Sunday, 29 June 2014

I have not ever considered it to be a home, but several times it felt like it, and at times staying there seemed almost natural. The house itself was constructed under the eagle eye of Chachaji , who was a man of very few words and who I loved dearly but like him spoke little in his presence. He had a towering personality, very cultured and well traveled and the house he built with such care was a reflection of this. As a young child I was in awe of him and feared him very much, this because when we stayed at his home, both my brother and I were told constantly that if we were naughty Chahcaji would put us in jail. I would watch him every morning from the sofa in the drawing room when he left for work in his dark suit, not really frightened but most definitely awed, not even daring to say 'bye. This routine was followed after breakfast in the dining room with Masi , Chachaji and whoever the guests were at that time, sometimes it was only we who were there. Since we lived in a town close by at motor-able distance we would spend many of our holidays with them. After breakfast he would go to his room with his assistants to get ready to leave for work. I , in the meanwhile would settle into a corner of the sofa, sometimes with a book and wait to see the ritual of his departure for work.

Let's back to the house which was built by him and my chacha to move in when the time came for them to retire from work. Chacha , his younger brother was quite the opposite, jolly, rotund and of even temperament which Chachaji also shared. I had not ever heard voices being raised in that house.

One day when we were there for a vacation, Chachaji took my father and me to see the place where he was building his nest. The area which is now considered a posh locality, at that time was almost barren of houses, there may have been one or two but perhaps I paid very little attention to those.When we reached our destination, we stood at the spot where the gate now stands. He stood there in his usual way all of six feet tall and I could somehow instinctively feel his pride. The house was half built by then, and when we entered the under construction building, the first thing I saw was the staircase leading to his open study above the drawing room, a design which struck me with gladness. ( One is not usually struck with that emotion but it was a feeling of happiness which is inexplicable.) I think he saw the small smile of joy on my face. I was a teenager by then and although I was always at a loss for words in his presence, I had by then been witness to an endearing part of his personality. There was, in the house which they lived in a dog named Mickey of Alsatian breed who I was a bit wary of, when I was much younger ( perhaps four or five or it may have been three ) I had wandered off from the front gate on a mission, possibly ( if I recall ) to meet the President, there was something I had to tell him and in my young mind it was of impending urgency. There was a furor at home because I had disappeared and everyone was searching for me , frantic with worry. Somebody, one of the help suddenly shouted, that ' babyji was at the gate'. It was Mickey who had found me and bought me back, whether he had been given some clothing of mine to smell and then trace me , or whether he came on his own I will never know for I have not asked..... but there he was nudging a small child home ,into the gate of that corner government house much to the relief of all concerned. I was always disparaging of him after that incident and kept my distance. Much later when my cousin was a teenager and I was somewhat older I watched her playing with him during the evening, running and throwing a football in the backyard. I kept a safe distance but liked him better than before. Mickey must have died soon after, and some time later Chachaji  had  Lhasa Apso from Lhasa and it was then that I saw his very endearing side. The tiny dog would sit at his feet when we sat together after dinner and he would talk and pet him. A female companion was soon brought for him,who went by the name of Kesang, she was not as beautiful as her male compatriot but a very sweet dog,and Chachaji would lovingly call her Murgi .

Masi has always been my most favorite aunt perhaps because we spent so much time at their home. The only time I stood first in my class was when she came to our house to look after us when Mom had to undergo a surgery. Always encouraging and of good humor, a lady of few words much like Chachaji, she always called me her favorite niece ,I am not sure if Masi feel the same now, but we will let that be.

When all four of them , Masi, Chachaji , Chacha and chachi shifted to their new residence we were already in the then Bombay. When we went to visit them next, the house which I had seen being constructed was an elegant home. We would sit after dinner in the drawing room chatting until it was time for us to retire for the night. Chacha , in his easy chair under the lamp and both chachi and Masi in their favorite chairs, us scattered about on others and Chachaji on the sofa. The picture of the warmly lit room is etched very firmly in my mind. During the mornings, Chachaji would be in his study from where he had a view of all that was happening below, his big table and the chair almost like the peacock throne was as impressive as his personality. I would join him for breakfast as I was ready early, chacha and the others came later after their puja was over. I would more than often be the first to come downstairs, and a little later Chachaji would come with his boots alerting the servants of his arrival, he would eat and I would sit across him while he was being served , an interesting piece of news would be shown to me or sometimes there would be small talk. Morning tea was a quite a ritual at 6am in the living room,the flavor of the tea so good  that it was the perfect perk up cup. Kesang was also living then but passed away soon after, they never had a dog since then.

We would often visit relatives with Masi , my Chacha and Chachi in DC other aunts and uncles and return for lunch which was served at the dot of 1pm unless we were invited out. On a few occasions we would go out for a meal , one such is imprinted in my memory card. Some evenings I would accompany Chachaji when he went for his evening walk, but more often it was with Chachi that I went on her rather fast paced walk, greeting all those she knew while she walked and stopping occasionally for a small chat.

There were times when I flew in and the car came to pick me up as it was not possible for any of the elders to come. Stepping out of the car after being greeted by a 'Jai Hind Saab' from one or more of the domestic help, I would gaze for a moment at the balcony outside the study wondering if Chachaji was waiting for me there, he would always either be in the drawing room or come down the stairs on the other side so I was never sure. Gazing up felt almost like coming home.

He is no more, when he passed away I was shattered, to me he was a figure I looked up to with great respect. A few days after his passing away, chacha went. It was the time of trauma for our whole family, the home which was called 'Saket' was bereft of Ram and Lakshman. By that time my cousin's family had shifted there and Chachaji was very proud and impressed by the flat that they had built above. Masi and chachi were widows all of a sudden. Two brothers gone in the the space of a few days, a most trying time for both Chachi and Masi . It somehow did not feel the same again, and although I never considered it as my home, there were some occasions when it felt like home.

Both the ladies are old now and well looked after by my cousin and their family. My darling aunt once so robust and full of laughter is quiet, well aware but quiet and my chachi who was so active and talked nineteen to a dozen now moves with a walker to support her. It is almost as if an era is over, the shells remain of  the pearls which we cherish.

I visited my masi in VV yesterday on her 94th birthday. I came home and could not stop my tears from overflowing. Her wisdom and love will always abide with me as will the cherished memories of times gone by. Change , it is said is life but sometimes changes bring about a sadness in the core of ones being. That house will never be a home to me.

1 comment:

austere said...

What a tribute to an entire period, a way of life...