Katte, is a word from the South Indian language, Kannada. This word has been feeding me with many sweet memories for the past few weeks. Katte is the generic word for platform — an elevated rectangular space to sit and chat. In the Southern part of India where I grew up, these structures were in abundance and could be seen hugging huge banyan trees or standing along the front yard of many houses in villages.
The earliest memory I have of the Katte is from my visit to the local vegetable market called Santhe (pronounced sun-they) where people from nearby villages piled up vegetables and fruits in large heaps over ragged jute bags. It was in this place that I first chanced upon the ‘arali-katte’ or the platform that surrounds the Peepal tree.
The Arali-katte was not perfect. It was broken around the edges and a huge crack gnawed at the centre. But, the people who sat there didn’t seem to notice it and they instead, chatted mindlessly under the cool shade of the tree. The children clung to their mother’s hips, the men smoked rolled out tobacco and women chewed on betel leaves.
It was on that day that I fell in love with it. People laughed, gossiped, had picnics — it was all happening under one big tree and it filled my heart with smiles. Naturally, when the prospect of having a garden of my own came up a couple of years ago, the dull image of the Katte taunted me.
A Katte in my garden could never surround any tree as the Neem and Gulmohar sprawled neatly in two corners of my backyard. “Naah”, I dismissed the thought. I tended to plants, trees, spoke to birds and smiled at colourful pansies but, every now and then, the greying picture of the Katte from my village teased my senses and I always shook my head with “can’t do that!”
A few weeks ago, Nabeel, my gardener, proposed that our garden needed a facelift. “Really?”, I asked. “The skirting around the plants could do some strengthening and we could replace the gravel with a cobbled pathway”, he urged. I didn’t think much of what he said. My heart went back to the distant image.
“How about a small platform?”, I asked thoughtfully, “right there”, I pointed to the front of the garden. There were no trees, no plants to build it around, but the possibility of having one excited me.
“Sure!”, Nabeel didn’t bat an eye. And so started the story of my Katte — brick by brick with a splattering of cement. As the men worked through the tough sun, my heart went back to the memory of my visits to the Santhe. The blurry lines sharpened, I saw the cracks, the rough edges, the women in saris, the little bags that clutched their slender waists — it all came back in a gush of breeze.
“How about ceramic tiles for a great finish?”, Nabeel asked as he examined the cemented structure. The bench in my head was a dull red that dissolved into nothingness and reappeared in bright colourful motifs.
“That’s all right Nabeel”, I offered, “I will take it from here”, I said.
All those years of dreams, longings, moments of chatter beckoned me with open arms. I settled cozily on a small stool on a warm evening and started my journey to bring home the Katte.
It took me a lot longer than I thought. I laboured many days against the setting sun, huffing through the humid air as my hands dipped into putty and paint brush.
On the day it was finally done, Nabeel walked in with a smile, “It looks good” he shook his head.
“Yes”, I paused, “do you know what it is called?” I asked. As my lips broke into a smile, I said the word I had been longing to say for many years, “Katte”, I beamed and all the spaces and pictures from my past made their way to the structure staring at me that looks nothing like the one from my village. It is painted in deep red with white motifs and doesn’t enclose any wooded life but it spreads in a neat L.
It is not perfect but it was never meant to be because it is the Katte of my dreams.
Sudha Subramanian is an author and writer based in Dubai. Twitter: @sudhasubraman