It’s raining in Kerala, Cochin is garbed in green. My very skin feels saturated with a sense of moist, exuberant verdure. The city spreads out lazily. Swollen, drenched, spilling over the brim, like a man drunk on red wine at noon. As I count the endless list of destinations, on the long road of the past eighteen years, I see a million myriad scenes.
Milk soaked red carpets, black garbed devotees, winding lanes and the phallus of Shiva, a strange celebration of creation, in Banares. Gurkha barracks and a meal of bitter gourd and rock hard ‘Kachoris’. Noir cafes, claw-footed benches and cheap wine by the Seine. Six-cottage villages, gabled windows and glass-thin farmstead ham in Florence. Echoing churches and fabled colosseums that seemed to exist only in my imagination, even when I was there.
The cool marble of the steps at the temple at Pillani. The calming bleached wood openness of the Lotus temple at Delhi, where for the first time I was forced to contrast the loud rusticity, the earthen simplicity and maybe the basic nature of Hindu worship as I knew it, with other forms of worship. Perhaps the conception of God, as I knew Him changed that day. From blue skinned little Krishna to colourful, raunchy Indra to the austerity of Lord Jesus on the Crucifix in the little Chapel in my school, from the flight of pigeons at the Jama masjid to Mother Mary in a grotto nestled in fronds of fern. Faith bewildered me.
Somehow in the millions of kilometres of India that I covered even as I journeyed from Hindu to Atheist I learnt something about the nature of faith. As I sit here in Cochin, somehow all the images of my travels flood my mind. A peacock, turquoise, green and gold, framed against the orange and white of a sand and salt desert in Gujarat, a moonlit night in a swimming pool on the ninth storey of the fort at Neemrana. The eerie stone and gnarled acacia forests of Gir, tinted pink by the setting sun. Watering holes in Pune, Udipi restaurants and Not Just Jazz by the Bay in Mumbai. Dhanaulti covered in white flowers and the leeches in Wyneberg stream, rubbed off with potato-chip salt. Doughnuts on Mall road, Missouri, and clouds that wander in as you sup. White lace curtains in a red brick French window in Kasauli. Lassi in Chandigarh. Biryani and a few lost dreams in Hyderabad. Groves of coconut and betelnut, kohl eyed little children, gold bells in their ears, the music of silver anklets on their little feet in silk and gold in Karnataka. Today, I am heading for the villages of Kerala.
As I sat in the morning in my hotel room looking out at the street below I thought of friends and family, of a home where now I will never really return, of Kuhana my niece, my golden child. And I thought of the millions, who in moments like these – alone, turn to their own version of comfort. An oil lamp, frankincense, an idol, a promise of eternal life.
I think all we long for, is to return to our homes. Once we set out on our unreturning journeys we become voluntary exiles from the womb that sheltered us completely. We hunger when alone, for once, to be safe again, protected and loved. Some call it religion, some call it love, some search through poetry, some through pain. In my mind, I can smell the sweet, washed warmth of the cotton bedspread in a little room, filled with Enid Blytons, teenage, late night cups of tea, cheese and spaghetti with Didi, and the remembrance of rain against the window pain. The room is gone and as I travel farther and farther, I remember my pillow, white.