The hot sticky humid air hung over the boisterous city of Kollam, Kerala. I gripped the polyester seating of the dilapidated rickshaw as it jackknifed to the right to swerve around another wayward goat. A city filled with urgency. If I were to describe Kollam in one word, it would definitely be urgent.
A cacophony of noises, which seemed to meld into a harmonious symphony, blared through the air. Horns honked in various pitches, old women cackled, cattle driven by their masters huffed and puffed, and the sound of the thrumming of the rickshaw’s motor kept the tempo. A cart filled to the brim with plump red mangoes strolled right along the walls of the rickshaw and my mouth salivated. As my eyes wandered around the hundreds of people milling around in every nook and cranny of the city, I saw a display of colors, conversation, and above all – life, in its crudest components.
It had taken us an hour and a half and guts of steel in order to finally arrive in Kollam from our village in Kottara, my father’s homeland. Our desire to bring back Indian clothing to wear at functions back in the States brought us to Kollam, the fashion center of Kerala – a country located at the tip of India. Billboards advertising the latest silk sarees and churidars were pasted in every corner. Comparing the rather bucolic village of Kottara to a boisterous city like Kollam was like comparing the Sahara Desert to the Mariana Trench – both beautiful in their own respective ways. While one had more cows than people, the other was profuse with a plethora of hustling, bustling people from all walks of life.
Our trip to India from our New York suburbia was one filled with excitement and fear. We ruminated question after question in our minds: How would our homeland look like after all this time? Would everyone still remember us?
Yet, we quickly discovered that there was no need for those questions as we settled into the grand scheme of things. Relatives were met, gifts from America were exchanged, and a general sense of belonging settled among us all. We learned everything from which mosquito repellents worked the best to the difference between the India of my parents’ time and the India now.
As we visited similar cities to Kollam, we would always find ourselves wanting to go back to our small village, Kottara. Waking up to the roosters crowing in the morning and the melodic chants from the nearby Hindu temple differed greatly from the alarm tones on my cellphone. I immersed myself in a whole new dimension as I fed the chickens in the morning and led the cows along with my little brother to the nearby pasture to graze. We even danced in the torrential rainfall brought down by the summer monsoons until the lead-like weight of rain-sogged clothes brought us inside to dry off . There was simply no end to the new experiences and encounters we had with an atmosphere so saturated with deep traditions and a beautifully rich culture. However, our three weeks in this magical corner of the world brought us back to reality. Goodbyes were said and tears stained our cheeks as we left to the airport.
Three years later, when train rides back from school warrant something to drift off to, I scroll through my playlist to find the soothing raagas of classical Indian music. My mind drifts off to happy Indian memories and to the future when I can finally reconnect with my roots in the mystical village of Kottara.
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