What do you call a house? A structure of four walls and a roof where a family lives, perhaps? A home? A nook where one lives her life. In my 32 years, I have lived in many houses. But if there is one place that I call home, it is where you stand. 66 New Baradwari. On my passport, in my psyche, in my sub-conscious, my heart and in my life…if there is any place I call home, it is this one address.
We met when I was 8. Maa and Mimi (maasi) where making daily trips to transfer small items and settle the house. I’d insist on going with them, but they thought I’d be a nuisance. That one day when they took me to Baradwari, I met some of my school friends in the neighbourhood. I disappeared into one of the homes for the next few hours, blissful that I already had friends around. I fell in love with you that day.
You were bigger than the house we had lived in earlier. Baba’s room had an air conditioner now. Our first in the house, because the earlier occupants left theirs! Baba got it painted and offloaded his noisy air cooler to our room. Years later, the air-conditioner came to our room, but by then, it had stopped cooling. It remained as a piece for such a long, long time until birds made nests inside! Remember that?
Sometime later, we got new furniture. Our room was done in pink and white. You see, both of us were young, Saurav (my brother) and I. We got a jute swing in the verandah, a coir rug on the floor. Maa brought in love for plants and we had huge palm pots taking up a lot of space.
Saurav had a little corner to himself on the verandah. He would stand on a stool (with a glass top) and look at cars passing by. He loved the Contessa as a child and his baby eyes would wait for one car to pass by the house. Remember you jumped so hard that he broke the glass and cut himself? He was so so naughty!
A few years later, you got a fresh coat of paint. Maa had asked Saurav not to touch the walls. But the little terror that he was, he landed a perfect kick on the wall leaving behind a small brown stain. Maa got furious and she hit him with a torn calendar. It bruised his leg and shed a small trickle of blood. He still reminds Maa about it…saying he was punished for dirtying your walls. As the years rolled by, you survived more of his onslaughts. Afternoons spent bouncing the ball off your back while Saurav hit it with a bat and Maa tried to sleep.
You remember how Saurav would whizz down the length of the corridor on his tricycle? Maa would stuff his mouth with a ball of rice and off he’d go wheeling down the passage till he hit something and stopped. Turn around and the drill continued till he finished his lunch.
Enough of his stories now…
You remember how I skipped my milk? Downed the cup’s contents from the window of my room; oblivious of the fact that Baba was on his way back from the weekend bazaar, looking up at the window, watching my hand sneak out and in of the window.
Or that time when I went up to the terrace and emptied the contents of my tiffin? Maa had seen me get off the bus and climb up to the terrace. I had dropped the spoon with the idlis on your parapet. I was more worried about the spoon!
The terrace! How we loved playing on the sun-kissed deck. Remember that huge cemented water tank? As long as it was there it caused a perpetual damp in Baba – Maa’s room. But we liked it always. I remember us sitting there, that picture of Saurav dressed as Daaku Potato (dressed as a dacoit for a fancy dress competition) was taken on it. Years later when schools were closed due to riots, we spent lazy winter mornings playing on the terrace. As I grew up, we had loud dance parties on the terrace. Me and my friends…Gosh! The amount of noise we made.
Our rooms got another makeover. We were growing up and this time we had dark blue and red furniture. Our own study tables. Bookshelves and enough privacy with our beds separated. And since Saurav was sent to boarding school, I had the entire room to myself! J
Remember that little red phone? How many conversations was my room privy to? Late night gossip sessions with friends, A and I had just started talking on the phone…
My room…so many, many memories. Of growing up, confessions, secrets, whispered dreams and lonely tears. The walls were covered with posters – Shah Rukh Khan, Tom Cruise, Michael Jackson, Beverly Hills 90210 – some of which I made my friends climb up and sign. They gave me those as gifts. The posters remained on the walls, long after I grew up. Long after I left home and moved to Delhi. Long after I started working. They were part of you…my space…my room.
You remember the sleepovers I had in my house? Friends staying over? Our house was the only one where parents didn’t bother us J I miss those pyjama parties. I miss my friends and I miss my room.
Do you remember the birthday parties? Mimi would come from Kolkata, yield her magic and put together a treasure hunt! And of course, you, our house was so big that kids could run from one corner to another looking for clues and the secret prize.
Choto ghor (the small room) had suddenly become a favourite during my board exams. I turned it into a special nook for studies. Put together a study table, a table lamp and a bean bag for leisure. It was a room away from my usual room. Choto ghor, unless the washing machine was running was a quiet corner of the house. And I loved claiming it for myself. What I did to humour myself!
Remember that time when the cow climbed up the stairs and couldn’t turn around to get down? How he emptied his bowels on the stairs!
Or the fruitless mango tree and mulberry bush? Kids from the government school would climb its branches. We were always so scared that they would fall and hurt themselves. Someone did, actually. Remember how I made Saurav bark like a dog to scare the kids away?
The garage has its own stories. A and Saurav playing cricket as kids. The Valentine’s day stalker was locked up till the police came!
Thamu (grandma) had her own room. She played devil every morning when she turned on the hot water tap in her bathroom. We shared the geyser in the bathrooms, between her loo and Maa’s and we screamed and protested between hot and cold showers. She of course claimed the drawing room in the afternoons to watch television. And we could never do anything about it! Come Saraswati Pujo and her room found instant reverence. Our books would pile up before the goddess and I would hope Thamu would convince her to bless us.
Maa was always obsessed with the house. To keep it spic and span. To tidy the table cover. To keep our things in place. Once back from a trip, she would pick up her jhaanta & neta (broom and duster) to restore to your beauty.
You bore the brunt of the fire accident too. Looking back at 1996 and remembering that evening when the generator burst and Maa got burnt…I am still amazed at how you survived. The fire was big enough to take down the house. But like a little miracle, you took it in a stride. That cable wire which had burnt its length and melted all the way to the edge of the ventilator didn’t go inside the room. The windows burst but the silk curtains didn’t catch fire. The room was covered in soot, all dark, black and morbid…but nothing caught fire. Not the foam cushions, the huge bookshelf or the countless books standing on it.
It was within your walls that we brought back Maa from the hospital. It was in the same passage that Maa started to walk again. Years later, went we brought back an injured Saurav from the hospital, another part of the house lent its walls for his recovery. The ground floor was mostly empty, making everyone believe that we were owners of the house. If we hadn’t had that floor, we would have been compelled to keep Saurav in the hospital longer. Thanks to the ground floor, we brought back Saurav earlier. We painted the room for him. Brought in the TV. An air-conditioner too. And yes, curtains…because he wanted the room to look like a room. As long as Saurav lived on the ground floor, all he wanted to do was climb up the stairs to our home.
Ever since he was a boy, to even now I believe he goes into every room. Every time he returned from boarding school, or came back after a golf tour, he would go from room-to-room; looking into cupboards, pulling out drawers. Covering every inch of the house again, even the bathrooms. He didn’t like things changing. Such was his love for you.
You have seen it all. Our childhood. My growing up. Our first kiss…A and mine. For A, who would cross my home several times on his blue bicycle, you are still the house that he cherishes. After all, it is right at your doors that he saw me for the first time. You have witnessed our friendship, our love… Remember how spoke on the phone, met at home but didn’t speak in school? Gosh…you have seen A and my story unfold! You have witnessed it all.
My marriage. I got married, but you continued to remain my permanent address. On my passport and my son’s. You were with me on my journey into motherhood. In that same room where I grew up from an adolescent, to a teenager…I spent my early days of motherhood in that room too. I cried again…the nervous wreck that I was. You saw me shed tears as I was battling baby blues. On your floors, my son crawled for the first time. Will he remember this house at all? Perhaps not!
Yes, these are memories. These are all experiences that I have lived through. These are moments that I have spent inside you. To me, you are more than a house. You are home. You are my family. And just like I miss my family, I miss seeing you. Even now, I am happy as I set foot into 66. The moment I leave, I still feel a prick of pain and sadness.
In these 25 years, we stayed away only for 2.5 years…but call it divine design that Baba didn’t like his own house. Yes, we moved into our house, but Baba hated it there. We returned to you once again. By now you were heavily renovated and resembled a modern day house with tiled floors and false ceilings. Mosaic floors suited you better. 🙂
25 years ago, on this day we moved in to you, to make you our own. 25 years later, on this day again we leave you one last time. We move on, because we have to. Because you belong to someone else now…you always did actually. But we never realized that from being tenants, we began considering you our own.
None of us want to leave. Baba perhaps wanted to live at 66 till he breathed his last. Maa may have wanted a smaller, easy to clean house. But she wouldn’t trade it I know as long as we all stayed happy. Saurav would have wanted to ‘grow up’ to buy the house. And I would have always loved to go back to you…
So Baba will have to let go off his favourite spot on the dining table for his morning cup of tea. Saurav will have to find new rooms to discover. Maa will find a new house to potter around. And Thamu will never walk again to see the new house.
But will I find new walls to speak to? Will I say ‘hello’ to the new house? Every time I leave the new house behind, will I tell the walls to take care of my family? I don’t know…
They tell me you will be razed to the ground…to be built again. I believe you have a soul, a soul that has loved us always…don’t stay back. Please come with us…
Good bye 66…as we leave you for the last time today…a little part of me ends forever.