,
and you shall age in the same neighbourhood,
and whiten in these same houses.
Ever this place shall you arrive at.