As children, we spent our summers between Ooty and Hyderabad — one cool, pleasant and infused with the fragrance of flowers, another hot and dry, but rich with history, its rocky terrain and giant boulders striking a note of other-worldliness in my childlike imagination.
And so, for the longest time, I’ve wanted to buy a place of my own in Ooty, and in Hyderabad too, one day — an old whitewashed home with a flat roof and a large courtyard, where in the old days we would pull out our cots swathed in mosquito nets to sleep under the stars as the cool, night breeze brought exquisite relief after the heat of the day; a day most often spent reading Famous Fives perched on flimsy guava trees, occasionally reaching out to bite into an unsweetened, hard guava that felt like a piece of heaven between my small, sharp teeth. But those days are gone forever. My mother now lives in a quiet part of the Old City, where every once in a while, though, one stumbles across a cul-de-sac that hints of the mysteries of the past, or chances upon a decrepit mosque with a creamy-crocheted turret, and one realises that this must suffice, must be enough.
But Ooty still holds out as an elusive but attainable dream; something to save for, to yearn for. Until recently. The other day, when I was driving to work along Ulsoor Road in Bangalore, which is usually jammed with traffic at most hours except if you leave early enough, I passed a huge overrun plot of land belonging to the Red Cross. I’d never noticed it before even though this is one of the roads I’m most familiar with. Maybe, it’s because there are so few of these grand, sprawling patches left anymore that I suddenly take notice. Or maybe, with the passing of time, as our inward stories become less compelling, less important, we become less important; we struggle to understand our role in the bigger scheme of things, and open our hearts to the beautiful world around us.
The ground is dotted with colonial-style buildings that are falling apart, their brick facades faded to a sentimental reddish-brown. Broken window frames allow yellow-blossomed creepers in and a line-up of silver oak and mast trees stand guard alongside the low wall that separates the land from the pavement. An old dog sits bathing in the soft sun beside an equally old watchman, already half asleep in a wooden chair placed near the gate. “Trespassers will be prosecuted” the sign says, in defiance of these stalwart caretakers.
A giant African tuliptree (Spathodea campanulata) lies sprawled on the ground in the distance — it has probably tumbled over one stormy night and no one has bothered to take it away as the property looks unused. What is amazing, though, is that the tree is still flowering, even as it lies on the carpet of green, its flame-red tulips lapping up the mild morning sun that shines into my car and makes me screw my eyes up a little, but not tight enough, to miss the spray of pink and white bougainvillea that festoons another old brick wall opposite. Lines of white paint demarcate each brick into neat slabs of happiness, and I suddenly realise, Ooty is here. It was here all along; I just never saw it.