Friday, September 27, 2013

digging in the backyard

Summer holidays were the time my brother and I got to stretch our feet, spark our imagination and run around doing whatever occurred to us, without worrying about Amma's famed "bottlewasher brush". Two months of bliss and awesome food, with no one to scold or hold us back from anything.

The one who shall not be named

We used to spend most of our summer holidays with Thaatha(grandpa) and Muthuamma(this is the name my brother coined for our grandma) in their home in Trivandrum, leaving the bustle of Ernakulam. I would be in the rhythm from the beginning of the journey itself, by taking the mandatory window seat in the train.

There usually was nothing specific to do in Trivandrum other than playing with our cousins there, or doing the mandatory visits to Sri Padmanabhaswamy temple with Muthuamma when she asked, or some occasional visits to other homes or the market. So we usually ended up running around the old rented house in the Ramaswamy Theruvu, a street designed in the traditional Brahmin agraharam style. I don't recall anyone specifically except one maama in whose house we used to watch the occasional Tamil movies in their cable TV, which was a luxury.

The house had a special design, which we call "Paamban" meaning snake-like, owing to the long and narrow corridors that largely made up the house and its rooms. From the main door, you can run straight to the kitchen and to the backyard if you didn't stumble upon the various items stationed in between or the occasional projections from doors. I still have fond memories of this house when compared to the various houses I have lived in over time.

Maybe it was the distance of the backyard from the main door that gave it its isolation and sense of ownership. Anyway, we found ourselves busy in the rear areas of the house all the day. The house was more than 300 years old, or so we were told by Thaatha. And we didn't have much difficulty in believing it, for the state of the various doors and artifacts in the house were such. But what caught our undying curiosity each time we visited was the pile of junk items accumulated near the backyard. I recall being filled with awe trying to ascertain what the ancient items were. The backyard had another door that opened to an unknown area and was out of bounds to us. The door was always securely locked by Thaatha and he carried its key with him. Whenever we enquired about it, he either had justifications, or sometimes stories which we realized were probably fakes or he ignored us completely.

Boredom doesn't allow such things to stick in ones mind and we were soon busy, playing in our little junkyard, assuming we were dacoits, or even the Two Investigators who lived in a similar junkyard, solving imaginary cases from around and telling about them to Thaatha or Muthuamma over dinner. Occassionally, when he was bold enough, my brother used to pull out random scary and dusty things out of the pile and playing with those would be our prime activity for another 2-3 days.

It was just another such day and Thaatha had gone out and Muthuamma was busy gossiping with the neighbours. Even our cousins had been joined us that day, so the energy in the gang was maximum. Being the youngest one, I could only stand by and watch as my brother and cousin went deep into the pile to bring many things out. During their spirited excavations and ensuing fights over ownership, I was left alone with my cousin sister, who obviously didn't enjoy all these boyish adventures. I don't recall if it was me or her who noticed it first. There, on the forbidden door, was a long key.

Thaatha had forgotten to take the key with him, and when we checked the door wasn't locked too. We were both excited and scared too and this new discovery made the feuding brothers to join us in our state of shock. We four were alone in the house and there was nothing to stop us from crossing over to the forbidden lands. After Manichithrathazhu, locked doors were to be taken with utmost seriousness. I even imagined large pits of fire and snakes crawling all around, probably inspired by the tales that Thaatha fed me with every night. But curiosity has a way of getting over every other impulse and soon we boys were ready to give it a quick check and get back before some adults discovered us.
The frightening imag of the damsel behind closed doors in our minds

Leaving the lone girl as watch, we three pushed open the heavy door and I was promoted to the position of point, and was asked to put my head through the gap and give reports. After an initial denial, I took the chance to avoid further embarrassment at being younger. I recall very clearly that I could hear the thumps in my chest as I 'boldly' opened the door further and put my head through it. I could make out a medium sized portion of land and the sky was open above it. The land was filled with all sorts of wild plants and nothing else of interest seemed to be there. I called my waiting brothers in. But we didn't take the risk to walk into the open courtyard, probably trying to wrestle with the fake stories fed by Thaatha. We noticed that in the centre of this yard was a black rock shaped almost like a holy idol, only that we couldn't recognize this one.
It was surrounded by something red and yellow and we couldn't make out whether it was something natural or man-made before we heard Muthuamma's voice booming through the narrow hallway.

With a guilty pang in our hearts, we quickly dashed back in through the open door and shut it close. We must have put up a bad show in trying to be busy playing, because Muthuamma almost immediately noticed the ajar door and locked it shut and took the key with her. She shot us a menacing glance, to which we all replied with hung heads until she left. The rest of day passed in passive activities, but we couldn't muster the courage to ask anything to both of them. But we knew something was wrong when our parents came in a couple of weeks ahead of schedule with some absurd excuses and took us back to Ernakulam.

We never spoke of any of these to our parents or even within ourselves. The memories of the  vacation was slowly erased by daily fights over cricket matches, wresting cards exchanges or the fight-for-no-reason. Anyway our grandparents moved to another colony the next year and we never went back to the old house again until recently. But I didn't find it necessary to dig open unnecessary things, and hence kept quiet, seeing  the old backyard door, now sealed with tufts of clothes, sacred threads and religious symbols.

This post is written for the Tata Safari "I am Explorer" blogging contest running in Indiblogger, which requires one to write about a story of exploration.  

All images used in this post are obtained from Google Image search and the copyrights are retained by the original owners.


  1. of ur best story..completely held me tightly till the end.Lage raho munna bhai...when its sequel will release? Unsolved mystery!!!

  2. Really a good post. The house with narrowing corridors is like a maze protecting the people inside home and I have seen them on my great granny's house. But today we can see all inside the house by just standing near the entrance of the home.

    And about the movie, you are not alone. Damn the locked doors :P

  3. Thanks man Dora.. no sequels planned :D :-)

    @Uma, you are correct about that. And thanks for dropping by :)

  4. Wow Vikek, you write such thrillers! Loved the post and was reminded of Hitchcock and his Three Investigators!

    There's something so tempting about locked doors and forbidden areas. Now I am imagining what can be the story behind that forbidden area and the curious black rock. Some ancient curse that turned a man into that rock? A desecrated Possibilities are endless! :D

  5. Tee hee thanks Ragini :-)

    A big fan of Three Investigators I am too :-)

    I love the way half finished thrillers leave our minds twirling in our own imaginations :D the way u are doing now :-D

    and its Vivek :P :P

  6. I am hoping to read a sequel that will unravel the mystery behind the closed door...
    I almost could hear the sounds of anklets and a white saree clad lady appearing from nowhere. Don't forget the characteristic, uncanny laughter!

  7. @Aparna thank you for dropping by and leaving such generous comments. I feel very motivated :-)

  8. "Digging in the Backyard" and Other Stories, by Vivek R, slated for release by next summer....

    1. hehe..sounds like a regular writer..thanks for dropping by :-)