When my time-traveller stopped responding one fine Sunday morning, much jet fuel was burnt to get me home. My giant carbon footprint seemed to be stuck in my throat. On the ride home I prepared myself to console my marshmallow matriarch, the time traveller’s better half, who stood to be dulled by the death of her beloved. He was the breadwinner, she the breadmaker. They had been for 61 years. I was their bread-eater, have been for 28.
What was it like to lose the one you shared your life’s journey with? Without him would her memories fade? They had always stepped out with a purpose. A walk was to the temple, a taxi ride to visit her sister, a train journey to complete the circle of life. Their stories of travel, never little escapades, never a holiday, filled my ears for years; they still do.
It was soon after my parents got married that the duo went to Kashi. A town along the banks of the Ganges, a visit to Kashi is said to bring life full circle — a sacred pilgrimage for Hindus. In my bedtime tales, following the homemaker avatar of grihasthashrama, sanyasa always saw people denounce their families and go to Kashi to find God.
My grandparents just took the guided tour. They called it a pilgrimage, came right back home and it’s been 30 years since. A trip to be taken and thought of in utter piety, always and only reminds my marshmallow matriarch of the filthy narrow roads of the temple town and its omnipresent cows. How the betel-stained mouths of priests accosted them at the railway station making deals to perform the last rites of our ancestors!
They brought back Gangajal, holy water of the Ganges. I’d say Gangajal has a tough life, even in a bottle — nothing short of salvation is expected from it! My time-traveller was duly administered the same. She jokes that one could die solely of drinking that dirty water because of how polluted the Ganges is these days.
She was the memory collector, if he were the time-traveller. She grounded him. He’d go to her when he couldn’t remember and she would recollect till he caught on.
If you didn’t go anywhere and the world travelled to meet you, would you be well-travelled?
It’s been 68 years since her younger brother, at the age of five, had one of his kidneys removed. World War II had incapacitated even the far-away world they lived in. Without reservations available on the train, their father had held him in his arms all the 600 kms to Madras. The ‘Madras to be bombed’ rumour loomed large over them and they returned – after 45 days of blank noise- in a bullock cart from the railway station because their home wasn’t on any bus route. Operation successful. She never mentions that he went on to become a renowned cardiac surgeon. His life, all of it, as she experienced it, through hand-me-down details, is incredible and its destination was never the point.
If your experiences are only as good as your memories, and you are a memory-collector, could you be well-travelled?
Catalogued under his experience but with full retelling rights resting safely with her, the story of her nephew’s Rajasthani wedding is a marvel. The groom’s wedding party consisted all of 11 members which included my time-traveller and my marshmallow matriarch’s sister. Rajasthani weddings are all about sweetmeats. The story goes that after seven days of sweetened food, my marshmallow matriarch’s sister’s daughter, who was four at the time, finally pleaded with her uncle, “Please get me some good old rice and curd, please don’t make me eat another sweet, please!”. Our heroine wasn’t at this wedding. However, her sister who attended retells this story with these exact details; and that’s how memories travel – through storytellers.
Could the well-travelled bring back from faraway lands only perceptions that reinforce their beliefs?
On a visit to Chandigarh, they stayed over with a relative. The morning they were to leave, she offered to make them Upma, an easy semolina dish, for breakfast. Chandigarh is one of India’s only planned cities. From this hub of town planning, she chooses to remember this: that the lady realised there was no semolina at home when she got to the end of preparation and the water began to boil; that she sent her husband scurrying through the well-planned roads of Chandigarh that Sunday dawn, in search of semolina; that they had toast for breakfast.
If yes is the answer, if the world could travel to meet you, if travel is a collection of memories and if your perceptions rarely change, then it all makes sense. ‘They’ is no more. It’s been a month since my time-traveller left her to curate their memories.