Keeri who loved humans

Keeri who loved humans
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Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Ikot ekpene - far from 'civilisation.'

I should have settled-in easily in Ikot ekpene - after all I came from a tiny one-horse town in Kerala. Thalassery, to be precise, on the coast of the Arabian sea, where in spite of all my wanderings, my heart resides, and I feel is the only place and people amongst whom I really belong.
  Just like my new home in Ikot ekpene, Thalassery did not have electricity when I was growing up and it did not boast running water either. Except the water that ran off the eaves in the monsoon, that is, enough to flood the front yard and the gullies behind the house. Many a rainy day, I have watched the water level rise slowly to reach the top steps to our veranda -- will it, won't it? With no television or radio, it was a pastime sitting on the torn up planter's chair, where us children had to create our own pastimes. 
  When that got boring I would run to the back of the house and watch the pink-brown flood-water gushing downhill from the rise at the back of that stretch of coastal land where the English had established a European Club (no Indians allowed). The water would bring with it upturned shit-pots, uprooted banana trees, coconut fronds and the odd dead goat, rushing at great speed to waste ground below.
  I was better off in Ikot ekpene; there was a water closet, if we could get the water connection to our house going. My husband, Balan, rushed off to the office, rounded up the caretaker, Sunday, and soon the water was flowing in the taps. Rust-coloured water, gradually getting lighter till it flowed colourless as I stood over it. It tasted metallic, but otherwise definitely like water.
  A messenger from the office, a young man called Solomon, went shopping and brought back bread and tea, blue-band margarine (that staple much-maligned substitute for butter) and other essentials. The milk came out of tins - we had a choice of Dutch Baby milk powder or Peak Milk. The kerosene 'frig with the pan-handle shaped kerosene container looked risky but had built up a frost overnight.
  Solomon also told us not to drink water without boiling it --for many minutes -- he insisted. I had to make an executive decision here. All my life I had drunk the water from our well at Thalassery without boiling. When it looked less than pristine, (i.e. when a dead frog or rat floated,my aunt dropped Potassium permanganate crystals in it and declared it clean after a day. Now I needed to get precious about this? I suspended that decision for then. Too many to make!
  I was rapidly feeling better. Now I could bathe the children who had gone to bed grimy, and wash the dust out of my hair. I battled with the beast of a stove in the kitchen, burning packing-paper in it, trying to light the bits of wood on top. After much smoke and tears and charcoal on my nose the water boiled (never mind the black kettle.) and I made Dutch Baby milk for the boys, and tea - lovely home-making tea for me. I was ready for Ikot ekpene.
  'I must get to the shops,' I said to Solomon who had hung around, and waded in with lighting the recalcitrant cooker, in moral support. He looked sheepish. 'Only market, Madam,' he said. 'No shops in Ikot Ekpene. For shop you go to Aba.'
  In the goody bag  brought by Solomon there were tins of meat balls and spam. We warmed them up for lunch. In the afternoon, we went to Aba, an hour away and came back loaded with everything we needed except fresh meat, and then some more. It was like preparing for a siege.
  At dusk, after the children went to bed, we sat out in the front of our house, the now-restored Tilly lamp casting a bright light in a corner of the sitting rooms. The garden was full of dappled shadows and it was very quiet. We did not talk; we were tired, but the life ahead had improved considerably from the previous day..



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