It began life as a piece of land sold to my grandparents. It was the 1940s, that turbulent decade when India was pulling free from the British yoke. Bengal had already been ripped into two. Many Hindu families, originally from East Bengal (later East Pakistan; now Bangladesh), were fleeing to the West (West Bengal, which remained part of Indian territory). [The opposite – Muslim families moving to East Bengal – was also happening.]
Dadu and Dida (my father’s father and mother) were part of the thousands of families that came, looking to build a new life. They came to Barrackpore, a small town near Kolkata, because my Dida’s father lived here (he was a District Magistrate). They bought middling plot of land by selling off some of Dida’s gold ornaments. [The ornaments would stand our family in good stead through hard times – right down to paying for my father’s engineering college fees.].
Some more sold-off-gold helped to build a small two-bedroom house with a red cement balcony. There was a haphazard garden with a well at one end. My grandparents moved in with their four children – my Jethun (uncle), Pishis (aunts) and Baba (my father, the youngest).
Over the decades, the house changed shape many a time, swelling to suit the needs of its inhabitants. When my father got married a room was added on top, and the house officially became a do-tala baari (two-storey house), enhancing its status in the para (neighbourhood). One of Baba’s promotions resulted in the creation of a proper drawing room and an attic.
Dadabhai’s marriage meant another bedroom. The red-tiled kitchen at the back got a change of roof; new bathrooms were added, as were balconies. Gradually, brick by brick, the house metamorphosed into a sprawling seven-roomed house. What it continued to be, for over six decades, was a HOME to all of us living there. My home.
But, the residents also changed. Some grew old and died – my grandparents – some died before their time – my aunt, father, uncle. Some grew up and left – my cousins. Finally, my mother, brother and I, too, shifted to a new apartment, near the railway station, for convenience and easy conveyance to the city. The lure of the city won over our loyalty to the home.
The house, lonely and left behind, brooded into decrepitude. A family of distant relations stayed for some years while we followed our destinies elsewhere. The termites had an uninterrupted banquet. The memory- heavy rooms, once witness to our evolving histories, remained dark and shut. Cracks grew in the walls and weeds grew in the cracks. Creepers, intertwined with echoes of our laughter and quarrels, grew over the vacant balconies. The trees in the garden cast longer and longer shadows and began to hide the house like Sleeping Beauty’s castle.
My grandfather had left behind a lot of memories, but no legal will. So, the amicable and consensual transfer of the rights of the house to Dadabhai, my cousin, took a long time – more than a decade – and endless visits to the court.
Now the knots of legalese have been unraveled. Dadabhai, who stays in Bangalore, told us last week that the house has been handed over to some promoters, who will break down the old structure and build a multi-storeyed apartment (what else?) in its place. My daughters will never be able to visit it and see for themselves the rooms and garden that shaded and shaped me.
Ironically, each flat in the new building will have two bedrooms - which are what the house originally had, to begin with.
Maybe the happiness I felt there will be transferred to the new owners, multiplying as the rooms have multiplied in the flats, making the residents cherish their homes, just as I did, so long ago.
ANY MEMORIES OF LOSING A HOME?