Category Archives: Tales from the Motherland

Revisiting a Childhood Home in Eraviperoor

One day after my father’s funeral in India, my two uncles took us to go see his childhood home where my brother and I used to play. Now someone else owns it and rents it out. We hadn’t seen this place in a few years. Much was different.

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When I was five is when that stone wall was built. It had been just a little bit of wire fence (if you could call it that) and open fields before. And of course, the customary gate with the family name was added. The new owners never changed it.

In the old days, there was a cow in that white barn with the clothes hanging from it now. I always dreamed of petting the cow or riding on it, but no one ever obliged, wisely. On the back side of the house were numerous cashew trees, with cashew nuts hanging from fruits. Sometimes we would collect the cashews and roast them. Too bad I didn’t appreciate the taste of cashews back then!

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Behind this grove of plants in the front yard was a rubber tree farm. Now it’s overgrown and weedy. And behind that was a fence of bamboo plants, which separated the yard from the clean green rice paddies.

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This little dip in the road, it used to be a huge gap that connected the rice paddies on either side. It was always full of water, like a big ditch but right in the middle of the road. Even when we drove over that road by car, it had to drive through the water to cross.

One night, in the pitch black, my dad walked my brother and I across this dirt road to go somewhere. We waded through the water. He shined his flashlight. Just a few feet from us in that water, was a skinny snake lifting its head six inches above the water and peering at us. And we kept on sloshing through the water.

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This is the well we got all our water from.

After my dad died, we stood here by the well with my two uncles.

My dad’s older brother said, I remember when your dad fell in, and I had to get him out.

Then my brother said, He told me you fell in, and he had to get you out.

It’s amazing how stories shift depending on the storyteller. I think after my dad died is also when I first started to realize he was probably two years younger than I actually thought he was and than all his paperwork said he was.

When I think of this house, I think of how big everything looked when I was 3, 5, and 9. I think of sleepovers with my cousins. My cousin Rolson once did pushups with his bare knuckles on the front steps. My grandma once held me, patted my back, and said, “Baboooh, Baboooh,” and that was the first time I remember hearing that word.

We had a pet monkey in the yard, in a cage. Her name was Seethamma, after a mythological queen. She was not happy in the cage, as you might imagine. That’s when I learned that monkeys had their own language to cuss in. It always sounded like she was screaming curse words. We fed her fruits. One time she reached out through the cage and ripped a part of my brother’s shirt with her claws.

I don’t think we had her for too long.

There are many more memories, and I hope my mind can hold on to them. It was special to go back and see this house at age 26.

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How to Have a Ball When You’re Bored

Putzing around on a porch in India. A favorite pastime: weaving coconut leaf balls.

What if Tom’s Shoes Went to Kerala 50 Years Ago?

A friend is flying from Houston to Miami to Peru and hopping on a boat through the Amazon to get to a small village where people cook over fire. The locals have to find wood, start the fire, then slowly cook their food at the mercy of the fire’s cooking capacity.

My friend, while sharing the gospel, is helping build a small cooking device, so this village can cook more efficiently and improve the quality of life. Then he’ll teach the locals to build and sell these devices, so they can make money while helping others.

Pretty nifty, huh?

Barefoot in Kerala in 2010

Barefoot in Kerala even in 2010

Anyway, I thought about how my grandmothers cooked over a fire in their tiny homes. Sometimes I ask my mom if she and her peers in Kerala 50 years ago would count as poverty-stricken. I mean, they ran around with no shoes! And took dumps in holes in the ground. Tom’s Shoes could have swept Kerala in its arms in my parents’ day and covered their little feet. They barely had any clothes and shared a tiny living space with many brothers and sisters and few beds.

But I imagine they counted as pretty well off compared to the truly poor in India.

So maybe just because someone doesn’t have electricity or a stove or shoes, we don’t have to think their world is a mess? Or feel sorry for them in that oh-you-poor-third-world-citizen-you kinda way. At the same time, helping anyone economically develop is a good thing.

More to Life Than Milking Cows

walking the cows in paipad, kerala

Just the neighbor taking the cattle for a stroll in Paipad

In a Father’s Day story today, the Houston Chronicle gives advice from a man from Mexico who, 9 grown-up kids, a Latina girl band and a landscaping biz later, has lived the American dream. You might appreciate the similarities between his story and that of your parents or others in your family.

Excerpts:

When David Rodriguez was 16, he kissed his Mexican grandmother goodbye and headed north, sure that there was more to life than milking cows, tending crops and chasing the very occasional car down dusty roads…

“Where I was born, there was no electricity, no TV, no refrigeration. When we were going to eat meat, it was a party. We couldn’t save any of it.”

This was the reality for so many people in our parents’ day, and it still is for many around the world. Though my parents weren’t vegetarians growing up, meat was eaten only on special occasions. I’m always asking my mom when she first heard that a TV existed.

No matter what corner of the globe you’re from, there are so many parallels in the way people live.

The Chicken Gang (Vengeance is Sweet)

During a visit to Kerala when I was 5, my parents bought five gorgeous white chickens. They walked around like the hottest chickens on the block.

I was afraid to go outside by myself because they were hunting for me.

In their pack, they were unstoppable. I tried to act cool, but they smelled my fear. When I bravely attempted to play in the yard, they came and pecked me in the foot. I cried and ran inside, shaking my fist at them.

And then the five chickens became four chickens.

They were still a threatening pack but toned it down a notch.  When it came down to three chickens, I think they had a clue about where their feathered friends had gone.

Finally I could wander the yard. They gave me threatening looks but didn’t venture too close. When there were two chickens, they gave up the hot-to-trot act.

Dinner each day that week had never been more satisfying — the chicken curry in particular.

Vengeance was sweet. No — spicy.

Kerala Trip 2010: Stroll Around Thiruvalla Stadium

Thiruvalla StadiumMy two uncles from Canada and Chicago and I sought fresh air and exercise at Thiruvalla Stadium one morning. They reminisced like old buddies.

When you’re a child, you see the world as a child, and everyone shields the bigger picture and the details from you. That’s the way it should be.

Thiruvalla Stadium

Now as an adult, it was fascinating to hear my uncles chat intimately together about the family and its history. I lagged a few feet behind and listened to them discuss decisions that were made and how they were made. It’s different when you hear someone’s POV other than your parents. I finally heard the story with my adult ears rather than my child ears.

Along the way we grabbed unripe almonds and gawked at a huge bee’s nest just inches above our heads.

Bees nest

Kerala Trip 2010: Oon

Lunch time is party time for my taste buds.

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