Sometimes, if I think hard enough, I can imagine myself to be back in a place that really meant something to me. Maybe not in its entirety, but in parts. When I feel a warm evening breeze on my face, I recall evenings spent in Vellore, where my cousins and I would clamber up on to terraces and watch kites duel in the gently darkening sky. The day's diminishing heat would wrap us in its embrace while we walked on the gritty surfaces of the terrace, wishing we had thought to quickly put on our slippers before we came up.
In the distance, mountains loomed and as a child, I was never struck by the topography of Vellore. I assumed they were there, like always, silent sentinels watching over us, quietly absorbing the different events that took place across these terraces. The brightly coloured kites in the sky were the lure for me, dotting the wide expanse of the sky, strings that I could follow only for some distance before they slipped out of sight and I couldn't ascertain whose terrace they belonged to.
Young girls barely made an appearance on terraces after dark. Even before dusk fell, they would head up quickly just to collect clothes or finish other chores.
As a teenager, it was a different set of experiences altogether. For one, I had to justify my reasons for going to the terrace. Young girls barely made an appearance on terraces after dark. Even before dusk fell, they would head up quickly just to collect clothes or finish other chores. Under the watchful eye of their mother or aunts, they'd come back down quietly. And yet, terraces are where most romances bloom, particularly in small towns.
The exchanging of glances across the terraces, the staring matches, trying to ascertain which house one belonged to, making up excuses to visit the terrace—these were all part of an era when mobile phones didn't exist. Communication was patchy and while meetings did happen, by chance or by design, it was not easy.
Love marriage was and is considered a taboo within the confines of the communities of small towns, but I speak for Vellore. Those who have managed to find love before marriage try to legitimise it by claiming it never happened, all the while engineering an alliance with the help of an empathetic 'elder'. Getting married to the one they loved despite all this had more to do with serendipity than anything else.
Love marriage was and is considered a taboo within the confines of the communities of small towns, but I speak for Vellore.
When I became a writer several years later, I found myself writing about terraces. At first, the open spaces seemed to be the right kind of place for my protagonists to go whenever they felt overwhelmed with life in general and felt like being a part of something larger than themselves. But as I wrote more and my inhibitions lessened, I found myself setting up these terraces as rendezvous for romances to take place.
I didn't realise I was doing this until a reader pointed out to me that terraces played a huge role in almost all my books. He was right. I went back and examined them and realised that this was more to do with the practical responsibilities of being a writer. I had to find a place for my characters to meet and interact and if I was setting it in a small town like Vellore, the terrace was the best choice, whether it was for a meet cute or even an established relationship.
There was something exciting, just about bordering on illicit, in writing about terrace romances, particularly in a small town. In a city, there are many places where young couples can meet to talk and not fear being 'caught' as it were. In a small town, where girls don't step out of the house 'unnecessarily', something that has been reinforced into them repeatedly, the terrace is like an outlet for human emotion, a place where it's easy to feel connected to the universe while putting yourself out there for others to see.
The concept of a terrace being much more than just an architectural element of a home was so deeply ingrained in me at a subconscious level that the very opening scene of my first novel Kite Strings was set on a terrace.
The concept of a terrace being much more than just an architectural element of a home was so deeply ingrained in me at a subconscious level that the very opening scene of my first novel Kite Strings was set on a terrace. As a new writer, I was unable to understand how or why I wrote certain things. I didn't know much about plotting either. I did know that I wanted the book to reach a cyclical end, where my protagonist would be back on the terrace, minus her cousins, and would be a significantly changed person. The terrace didn't have much to do besides just being there, but it was important. Back then, I didn't know why.
If I were to delve deeper, I think the typical rules of engagement change when one is on a terrace. When not surrounded by the walls of a home which can be claustrophobic and hold one captive, literally or figuratively, a terrace offers a kind of freedom, albeit one that is tame, and a glimpse into other worlds and other lives. Sometimes, there's even the chance of a romance.