Space & Memory
There is a quiet spot in my yard that reminds me of home. I am originally from India and though I was born in Lucknow, the big, bustling capital of Uttar Pradesh in the north, I spent many of my 10 years there in Gusrapur, the tiny village from where my father’s side of the family has hailed since the mid 1800’s. Many of my most vivid childhood memories are filled by our rambling farmhouse, an assemblage of courtyards and gardens enclosed within thick mudbrick walls connected by small, utilitarian, roofed and enclosed rooms. Except for during the rainy season and the short winters, most of our activities happened outdoors, underneath skies that seemed to stretch on forever. At night the brilliant stars and moon shone down on cots in rows as we fell asleep listening to my aunt’s stories. In the morning crows serenaded us before dawn and we moved the cots, and the courtyards became the place where we lived our daily lives. The daily activity at the farmhouse included things like the delivery of vegetables or a visit by the bangles vendor or weary visitors who walked the last 2 miles from the train station through farm fields and who asked for a cool drink from our well. No electricity, no running water, no roads, and no road noise.
In the winter it got very cold both because the village is so far north and because it’s so open to the elements there. One of my favorite activities happened around a firepit and it involved all of the crops coming in from the fields at that time: potatoes, yams, sugar cane, peas, peanuts and chickpeas. We would dig a pit and fill it with wood. Once the fire was established We’d bury potatoes and yams under the white hot coals. Meanwhile whole peanut bushes, pea plants and chickpea plants were roasted in the flames. The greenness of the shells and plants allowed the tender kernels to steam and smoke at the same time. Smothered in a fiery cilantro and green chili chutney this was a winter treat which we washed down with sugar cane juice. But the real joy was sitting with our backs cold and our fronts toasty as we shared stories and songs, jokes and memories of days gone by.
Near a wood fence under the great live oak in my backyard, I have placed a clay chiminea. The gravel underfoot has the sound of rural living and the comfort of the oak tree reminds me of the mango tree that cast long shadows on moonlit nights. It’s a quiet, neglected spot that has little meaning beyond those few days of the year when the weather is perfect and the company is just right. It's cold and still and the moon shines down on us. We laugh late into the night in our firelit cocoon. The jokes and songs are different but somehow the experience touches me at the cellular level and sets in motion the creation of new memories and new stories, and, if only for a moment, I'm transported back to those days in Gusrapur.