During our growing years, come January; my brother and I, will start the rhetoric of ‘Did you book the tickets?’ to our parents. 
This booking tickets rhetoric was for our annual summer vacation trip to ‘Ferok’- Kerala, to visit our grandparents.
19 years back, tickets need to be booked well in advance for the travel. And our travelling time from Pune to Kerala was a good 2 nights and 1 day.
My father, being an army officer, seldom traveled with us. That job was relegated to my mother, who traveled alone with her two children. The travelling day was usually filled with a slew of activities; once we boarded the train, the never ending wait began. Two nights and a day used to seem like forever, and finally on the second day morning, when the train enters kerala, via ‘Shornur juction’,our joy would know no bounds.

Now, its merely a matter of 2 plus hours before the train pulls into Ferok station. By the time the train reaches ‘Kadalundi’, which is the last station before Ferok; we would’ve dragged our bags to the compartment door, amma stands up to make final adjustments to her saree pleats and pallu, with instructions that we shouldn’t go very near the door and that someone will be there at the station to receive us. The train snakes into the platform, and I can see my neighbor’s son Unni waving his hand and shouting our names. My Achachan and uncle are also there to receive us. It being a small station, the stop was for barely a minute; we used to literally throw our bags and jump out of the train to be greeted by our welcoming party.

Once the train left the platform, it was time to cross the tracks and climb the small hill called ‘Chenaparambe’ adjacent to the station, where our house was perched; the climb was of barely 5 mins. 
Before we could see the house gates, I can hear my neighbor, Mala aunty calling out ‘You reached on time ha! I will come over shortly’. Within a few yards I can see my cousins waving at us and slowly comes into vicinity my grandparents house gates with ‘Vridavan’ name engraved on it.
In kerala, the house name is of supreme importance. It’s a name by which you will be known and associated with. So, when my grandfather built this place and named it, I’m sure some thought might have gone into selecting the name. As our original family name was ‘Kornath’ as in the ancestral house name. But they chose to break away from the convention. 
‘Vrindavan’ beckoned me with its winding downward entrance steps and blooming gardenias surrounding the house; its intoxicating fragrance wafting in the air.
My ammuma is waiting by the door to hug us and guide us in, for a breakfast of appam and stew.

After the initial excitement of meeting and greeting everyone, routine sets in; which would be the same, over the next 2 months of our stay(the monotony of which shocks me now).
Everyday we children( six of us) had to be up by 6.00am. (why on earth we were made to do that during vacation is lost on me) brush our teeth with a soot powder; and we would sit in one line, on the east side of kitchen veranda to do the task 😀. 
Then there’s breakfast served of either Appam/Stew, Puttu/Kadala Curry, Nool Puttu, Dosa. (all are hoppers, just of different sort). 
Once breakfast is out of our way, it was time to slather all 6 of us with coconut oil from head to toe and we are let off to play in the gardens. Playing included primarily fighting with each other, plucking mangoes/guavas/java apples from trees, making mud cakes or hide n seek. Within an hour we can hear all our names being shouted in unison by our aunt. It requires some skill, to call out all the names in the same raga. It’s bath time followed by an hour of study.
Lunch was always served sharp at 12.45pm. Again all 6 of us would sit in a line on the floor to eat, dining table was for the adults of the family. A quick siesta followed and by 3.00pm we were ready for the everyday gossip meeting. 
This used to take place by the south side veranda of the kitchen. The sessions included my 3 aunts, my mother, my grandmother and 3 of the close neighbors namely Mala aunty, Unni ettan amma and Kausu chechi. End of the 2 hours; you are more or less updated of all the happenings in Ferok. 
Our house help Vesa chechi, is now ready with evening tea and snacks comprising of Ela ada (sweet rice parcels)or Pahazam Pori (ripe banana fritters). 
If my uncle was in a good mood, he might take us for a walk to Ferok river. ( Ferok was a small hamlet, with nothing distinctive about it. It mainly comprised of Ferok river, Ferok station, Ferok Common Wealth tile factory and a small bazaar behind the station. So all the noteworthy monuments and places were within 3 km radius.)
By 6.00 we are all washed  and ready to sit in front of the lamp to chant our evening prayers.

This is exactly how every single day was spent on our 2 month stay. With small detours for extended family visits and a trip to the town for some shopping. Our lovely 2 month stay would come to a close by 19th of June; as it was time to board the train back to Pune; to get ready in time to start school on 24th June.

Looking back, these summer breaks were a far cry; in comparison to what children expect now on holidays.
No phones, no internet, no movies, no eating at restaurants, no lazing around and no extra hours of sleeping. It was simple everyday living, that too a regimented one. But there was lots n lots of time for bonding, sharing and playing. ‘Vrindavan’ was a palatial house, with 6 plus bedrooms; but we all cousins slept in a single room and did everything together.
There was no need of ‘Me time’ or ‘Need for Privacy’. Today we are all in different cities and in different continents. But the close bond we share is; thanks to those 15 years of summer vacations spent together at ‘Vrindavan’ in Ferok.

Having lived in many cities over the years, I still belong to ‘Ferok’. My place, my home and my heart !
 

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Sindhu Menon

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