The woman rocked back and forth in her chair listening to the crickets hidden somewhere in the inky night, sipping her mug of sweet tea. The tea was a daily treat from Vineeth, her husband of thirty years. She savored each perfectly brewed drop before swallowing it. The steady buzz of late night traffic could be heard in the background from somewhere not too far away. Just as she finished her last drop of tea, a light pitter-patter of feet could be heard and a child of about four ran up to the woman and climbed onto to her lap, settling herself comfortably in the much washed, soft folds of the woman’s cotton saree. The child rested her head of messy dark curls on the woman’s bosom and began examining a pair of anklets that she had already examined about thirty times since discovering them some months ago.
Planting a light kiss on the child’s forehead and stroking the child’s hair, the woman gently chided her, “It is okay for you to look at these now and then but don’t handle them too much. They are too old to be handled roughly. It belonged to my great-great-great grandmother. You need to be careful with them. Someday, when you are ready, I will give them to you but you have to wait. So go put them back where you found them. And, then I would like you to change and go to bed. Your mom will be back tomorrow and I don’t want her to be upset with me for allowing you too many late nights.” The woman had an odd way of speaking English. She had an Indian accent but there was also that unmistakable American pronunciation hovering in the depths of her speech. Every now and then you could hear it in the way she said “handled” or in the way she rolled her “r”s.
The woman smiled indulgently in the darkness, her brilliant blue eyes now slightly faded with age, exuding pure warm affection for the little girl. She felt the little girl bury herself deeper in her lap as she cuddled her. “Savithri, you have to listen now. Otherwise, I am not going to let you join the older girls in their class tomorrow.” She knew the little girl’s light colored eyes with faint blue flecks were now clouding with petulant tears. She could hear it in her voice when she said half pleading, half cajoling, “I don’t want to go to bed yet, Patti. I just want to sit here with you. Let me at least sit for a while.” It didn’t take Blue even a minute to smile again and give in to her grandchild. “Okay but just for a while.” Blue was always getting into trouble with her daughter, Lavanya, for pampering little Savithri and indulging her every whim. “You spoil her too much. Every time I come back I have a hard time getting her to listen to me” was Lavanya’s constant complaint. “Well, that’s what grandparents are for. If she can’t get her way with me, who else is she going to get it with?” Blue would laughingly retort.
Little Savithri and her grandmother continued to sit for a while in the darkness simply listening to its sounds or talking about what the sounds could be. Before long, Blue could hear the soft regular breathing of her grandchild. Gently removing Neela’s anklets that the child still clutched in her tight fists, she called out to her husband Vineeth to put the child to bed. Thirty years had passed since Blue had married Vineeth Namboodhri and moved to Guruvayur in Kerala. They lived in a large 24 room mansion that had once belonged to Vineeth’s ancestors, not too far from the temple that had once provided refuge and employment for Blue’s own ancestors Narayanan and Devi. Vineeth and Blue ran a large and world-renowned yoga and dance school in the house. Other than the regular classes that they held on a daily basis, they also had dance and yoga enthusiasts who came from all over the world for intensive classes and workshops every few months. The family that consisted of Blue, Vineeth, their daughter Lavanya, her husband Sushil, and little Savithri, lived upstairs, while all the rooms downstairs were either used for classes or as rooms for international students. Blue and Vineeth also had a son, Ananth, who worked as a software engineer and lived in the Bay Area in California with his wife Laura. Lavanya and Sushil went all over the country and the world, doing what Vineeth used to do when he was younger, teaching and talking about yoga.
Blue would often lament the fact that both her children had abandoned dance. “Never mind your brother, I can understand if he has no interest but you…I can’t imagine that you, my own daughter, have no interest in the one thing that made me,” she would say feigning anger but genuinely feeling the pang. Lavanya would laugh at this and say, “They do say that some hereditary ailments skip a generation. Don’t worry ma, Savithri is always prancing around. You have your protégé in her.” Although Blue felt sure she saw promise in Savithri, she prayed fervently that Lavanya was right and that she would be able to pass on Neela’s anklets to little Savithri. “Poor Elisa, she would be so disappointed if Savithri doesn’t continue to dance after me.” Elisa had been deeply disappointed when Blue had chosen to live in Guruvayur and run her dance school there. “I am not sure you are doing the right thing, giving up everything to live all the way there,” she had said looking extremely perturbed. “I will continue to perform and teach for as long as I can, even while I live there. And, whenever you have a major performance here, I will come back,” Blue had promised and only then was Elisa placated enough to let her at least go through with the marriage.
It had taken Elisa a few years to be convinced that Blue had actually done the right thing. When Blue had said that she had felt drawn to Guruvayur right from the first time she had been there and that for some inexplicable reason she had felt most at home there, Elisa had impatiently brushed aside her ruminations with “I hope you are not going in search of some truth and forsaking the reality that you already have here.” Blue had known that Elisa had been referring to her father Raghu’s expedition but she had remained silent. Elisa was given to being overprotective about her and Blue let her be most of the time. She felt she owed it to Elisa. It was her way of thanking Elisa for what she had become. When Elisa was finally reassured that Blue had kept her promise and that she did not forsake her art and that she was happy, she had given Blue, Neela’s anklets. “These rightfully belong to you. They were your great-great-great grandmother’s. I just wanted to be sure that you would take care of them.” Blue had finally earned Elisa’s trust. In all those years that she had spent in Malaysia with Elisa, Blue had known that there was an ever so small niggling fear in Elisa that she would either take after her mother or her father. Blue was well aware that Elisa had trusted her but not completely and so there was always a little bit of tension when Blue had wanted to make a decision for herself.
Blue smiled wryly in the dark when she thought about the time she had discovered that for years Elisa had been depositing her salary in the bank account in Malaysia even after Blue had moved to Guruvayur with Vineeth. “Just in case…,” Elisa had said when she had asked her about it. “Dear, dear Elisa,” said Blue as she thought of Elisa, still living with an “art lover” in Kuala Lumpur. Blue sat back in her rocking chair as she thought of how It had taken her numerous performances internationally, an internationally well-known dance and yoga center and two children who were almost in their teens before Elisa had accepted that Blue had done the right thing in coming out to Guruvayur and settling there. “I still can’t imagine that you, a girl who was born and raised all the way in California, live here like you have never left this place,” Elisa had said one quiet evening as they had sat sharing a pot of tea. Blue often wondered about this herself. But it all felt so right, her marriage to Vineeth, her move to Guruvayur and her life in this place. She had realized how much her heart was embedded in this place when she had accepted her son and daughter-in-law’s persistent invitations to stay with them in California. She had felt so ill at ease there, her birthplace. What had surprised her most though was the distance that she had felt from her childhood and years as a teenager.
She had actually taken Vineeth to the trailer park that she had lived in with Grace and had felt more like a tour guide. She had sat back and sighed during the drive home, completely comfortable that her core was firm in its conviction that she belonged elsewhere and that her life in California had receded into an almost unreal realm. The serenity that her life with Elisa and then with Vineeth had given her had even released her from the resentment that she had felt for Grace, Savithri and her own father. She had invited her father, Raghu, to her wedding in Kerala convinced that he would not come. But he had surprised her. He had come with his wife and his children. Perhaps he too had felt the need to make his peace with his past. Blue had not nurtured any hopes about her relationship with her father and so she had not expected him to pursue his relationship as her father. It was enough for her that he had accepted her invitation.
Similarly, she had made her peace with her mother and her great-grandmother by naming her daughter Lavanya, which is Grace in Sanskrit and her granddaughter, Savithri. She had brought these women back into her life as women whom she loved and cherished more than she did her own life. Blue continued to rock in her chair with her eyes gently closed. Scenes from the journey that she had made as an angry lost teenager in a trailer park in San Jose to the dignified and respected dancer, teacher, mother and grandmother that she had become, appeared like a collage in her mind. “I have not done too badly for myself, mom,” she laughed softly to herself. “What’s that?” asked Vineeth who had walked up quietly behind her, placing his hands affectionately on her shoulders. “You know, I can’t help thinking of this woman who lived across from my mother and me in the trailer park in San Jose. She claimed she could read palms and every now and then she would read mine. My mother called her a fraud,” said Blue chuckling, her own hands reaching up to hold Vineeth’s. “Your future lies beyond these shores, she would say..,” laughed Blue between quietly, mimicking the woman’s raspy voice. A gentle warm breeze teased the coconut trees into swaying lazily and caressed the sultry night as it wore on, contentedly listening to the soft but happy voices of the couple.
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