Come morning, we draw our drinking water from the well next to the old kitchen. Most mallu concrete homes have an extended, appended second kitchen since the one inside, in a bit of cement-tinted fate, starts—right after the paalukaachal—leaving the entire house smelling like roasted chillies after half an hour of frantic cooking. Some say that is a good thing. Our entire extended family disagreed and built the second kitchen in an act of misguided conformity anyway.

It is not that the water pump refuses to run off an absence of electricity. Mallu kids are trained to not trust tap water from a very young age. (Some of our bedtime stories were actually tales of horror from Bolivia. In terror, we would hold tight to our party membership cards pinned to our diapers.) But we would drink off the copper taps at the school or from the heavy, galvanised iron ones that poke a hole through their milestone bases on the road, along the paddy fields we appropriated as playgrounds during the two-three dull months after harvest. At home, we draw water in used rubber-tube-buckets tied to ropes, looped around well oiled wooden rollers, hung from hooks above the wells in various states of disarray. The ropes, yellow plastic ones peppered in ambiguous red markers, twisted and untwisted as our mothers and fathers and feisty grandmothers drew bucket after bucket, craning their necks to see if the clothesline is in any danger of getting soaked in the impending rain.

Drawing from the well is easy during the monsoon months; the water comes up to meet the bucket less than halfway down its usual plight. The rope is tied short and the extra length coiled into a heap on the net that covers the well. Re-purposed mosquito net stocking-s the well, put in place after both of us boys graduated from our hostels with our mosquito nets intact. The water is crystal clear too. On days when all the nocturnal typing leaves me waking up past everybody else and missing the water-drawing deadline, I try hiding my shame commenting on this clarity, obsessively chopping tender elephant-leaf leaves into some semblance of order, for lunch. The misdirection never works; my mother’s notion of the ‘irresponsible elder child’ is too insurmountable a summit that early in the morning. Underslept and out of topics of diversion, I drown her complaints instead in the only radio station that makes sense that side of seven.

As I peer down the well, I am reminded of Lakshadweep-getaway photos behind postcards other people bring home from vacations in other places far from the Dweeps. In the well, the water is a bluish green. The level has climbed up, and is about to breach that one step where snakes shed their skin come summer. The last two summers, we had to remove at least four of those. The year before my grandfather was bedridden, he used freshly upturned soil around our piece of land for one of his tapioca plantation adventures. The oversized rats that year took care of the crop, and laid the underground tunnel system these snakes so readily borrow on their way to the well. We were very calm about the whole plantation business though, since the last one had turned sour, after the local drinking fraternity uprooted fresh stems-along the main road-and stuck them back in, upside down. Tapioca refuses to grow well that way. The alcoholically inclined were protesting his objection to drunken brawls near the bus-stop across the road, refusing to let go of their party membership cards and the diapers. (There is no easy way of telling when the tapioca stems are inverted. During planting, they are marked, or aligned a specific way to make sure they go into the earth the way they came out.) Grandfather was very nice and forgave them their subversion with a smile. He never went back to criticising their ways in public. The snakes were happier last summer.

The commute to KL11 is spent in a Tarzeny haze on dull days, hanging onto the stainless steel rods crisscrossing the bus that takes in everything, from seat-expecting mothers and that uncannily well-dressed elderly gentleman on his early morning booze run to the state-owned-and-operated IMFL store halfway to town and the backpacker who refuses to part with his violently swinging bundle of pain and entanglement and the disgruntled ticket checker (conductor of the symphony). The elderly drunkards drown the rainy days in quarters as if all that water hasn’t enough mojo. On busy days, suspended in a sea of bodies—warm except for the half-shut umbrellas fresh off a surprise shower—the kindle becomes extra padding to my sketchbook, warmed by the packed lunch and water-bottle, leaving me listening to interviews pilfered off the internets or to Kodaline on loop. Today, half way into the yatra, Pamuk’s long and often unexciting bit on “Strangeness in My Mind” gave way to Arundhati Roy reading from the “Ministry,” and it was three different kinds of odd and beautiful. The burqa-clad girl seated next door sent strange glances my way as I giggled inappropriately and looked at the Hindi numerals on the HMT when I noticed she noticed I noticed. Ms. Roy broke into ‘Kozhikkattam Chammandi’ and went on to spice up the translation with guts. I have had the hardcover on the table for almost three weeks now, and haven’t gotten past the first few pages.

Early mornings at KL11; light rain, schoolkids hanging onto their umbrellas and their auto drivers. Silence off the lampposts.

Graduating again in a few days. This is what I have learnt in two years. That, and sneaking V for Vendetta references into thesis reports is fun. (Also, that barring my typewriter and the book about typewriters, all life's essentials can fit into a 35L backpack.)

From afar, places are things.

Image description

H and G enter a clearing in the woods. They see the daal-chaaval house at the far edge. The children are hungry and the house a promise of a full belly. They approach the door, chained and padlocked. The doorkeeper wouldn't let them in until they tell him their most sacred secrets, most treasured stories. Tthey are baffled by the request. Hungry and out of their depth, they bare their hearts and think nothing of it. The doorkeeper collects their stories in two glass jars, ties a piece of cloth around H's, corks G's.

H and G enter the first room and see other children leave breadcrumbs everywhere as they walk around. The doorkeeper and his friends tread on them, now and then. The children's stories ooze out from the crumbs and fill the room with their scent and wetness. The children look starved, holding on to the perfect golden loaves of bread in their hands. An invisible hand gives H and G two whole loaves soaked in the tales they parted with at the door. As they tear into the perfect golden crust, the invisible hand guides the pieces away from their mouths and onto the ground. Being children, they think nothing of this. Their hunger is now unbearable.

H and G enter the second room. It is wider and the walls are painted a blinding white. The ceiling, set too high to be inside the house they thought they had gotten into, is set high, at-least a hundred leaps into the metric system. They are asked to prove their H-ness and G-ness. Their loaves of bread are now almost all gone, crumbs outlining the paths they walked, leaving only the faintest aroma of the secrets they once held. The children have already forgotten half their stories. An hour or so of fiddling with the leftover pieces later, they are nodded at and declared worthy of staying in the second room. Along the high walls, they now see windows; some open, some not. Squinting, G manages to catch a glimpse of a pair of eyes behind one of the open, veiled windows. A falling loaf of bread distracts her. She may have imagined the eyes. (Nobody would build a daal-chaval house only to spy on the children, would they?)

The children think nothing of it all. Their hunger is now complete.

Writing my thesis report to read like a political thriller set in a post-apocalyptic world of resource starvation and a general lack of art.