October 3, 2023

The rain has not stopped pouring yet and here I sit on the balcony with my Sulaimani. A Sulaimani is a blend of black tea and spices, Kozhikode’s favourite drink. Kozhikode used to be just a vacation spot for us, to get away from my life in Delhi. A year of my struggles, school and friends would be paused when I came to meet my grandparents in Kozhikode. There is something about this place. A perfect blend of happiness, freedom, and friendship, just like they make their Biriyani. Food is something else that I love this place for, especially the ones that cannot be recreated elsewhere. Irreplaceable is a word that I can relate to some people when I come to Kozhikode. No matter how many people I come across and how many I make friends with, nobody would ever be like my cousins. From being my childhood buddies to egocentric teenagers and now adults who are just busy with their normal lives having no time for each other, our relationships evolved.

We were different when we were younger. I think all of us are different compared to what we were. Maybe the cycle of life taught us to be selfish, not forgiving and complicated. It was the same between us cousins. The best part was we were easy, simple and carefree and so were our relationships.

I was walking past the places where we used to play hide and seek. A coconut tree was the counting tree and I remember hiding with my brother behind the cowshed my grandparents had. The cowshed is empty now covered with creepers and trees all over it. We often got bored of playing hide and seek and that’s when Shobin and Poppy came into our lives. We made stumps out of coconut tree barks and they got cricket bats. This usual routine would end when our grandmother used to call us back to take a bath and our baths were far from usual and something we could never do in our usual lives. We used to bathe outside, butt naked and together! This would be followed by a series of food at different times, making our beds, sharing our school stories and slowly going to sleep. The next day we would wake up and demand the chapatis that our aunt makes, and we would go back to our routine. Eventually, things started changing while we were growing up.

The next summer vacation when I met my cousins, something had changed. Some of us were different and they acted differently. Some of them never came to play hide and seek and they were more interested in showing off their mobile phones. I had absolutely no idea what was happening, and I felt that everybody had just changed. I didn’t know what growing up meant back then. I am not sure if I still know what that is. All I was seeing was my elder cousins talking to each other about things that they would not talk in front of me. We never played hide and seek or cricket that year because there weren’t many people. That was the time my grandparents got a colour television and we all would sit together in the evenings and watch TV. I slept with my mother that summer and all my elder cousin brothers and sisters slept in different rooms. I just was not able to logically come up with a reason for all the mishappenings around me that summer.

Three summers later, I understood we had different things to talk about now. My eldest cousin bought a blackberry phone and she was the most respected person that year in our family. My nieces and nephews were not allowed to touch the phone and I saw my aunts taking my cousin to the kitchen and talking to her there. I was left with my grandfather that summer because we both were the only two clueless people in that family that year. Although he learnt how to make spikes on his hair, what he could not learn was how do text messages work. That summer, I decided that I do not want to come back anymore.

Turns out, I was wrong. I would still have to come back this year, but I was not very sad to get back here anymore because I had a mobile phone as well. Although this summer, it was my Blackberry cousin sister’s wedding. Everybody seemed busy then, but I wasn’t so bored that year. My grandfather got a Nokia 1100 for himself and I taught him to save a new contact that year. I was very excited about the wedding though that year. The best thing about it was all our relatives would have been there and since I am the youngest, they all used to give me gifts. I was saving my gifts in my room and that’s when my uncle and I saw my aunt overhearing my cousin brother’s conversation on the phone with his girlfriend. I had absolutely no idea what was happening, but I do remember my aunt weeping and my uncle blaming her for not raising their son properly because that is the easiest thing to do I guess. I also heard another aunt saying that it was all the technology’s fault that kids these days can access just anything on the internet and I kept thinking how that sentence was logically related to my brother talking to his girlfriend. Things were just not fun anymore. Our phones were taken away from us and that did make me a bit happy. I thought we all could hang out again but that’s when we all were restricted to talk to our bathroom cousin brother. Blackberry cousin was getting married in two days and all I heard her say was that almonds and olive oil can make your hair shinier. Why would I want to know that, nobody knows!

We didn’t meet for a long time during the summer as many of us went for entrance coaching to be Engineers and Doctors because anything else was for people who had no hopes in their lives. I made that an excuse to skip Kozhikode that year and stay back in Delhi only to realize that Delhi burns during the summer. I heard some of them were there and we all tried to do a group video call on skype. My grandfather was ill during the Christmas holidays and slowly by the beginning of the next year we knew that he wouldn’t survive any longer. I saw my grandfather on skype because technology had made it easier and a better excuse for our physical absence.

Granddad passed away the following summer and I saw the pictures on Facebook. I had a Facebook account which I could access under supervision because Nimmy aunty told my mother that ‘chatting’ on Facebook can lead girls astray. All I could on Facebook was stalking my relatives when my mother wanted to know what they were up to in their lives.

As times went by, WhatsApp came into existence in our lives, 5 years after its inception. We made a family group, relatives’ groups and a cousin only group on WhatsApp. I thought things would get back to normal and we tried texting in the group. That was when I got to know that we had changed for good this time. One of them had girlfriend issues, the other was passionate about photography and would not just shut up about shutter speeds and how to use them. There was a rebel who tattooed her neck and the other one just kept sharing bible verses in the groups and of course, she was stamped as the best plant that sprouted from the seeds sown, to quote her. I left the group. There was nothing there for me. No real talks, no real fun and eventually I understood the meaning of growing up. It meant one must leave behind their childhood. I did it too because everybody was just growing up.

Today when I walked past the hide and seek tree which is basically a mini forest to go to my chapati aunt’s house, I had nothing in my mind except the food she makes. I knew she was sick, but I didn’t know she was sick enough not to make food for anybody in the house. I was looking at our old pictures that my aunt had saved and thought I would take a picture and send it to my cousins. I did get a reply. A simple smiley that said ‘good old days. Well, technology is a blessing sometimes, I guess.

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