The balcony is my favorite place to stand and watch the world go by in between my chores. My time there starts when I open the French windows to it in the morning to find the rolled up newspaper of the day lying there.
Right opposite to the balcony stand like sentinels three trees belonging to the Apocyanaceae family. On some days I spend time counting the ‘petals’ of the leaves. Some have 9 in them, others eight and some just 7 or simply five.Hmm… that makes me wonder. Why are they called Ezhilam pala in Malayalam which literally translates to ‘seven-leafed Pala’??
It is interesting to note that you will never find this tree near many homes over there. The intoxicating scent of the Pala flower is supposed to attract yakshis, who are reputed to waylay men with their beauty and drink their blood. But here, the tree is found in front of most houses.
From a different tree some way off behind these houses, one which I cannot identify from the balcony, rise a flock of parrots. They alight on the electric wire stretching across. I can hear their cacophony. It reminds me of Pixar’s For the Birds which I never tire watching, ever. The parrots were nowhere to be found when on the days it rained. Probably they slept in late.
The rains here (at least that which fell recently), I found were totally different from that in Kerala. It fell incessantly but silently. One hardly knew it was raining unlike the racket with which even a tiny shower announces itself in Kerala. It is the level of water in the street next day that gave me an indication as to how much it had rained the previous night.
The lane had been inundated in almost a feet of water. Vehicles made a swishing sound while moving through it. A Maruti Omni, that plied children to school and back got stuck in the water. I heard the shouts and laughter of children and walked to the balcony that afternoon to investigate.The van wouldn’t start. Some of the older boys jumped out to push it and give the driver a helping hand. Soon there was a collective shout of jubilation as the engine spluttered to life.
Once the rain stops, the water that turns lanes into canals recedes within hours. I am secretly relieved about that. Wild horses would not make me venture outside and wade through that muddy water. Thankfully, I did not have reason to go out and so there was no actual need to put those wild horses to test.
Once the morning cuppah is done with, I spend a few minutes watching the street scene. There is a mother standing with two kids with their school bags, water bottle and other paraphernalia waiting for the school van. I cannot see the faces of the kids. They look like twins to me, of exactly the same size and build.
One of then is standing pensively by the puddle, It looks like he is debating whether it is worth jumping into it and splashing his brother. Or is he looking fascinated at the sky reflected in the muddy water and letting his imagination fly like I used to do when I had been a kid, of slipping through the puddle into a land where you walk on the blue sky and run among the clouds, a land somewhere deep inside the Earth, that you are able to see only through ‘puddle’ windows?? Soon their van arrives. The driver gets down and opens the door. The kids are greeted by shouts of joy from friends within. The mother gives them umpteen instructions and waves them goodbye.
I glance to my left, beyond the tree in bloom, the yellow flowers looking pretty. There is a lady putting the washing on the line to dry. Ohh an early bird! I have not yet put clothes to wash. I hurry inside to start the washing. A little while later, having finished with breakfast and with the rice for lunch cooking on the stove, I am back for my balcony watch’
Diagonally opposite to the balcony and to my right is a tree standing outside a house. Its branches have been cut in the recent past and fresh leaves have now grown back with a vengeance. The lovely shade of green is such a treat to the eyes. The beginnings of a story stir in my heart. On the balcony, precisely where I stand looking down waits a girl for the love of her life. Her anxious eyes search the road time and again. Soon an auto rickshaw stops beneath the tree and her heart beat quickens when she sees him get out. He looks up, sees her and waves making her heart beat faster. He is here… Hmmm…. I will have to write it down one of these days before the memory fades.
To the left of that house is an uninhabited one with an overgrown garden. Squirrels scurry up and down the lone tree in front. I can imagine the girl in the story watching the squirrels playing tag as she impatiently waits for her lover. I decide to weave in the tree and squirrels into the story.
At exactly half-past nine, give or take a few minutes, comes the vegetable vendor pushing his cart, whom I identify from his particular way of calling out ‘Saaaaaaaaaaag bhaaajiiiiiii…’ It always sounds ‘Paaaaaaaav bhajiiiiiiii’ to me!! There are others who precede and come after him. The raddi wala, the fruit vendor, nimbu wala et al.
There is a lull in the activity in the hot noon.. It is too hot to stand out on the balcony, so I make do with occasional glimpses. Sometimes I see Tibby, the street dog so named by my sister, running around with her latest girl-friend, or fighting off other dogs. ‘Tibbyyyy!!’ I call and he promptly looks up. Yeah, he sure knows that in this house lives a lady who feeds him.
When I am back from my evening walk, I am back on the balcony. The gentleman in the house behind the lush green tree is walking in his small garden with a cup of tea, or perhaps coffee?? The lady in the apartment block to the right has taken the clothes off the line. The house opposite has a gang of teenagers having masti. The parrots are back on the electric wire. Soon they rise together and alight on the tree, preparing for a night of rest.
Just before bed time, I spend a few minutes watching the night sky. It is cool outside and the air is fresh. Most people are indoors. From somewhere I can hear the radio belting out old Hindi songs competing with the voice of the man strumming his guitar and singing an Abba song next door.
It has been a long stay. It is now time to return home. Today is my last day on the balcony before I bid goodbye to Vadodara for now.Maybe I will be back. Bye Vadodara! Hello Bengaluru!! Oh wow. Look, the skies are gray and it is raining!! Hmmm….. Whoever told Bengaluru that I was coming??!