In the memory of the house

Categories Opinion

From the drawing room:

Our first night in the house was our first night of marriage. Both significant, temporally important, but eventually, forgettable occurrences.

Quite ironically and fatefully, I start writing this piece our last night in the house. It looks very much like the first one. The curtains have come down from the windows, and despite the five years of living, it does look unlived. Both anxious and expectant, entering a new house feels so much like entering a new relationship. Will it work out, will it end prematurely, will it be better or worse than the last one? Unlike many newly weds, we had slept alright on the first night. The last night does not seem to be gong that way.

From the airport:

I am writing a paragraph at a time. The above ones were written at home. This one is being written from a laptop station at an airport. It is difficult to sit down and write the piece in one go, so I am procrastinating as much as I can.

Anyway, coming back to the house, our housewarming party was also the baraat and the marriage and the recepetion party. Nearly fifty friends had gathered on a barsaati (penthouse in English has exactly the same structural meaning but doesn’t explain the depravity at all) on a July evening. A mattress, a bamboo sofa for dwarves and a refrigerator – that was all there was inside the house. If the friends were sweating and ill at ease, no one told us so. It had all gone well, many of the friends never got in touch again, but it could not have been the heat and the delayed dinner. Must have been something else!

The house had played host to many nocturnal meet ups thereafter. It seemed we were the only ones with a terrace and winters in Delhi were best spent with friends, smoking meats from Gole market on a grill and taking turns to play DJ. Mattresses on the ground served as the baithak and the long iron flower pot holders became the dining table. Quite a few plans for life were dicussed inside warm quilts as we looked at the stars and waited for the fog to turn it all into a bollywoodish dream sequence.

It wasn’t all great. Nothing ever is. In Delhi, no one wants a barsaati – generally, a smallish structure on the terrace with lots of open spaces and lot fewer bedrooms and amenities than the floors below. Our marriage was new and we were romantic. Romance was best under the open stars. So, we had decided to bear with the heat, overlook the air conditioning bills and wear sunglasses inside the house for seven months. What we got in return is two months of rain and three months of cold that one could enjoy best from a terrace.
As the marriage got older, we debated moving into a proper house. Our friends didn’t mind crashing in the drawing room and spending the night snuggling on the terrace. For many, it was a reminder of the bachelorhood days. But we wanted a room for the guests, a desk to write, a library in the corner – things that normal ageing couples wish for. Every time the debate could have come to any conclusion, we postponed the decision. We spent good five long years going through the heat-wet-cold cycles. This tropic cycle does unspeakable things to the rocks, but we had luckily survived.

We did more than survive. Even though the house was burgled once and we had lost our most precious belongings. We had made friends with people twice our age, we had planted coriander and failed to grow green chillies despite repeated attempts. After a point, their leaves will just curl like a foetus and they will never grow again. Tomato seeds had proved hard to come by and they will have to wait for the new house.

From a local’s home in Kashmir:
We have been staying at someone’s house in Mattan, Kashmir. Two nights in a previously unknown house seems to have aroused all the right emotions to the finish this long-in-the-works piece.

No matter how odd, weird or perfect the house is, it becomes home only with time. May be, more than love and belonging, it is time that adds a sense of entitlement to a place. In two days, I have grown used to the walnut tree outside, the unnaturally large crows that inhabit the trees and the number of people that live within the compound whom I had never met before.

It is time that will elevate a few memories to legends and blur others. The last one may be cherished, but it is the new one that will excite. We may imagine transitions as clear breaks in chain of events, but the reality is much more muddled and is not differentiated so easily. Different places, different times and different compartments in the head make life seem a lot more smooth and livable than it would be otherwise.