It’s 6.30pm and it’s baking outside. Better than it was at say 10, or even 3. But still hot. The sky is a tasteless greyish blue, and you spot the tiny orange ball so elusively far from you it makes you feel lonelier than you were before. Evenings are the worst time to be when away from home. Especially if Kerala is home.
Unlike Delhi, where it’s evening till 7.30 and then it’s night, you’re used to evenings that metamorphose into dusk before they turn into nights.
In Kerala we have a (proper) slow evening whereafter, as twilight sets in, mothers hastily wake up lazy tots and grown-up kids saying “Sandhya ayi”, who then go back to sleep again. It’s the time reserved for evening prayers and, on text, study. It’s the holy hour and it really does extend for an hour. Celebrated by the scents of incense and the sight of oiled wicks and brass lamps that you so endearingly associate with your mother’s perennial “Velaku kathicho” (Did you light the lamp). On other days, an exasperated Amma does it on her own. But you always went there so you could cheat on an extra agarbati and carry it to your room. As the thin wafts of smoke rose while you held the stick, you danced it so that the grey grew patterns, you watched them against the dark. You also fancied it to be a cigarette when you were young, and held it between your teeth before the biting sweet burnt your tongue.
Evenings at home are chaya always prepared latest by 6 by Amma. But I do make it better – I’m good at cooking only one thing but at that, I’m the self-declared best. I brew it strong, which can raise BP and induce a whole lot of other disorders according to elders. Your mother would keep asking to check if you’ve had your tea, you’d reply “I’ll have it, Amma” till with a loud sigh she’d bring it to you. You’d unabashedly grin and drink without complaints. She never complains either.
Evenings at home are the huge – indeed they’re bigger back home – orange ball slowly traversing the sky in an arc till it disappears in the horizon, or amidst a thick green of coconut trees as dusk approaches. Traffic peaks too – after-office hours. Many would be rushing home in terrifyingly cramped KSRTC buses and overcrowded pavements, some unlucky others would be making their way to night shifts. Amidst all of this, the trees would be gently swaying – relishing the retreating evening sun and the slow-cooling air. Now that I think of it, everything back home is against the backdrop of a cheerfully brilliant and imposing green.
Because concrete roofs do not define us, coconut trees do. Sunsets mean a lot to us too – perhaps you’d like to call it consequential to having a beach. And perhaps you could never expect a city without one to resonate that.
What pacifies you in these passive evenings is knowing that someplace else, somewhere a little far for you and 4 hours away for an air-passenger, the same sun is setting amidst undifferentiated green and a beautifully painted sky, somewhere not too far from there are kids frolicking in the wet sand and families watching the playful waves as the sun touches the horizon. And a bus-ride from there is your home, a vessel of still-warm tea waiting for you as Amma lights the evening lamp.