I'm back, fattened and feted.
I find about long weekends that you get so much more done in three days than you would if you were somewhere for a month. I think it's the pressure, "do this today because you won't be able to tomorrow." So I managed in three days to a) visit the old sights and cultural hotspots--museums, architecture, etc b) Bond with my aunts and grandparents c) Go to Char Minar for the nighttime Ramzan shopping mela. (From where I got some very pretty bangles-- purple-y and sparkly!
Hyderabad used to be my all-time favourite summer vacation. Every summer, as soon as school shut, my mother and I would go there. We started packing about a week in advance, my contributions were my dolls and books, which I never travelled without. Then we'd get into a first class coupe (an antiquity they don't make anymore) on a train, the kind where we had the whole compartment to ourselves. And after two days of journey, we'd be there, met at the station by cousins and grandparents and aunts and uncles---all so happy to see us as we were to see them.
I barely saw my mom on those vacations. I have six boy cousins, four of whom were always in Hyderabad, and we'd spend the whole day creating secret clubs, inventing rat poison (with mud, cement and twigs), playing cricket or flying kites. Some days (and these were the best) we'd go to my grandfather's farm and eat and swim in a large tank.
All these images came vividly back to me in my grandfather's farm, now sadly, much smaller because he's getting too old to run it all and had to sell most of it. The old farmhouse had been redone, but some things like the ancient bathroom with its huge copper bucket still stayed. And the dark kitchen where my grandmother crouching over a stool conjured up delicacies.
There used to be a hill (two hills) where we found uncut amethysts. It was something we regarded with matter-of-fact wonder. Going mining on Amethyst Hill was something we did every holiday. We never really found anything of value (though my older cousin once found a beauty---big and shiny and pure purple. He gave it to an uncle who turned it into a keychain. Men!) I invented a whole story about an Amethyst Fairy that would be displeased if we took ALL the amethysts, so my younger cousins at least, left behind some. (Hey, we always found amethysts next time!)
I attempt to walk towards Amethyst Hill after lunch. It'll keep my mind off the nicotine cravings that make my stomach twist and cringe and my nails bite painfully into my palms. Past the grave of my boy-uncle, my mother's little brother who died at 13. He was flying a kite and fell off the roof trying to detangle it. My grandparent's only son, born after four daughters, he is the sorrow on my grandmother's face, her mouth turns downwards in repose.
My grandfather built that grave for him and as children it used to fascinate us. "Here lies a courageous young man". We knew not to ask too many questions so whatever I know about him I glean from my mother and from his little grave.
But the road to Amethyst Hill is overgrown. I have been warned repeatedly about snakes, and I'm wearing floaters so I'm easy prey. There's no point picking my way across the weeds. Suddenly I feel a biting pain on my left foot. It's a big black ant, burrowing its way through the tender skin between my toes. The pain is mind-numbing and I stagger back to the farmhouse. By this time, my toe is five times its normal size and throbs and itches at intervals.
Every summer, without fail, I'd have to get rabies shots. One summer Champie (my aunt's Scottish terrier) was burying a bone and like an idiot I started to dig near him. Champie was never the best-tempered dog and he flew out and bit me.
Champie terrorised all of us actually. The only person he listened to was my aunt, and sometimes my now-29-year-old cousin (who I will call Abhinav). Once the family left for the farm and neglected to tell Champie. He raced after them all the way there and when they heard desperate panting on the doorstep they let him in. And he died.
I don't know why he chose to follow them. He was used to being on his own. But perhaps he knew his time had come and wanted to say goodbye.
And Bobo. My dog in Trivandrum, half-Alsation and named after Boris Becker, the tennis player. He was such a sweet dog. I would hide and my mom would let him off the leash and say, "Where's Mynna?" and he'd always find me, plumy tail wagging up a storm.
When we moved to our little Delhi flat, my parents figured it would be cruel to take a big dog to a small house. So they gave him to my grandfather.
What a life Bobo led! He sired an entire tribe of dogs with his tan eyebrows and wide smile, he refused to let any other dog within a mile of the farmhouse and best of all he was free to roam as he wished. But one call from my grandfather and he'd trot behind him occasionally looking up at him with adoring eyes.
He died too, at a ripe old age, bitten by a cobra.
There are no dogs left in the farmhouse now. Only my aunt (formerly Champie's owner) has a fat little dashchund called Daisy. Daisy loves me, but she loves everybody. I call her Fattie and vanity injured she sits in a corner to sulk. But not for long. I'm giving her a ear-scratch and like Cookie, she can't get enough of it. To show her gratitude she starts to hump my leg, looking sheepish when I scold her.
The nicotine pangs increase. I'm pacing in the guest bedroom, stuffing my face, anything ANYTHING to get rid of the horrible knot in my stomach. My veins feel like they've stopped moving, I feel water retentive and sluggish.
I say I'm going downstairs to make a long distance call. Near the phone booth my cigarette-hungry eyes have alreay noted a tobacco seller. No dice. "Make the call from here," my aunt sweetly insists, believing she is doing me a favour and helping me save money.
I pace some more.