Wishlist From Kerala

Homeland, ariyathe

I want you to bring back
kaapi in those small glasses you can
see his eyes through while you watch
him pour the tea and the milk in a type of
neat choreography over the metal
counter you lean on, and the
smell of sweat and urine and moldy
clothes and faux leather in the general
compartment of the Chennai Mail that
you accidentally got on, and the
way your chest tightens when the sitting
man in the formal shirt offers to hold
your bag- the one with your camera- as you struggle
to hold your own weight up, your fingers
triple-wrapped around the metal railing. I want
to ask you to bring back
the voice of the mechanical lady who announces
yaatrigan kripya dhyan dijiye in
a sing-song voice that reminds you of
DDLJ and makes you sing old malayalam
songs in your head as you stand on the
crowded, loud platform alone and unnoticed though it’s
unrelated and only slightly romantic but,
fills you with longing and optimism and art
– lots and lots of art.

I want you to bring back
the way auto drivers speed past you
as you wave your hand with almost-tears
forming in your eyes on days it rains
cats and dogs and elephants even;
your churidar is wet and therefore,
indecent and you worry about the
construction worker’s gaze, but the black
and yellow with blue tarpaulin are
too busy getting themselves dry to
acknowledge your pleading
eyes; though on sunny days, they smile
widely and smell like birds and
summer and mud and salt, holding stars in
the eyes they touch through the mirror. I
want a mango juice from the North Indian
woman- next to the museum walls and the
police officers with their intimidating looks and
bored yawns and deep brown skins-
who speaks with her nose and the way it
crinkles when you take too long with
your wallet as you remember how
being so bad at math automatically
labels the foreigner.

I want you to bring back
the tone with which the random
woman on the train ask who the boy – who drops you
off and stands by the window until the train moves
away- is and when you say “cousin” with
hesitation in your voice, she’ll give you a
look that turns your brown skin red,
though he actually is, and the one with which the
random old woman sitting on the hospital step will tell you,
“Moley, don’t get angry but don’t wear your shawl like
that. I’m telling you because there’s no one else
to tell you. You need to cover your shame”- maanam,
the word resonates for days, and
you’ll cover your breasts because they are your
shame and also because in between all that
frustration, you’ll think of how a random stranger
cares about you, in an uncomfortably
personal way.

I want you to bring back
the hurt and
the anger you’ll carry around
on the bus, on the train,
on the sides of the roads
you half-recognize even after months of the same.

I want you to bring the
excitement of every day, the amount
of movement and the different kinds of
people you pass every day; bring
back those stories, and the sights, and mainly
the smells.

I want you to bring back everything about
Shankumugham, Varkala, all of Thiruvananthapuram,
the shadows and the night rides and the way you
run away at night when you think they were
chasing you and the bus was in the wrong
direction but the conductor was nice enough
to not yell or laugh but to scold kindly, the mini-
heart attacks that traffic
caused and the unpredictability of something
as mundane as shopping. I want you to bring back
all of it and how they made me seem.

But I don’t know how much of this will
get through Customs. So for now, just get me
Munch bars and Mysore pak and Kurkure and paal
peda and Malayalam books that’ll make my
heart cry and huge, blank paint canvases to inspire
me and photos to make me smile and
earrings and necklaces and a churidar and
a sari blouse and a scarf and Eclairs and
murukku and unniyappam and avalosunda
and if you somehow still have room in your suitcase-
a sense of belonging.

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10 thoughts on “Wishlist From Kerala

  1. Amazingly powerful stuff; brought tears to my eyes and filled me with an intense craving for ammoomma’s chakka avial. 🙂

  2. Adipoli…tears filled in my eyes. A very touchy read for someone like me who longs to b in Kerala every single minute. Brought back lots n lots of the only remains I have…Memories! 🙂

    1. Mine’s still Arundhati Roy. 🙂 Not having favorites is pretty liberating too- you can love words with no obligations to their authors.
      Thank you!

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