I had been through this drill so many times, had been judged by so many people, that I didn’t care anymore. After all it was just a holiday, a 15-day break. It was a family vacation that we had been planning for a long time, and now that we were about to embark on this journey, we were letting the news out, slowly, and on a need-to-know basis. The problem was that the family was not a family anymore, not by legal definition anyway, and we were quickly realising, the trip didn’t have social sanction.
It was a very generous rakhi gift from my brother. A 15-day break from the present to dwell in the past. A vacation with the family I was born into. After four and a half decades we wanted to abandon (temporarily!) our spouses and offspring and travel back in time, to revisit our childhood. We felt that not having ‘the others’ around was necessary for the sanctity of the experience.
Surprisingly the children, themselves young adults, took the news pretty well. In fact they encouraged us to make the most of this ‘once in a lifetime opportunity’. and hoped to replicate it themselves in future. Our spouses were understandably less enthusiastic but agreed, albeit grudgingly. It was the rest of ‘our world’ who couldn’t see the need or relevance of such a trip.
We took the holiday nevertheless. Spent a week bonding in London before retracing our steps all the way to Canada. As I walked from one memory to the next, the line ‘there had been no years….’ from E.B White’s nostalgic gem, Once More to the Lake, kept playing in my mind. Just as he has described, the memories came rushing back, ones that I didn’t know existed. The scent of the wooden floor, the pattern of the wall tiles, the feel of the door knob, the green counter top in the kitchen, all triggered events of an era gone by.
Wandering through the past, I wondered about the future. What would my own children remember most about their home 40 years hence. With my son ready to take wing and daughter having a nest of her own I wish I had built more memories. I wish I had taken out the yellow picnic table more often and not complained about the pools of water they brought in after getting drenched in the rain.
I wish I had allowed messier marks on the growth chart, kept a pet earlier and adopted another one when it got lost. I wish I had snuggled with them instead of pulling them out of bed on Sunday mornings and had let the ‘inconsequential’ conversations flow beyond bed-time. I wish I had made ice lollies while they still cared and hadn’t forced aloo methi down their throats.
As they prepare to take flight I hope they remember the fragrance of flowers at the front door, the smoke rising from the barbecue and the warm sun on our backs on wintry afternoons. Sadly, we never spent much time on the terrace swing or got around to watch a storm from the gazebo in the garden. But I hope they’ll cherish memories of our bed, where hoisted on pillows we played cards amid accusations and counter-accusations of cheating. It is the place in the house where we have shared the most laughter per square inch.
I wish they forget the fights and the bickering, the sulks and the silences, and remember only the good times. As I despair at the time lost, time which could have been put to better use, my only consolation is that their most lasting memories will be the ones I can neither predict nor control. They will surface at the most unexpected moment. I can just hope that they will be happy ones.
( carried by the Hindu on 10/1/17 as ‘ A break and some thoughts ‘)