Saturday, January 29, 2011

Remembering NIranam

Last week, among many of the terrible things which happened, such as murders, mafia, and loss of faith in the future because of political mismanagement in lots of situations in the country, I lost a cousin. She was 56 years old, celebrating her son's engagement, and between the many journeys from one village or small town to another, inviting and in turn visiting guests, she died in her sleep. She was a lovely woman, very calm and sweet tempered. Her husband probably misses her like mad, because the thing with Jessy was  that everyone loved her. She had epilepsy and was heavily on medication all her life, but there was a gift she had of making every one feel that they were grand, wonderful, was like her reflection of a lambent pool with water lilies. One of  the quiet spots of the Pamba came to a still lagoon behind her father's house, and that is what I remember about being with her and and the horde of cousins who visited Niranam when we were children. We kept intact a certain gang life, recovered summer after summer, till we became adolescents and then, we went to college, or got married, and did not meet again, except by chance in other people's houses. Her house, Malliakal, belonged to my grandfather's middle brother. It was an exquisite house in my memory, with rooms leading to different corners and corridors, always opening out to that enclosed square of water, with the stone steps, the water lilies, the sense of a still calm world which might ofcourse have been an illusion, since there were untimely deaths in their family, from illness or accident, and yet, Jessy was always gentle and happy, as if this stream of genetic memory had been trapped in her case, just like the river which had been sheathed, for a domestic reason.

Behind my grandfather's house, which was called Vazhapallil, the Pamba flowed rich and loamy with sugar cane fields rimming the edge. Tamarind trees grew huge and old, and birds could be heard whistling through the day. My father grew deaf when he was middle aged, and he would ask me "Can you hear the birds?" and I would say, "Yes!" not knowing then that he was drawing on his memory to remember the birds singing. I heard birds like that many decades later in Shantivanam, a monastery and ashram where Benedictines  have left a legacy of living quietly by the river. I had written a book about Henri Le Saux (now reprinted in a collection called Friendship, Interiority and Mysticism, published by Black Orient Swan, 2007) and we had gathered to celebrate the century anniversary of his birth. The sky, the river, the birds, the reminded me of Vazhapallil. We were lucky to live there for brief holidays when we were children.

The third house in Niranam, belonged to my cousin  Annie Paul's grandfather. It was the most modern of the three houses, but tiled and with verandahs, and best of all, it looked towards the Pamba at it's broadest. Now that river, forty years later, has died.  Grass has grown deep into the soil, and sucked the water up completely. In front of the house is a huge mansion, where boats once stood. It blocks the view.

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