Often when my auto whizzes past a school campus on Hosur Road, I can smell the pine and fir fragrance of Palampur . Palampur was my happy place as a teenager because a favourite aunt lived here, in a house overlooking the craggy Dhauladhar range. As she travelled the country as an army wife, I visited her many homes during holidays.
The long lined bungalow in Assam; the bungalow smelling of jasmine in Kanpur; her compact apartment in Holta Camp. And finally the home that was to be a retirement retreat on the outskirts of Palampur.
Her home always smelt of a well-ordered, happy life that was simple but rich in detail. Her garden always preened with roses and bougainvillea A solar cooker prepared lunch in the backyard. A tree outside the bedroom dispensed fragrance as she sat on her desk to write her diary. Pressed flowers were pasted on handmade greeting cards. If guests came, they were treated to long walks. And when they went back home, she packed bus and train lunches with each parantha layer revealing a new variety of pickle.
She is a gentle soul in love with little moments that we overlook as we chase big dreams.
A decade ago, she moved to Chandigarh and turned an impersonal high rise apartment into a cosy home. Everything in its place, as always. When I asked her why she spent so much time organising the little things, she said, “Because life is simpler when everything is easy to find.”
But then something did go missing irretrievably from her life. Her sense of ease was shattered the day her husband suffered a stroke and she had to grapple with a new terrifying uncertainty.
When life became impossible, she with her husband left decades of domesticity behind to move into their son's Delhi home. “Sometimes, life gives you no choice,” she said. I wonder. How do you stuff a lifetime of memories into a few bags? How do you reconcile to the absence of volition over your own life?
Life, she taught me, is about being happy with what is and reducing everything to just one sentence, “What is it that matters now?” and then arranging your life around the answer. I miss the absence of her home from my list of happy places. But I know, she will find something to smile at in her new surroundings. Maybe she will grow roses in the balcony.
Or find a beautiful sunset outside her window. The universe owes her that much.