The hillscape brims with wildflowers and weeds from my childhood. They are brightly redolent of evenings that I spent roaming alone outside my home. Barefoot, I went plucking leaves and flower buds to bunch into finger-sized bouquets for make-believe games.
Lantana shrubs pepper the landscape that surrounds me. Their tiny clusters of pink and orange flowers add an undertone of fruity sweetness to the air. They make my nostrils flare and twitch. As a child, I would squeeze the juice of their berries on my palm. In the bowl of my palm, I would whisk the mushy juice with a finger pretending it was cake batter.
I don't remember the last time I consciously paid attention to milkweed or plucked one of its showy lilac flowers to play a game of Find the Raja and Rani. Thumbai shrubs and Spanish needles populate the scenery abundantly. They are so common that they hide in plain sight. These are the sidewalk flowers growing out of cement cracks; wildflowers which sprout and survive anywhere. I remember the sweet nectar of Thumbai, and how I would string the white bell-shaped flowers together like beads. The latter lent itself to a funny game with a funny rhyme. Pop Pop Pop I would sever the bulbous yellow flowers off with my thumb. Every time I sniffed my fingers later, they emanated a green-planty rawness.
I named this hill The Faraway Hill when I was eleven years old. It seemed to me then that if I started from home, it would take me days to reach it on foot. I never found out how mistaken I was until now, years later as an adult.
That morning, when I first spotted the hill from the terrace balcony of my home, the sky had been a dull white. It was the beginning of the monsoon, and the sun had gone freshly into hiding. Through my toy binoculars, I noticed mist clouds near the top of The Faraway Hill. It looked picturesque, idyllic -- like a hill station scene on a postcard. I longed to climb its peak and feel the mist of the high air shiver my jaws.
As I grew up, the Faraway Hill transformed into more than a childish fancy for adventure and challenge. In a split second, I went from an oblivious child, lost in the cosmos of make-believe to a premature veteran of an unfriendly world. I changed quickly into a world-weary teenager who wished to leap off the same terrace I had spent countless hours playing in. Perhaps, for a long time I imagined the hill faraway and beyond my grasp simply to preserve the hope it gave me. Entrenched within me was the paradox that no place so tranquil-looking could ever exist within my reach, still I knew it existed and felt its tugging pull. After the longest time, I have finally obeyed its stubborn beckon. It has not disappointed me.
Standing at the edge of a steep cliff, I am foolishly tempted to take one more step. From the hilltop, I see the city stretching on like the whole world in front of me. Maybe, I am one of the hill's lost and wandering spirits. Maybe, this is why I have felt its persistent call for so long. Unlike the myriad buildings dotting the landscape in my panoramic view, each one claiming its own spot in a mural of stretching urbanity below, I am unfixed and meandering, not fully belonging anywhere yet.
Before turning to leave, I whisper to myself a thought that I must visit again with a better idea of the route. Maybe next time, I will be less lost and wandering. I will find my own way.