Whenever the kids have hols for more than a week from school( Xmas hols, summer hols) , we go to this village in Kerala, where my parents live. If my husband is too busy with work, kids and me, we go by train- it’s a long 7-8 hour journey- fun if the train is not too crowded, but it usually is, being holiday time.
If DH (V) has time, then we go by car. We first drop Vallyamma ( my ma-in-law) at her mother’s home, then resume on our journey. V leaves us in my parent’s home, and returns the day after. He leaves the car and comes back by train and we travel back when he comes to fetch us after the hols. (We have to haul back coconuts, vegetables, plaintains, chips- most of the booty are distributed among neighbours and friends.) The car stands idle like a white elephant until then. We go by taxi or bus for local travel . I have been taught (?) to start the motor so that the battery does not conk out, my kids get in with me giving directions, and I end up calling our regular taxi driver to boot the battery.
Since the time we bought it, V has been asking/ telling/ ordering/ pleading/ threatening me that it would be a good thing for me to learn driving, and I have been postponing the catastrophe to the best of my capacity. He has offered to teach me, but deep inside, both of us know that could mean disastrous consequences on domestic peace and harmony!
So. Last time- xmas hols, we set out on our journey maike-wards- its abt 6hour leisurely drive- we stop on the way for breakfast, but we reach my place in time for lunch. I leave packing until the last minute, and it is V’s duty to close the bulging suitcases shut- mebbe with the kids sitting on it.
We start early morning, and I am armed with this huge collection of cassettes- almost my entire collection, becos, tho we can perhaps listen to only abt 5-7 cassettes in a single trip, I have often been seized with the craving, longing, yearning to hear the very cassette that I left behind, so I don’t want to take any chances.
Now early morning is strictly meant for devotional, classical based songs- no “boys” or “summer in Bethlehem”(that is a Malayalam movie with absolutely no relevance to THE Bethlehem- for folks familiar with tamil movies- the tamil movie lesa lesa is a remake of this movie) . Yes, so first it is Suprabhaatam by M.S, next Sahasranaamam by Venmani Vishnu, folld by Jayashrees “listeners choice”, anugraha/amrutham selection. Fine- by the time the cassttes go full round, the hazy, misty dawn has brightened into a sunny day-
Next comes maybe a couple of cheery songs- usually some Hindi songs- Lata’s old hits- yea, for me those are cheerful, bright songs- I sing along loud- we stop for breakfast- dosa/pongal- always-
We resume our journey-
Now, it’s the kids turn- we listen to “boys” the kids yell along t’gether-“enakkoru girlfriend veNameda- girlfriend illa vaaZhkkai waste alleva….”, then the “ summer in Bethlehem” songs follow- (ranging thru “Tera chehra”, “Alaipaayuthe”, “Minnale”, “Kandukondaein” “Umrao Jaan”, “Pakeeza”, “Kabhie Kabhie”, “Sharmilee”- some old Janaki /Yesudas malayaalam hits)- I have this problem, I get into the mood of the songs that I hear- so by the time we reach our destination, I would have undergone a plethora of emotions depending on the songs that we heard!
Now B (bada beta) wants to learn driving! C(obviously chota) of course has to do whatever big brother does. I am not very agreeable with kids handling anything meant for adults- but sometimes my orders/ comments fall on deaf ears. So B clambers to the front seat, pushing me to the edge- V has already taught them gears- now he says- get steady with steering movement- B performs admirably- C is impatient, he keeps screeching- time over (10 mints each), his turn, B does not want to let go, I am frowning, making it clear, I don’t approve of the proceedings, but nobody notices. I return to looking out of the window enjoying the wind lashing on my face.
Finally, C clambers to the front, B goes back, C just clasps the steering, and peers thru the windshield watching the road slip by, while hubby does the moving part, B gleefully comments that C is just holding the wheel, C turns to retort forgetting abt the wheel, finally his allotted time is also up, he too goes back feeling a sense of achievement at having taken us half way thru our journey.
Uh-oh, now I know what is coming, yup, V turns to me, A( that’s me) ,now why don’t u try? C’mon hold the steering, I try to evade the issue, but V is persistent, he is very earnest abt being this broadminded husband who encourages the spouse in every activity- unfortunately even when she is not interested in it! OK, I say, and I move closer to the wheel, hold the steering, V says, don’t worry, the steering wheel can’t feel pain, U can hold it, and not just touch it. Now, stay within that white line on the road- ok, I am concentrating on the white line- but my hands have a mind of its own on the wheel- and worse I sometimes forget to concentrate, and my mind slips into some thoughts not even remotely connected to driving- I want to sing- I don’t want to drive-V very patiently( read gritting his teeth), keeps guiding me- and I refuse to budge, when I see another vehicle/person coming from the opposite direction- V comments- “A, why don’t we let that poor old man live for some more days?” finally I am successful in testing his indefatigable patience to the beyond- we have a phrase in malayalam- “kshamayude nellippadi kaaNuka”- which means- to reach the end of patience -and he releases me from mine ( and his) torture. All this while, my sons have been encouraging me, teasing me, scolding me as the situation demanded- and they’re quite disappointed at my lack of enthusiasm for driving. My younger one says, even he is better than me!
Next comes- “anthakshari”- a must in any drive- all languages known permitted- which includes, hindi, tamil, Malayalam and one single Arabic song- V sings those Sirgazhi songs mimicking the voice and accent perfectly- the boys demand a specific letter each time and not those which come by turn- eventually the younger one dozes off, the elder one is still hyper, he now wants to regale us with classroom stories, prehistoric times, telekinesis, authoring a book that would put J.K Rowling out of business etc, finally I plead with him to give us a few minutes of silence and peace. He sulks in silence. I heave a tired sigh.
There is this long stretch of L and T bypass road- where we pass several toll booths- we pay the toll, the kids have to wave to the guards – and wish them happy new year!
We are reaching the border, we pass the TN-Kerala margin, the hoardings are now in Malayalam- I now keep the “Utthukkadu Venkata Subbayyar Krithis”- now these are songs ideal for classical dance- and the rhythm soon overtakes me, my husband also enjoys them- but I tend to get a bit carried away- the various bhavas- shringara, raudra, sometimes, cajoling, sometimes heartbroken, lovelorn- flit on my face, sometimes accompanied by hand mudras, however, being seated in a car does not permit me to actually enact the footwork. V thanks God for small mercies. I am oblivious to stares from drivers coming from the opposite side- I don’t care actually- I am enjoying- V is by now used to all my idiosyncrasies. I tell V for the millionth time, this time after the hols I shall definitely join dance classes- he has always agreed- but somehow I keep postponing- wondering why shud I do it again- mebbe I might after all, before all my hair turn grey.
The kids are now beginning to get restless, there are fights, blows happening in the background, when it gets unbearable, I give one yell and they’re silenced for some time.
They keep asking how much more to go, how long will it take etc.
Finally I am exhausted by the exertion- now I change the cassette to some old melancholic songs- mebbe Maraasim by Jagjit- Gulzar, folld by Hariharan’s Halka Nasha-I am in a sober mood- slipping from melancholy to slumber eventually -V complains that I have left him all alone- I assure him sleepily that I am wide awake, just pondering albeit with my eyes closed, contemplating over a few grave matters, this is a peculiar state of being - not asleep, and yet not awake- he is hurt and feeling lonely, so I shake myself awake- the music system gets its well deserved rest for the rest of the journey.
Now we get to do some talking- real talking, abt so many topics- childhood stories, past experiences, college adventures, relationships, mutual counselling, planning, prioritizing, finance (yukh), retirement and invariably we reach Philosophy, Spirituality- We are nearing our destination, achhan will be waiting on the roadside- amma will be ready with lunch- and V is feeling famished after all that driving and driving classes. Mebbe, I should learn to drive to make it easier for him. God help me and everybody else on the road!