My paternal grandparents’ house was made entirely of wood. It still is. Only the four walls of the home are made of brick, unlike the imposing structure I call my maternal grandparents home. The house is very old, built by my great grandfather, who was into the wood business too. He was a pioneer of sorts, who knew that wood would be worth its weight in gold, in a few years to come. People laughed at him when he started a small wood shop as a side business. They laughed louder when he loaded the wood into Lorries and sent them off to far off markets. They stopped laughing when he leased his own fleet of Lorries that took wood from Kerala to Chennai and from there on to, buyers distributed it around the country. Perhaps they went out of the country too. I am not sure.
The results of his travels were the impeccable house he built, from prime wood he kept for himself and a fully wooden cow shed complete with a wooden loft to keep hay! Every stair in the house is made of wood. Stair landings are made of wood and even the floor at most places are made of wood. The wood is old and cured now, cured by time and people. It has mellowed like fine wine and gives out an aroma that I can only describe as “home”. For some strange reason, the humid and wet weather of the place has had no effect on the wood.
The rooms in this house are cavernous and one can hear ones echoes at times. Space, I guess was not a constraint in the old days.
This post is not about wood, but the wood takes on significance in my life as I spent all my holidays in my wooden paternal grandfather’s home.
Every stair landing in this house has a small cupboard and after we were born, coir mats were laid, so that we did not slip on the shiny wood. Every landing has a window, and I spent considerable time in these spaces, reading, sleeping, watching the rain or just staring out. I felt very secure here for some strange reason.
The stair landing gave me hours of contended time just sitting and watching the dense forest, rubber plantations and from some windows glimpses of rice fields nestled in valleys in between imposing mountains. The terrace of the house was useless as nothing could be seen from here. Only canopies of coconut and mountains. The terrace bustles with activity and clinks of glasses in the evening after the rosary and I did not feel afraid to go and look at the pitch darkness around the house. At other times I avoided the place like the plague.
Sitting at the landing looking at the rain, is and will be my most persistent and pleasant childhood memory. The water pours from the awning and the whole landscape took on silvery hues. I watched the sand around the house taking the ritualistic beating during monsoons and felt the tremor of the thunder claps making the house shiver like a scared child. The rain fell in cascades, as in this part of Kerala the rains are not like I have seen anywhere.
The wooden floors were immaculately kept and sitting on the bare floor and reading and falling asleep was routine. For some reason the wood bonded me to the house like brick and cement can never. I still don’t feel the bond with my home in Bangalore, like the bond that I have with that house in Kerala. The house seems to be a living breathing entity. Every nook and cranny is home and unlike tiled floors, you can sit anywhere.
The house has an attic. This is a wonderland that I finished exploring only recently. A section of the attic is above the outer kitchen where wood is still used. I suspect this is to smoke several stuff kept on top over the grill like floor. We never ventured there as we were told that we would fall into the boiling cauldrons below. Besides the floor here was frail with wooden rods laid at a certain distance to from each other to allow the smoke to filter through. Next to this section is the place where bunches of ethaka (banana) hang to ripen. This is the very ethnic Kerala variety and not the type you get in market. Tasteless and bulky. Exhortation to eat the bananas fell on deaf ears and my grandparents’ watched in despair when they were loaded into the jeep to market. There is only one way I eat them till today, and that is steamed.
During the rains the attic was an enchanting place. Many of the tiles of the roof were made of glass to let light through. It felt good to see the rain drops splattering on the tile, leaving me dry. In the mornings, the slanting rays of sunlight fell into the attic amidst swirls of smoke from the wood kitchen. It was a magical sight. One day I plan to take a professional photographer and make him record my living memories.
Sitting in the attic, with the rain hitting the tiles above and reading or just lying on the wooden floor watching the sky through the glass tiles is an experience I cannot describe.
When monsoon begins, the days turn dark and sunlight is a distant memory. But there is nothing gloomy about this darkness. The cozy wood ensconcing the house ensured that my memories of monsoons past were magical in my paternal grandparent’s house.