He lunged into the wavy curves of the cold water. He felt the warm embrace caress his skin. It seemed like the water swallowed him as he plunged deeper. This was the same river that embraced him before twenty long years into her loving bosom. He felt that she heaved and sighed as she unwound each forgotten memory he had left behind before he left for a distant land. He felt like the same ten- year -old, frolicking naughty boy who ran around the winding curves of the village. He remembered the sturdy shoulders of his grandfather that lifted him up with ease and placed him there high above allowing his frail legs dangle from the sides. It was a pride to sit high on his shoulders as he waddled across to the other side of the river. He dived in deeper in search of the hidden memories that lay hidden in pretty Oyster shells. The river stretched beyond space and time. All on a sudden he felt breathless. He became conscious of where he was and pressed his hands together to come out of the water for more breath. “Amruth” he heard his friends shouting and there was someone almost ready to plunge into the water when they sensed that they had lost sight of him for long. The mysteries of the river can never be unraveled, he realized. He sat on the broad stone step and glanced at the traces of yellow soap bars that left their imprints on some steps.
The sun had faded and the moon shone on the quivering ripples. A fishing boat sailed by. The river accepted every season and every word. She stretched across the banks and gently moved in solitude. Beads of water that dripped from his body shook him from his world of memories. The cold breeze hugged him and he trembled. The river beguiles one by enticing him to enter into it again and again. So are memories. He dressed and joined his friends who had gathered by the river bank. They sat in a circle with a few earthen pots of fresh toddy and spicy groundnuts. They sipped through the bygone days of their boyhood as they drank toddy from the woven palm fronds. He had always wondered at the dexterous hands that gathered palm leaves and shaped them into an impermeable curve. Palm fronds have woven themselves into the lives of the people of Meenachil village since ancient times.
“Amruth, after you left for the city with your parents, your grandfather lived a lonely life. He always used to say how much he missed you. He used to give us a piece of freshly baked cake every day”, Raghu said with a deep sigh. Amruth took a deep breath to stop his tears from letting him down and gulped in a mouthful from the pot.
His grandfather was a famous baker in the tiny village. He baked fresh cakes and cookies for temple and church festivals. His cakes were the most sought after ones. His little, nameless shop with a tiled roof was the place where he stored his honour and self -respect. Amruth remembered the mouth-watering rewards he used to receive after assisting his grandfather on busy days especially during the festival times. He filled his little brain with the magic of baking since childhood. He learned from his grandfather the secret of feeding the homeless and hungry. He learned the joy of giving with love. His life was filled with scoops of stories told by his grandfather and fresh syrups of inundating kindness. Grandfather embraced everyone with the same warmth.
Amruth’s father was a businessman and he lived in the city. Initially, he used to visit them only in the weekends or whenever he found time. Amruth, his mother and his younger brother lived with his grandfather in a small tiled house. They had a little garden in which his mother grew vegetables. They had a farm which held mangoes, custard apples and guava. There was not a single tree that has not lifted him on its barks.
Amruth opened the door of the old, abandoned house that was once filled with laughter and life. There was no one to welcome him with fond kisses and endless stories. Patches of dust and a few cobwebs fastened to the old house even though Janu the maid had cleaned it that morning. Memories too cling on to us despite all cleansing and clearing. He ran his hands through his almost dry hair and allowed his body to lay down on the creaky bed as tears rolled down his eyes. He was woken up by the shrill noises outside. He opened the windows and was blinded by the sun rays that hit his face. After a while he caught the sight of a few children climbing the trees and plucking fruits. Someone spotted his prying eyes and signaled the rest to run. A smile escaped his lips and a sense of belonging returned. He sipped his cup of hot coffee and read the daily.
“When did muthasan’s bakery become a symbol of disgrace for daddy?” he had asked his mother several times. His father disliked everything. He disliked the village, the scent of it, their small house, the bakery and the job of a baker. He never wanted to be known as a baker’s son. As a child he was studious and worked hard at his lessons. He earned a prestigious job and moved out of the village. Once he accumulated a lot of wealth and money, he came with his new car to take his wife, children and father to the city. He said that he had somehow managed to get admissions in an International school for his children. He had planned to move them all within a week’s time. His wife, who was always used to obeying, nodded in accordance to whatever he said. Amruth thought, “Are we children similar to the mute toys with the keys safe in the hands of the adults?”
This decision came as a shock to the children and grandfather. Amruth heard his grandfather’s heart pounding against his chest like the sound of waves lashing against the shore. Sorrow shadowed his face and he walked away with a bent head. Relationships are like hidden currents that trap and suck in freedom and self-respect. Sometimes ego rears its head and emerges as evil moments, at the most unexpected hour. A terrifying silence lodged in the house for days. They moved around in silence, they ate in silence and slept in silence. Being a child, Amruth could not fathom the depths of matters. His little heart dangled between his father’s insistence and grandfather’s reluctance. He was a bit relieved because his mother spoke nothing as usual. After a week his father took Amruth, his brother and their mother with him to their new house. Amruth saw tears dripping down his grandfather’s eyes as he waved them goodbye. For years, Amruth had stored the paper bags in which grandfather covered a few pieces of cake and cookies for the children as a token of remembrance. Years passed by. They made new friends and learned discipline. They never wandered unbridled. The school and daddy taught them lessons in obedience and culture. Daddy tried his best to transform them into civilized beings. Amruth always longed to be free like the wind and flow like the water. Their monthly visits to their grandfather’s house lessened to yearly visits as they were all held in the quagmire of busy schedule.
Grandfather died five years after they left. Somebody found him dead in the morning. Amruth’s family could reach there only by evening because of road blocks by some political party. Amruth saw daddy cry for the first time. He hugged his father's corpse and sought his forgiveness. He knew that grandfather could never cursed anyone. Relatives unheard until then thronged in with their wet eyes and sorrow filled faces. They surprised Amruth with a sudden jolt when they shook him and asked him about his grades, pastime and life in general in the city. Sorrow filled their faces again when the rituals resumed. The show ended and they all left after the last rites. Amruth and his family left after two days and life resumed to normalcy.
Amruth studied in a school his father chose. He knew what was appropriate for his children. That was what he said. The children learned music and painting. They raced through exams and classes. Amruth did a little bit of baking when daddy was not around. Mother had learned to keep secrets and the frequency of nodding decreased over years. Amruth did his graduation in Business Administration as his father had desired. Later he joined his father’s office and browsed through files endlessly, attended board meetings and discussed matters which were of least interest to him. He began to hate himself more and more.
One day when he returned home exhausted, he flung his black coat and shouted,” Daddy, will you never understand anyone? I am tired of this job. Until this day I did whatever you said. I studied for you. I dreamed for you. I lived for you. When I look behind I don’t find me anywhere. In the process of making you happy, I have lost me. I obeyed only because I didn’t want to see you hurt like my grandfather.”
On hearing this, his father sunk awkwardly into his armchair that held him faithfully with all its might. There was silence. He gulped and said, “Amruth, I wished to see you as a successful person. But now…”. Daddy couldn’t complete his words. He sunk into the infernal pit of the past. Memories appeared and disappeared. Amruth kneeled down and clutched daddy’s knees with his palm. Nobody spoke. The next day daddy took out a bunch of iron keys neatly wrapped in a piece of silk cloth from the almirah. He handed it over to Amruth and said,” Whenever I wanted to see my father, I used to hold this close to my heart.”
Amruth dusted the table and cleaned the floor. He removed the remaining cobwebs that clung on to the unseen corners of the old house. He decided to wear a mundu, the plain white loin cloth with a thin border and a simple cotton shirt. He had steaming hot idlis and sambar from Kuttan Nair’s “ Idli Kada” and headed towards his grandfather’s bakery.