So I’ve resumed my (admittedly irregular) morning walks. They’d been put on hold since moving to Kochi, and I had a whole list of excuses for that. In fact, I’d almost convinced myself that it’s ok, you poor thing.
1. The stress of moving, you see.
2. The stress of renovating the house – you understand that, right?
3. The stress of dealing with the summer heat in Kochi! *Roll eyes*
4. Oh, and what can I tell you about the stress of menopause? *Shake head* *Long sigh*
So on and so forth.
But my increasingly uncomfortable sari blouses and the terrible cramps that ravage my previously unacknowledged body parts are a warning I can no longer ignore. Sleep, that elusive entity who only flirts with me even on a good night, now seems ready to abandon me altogether. And believe me, that spells disaster.
Truth be told, it’s not just my body that feels as if it’s turning into lead. There are times when I teeter on the brink of something black and wordless, and I can see an all-consuming numbness staring back at me from its depths. And I’m not going to give in to it. Not if I can help it. Not when I’m actually learning to live.
So I need the walk. Because endorphins help. Serotonin helps. Whatever else gets released in the course of that walk helps.
Four days in a row now, and the sense of achievement I feel now is beyond words.
The walk on Day 1, though, was a trip to hell. An ineffectual night rain had raised the humidity level to ‘unbelievable’ and I was sweating profusely even before I stepped out of the gate. But the sight of the rain-drenched flowers on the wayside was a motivation to plod on. So I plodded on, taking photos on the way.
I took the same route that Sonya and I used to take in a distant past for our occasional walks. Turned left at the gate and followed the winding road until I reached the fork, and turned left again to follow the path that runs by the river. My mind kept wandering to those walks with Sonya, and the random stuff we used to talk about back then. Things like Phi and its significance in the world, or whether we would dye our hair when it turned grey.
But everything has changed. Sonya herself is now in another city, though her still empty flat suggests that she will return someday. Phi, however, has long been forgotten; it has absolutely no significance in my world right now. And as for turning grey, I’ve chosen to let it. Why fight the inevitable?
The once unpaved road has been tarred, and quite recently, as is evident from the absence of potholes. So the walk now is meandering but smooth. The grassy wasteland that we used to walk past has been divided into plots with names and numbers, with many with largish, well-kept houses standing tall within. There’s even a low-rise apartment block at the far end, near the school where Appu used to study.
Someone told me recently that such flats are designed for families with school-going children. I’m sure.
The steel fabrication workshop at the corner, run by two Italian-looking brothers, is usually closed at that time of the morning. But going by the small board tacked to the rust-free shutters, it’s still functional,. The patch of land just outside, though, has been tiled and chained off, and sports a few stone benches. A red board says it’s now a ‘Senior Citizens’ Park’, but it’s usually a white Volkswagen GT that’s parked there in the mornings, staring morosely at the river.
The senior citizens, whenever they park themselves on the benches, might not have much in terms of space, but they do have a stunning river view as the background for their inevitable reminiscences.
New paths run like capillaries off the arterial road which is just wide enough for one largish car to squeeze through. They connect houses and housing plots, often reaching a dead end by the side of one. Another board, a white one this time, proclaims that a residents’ association is now in place. Good for them.
The Eroor West post office, which used to be a shanty halfway to the school, has moved to a small house closer to our apartment. A couple of new temples have sprouted on the way, along with a chapel at the corner of the road near our building. A testimony, I suppose, to the rising religious fervour.
The ‘short cut’ I used to take to drop off Appu at school has become unrecognisable. It took me a second to register the once-muddy turn-off where my silver Sunny had skidded, taking down with it the three of us – Appu in his school uniform, and little Adu in his ‘kangaroo’ pouch, belted to my chest.
The whole area has been cemented, and leads to a narrow concrete path flanked by concrete walls, some with flowers spilling over. The canal that used to run by the side has disappeared under thick concrete slabs.
In this part of Eroor, concrete is king.
Back then, when it was still muddy, that path used to run through a large piece of wetland. An entire ecosystem had thrived there under a thick canopy of trees, and we had to jump across a small, clear stream in which fish and ducks swam. Snakes, chameleons and other reptiles used to move casually about, completely dismissive of the few human beings who crossed their path. What they did take heed of were the mongooses who had the run of the place.
It was a different world back then – a brownish-green world of perpetual twilight. A sublime world whose silence used to reverberate with the shrill of a million unseen creatures.
A memory now. Walled in, weeded out. Easier to walk across, but heartbreaking.
That patch of earth had ignited Appu’s imagination no end, I remember. And much later, he brought it back to life in his first college project – as an animation video titled ‘Way Home’.
The other day, as I was about to get into an autorickshaw, a heavily pregnant young woman hurried across and asked me if I remembered her. It took me a minute, but I did. She and her mother were among the people who had helped us up from the red earth where we had fallen down. Later, but in that same life of mine, I had made dresses for her adolescent self.
She told me that she almost didn’t know me either, but then she saw me smile. I’d recognise that smile anywhere, she said, smiling.
Made my day.
Her little one has come out now, I think. I saw a line of nappies hanging by their porch.
Not many people are out at that time of the morning, apart from the few who would be heading towards Chambakkara on their two-wheelers. Sometimes I see a woman or two in housecoats, doing things that women do at that time of the morning: sweep the yard, water the plants, wash the vessels… Some of them seem familiar, and I try to chip away the decade and a half from their faces to see if I can place them. Sometimes I can.
People smile so much more easily in this part of the world.
On the first morning, there was an elderly man standing in front of his house and brushing his teeth. He was still brushing when I came back. His must be whitest teeth in Eroor.
I return home each morning feeling as if my body is being slow cooked. My clothes would be drenched in sweat, and my misted-over glasses would have slipped off my nose. And I don’t even want to know how I smell. Yet, the sense of well-being I feel makes it worth all of that and more. It’s fascinating how the world becomes so much more liveable after a walk and a bath!
Life has taught me to be wary of myself. I lost count of the number of times I had decided to adopt a healthy routine, only to feel my engines grind to a halt in a matter of days. Today is all about good intentions and general well-being; who knows about tomorrow?
But then, that’s life. To be taken one day at a time.