The home we left behind…

It completes the cycle… it really does. There is some kind of a poetic justice in the fact that I type this blog post sitting at the very table where it all began. It’s an old table…. teak wood… stained with ink spots and smoothened with use. See that oblong spot over there? The one on the right hand corner, yes, the black one. That’s where I used to keep my ink pot. We used fountain pens at school….

Remember?

How could you not remember, when you had been trying so hard to forget.

Lets start with the gates, the white painted wicker gates. They were not white to begin with… the carpenter crafted them out of common logs of wood one long summer afternoon… the sounds of hammers and saws in the garage reverberated through the house and set our teeth on the edge. We painted the gates white, to match the jasmine flowers that blossomed in the bush that surrounded the house. And our house remained the only one in the neighborhood with a white wicker gate, protecting all that remained in the confines of what once was, the only place I called home.

We once had a lawn, covered with Chinese grass, the kind where you measure the thickness by spreading your thumb and index finger… like indicating a Patiala peg. We used to water it in the evening, keeping an eye out for earthworms to tease and ant hills to smother. The grass was deceptively soft, especially around the periphery of the patch… and like most things in the world, the outward prosperity yielded to scorched patches in the center. It was not a happy day when the lawn was bricked over to make way for the garage, but then, we were getting a car.

A car. That four wheeled contraption that made us transition that gaping crater between the haves and have nots in 1980s. A gleaming second hand Premier Padmini that was in my opinion, the prettiest car on the planet. Come to think of it, I still would not mind driving it. Wonder what did they do with the steel body of the car at the scrap yard… or the velvet upholstery. No, it was not air-conditioned car, nor was it really new. It was dented in patches, and gleamed in places like it had been never sullied, almost like a real person… Age and shine, for us who stayed in an airy house that was more than a century old, these trivialities hardly mattered.

Our front yard-that-used-to-be-a-lawn was the place where our family used to sun in winters and tie out dogs to dry after their baths in summer. The place where a chair under the guava tree (did I mention that before?) was the best place to indicate defiance, self sufficiency and a general disdain for your family after an argument. Where on the pretext of a crowded house during a dinner, you found space to cozy up with your girlfriend by the side of the garage door.

Forget that I wrote that last sentence, I am a much married man now….

How do you begin to let go of a place you called home for 20 years. 4-B Staff Colony CTC, Lucknow was my address in all the admission forms I ever filled up,…it was printed neatly on multicolored card envelopes I received on my birthday from my cousins, and was my permanent address in the first passport I ever had.
I was 4 years old when we moved into this house. Me, my elder brother, my parents, a dog and a whole retinue of people who came and went through the day. Lets see… we had a gardener, a person to sweep and clean the house, a guy to wash the utensils, the washerwoman for the clothes, the milkman with his aluminum containers balanced on the sides of his bicycle, the vegetable vendor who would slip you wilted greens if you were not looking, the newspaper Walla though honestly, I was never woke up in time to see him around. So many of them moved from house to house during the day plying their trade.
Strange, I don’t even know what happened to the guy who provided me with my daily quota of stories each evening as he scrubbed the pans. We were best friends. Really. I honestly meant it then.

It was a rich childhood, the kind you read stories about in the memoir of NRI authors writing about forgotten Indian towns. Full of hot and dusty summer afternoons, sibling fights, next-door friends and oh so many scraped knees and elbows. A gang of kids living in a century old school campus could not have had more fun than we did. We played in the sun and made paper boats when it rained. Winters meant eating bel fruit plucked and roasted to smoky perfection in burning leaves… Racing with a vengeance through our colony of houses till forcibly taken back to our homes when darkness fell. The day we saw a long dead snake, and then a live one… or when my brother crashed through the floor of a derelict bus rotting away to glory in our back yards. No, we were not supposed to play on that bus, but we always did anyway. The broken shards of its windscreen made an excellent treasure trove for thieves and robbers, and can you name when was the last time you sat in the driver’s seat of a bus?

And there were the dogs, ours and our neighbors. Most of them so annoyingly friendly that I was shocked when one day a dog bit me in the calf. I am yet to get over my inherent trust of dogs. In my eyes, a dog can never be wrong….Ever.

Notice that pattern on the table, the circles intersecting each other randomly. That had been me practicing my geometry skills. It used to be a big deal, having an all new geometry box, a shiny orange Camlin one…not one with hand me down compasses and dividers placed in a plastic box. It was expensive, used to cost Rs 32. I would open mine and see the contents several times during the day at school to ensure that everything was safe and sound.

I studied at this very table when I was studying for the dreaded board exams and the competitive exams after that. Wrote my first serious letter to a girl, updated my first diary, painted supersize Disney characters, and organized my school satchel for classes the next day. Made neatly tabulated Time Tables with a different color and motif for each day of the week. A smiling sun for Sunday, and two fried eggs in a frying pan for Friday. Go figure….

The empty corner on the left was reserved for my terracotta Ganesha, the one I inherited from my brother when he passed on this table to me, like so many other things. I took that Ganesha to college with me… where we spent four happy years frolicking in a beautiful Himalayan valley… and that is where he decided to stay back at a junior’s study table. I think he never really liked the weather at Lucknow… Kumaun suited him just fine.

Making memories is so easy… it is the forgetting that wrenches your heart.

We have dismantled this house, the furniture and fixings taken away… all that remains are cobwebs and memories, tangled, broken and waiting to be swept aside by the new occupants of the house as they start anew.
Am sure this table will do fine, being the solid and steady character it has always been. It was stoic when 3 of my school friends sat on it, or when I rested my head on the cool wood in the evenings and let the tears flow for my dead mother.
Tomorrow morning, this table will be taken away. It will find a new corner in a new house, and someone else will spend his summer afternoons painting pictures at this desk while waiting to grow up.

Am sure we will move on too…

To new cities and towns, searching for new beginnings and places to put down our roots again. Finding new corners to rest and trees to tell stories under. Gathering our lot close to us and building a wealth of memories and laughter and tears all over again.
It may take time, but I can feel it in my bones, it will be done.

Farewell my old house… Goodbye Lucknow….

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The Red head

A head turner – that’s what she is….a head turning, heart stopping, absolutely ravishing beauty. She bursts on the vision of the unsuspecting traveler who is simply looking out the window, thinking no thoughts, seeing but not seeing, and then…..he catches a glimpse of her – the riveting, glorious red head.

He is unable to take his eyes off her, but he is a traveler, he has to go on. He enters the city, and is a bit put off with the sea of concrete & chrome & glass, when he glimpses her again-there! A flash of red- that’s her, isn’t it? Yes! Standing tall and alone, lending a vibrancy, a pulse of life to the drab city.
Who is she?
Tall…dark…her firm body lending style to whatever pose she holds, long sinewy arms, her crown being gently cajoled by the light breeze, a head of such glorious red as to set his heart on fire……
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THE GULMOHAR.
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