Thursday, January 11, 2018

Ship of Theseus


The four storeyed, light lemon yellow and olive green/brown building, with veils of blackish moss that trickled down every monsoon. The sixteen houses, with two protruding patios, some fettered with balcony grills and the rest openly inviting in the winged denizens. The thin brick fences around the perimeter that took on the menacing form of bulkier stone and cement walls with broken glass pieces on the top. The ten-foot wide frame of corridor paved with large square stones, with a slight tilt to direct floodwaters to the gutter by the road or the small playground on the opposite side. The plethora of trees planted in the narrow strips of soil next to the wall; Ashoka, Suru, Jambhul, Jaswand, Buch, Anant and many more. The water pump room in one corner, with a 8×8 tank closed with a heavy iron lid.

The unique smell that lingered on each floor, distinctive by its inhabitants, only to be overwhelmed on occasions, by an intense odor brought in by the wet dogs looking for shelter from rains. The freshly painted green walls of the stair case, sometimes sprayed paan red by outsiders. The initial three steps, followed by a series of seven, ending with the final eleven to the forbidden terrace. The constant need of key to that door, mostly held by the Secretary or Treasurer. Once opened, the mosaic expanse of the terrace lined with pipes, splattered with tar to deter rains from seeping in, sometimes layered with drying homemade snacks and crowned by metal antennas.

The general kindness of neighbors, the intermittent squabbles and the mysterious society meetings. The door to door Help-Age-India campaigns or the exchange of dried Aapta leaves on Dasara. The myriad types of rangolis, mango/ashoka leaves and marigold festoons, the sparkling gudhis, the twinkling electric lights and lanterns of festivals all year round. The morse-coded hand-conch calls, the matchbox telephone lines running from one balcony to the other, the ferrying of prized objects via sutli rope loops. The adopted stream of stray dogs and the occasional caring for birds’ nests or bee hives. The din of the passing traffic, building cricket, multi-building istop palti, barking canines, cawing birds. The vocal rhythms of peacock-feathers capped Vasudev, elongated yells of Bhangaarwala, crackle of the whip alongside drum vortex from Kadak laxmi duo, fear-inducing resonating claps from Chhakkey/transgender tolis. The hunt for earthworms, carpenter ants and Alu leaves in adjacent playground during monsoons. The new year eve celebrations on the building roof demanding performances from all young ones and the wise-beyond-years discussions sitting on the roof of the water tank.


When the axe came down, I was in a different universe trying to find a foothold in a land of addictive abundance. The videos and pictures sent by friends and family, of a structure torn down, of an existence wiped out, did not evoke too strong an emotion in an heart that was already brimming with new experiences to reconcile with. My subsequent visits to the city saw an entirely different landscape and the temporary rented apartment seemed as alien as a hotel room. Three years was all it took to raise a shining new home complete with a security guard, commercial spaces, additional stories and two split terraces.

The new home.

Does the elevator have a grill or closing metal doors? Is the water tank still around or relocated? Is the staircase made of white marble or cream colored tiles? Do all the houses have single brown doors? Was the smell that wafted in the staircase from delectable food or construction materials? Did it have a grid with sunlight streaming in or ventilation pipes? Do kids still make the same din outdoors or do they plug in to wide screens in their free time? Does the video screening provided for visiting guests work? Are any of the native trees surrounding the premises still around?

Is it still… Home?

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When US beckoned me by Siddharth Wagh is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.