The House that my Great Grandfather Built

Memories are what the past is made up of, the future competes with and the present recalls.

There are some places that have made up more of our childhood than most. A tree you played around, a garden you spent hours in or a house in which you played hide and seek with children your own age. These singularly normal and even perhaps common place locations are elevated to a heightened degree of uniqueness by being the canvas for your memories. Visuals embedded from decades past flash whenever you hear mention of these places and a flood of times happier comes flowing.

As a child I lived in a joint family in a house built in the mid 40’s. My Great – Grandfather, (my Father’s maternal grandfather) was a man of some local distinction having completed a graduate degree. In early 20th Century, in the Princely states of the British Empire of India, higher education for the average Indian was rare. So he did well and with his savings made one of the first houses in the area. He owned the entire street then, now all that remains is a corner bungalow the days of glory of which have been long past. This house was where I completed 0-10 and thus remember each plant in its garden, each crack I ran a finger against and the furniture which towered over me which now I dwarf. I recently visited my grandparents with my new 50mm Prime Focus lens with the hope of capturing those locations which inhabit all my childhood scenes. Here are the results.

The road in front of the house, tar then, cement. The cows remain a constant. While dozens of kids played on the streets and life reverberated in our colony, now all the kids and grand kids have flown the nest. Everyone in search of a job elsewhere. Its sad to see this street empty.
As I walked close to the cattle they suddenly became camera shy, in the background you can see the road gone to the dogs literally with the monsoon having brought up more muck than usual.
Standing in the Verandah with Kota stone under my feet, I am surrounded by my Grandmother’s garden. There is the Bamboo, the young shoots of which we had for dinner once of twice, the coconut palm which never bore fruit while I lived here and the long gone beetle vine
The Lemon tree that has stood here for more than 3 decades. It would give us quite a few baskets of fresh yellow citrus goodness every year.
Towering above the Lemon Tree is this, the tree next door. This belonged to a house that we as kids liked to believe was haunted. This tree, dry at times, added to the eeriness.
This was the view you got from the garden bench, the foliage thicker now than it was then made for cool shade. if I was as much of a reader then as now, i’d have loved this place.
The Coconut Palm which even 600 or so kilometers away from the coast now gives a decent crop of coconuts
Each leaf of the palm was like a long thin saber. Which is exactly what me and my friends used it for, in our game of pirates.
Underneath the coconut Palm lie these small undeveloped coconuts. Natural Abortion kind of thing going on here. These are conker sized and I think would make wonderful playthings.
The Husk of old coconuts makes for good mud filters in earthen pots. This sack full of them made for a good subject I think
The transformer outside which now has so much growing all around it. This used to conk out rendering us into darkness nearly every week in the monsoon. The result candle lit dinners and power cut games.
Old houses have so many doors, this one you could see through it!
At the end of the house sat my Grandfather reveling in his retirement while surveying the house.
Through every crevice of the house that you look out today, all you see is green. Something rare in our modern cities.
In the early 20th Century and even before that the ‘Angaan’ or the central courtyard was an important part of the house hold. Here is where the clothes were washed and dried and you had a well or a tank.
The stairs with their high risers were always an uphill task. But these were also the ones I tried my first slinky on.
From this window now covered with cobwebs, I’d have stare offs with the Alsatian in next door’s balcony.
The balcony of morning teas and sunset coffees, but mostly for drying laundry.
All the balconies had nails put into the parapet rather clumsily. A result of the hurried prep for the festival of Diwali. Then the house would be draped with small lights and they would hang from nails like this.

One of my fondest memories is gardening with my grandmother. A woman in possession of one of the greenest thumbs I have ever seen she introduced me to the world of budding, bulbs, bonsai and gladioli. Here are some of the plants from her terrace garden.

So that was a part of my childhood. Memories of hiding behind the water tank from my cousins in a game or when a glass of milk was about. Of playing in the garden and gathering pieces of twig, leaves and other organic waste to play with them. Time passes much to quickly but as long as you have more positive remembrances than unfortunate ones, you are lucky. Like these bricks which I stood on once to see past the parapet, this house may be old but will never get any less beautiful.

 

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