Atlantis, the lost continent of my childhood
When it rained, the natives who lived in the shanty could see the silver lines of thunder afar and scampered to bring the cows and kids home from the field and the wantons of country roads. The wind wove a symphony across the countless coconut trees that arched over the white and golden sand dunes. Folks called the place as island, with no name, perhaps to remind the sovereignty of the land that leant over the timeless ebb and flow of the ocean.
That was when I used to visit my grandparents' house during our summer vacations. We, the boys from city found our space and deflated the overcrowded time from our senses in the island. The travel included trekking by bus and ferry boats. The folks in the house had to paddle across the stream for everything that they ever needed, and every household had their own boats. The nights were dense and we could see each others faces in sepia sitting across the kerosene lamps for dinner. Eight siblings and dozens of grand kids thronged the spacious and benevolent home during those unforgettable times. If I close my eyes, I could still see the shimmering torch lights of solitary pedestrians on those rugged paths by the river and fisher folks rowing by.
It must be right after the famine, my grandfather and his brothers left their misery to follow a dream of a piece of land to call their own. I never asked him to chronicle the events or timeline. The state of their lives was similar to that of during the great depression in America. They had nothing and everything to fight for. The island was waiting for them to build the Promised Land, and the earth was nubile and feisty. He ploughed his way and unleashed raw power of farmer and fisherman to build the house, cultivate the land and build boats to fish with a lot of camaraderie with his brothers and natives.
As kids, we spent the summer vacations in exhilaration, playing on top of the piles of coconuts and grains; canoeing up and down streams; gathering around the table where everyone assembles for the dinner. My grandfather looked like Odysseus who just came home to Ithaca, having done his journey.
I spent a lot of time with him listening to his monologues on movies he watched from the country movie theatre or the quality of carpenters who worked on his many boats. He also spoke about the murderous sea storms and fights among fisher folks who haunted the evening taverns with nonchalance. He was the Santiago from Old man and the sea who came from the sea with the biggest fish I could ever imagine sculling the boat from the horizon. He was not weary.
I imagined his journey to the island was similar to the great farmer’s walk along route 66 to California during the great depression. Their subsequent rise and fall were beautifully captured in John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath(1939). The novel began with the description of the conditions in Dust Bowl Oklahoma that ruined the crops and instigated massive foreclosures on farmland. Steinbeck did not introduce any character in the outset, a technique that he employs to juxtapose descriptions of events in a larger social context, with those specific to the Joad family. Tom Joad hitched a ride on his way to California and the many hardships and travails to survive. It captured the essence of human struggles and the promise of the mother earth and eventual alienation while in pursuit of common ground.
It’s not that the life in the wild west in Americas and that in the Indian tropical lands were same, but at a deeper level, they all had everything in common - the prototypes of life and the living.
I never asked my grandfather about his journey, rather I was basking in his days of glory then. But then things took a different course ever since he folded his self into retirement. My aunts were all married off and had bigger issues in life and kids to gather around, my uncles vanished into the crowds in different parts of country and outside in search of jobs.
The society itself was undergoing the customary changes as always has been. The deluge of foreign money and pomp of gulf country residents rolled over the spirit of the land. The old house was abandoned and the grandparents were transplanted to the new house built near the freeway and surrounded by walls. The rain, the wind and the waves from the ocean were shut out for the rest of their lives.
Grandma died first and grandfather followed her soon. Even the new house looks so old now, occupied now by one of my uncles. He might probably visit once in a while from Dubai where he found a job. The dilapidated and moth ridden old house is probably biding the last moments of its existence before it is smashed down, probably to build a concrete warehouse for fertilizers. Now that the island has been named and electrified.
Atlantis, the lost continent is considered to be the source of all Religion, all Science and all races and civilizations. As we enter the third millennium, the Age of Aquarius its discovery is deemed to cause a major revolution in our view of the world and of both our future and past. I found my Atlantis in that island a while ago when I was a kid. The hearts and minds of the dwellers who built a brave new world over there, though lost would still speak to you if you listen. That this world can still be mysterious and beautiful if you can spare a moment to grasp.
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho' much is taken, much abides; and tho'
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
- Ulysses, Alfred Tennysson