The little memories spring up from every corner. In that shady spot overlooking the playing field, I used to climb the tamarind tree, munch on sour unripe tamarinds, slide down to the top of the little shed-like structure that was there, and once some friend dared me to jump off that structure. I did. I think. In fact, I even stripped off a few leaves from a tamarind tree this morning and chewed on them, just to savour the sweet-sour leaf taste I also remember. Just the same. On that slightly elevated ground, I bowled to a friend during some little cricket match, struck him plumb on his legs and turned in howling appeal to the umpire, another friend. Only to find him sticking up two fingers in a "V". "Out" was one finger stuck up high, so naturally he presumed "not out" meant two fingers held tauntingly in the bowler's face. So not only did I have to suffer the mortification of an appeal turned down, I had to interpret this peculiar sign as well.
Over there, in the little sunken playing space in front of my once-hostel, is where five of us boys once peed jointly on a chameleon, because somebody had told us that that was how you kill chameleons. Why we wanted to kill this little thing, you need to put down to the cruelty of 8 and 9 year olds. Why we wanted to do it peeing, you probably also need to put down to that same cruelty. In any case, the chameleon only looked us balefully in the eye and stalked off as chameleons do. Didn't die. I hope he found a way to get himself clean.
Around that same spot too was the time some of the guys began teasing me nonstop about Latha, girl in our 4th standard class, with frequent use of the word "lulli" amidst uproarious giggles. Even mention of that word conjured up hazy images of forbidden and secret things that 9 year olds could only, well, giggle about.
And down that road was where the mulberry tree stood, the one that supplied me with ample quantities of tasty caterpillar-looking purple and red fruit. There's still a tree there, but is it a mulberry tree? I can't tell.
And when the nostalgia hits, it permeates everything. The rasam tastes as good as I remember. The sambhar. The buttermilk. The water itself. The curve of this road. The shape of that enormous banyan tree. The way the rock-strewn hill overlooks the playing field. Memories of watching a young Vishwanath play on this very field, against the school team. Did I really see him stroke that famous square-cut? What about that school fast bowler, who had a habit of tossing the ball up and catching it once as he ran in?
I was last in this spot 36 years ago. 80% of my life ago, probably close to 80% of my weight ago. When I put that in some perspective, it amazes me that I took so long to return. When I was last here, man had not yet set foot on the moon. Brian Lara was inside his mother, Rahul Dravid not even a thought. Indira was Prime Minister, Tricky Dick Nixon President of the USA. And if in those days, someone had come to campus and announced that he had returned after 36 years, 9 year old me might have noted idly that he had last been here before my mother was born.
There are many places I haven't been to in this many years; but only of a few of them where I have clear and mostly fond memories -- whether of chameleons or "lulli" or Vishwanath. Rishi Valley is one. If I wait another 36 years, I'll likely be dead.