Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Story He Told

Being on the University during the breaks is like being in a Ghost town...the deathly silence unnerves you...makes you feel as if you are the last human being left on earth as Armageddon approaches... So to ward off holiday blues....two strapping women from two parts of the from the Pacific Island of Tonga..and another from a coastal city in India set out to explore the boundaries of the campus we live on....The idea was to take a brisk walk and work out the excess lard that the winter insists on layering us up with....But little did we know, it would be turn out to be a story in itself.... Off we went, huffing and puffing our way up the uphill trail, past the gymnasium (nothing can make me enter one, I'd rather walk my calories off!!) when we spotted the vast expanse of meadows...Acres and acres of it... stretching all the way yonder... And just as we turned the corner, we came across one of those old English wasn't a cottage...but a corn barn... Curiousity indeed got the better of us, and though somewhere, both of us knew that this can't be public thoroughfare, we decided to indulge our curiousity....walking along the old building, that did seem abandoned....We turned another corner and realised that there was indeed a very very old cottage nestled behind the barn...
And that's where I met my story teller....An old English gentleman, clearly lonely...happy to have a conversation with two freezing but very inquisitive young women - who were clearly trespassing across his property....So we put on our best smiles and apologised for stumbling through his land...And when our politeness was returned with some cheery conversation, we pressed on...asking about the old barn that had caught our attention.... It was over a hundred years old...just like I'd imagined it would be..Our friend ( despite my asking him twice, he never told me his name..wonder if that was deliberate?) interrupted his afternoon walk long enough to tell us how the barn was very important to store the corn that was grown in the land by the meadows.... There were atleast a couple of huge was still in great shape...the other had been replaced...and depending on the direction that the wind blew in, one was opened, so that the chaff could be beaten away from the corn and the husk could be blown away....And just outside the barn, there was enough space for the animals of the barn to be tethered.... Even more interesting was this hand pump...Now old and disused for atleast half a century I imagine.... Just by the pipe was a broken cover to a well...and look closely, by the spout, you can see a hole...that's the opening to a tank that served water to the barn....So when it poured, water gathering in the tank could be let out through here into the well near the pump...and when the tank went dry, the handpump would be used to draw water and fill the tanks so that the barn animals could drink their fill.... I closed my eyes for a moment, and I could picture the scene...straight out of a John Constable one of my all time favourites...The Hay Wain.. The English cottage, with its own barn and animals....and the men and women letting the barn doors open while storing the corn grown in the fields nearby inside...letting the wind help winnow the chaff from the grain... But our friend was not done with his story yet....He had moved into this house about 60 years ago...just after the Second World War....and he spoke about how this countryside had been taken over by the Army during Wartime.. This tree, that now stands gnarled and old in the winter, he said had once been young...He remembered it in its glorious youth...His voice was robust, but you couldn't miss the nostalgia...He took pleasure in getting us to guess his age...We were off the mark by about a decade... He was 83, and clearly enjoying reliving his memories of the War for us...He had served in the Army himself...talking about how the guns were lined up in rows by the trees near his land...pointing out where the young soldiers were asked to fire across the meadows for target practise... Later apparently he had a chance to see a 'bit of the world too'...Egypt and Palestine, he said...much before you were born, he joked with me.. Then he smiled that wistful smile at he spoke about how time seemed to have just flown by...He shared little about his life or family....but when we wished him Merry Xmas...he brushed it away saying the season wasn't special anymore...He was more like the Scrooge of Christmas... Our hearts ached...It can't be fun to be old and alone on a property as old as time itself....Though he repeated that he loved the isolation that his property offered, I doubt if I was convinced.. I don't know his name...I wonder if he will remember me if I look him up in a week or so...I don't even know if I will have anything to converse with him about.....But by giving us a peek into the history that lies sleeping in this land, he did give me a wonderful story....a wonderful memory..... ( P.S : I have discovered that my mobile phone camera gives me pretty decent picture resolution..So till the time that I hoard up for a new camera, my mobile phone shall be put to good use..:)


  1. wonderful riveting read Ms. Menon...interesting how you remembered every bit of the conversations...and love the choice of words. i am not surprised at all! well done.

    how about the hanging santa! :-)

  2. Well , it seems to be an interesting day and good story got narrated to you. Well that was a mirror that you saw. You had a mirror image of our future.

  3. It almost seemed like a scene out of an English countryside film (whatever that means). OR more so like a those fairy tales we read where curious lil kids roam the woods, stumble upon a castle or (in this case) a barn, sneak into it either to find a pretty princess knitting or a scary witch stirring a huge pot of bones. Your nameless Englishman, though, seemed far removed from either. A man who definitely enjoyed his past, and is simply living an unexciting present, save for the occasional trespassers like you who ignite the spark of nostalgia.
    Keep doing these 'walks to explore' and keep the 'winter tales' coming.
    Ageining in loneliness is scary!

  4. My dearest Deepthy,

    You are becoming "dearest" to me, as you keep writing pieces that touch me. This is my way of telling you how close and dear you are.

    I am not surprised that -- in trying to ward off the "holiday blues" in the ghost places that all campuses become in an English winter -- you chanced upon a lonely 83 year-old former armyman wanting to share the warmth of human company.

    Round every corner of our earth waits an old person with a special, different and beautiful story to tell.

    But where are the "two strapping women from two parts of the from the Pacific Island of Tonga (what's her name?) and another from a coastal city in India (our dearest Deepthy)" who are wanting and willing to listen?

    (And what of the young persons, who also have their own stories hidden away, to be revealed only when the hair has gone white or vanished?)


    Go back to "our" old friend; for, by sharing his story with us, dearest Deepthy, you have made him "our" friend too. The next time you meet him (and you must) take a gift for him that will make him want to smile and expel "the Scrooge of Cynicism" that grows inside all of us -- as we get older.

    Then "he" will reveal his name and tell you his own story that will put all your TV wanderings behind you.

    Take care. Take your time.

    "If Winter comes, can Spring be far behind?" - Shelley.

    If winter tells
    such tales,
    Who knows what Spring
    may bring?

    Peace and love,
    - Joe.

  5. deeps..

    till date, according to me, the best blog tat yu have written.. loved each and every word yu have put across..

  6. intereting Deeps. Without doubt, you should keep dropping by the barn. I am sure he has more stories to narrate.

  7. I envy thee. Photographs are indeed good.

  8. well written dear...
    just a thought to share here - ever since i moved to UK i cant stop myself comparing the lifes and styles of people here with the people back home, and this is one thing i have noticed... what we might call being all alone, lonely and sad - for more and more brits its a life of choice... it amazes me sometimes to see that they put so much importance to things like protocols,wild life, adventure, drinks, etc. etc. etc. yet many of them dont feel the need for too many people in their life... when you spend a lot of time with each other at office or uni, you do not automatically become friends for life;never to marry or have kids is the most popular choice;grandparents are not too eager to look after grandchildren for more than a weekend at a stretch, i have even come across grandparents who say no to a granddaughter spending a night at their house, as they do not have a spare full fledged bedroom, etc. etc. ... at first i thought they are delusional, selfish or afraid of committments but there is something fundamentally different between us... i am not saying one way of life is better than the other .. there are arguments to be said in favour of both ... but the fact is there are many here who do love isolation... this man life seems more poignant to likes of us; probably his being all alone stands out more against the backdrop of the vast countryside, but even if you get a chance to look in the cities, many of them live solitary lives and thats due to choice not circumstances...blame it to population explosion in our country or to our ever overintrusive nature, but we can never fully relate to or even understand some of their ways ....