It hits me the moment I get off the train.
The aura of steaming heat arising out of my melting skin.
The sting of the salt in the sea of sweat I am swimming in.
The stench of fish, leisurely leaking out of the lazy gunny bags huddled together; chatting away the time, waiting to be loaded onto outbound trains.
The dirt on the footwear of the milling crowd, exchanging notes about the weather pattern of the various nooks they come from; leaving behind their unique stamp on the centuries old layers of dust carried in and out of the railway station by the sea-scented wind.
Ugly battered suitcases and candy coloured, falling-to-pieces trolley bags lying next to peoples’ feet napping like their pet cats.
Amidst the cacophonous miscellany that the railway station is, I always gravitate towards the aroma of filter coffee wafting out of a dimly lit corner of the platform. The piping hot manna being poured into paper cups by a thin lightning bolt of a man working like a cyborg!
The coffee cracks open my mind like nothing does at 6 AM and I begin to take in the earthly perfume of the various nooks and crannies of India, crouching like primeval wild animals or lying still unabashedly like a present-day human on the vast land of disorder, that is the railway platform.
Here now, gone in the next few hours on a train bound to the far and deep peripheries of the country, taking them to their homes, their destinies or sometimes even to their final destination: NO! Not God but Death!
The odds and ends of a million dreams rising and falling like the sea that graces the eagerly waiting bustling city outside the bursting seams of the platform.
Rechristened as Chennai.
The city with a vibrant history. As colourful as the history of my ancestors!
The city I carry in my name.
The city that was home away from home.
Until it wasn’t…
The city that housed a mansion that is visible today only to my sad lonely eyes.
A mansion that stood as a mute witness to battles.
Battles waged for love, money and power.
Battles between ideologies.
Battles between brothers.
Where Greed sunk its teeth into the minds of the demons who ruled it.
And The War for More ended its reign and nullified its existence.
A mansion where an angel lived among the demons.
An unlikely lotus that bloomed on the banks of the holiest of waters, The Ganges.
A rowdy moonless night staged a coup leaving her penniless on a train to the city that embraced her like one of its own.
A match definitely not made in any of the known streets of Heaven saw her married to a man who never ‘Saw’ the angel in her.
A mansion that died many a premature deaths before its untimely demise.
A woman who defied many a premature deaths before giving in to the untimely call of finality.
Both alone. Both together. Fresh, sweet, brittle peas among pods of peas that were dry, hard and bitter.
The souls of the mansion and the angel it sheltered broke in the worst of all places watching the carnage raging within its echoing interiors.
Alas! The mortal one on a hot April morning lost the will to live and withered away into nothingness.
The brick and mortar soul dragged its feet for a few lonely years but crumbled to an agonizing end having lost the sole lifeline it depended on.
A human life cut short by the indifference of a man, hungry for dominance.
The life of a Home that gave meaning to existence cut short by the indifference of men, hungry for supremacy.
Her every breath enduring every chauvinistic taunt for the expense of the smiles of the children she bore.
It’s every breath enduring every body blow for protecting the gentle footsteps of her kin.
The Children scattered like pollen into the vast lands of the country to take root,bloom into mighty trees and create their own orchards to offer shade to the future of the children they bore; leaving behind the woman who birthed them and bidding goodbye to the walled edifice that gave them wings to dream.
Time passed by as clouds dispersed into oblivion.
I stand outside the ghostly silhouette of the mansion.
Again. As I do every year on April 3.
A grotesque commercial building stares at me but I see beyond the ugly veneer of concrete and glass. To me, it is still the same old, same old.
In a chaotic world filled with cows, men, children and vehicles spouting black smoke I look for the tranquil presence of a woman who died simply because she couldn’t bear to witness the wars no more.
I hear the gentle tinkling of gold bangles. It’s her in a fuchsia pink saree with a leaf green border in the kitchen at the far end of the mansion.
She walks towards me and hands a tumbler of ice cold Rose Milk.
Her cool hand gently pats my head and touches my ear. She smiles thinking about that time when the demons tried to bore a hole in my ear lobes and how in her lap I silently bore the pain and the horror of the splattering blood.
She walks away, asking me to drink it up before it gets warm.
I feel the rapidly-dying water droplets in my palms as she fades away into the imposing wraith of the mansion.
As the whining doors of the rooms numbered 1 through 9 in my memory palace close, one after the other; I find the shadow of the ghostly mansion fading.
All that remains is the faint taste of sweet milk on my taste buds that still yearn to catch a whiff of the elusive Rose in it.
All else is fading…
The Rose in the milk.
The Rose who lived among thorns.
The Rose who died on a cross that wasn’t hers to bear.
The Rose that was my beloved Grandmother.
The Rose that was my beloved home away from home.
The Lone One that still stands unabashedly tall and mighty is the city of heat and sweat, salt and the sea.
The City of my ancestors.
The City where a lone angel lived and died. Unsung.
The City that always walks with me everywhere.
The City I will forever carry in my name.
Behind the scenes:
Few months ago, as the date on the calendar approached I had this intense longing for a woman lone gone into the pages of book that is rarely read these days. The 28th anniversary of my Grandmother came to pass on April 3 this year.
As expected, I found myself remembering her fondly.
As expected, I remembered only the difficult life she led and how she was suddenly gone. Here now. Gone as the hour turned over.
As expected, I discovered that her memories in my memory palace were long gone! The ones that lasted are the sweet scented Rose milk that only she knew how to make and the warmth of her cozy lap.
As is the norm of being human, all that remains of her is a picture that faintly resembles my father: the only link between her and me.
And of course the city that melts my heart as it does my skin, Madras!