Groton! Every time I arrive at this sleepy hamlet, my heart skips a little. Here you will find scattered houses surrounded by dense conifer trees, resembling almost a forest. If you step out on the porch for a smoke past midnight, you are soothed with a dark silence. And you will be welcomed by a bright starlit sky. You can count and identify each of the stars distinctly. So crisp and clear is the air here. I don’t recall seeing such constellation of stars outside of India. If you have a residual poetic gene in you, you are sure to be transported to a time past. If I could use a cliché, you will think of a pre-human time. Living in the dingy, small apartment in NYC which produces claustrophobia and can lead to mood swings depending how far you manage to stay from numerous things scattered in the small space, Groton is heaven.
A typical day in Groton starts with a relatively late rise. After lazing for a while, I usually walk alone up the trail which is very close to the house. I am not sure if this is a standard trail or one that has been created because of local people using it occasionally. There is, however, a sign stuck on a tree which indicates this is supposed to be a popular trail. The locals often use it for walking their dog. At this time of the year, the trail is mostly covered in thick snow, 6-9 inches to be precise. Not just the trail but most of Groton sleep under a blanket of pure white snow. I have been here in summer and the snow lends a very different ambience to this place. It makes one calmer, more reflective, and can make your edgy nerves rest a while.
One doesn’t have to keep track of time here. The mornings stealthily slide into afternoons, the afternoons into evenings and the melancholic evenings into nights where the crickets keep vigil. If you step on the porch and look far above the tall conifers, you notice a subdued glow of orangish tinge, as if emanating from a bonfire someone has lit a fair distance away. The soft glow makes you nostalgic but you can’t be sure for what. Here you are nostalgic without longing for anything in particular. A subtle sadness pervades your mind as you look out of the window into the vast tree-covered expanse or take a walk amidst the trees on known or unknown trails. I remember Heidegger writing something similar about the necessity of our being close to our inner silence. He also said something similar about melancholy being an all-pervasive condition of human life. I can’t recall where he said this and what exactly he said. But it is clear to me that when one is in tune with one’s inner self, when one is enveloped in silence of a profound kind, one is most sad and melancholic. This is particularly not the melancholy induced by any object or person, but by a deep knowledge of our own self. That self is always enveloped in sadness. I presume the bare naked human self, shorn of the excitements that modern life affords, can be in tune with itself only in melancholy.
There are some things hardwired in one’s genes. A patch of green, a pool of clear water, a blanket of snow, and a herd of cows/goats are not merely things and objects. Their object-hood can touch a deep chord in us and trigger a chain of memories. So it does when I am here. One patch of green can remind you of another. A clear pool of water can visually connect you to a pond where you grew up swimming. A herd of cows can transport you to your grandfather’s (nana) house where you spent most of your childhood. Things trigger memories and memories lend meaning to our present. I am not sure if our present will make sense at all without having recourse to a set of images stored in our memories. Most of human life is all about making various connections with the images we grew up with.
Once in Groton, I relive my desire to inhabit a place far away from dense human settlements. It has been my persistent dream ever since I started living in cities. There was a time I wanted to live in big cities. Once I started living in a city and as I grow old, I start thinking of living far away from cities. Once you have a peasant gene, it always stays that way with you. You can’t simply suppress the gene for long. Its specter always looms. Even in the dreariest of city spaces, it will make you envision that one day you can get back to your rural utopia. And we live with hope.
My father had similar thoughts. Not one to verbalize the tumult in his mind, I know he lives with similar impulses in his mind. He grew up in a remote village, studied in small towns, and came to live in a mofussil town. You couldn’t even call this a small town. Outside the radius of a kilometer, you could find lush green paddy fields. The paddy fields have receded beyond a kilometer over the years. There are more concrete structures, more people, more vehicles, and congested roads. The energy is almost feverish. But my father, who inherited the peasant gene, always longed to recreate what he saw in his ancestral village. He bought more lands, started cultivating them, and often spoke of having a herd of cows, a flock of ducks and hens in the fenced land. None of that has materialized so far. But he dreams!
As I take one more look at the star-filled sky before stepping inside the house, I know I will carry on the same legacy. I will keep on dreaming a green dream, an animal-filled dream, dream of water, and dream of silence-enveloped darkness wrapping itself around tall trees. I will dream and sleep a little better, tonight!