I have just returned to Boorloo after a week in south India. K and I went over for a friend’s wedding in Chennai, and, then made our way to my motherland of Kerala. In Kerala, we visited Kochi for a few hectic days, which were spent seeing the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and catching up with old friends and former colleagues.
For those who have not been, India is a world unto itself; and, within that, the South is its own thing; and, within that, Tamil Nadu is different from Kerala; and inside Kerala, Kochi is not quite the same as Trivandrum, which is different, yet again, from my ancestral village of Puthencurichy. Kochi though like my ancestral place is coastal, and, it is the trade in fish and coconut and spices that give the place its rhythm.
My relationship to India, and this part of myself, has changed over the years. It has, in a simple way, deepened and ripened each time I have visited, giving me a greater appreciation for what is there; and, a thankfulness that this is where we come from in a deep sense. This does not come at the cost of other forms of belonging, but it does have a sanctity that comes from deep engagement. It rewards continued visits, and returns; and, over time you grow with the place as well.
Often, I find the logic of India hard to get inside. This is especially the case because it is resistant to an outside other if not to those of us who return with a desire for connection. I had to overcome the nostalgia and the expectation. If at one stage I thought Mother India would be overjoyed to see a prodigal son returned, I have since learnt that you need to work on belonging here, just like you do anywhere. But, I am thankful that it is home in a deep sense, that I have a connection to this place; and not only for the obvious reasons for health, education, religion. India also makes sense in its intangible moments and quotidian pleasures. I have never had haircuts as good as those I have there, and, the sheer dexterity and expertise in any barber’s hands reminds me that maybe I have Indian hair after all. This time round at Chitra Hairdressers at Njaliparambu junction in Fort Kochi, my barber even made fun of my emerging bald patch. We laughed about it, but I am only thankful he did not also point towards my expanding waistline.
There are pleasures like this when it comes to food as well – 10c cups of chai spiked with cardamom, ginger, and lots of sugar that you have standing on the street; and, banana leaf breakfasts of idli, sambar, dosa, vadai, chutney. It is green not to have plates, and, like I have said before I am a contextual eater. It makes sense then, to eat vegetarian with one’s hands on something you can compost. And that is, to my mind, a type of perfection I will gladly travel for any time of day.