My ancestral house in Karapuzha, a suburb of the Kottayam town, was built about 150 years ago by my great grandfather. It stands by a river connecting the Meenachil River to the backwaters. The original piece of land was about 2 acres, in two levels, with the house occupying the higher level on the South-eastern side and the western side ending by the river. After my father passed away, my two brothers and I became the landowners on the Southwestern side by the river. Never thinking that I would come back to Kottayam after settling down in Ahmedabad in the 1970s, I sold my piece of land in 1984. So did my two brothers.
I left Kottayam practically for good in 1964, when I joined the Aligarh Muslim University for research, a Ph. D degree and finally a faculty position in 1969. After taking my wife to Aligarh later that year and shifting to Ahmedabad in 1972, there would be annual and later less frequent trips to Kottayam. On these occasional visits to Kottayam with my family, I would be surprised by the changes in Karapuzha.
In one of the summer visits with my son Joseph and his family, I took my grandson to take a look at the river. Standing by the bank, holding my grandson’s hand, I remembered when I was his age and used to play with my brothers in the river, jumping down from the bridge into dark green depth.
The river, draped in dirty green moss
flows under the old bridge on the narrow road
the journey’s end, a mile down is the jetty
where it submerges in the salty backwaters
Standing by the bank, holding my grandson’s hand
I remembered a time when I was his age
and used to stand here and stare at with dread
the dark green depth right under the bridge
the paddy fields on the west are gone
on the bank, there are huts, one nudging the next
smoke from the cooking fires seep through the roof
grey snakes dancing in the afternoon breeze
a few boats, tied, rise and fall with the waves, nodding
as the river tells them stories of its rebellious youth
swollen with the torrent of the monsoon rains
razing the side banks and drowning the paddies
The river now, stagnant pool of detritus, decay
waiting for death, I note with grief.
The old men sitting on the bank nod in agreement
as I turn away, adding another loss of the past.
I wrote another poem, ‘Google Map,’ inspired by how that application became handy in explaining to Susan, my visiting niece, the lay of my ancestral house near the river and how we, as children, would play all day by the river.
On a Sunday afternoon, reluctant to take a nap
I opened the laptop and the Google map
Few clicks on the keyboard, and I scrolled down
Looking for familiar sights of my town
Someone had marked the old bridge
on the familiar creek, by the compound’s edge
with the moss painting everything green
the river was a thick line of dark sheen
East of the river was the land where we played
now marked out in plots, buildings and glade
The paddy fields to the west, silent and vast
still wore a veil of emerald as in the past
Memories, now lambent, and I swear I do see
myself and my brood running down the green
crackling with laughter in anticipation
of an afternoon of joyful celebration
The rite of jumping into the river with a splash
and of clambering onto the bridge in a flash
naked as newborns diving into the stream
tumbling and falling and an occasional scream
How I wished I could sit with my brothers
huddled around the screen, which now tethers
me to my childhood and the memories lost
and recall the events that make up the past.