Renovating the Ruins

I was standing there, shielding my eyes from the blaring light of the sun, squinting, just to get one look. We were dawning near, but I was longing to see, to revive in my mind, that beautiful house that I grew up in.

As soon as I got down the hand driven rickshaw, I ran towards it. And stopped dead in my tracks. I lost the grip on my trolley luggage and it collapsed on the ground. I knew there were fragile gifts in that bag and that I should be more careful. But at this moment, I just didn’t care. I looked at the house in front of me and tears came unannounced.

I was staring directly at my home. I grew up in this house. In this city on the banks of river Ganga. I was mildly excited and nervous seeing my hometown after five years, everything had changed! I had left the airport feeling a rush of excitement to go back to the familiar. As I cleared customs and stepped out, however, I was met with a bunch of cabs with Uber and Ola written proudly on their doors. I was disappointed. That’s when I saw a hand driven rickshaw and jumped with joy. Nothing would have changed after all, I assured myself.

I couldn’t have had a more misguided notion! I did not recognize the new streets with the multiple hoardings and the tall buildings spiraling into the sky near the curbs. I did not see the ‘puchka’ cart where I had spent innumerable evenings hogging on Pani Puris, instead, I saw a fast food joint, crowded with youngsters sipping lattes and cappuccinos. I did not see the playground where I’d go every Sunday morning and play badminton with my friends, it was now a shopping mall. I did not see the tiny provision shops where my mom would occasionally stop to buy me a chocolate, they had been replaced  by giant corporate offices with their glass windows that were reflecting the hot afternoon sun.

But what I was seeing right now in front of me had taken me aback completely. I had a beautiful house. I remember the beautiful yellow walls of the two storied house, the front porch with a swing and potted plants, the balcony on the top floor with those white coffee tables, and the front gate that would always be covered in creepers.

Today, in front of me was a ruin. Gone were those yellow walls; the rains had mercilessly stripped them off of the paints, and they were nearly, entirely, covered with creepers that had run from the gate and extended their kingdom! The swing was a broken mess, the wood strips chipped and wedged, and the springs rusted. The potted plants had welcomed their wilderness and had grown all over the place, along with little grasses, mosses and weeds. The coffee tables on the balcony were long gone and all that remained were birds who had made it their home.

I was brought back to my senses by the hand-rickshaw driver who had gotten down from his vehicle and was asking for fare. I wiped the tear off my cheek and realized that all these thoughts had crossed my mind in less than half a minute. I fumbled in my purse for my wallet and handed him his fare. I turned back to the house and finally smiled.

This house had seen the many debacles that we had as a family. It had seen the ugly violent fights between my parents, it had heard my screams as my father hit me, it had cried with my brother in his tiny room, and it had prayed with my mother every morning when she’d start the day with the hope that things would turn out differently that day. We had bared our souls in the four walls of this house.

It had taken us 18 years to finally mend the broken family that we were. It had taken a simple miracle of self realization that had changed everything for us. My dad had begged for forgiveness, out of the blue. And just like that, we had become a happy family. My mother had never been happier. My father, like most fathers are for their daughters, became my super hero, and my brother and I became inseparable. Those were the best four years this house had seen.

We shifted to the US after that. There, came a new house and a new life. It was not long before I got married and that my father retired, giving the business reins to my brother. That house in the US had seen a happy family. It had been a part of the happy moments, of my first salary, of dad’s new car, of mom’s many trees, of the proposal of my husband, of my brother’s convocation, of all the little beautiful moments.

But this house, right here, had been a constant companion during those tough days. It had kept our secret of a broken family well within its four walls and it had given us the comfort of at least having a roof on our heads when times were bad. It had been a part of the family as much as any member. It had evolved with us.

And today, they were going to bulldoze the house down to build an apartment. An apartment with 12 floors and 24 families. It felt like it was time for the house to move on as well.

I opened the creaking rusty gate of the house and touched the walls. I whispered, “You were good to us. You deserve better. I’m sure you’ll have lovely 24 families residing here. I hope they lovingly call this their home and I hope that if they don’t, you’d stand by them and help them evolve, just like you did to us.”

I had caught a flight to India to say my goodbye to my home. When my husband had asked perplexed about what was so special in a house, I had smiled and said, “It wasn’t a house, it was a home, our home.”

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