‘It’s summer. I don’t want to go to your hometown. Did you not tell me it’s 40 degrees there? It will be too hot for the kids,’ grumbled Rosa.
‘This is the perfect time for them to be acquainted with their roots. They should know what an Indian summer is like. Shouldn’t they get acquainted with their grandparents? My culture? The soil should know them, recognize them. Here, they will never know what it is. They will only learn about your roots, ‘ said Shankar.
‘If it ever gets too hot, I will pack my bags and come back with the children,’ Rosa warned Shankar.
And thus, with stuffed suitcases full of gifts for Shankar’s parents and other family members, the family of four – Rosa, Shankar, Bindu and Joy left for Kerala in India. They planned to stay at Shankar’s home for the vacation. Shankar wanted the children to soak in the atmosphere, understand where he came from.
It was a disaster from the start. The children did not understand a word of Malayalam. The grandparents could not speak English. They communicated with a lot of nodding, shaking and hand movements. But, they managed.
The children, never having seen this unfamiliar landscape with backwaters, coconut tree bridges, hibiscus and jackfruit trees everywhere, would wander in the village trespassing properties. But, the villagers got accustomed to it and they would wave their hands at the children and offer them buttermilk or juicy mangoes and jackfruits.
Shankar had changed completely after reaching his home. He dropped his western attire and went in for mundu and shirts. The mundu is a single piece of cloth to be wrapped around the waist and tucked in. No hooks, buttons, belts. With his well-oiled hair, he looked just like a native. Rosa laughed at him. She said, he looked like a little boy lost in a man’s body.
‘You should also wear a sari, you know,’ said Shankar.
‘You can wear them too as I have to run around the children and help out in the chores. I cannot move around in a sari. If I wear a sari, I will not get out of that lazy chair,’ she said.
Rosa had adapted to the conditions at home helping out Shankar’s mother. Before, she had learnt a few words from Shankar and now her Malayalam vocabulary was improving.
One evening, they decided to go to the nearby beach. They dressed up in modest beach wear but Shankar insisted on his mundu. He always went to the beach in a mundu, he said.
At the beach, unlike home, the waves were huge and it wasn’t even high tide. Feeling intimidated, Rosa and the kids were not so keen on entering the waters. Rosa was holding on to the kids tightly while Shankar was coaxing them to enter saying it was safe.
‘You go in if you want, don’t force the children. They are scared,’ said Rosa.
Tightening and folding his mundu, he dived into the water and went in further and further. Rosa and the children played on the beach.
‘Rosa, ROSA… ‘ Shankar screamed.
Rosa turned around to look at Shankar who was standing waist deep in the water. The waves were crashing on his back.
‘The mundu is gone.’
‘What?’ asked Rosa.
‘The mundu is gone with the tide. I cannot find it. How will I come out?’
Rosa burst out laughing and the children followed suit.
‘It must have gone back to its roots,’ said Rosa, ‘what did you do when you lived here when this happened?’
Shankar’s face was a mixture of anger and embarrassment.
Rosa walked up to the nearest shop on the beach and bought shorts for Shankar.
When she gave it to Shankar, he was aghast at her choice.
‘Why hot pink shorts with yellow hearts on it Rosa?’
‘To remember this day forever,’ she laughed.