Tuesday, 5 January 2016

The House

The House was a spectacular sight. Even in the yellowed photo I carried around, it stood tall and proud, reveling in its own grandeur. No one knew for sure how old it was. At the last count, five generations of family had lived and died there, each leaving a mark only my grandmother could tell. 
Each night before my eyes grew heavy with sleep, she would stroke my head on her lap and tell me The House was alive, that it grew when youth was unwillingly handed down before each generation folded into itself. It was true, because as its dwellers multiplied, The House stretched till each person found his place. With babies new rooms were born, the rooms expanded when the elders died, and eventually the kitchen and bathrooms were invited inside. 
I still see it, The House. In my dreams the coconut trees dance with the wind, and branches from the twin mango trees settle on the brick roof. I hear the mangoes falling on the roof with a loud thud, rolling down the sloped roof, and the cheers erupting when one of the children deftly catches the juicy prize. I smell the raw mangoes being pickled in the kitchen; I see the red chilies spread out to dry out under the scorching midday sun; I hear my grandma chasing me away when I venture too close to the well in the backyard. And I don’t want the dream to end. 
The House was kind to its inhabitants, but each generation was less grateful than the previous one. My grandma was the last of its protectors, so they waited for her to die to dissect The House. But she didn’t die; she chose to fade in front of our eyes. It wasn’t sudden, but I still remember the shock as it hit me that she was now half her size. Old age reached her legs first. They would refuse to cooperate when she wanted to walk. She wasn’t very stubborn and let them have their way. The regret set in only after her legs forgot to walk, but by then it was too late. 
She prided herself on her ability to retrieve dates and names and numbers at any given time. Ask her ‘Velliamma when was Rafi mama born?’ and you could see her eyes light up as she prepared to dive deep into the recesses of her mind to grab a date which was now a pearl in a hidden oyster that lay under so many other memories that she’d rather forget. But she would still emerge, memory soaked, a smile on her face and the date in her open palm. 
As the years settled into the wrinkles around her now toothless smile, memory became murkier. ‘Grandma what’s Khadeeja ammayi’s first born’s name?’, and she’d ask back ‘Who’s Khadeeja?’. Soon the answers didn’t match the questions and it wasn’t long before blankness engulfed her and she was a shell a step away from crumbling into nothingness. 
Before they could tear apart The House, a faraway King’s sprained ankle triggered war and our family bore the battle scars. Rebels and loyalists that came from the same womb now couldn’t share the same roof. Since my father, the youngest one, had returned to his Lord, my mother and I were disposable. 
Years later my mother told my children, stroking their heads on her lap, that the house had lived through floods, droughts, and centuries of nature's fury, but it couldn’t survive its own children who tore it down. 
When we were told to leave, I ran to the attic while my mother fell on their feet, begging them to let us be. I climbed up the creaky wooden stairs and dug out the photo album buried under the dust carpet that hid stories of the many lives lived in The House. And before my uncle barged in and dragged me out by my hair, I stole a single picture of the only place I called home.

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