Getting a home for the family

Getting a home for the family

Maybe memories are better than jewels; at least no one can steal them from you.

Your grandpa is gifting me 'Trim Lodge,’ playfully my friend Shiv Sharma, teases our granddaughter Niharika.

‘Why not?’ I play along with: ‘We can shift into a flat—one key and you can come and go.’

Horrified, she stutters: ‘How can you? All your dogs’ bones are buried in our yard.’

Now who will argue with that?

A lifetime ago, my family moved in here. I was a little boy who struggled up the hill, huffing and puffing, cradling my baby sister Meera in my arms to arrive breathless on the patio. The wisteria welcomed us rattling its leaves.

It was love at first sight.

Though thatch roofs were no match for the monsoon. ‘The last storm discovered all the joints in our harness,’ wrote a diarist, in the 1880s, adding: ‘It was at night, and my endeavours to sleep through it were put an end to by heavy drops beginning to fall on my face. The first drop murdered sleep effectively, a few more made me jump up to drag the bed into a dry place.’

Leaky roofs gave birth to the attic with the advent of galvanised iron sheets, probably at the turn of the 19th century; the second roof was hammered above the thatch. The space between the two was the attic—the final resting place for lost causes and broken dreams. Arrived our prosaic times, Abha, my wife announced: ‘There’s just too much clutter in the house!’

‘Why not a yard sale?’ I mocked.

But cattiness is of no help as Abha is not amused. ‘Get some empty cartons from the bazaar,’ she demands, before going off to the kitchen.

Silence reigns without gnashing of teeth, tearing of hair, sackcloth, or ashes. Crumpled newspapers shroud odd cups that are put away snugly near the odd saucers. Chipped glasses tinkle telling tales of happier times when Johnnie Walker walked to the music of old Scottish pipers, who always trilled their highland pipes. All our regrets and burnt bridges are shoved into the attic. Maybe memories are better than jewels; at least no one can steal them from you.

From a broken frame, slips a fading sepia-toned image of my grandfather. He looks fidgety as he sits on an armchair glaring at the camera in Taneja’s Photo Studio in Landour. He is wearing his favourite churidars, chaddar, and round topi—a moment captured for posterity. And in family lore, it marks our arrival from the village of Sail, in Garhwal.

Time cannot stand still and the past is put into boxes, did I hear the drumbeat of oblivion? What can one do with this yearning for days that the locusts nibbled away? One cannot write them off or return to the days sieved by. I would, if I could, gather them to rub them like a magic lamp or at least before the genie vanished.

Silently, a thought creeps in upon me. What if one of these days a flight of angels were to settle on this house, right next to the gables, their trumpets blaring as the Good Book tell us they will on the Day of Judgment? Will the spirits awaken too? I wonder. Two hundred years later, we would have such a great party attended by all those who had once lived here.

You’re right, Niharika! Maybe all our dogs will awaken for one last prance with me!

Ganesh Saili

Author, photographer, illustrator

The New Indian Express