Summer was the time of travel to visit the relatives on both sides. My paternal grandparents stayed in a small village sandwiched between two towns. My maternal side was from a bigger town. Most holidays we would visit one of the places, occasionally both.
The visit to the paternal village started with the bus journey from home to the railway station which was about 12 km away. As we did not reserve our tickets most of the time, getting in and securing seats was the first adventure. They were not as crowded, as they are now. So we managed to get seats. We kids would look longingly at any adult who sat near the window. After some time, either they got tired of us looking constantly over their shoulder or they had to get down and we managed to get the coveted seat. Seeing out of the windows, munching on the never ending snacks that were sold on the train, was one of the most enjoyable memories of the journeys. Second class compartments and not the AC ones, were always buzzing with activity. In addition to the vendors, the people would become quick friends. Within a period of 2 hours, life stories, would be exchanged in addition to addresses. You would be invited to share their lunch or dinner or any eatables. We would talk to strangers without any fear.
The train adventure ended with us getting down in the nearest town which is about 15km from the village, in the middle of the night. Luckily an uncle stayed there and we would halt at his place. The next day after a late start, the uncle and his family, would join us and we would all go to the village.
A little bit about the layout of the village. It is sandwiched between a huge a lake on one side and a small rivulet on the other. The bus stand and the two small shops that served the village were on the main road and served as the nerve center for the village. There was a village library also in a small room with couple of newspapers and magazines. Occasionally when we had some money, we cousins would walk to the road and buy small snacks like the green nutrine chocolate, peanut laddos, chikki etc from the shops and finish off with lemon soda. Lemon soda, or nimmakaya goli soda as it is called, was a luxury and is still sought after out in towns and villages.
The days started with jaggery tea grandmother made on the firewood stove. Breakfast was mostly upma or left over rice mixed with pickle. Grandmother or one of the aunts, would mix huge quantities of rice in a big bowl with pickle.. It was always mango pickle. Plates would not suffice to mix as the rice had to feed at least 10 hungry mouths. Once mixed, the lady would gather the rice into a lump – or a mudda and place it in each ones hand in a clock wise direction. The size of the rice ball was proportional to the size of the receiving hand. We would always gobble up much before our turn and eagerly wait for the next round. I do not know if it was the weather, the water or the magic of the company, the rice eaten like this tasted much better than when it was served individually in a plate. This ritual was followed twice, for breakfast and as an afternoon snack. Only variation was that in the afternoon, all the left over curries or dal also made into it. The elders had some sophisticated breakfast – mostly the upma. Or when there was more rice, the elders also joined the children for the rice mudda. Then the circle would be huge, the quantity of rice too huge and the wait for your turn too long. But it was the company, the silly jokes which made the experience wonderful.
Post breakfast, we would wander around or help with the household chores. One of the most frequent ones was to go and get the tender tamarind leaves. In the village as the tamarind trees were plentiful, people would just go and pluck off the tree. The tender shoots of the tamarind leaves, which are a delicacy, were never sold there. So armed with a bag all the youngsters would go out to collect – chinta chiguru. Because of the numbers and also because the shoots when cooked would not amount to much, the daily collection drive was necessary. We would hoard it for a few days and cook it when it was enough. After an hour or so of collection we came back home all sweaty and hot. The next was the trek to the well.
There was a huge salt water well near the house which was where the younger boys had a bath, the clothes were washed, buffalo’s were scrubbed. It was a huge well with pulleys on 4 sides for drawing water. It was always humming with activity with women and accompanying children, washing, playing and a generous dose of gossip thrown in between. Irrespective of how hot it was, the well and its surroundings were always cool because of the constant water flow. We would go with our clothes to be washed, a bar of soap a few buckets and the younger uncles or aunts or the elder cousins accompanying us. They would draw the water out with some help from the kids and help us wash the clothes. The young ones would be so wet, that they would finish their bath. Grandfather hired a guy to draw water and carry to the house for the adults and other house hold use.
It was noon, by the time everyone bathed and then it was the lunch time. Post lunch because of all the heat and activity, we would doze off for an hour or two. We did not need fans even during the day as there were lot of trees around. Some days it would be stifling, but for those we had the hand fans. After the siesta and another round of rice mudda, it was time for the evening activity. Visit to the rivulet – called vaagu in telugu, was the frequent one. It was around one km thru the village ending in the sand dunes of the vaagu. We would pack a few raw mangoes, some salt wrapped in a paper and set off. We would also carry a binda to carry the water from the vaagu back. As the water was really sweet it was coveted by everyone.
Never saw the rivulet in full flow as it was always summer when we visited the village. There would be no flow of water or at most a few wandering streams which drained into the sand beds. Sand dunes stretched on both sides. And when a small hole was made on the sand bed, it filled with water. After a while the mud settled down and clear water flowed to the top. We would drink this water and carry some back home. Back then, it was fun to see how water swelled up from the seemingly dry bed of sand at the height of summer. We never paused to understand the importance of sand in the whole ecological balance that God has created. Only now do we realize the importance of something as mundane as sand that we take for granted.
The highlight of the holidays was the annual movie trip. The ladies and the children never less than 10 and can sometimes going up to 25, would plan for the matinee show in the nearest town which was a 3km trek. The preparation began in the morning as we had to have an early lunch, walk up to the theater at least an hour before the movie started to buy the tickets. The task of getting the tickets was given to the older – above 10 generation who would gulp the lunch by noon and have a head start. One elder would escort this troop. The ladies and the younger generation would start off later and reach in time for the movie. The movie along with the greasy chips packet was the highlight that peppered the conversation for the whole year. It did not matter if the movie was good or bad, we enjoyed it anyway.
Coming back from the movie, we dragged our feet. As we knew it was time for the holiday trip to end. When we reached, there would be a special dinner, prepared by the men of the house. It would be a very basic and simple meal of Dal and Rice. But the high light was the mock fight between the ladies and the men as to whose cooking was best. We children were called to take sides and would end up based on the treats of the day.