In memoriam

Loss, bereavement and memories...

Ajaz A Baba
Srinagar, Publish Date: Oct 21 2017 10:44PM | Updated Date: Oct 21 2017 10:44PM

Yes houses too die. For what is death ultimately but the cessation of being, the transition from is to was. And what is death for those who are left behind? A sense of bereavement, a feeling of loss. You miss the ‘being’ of a person and as you can miss the ‘being’ of a house as well when it ceases to be, it too dies in a sense.

 Houses may experience ‘death’ by means of an accident like a fire or again the ‘death’ may be natural, a house that has outlived its life span and falls down or is pulled down. Or again the pulling down may be part of the division of inheritance necessitated by multiplication of progeny... 

The house of which this is supposed to be an obituary used to be my maternal grandfather’s house or to use the warmer vernacular my maatamaal. It was the house where I was born and enjoyed many summers of my life. For some time while our own house was under construction my family stayed in this house. Every detail of this house is etched on my mind. I just have to close my eyes and there it is... I still remember our improvised kitchen in the attic where the water in the buckets would be frozen solid in the mornings in winter… then again every room of the house had its own associated memories... As a child I liked nothing more than to explore the lofts and the attic space of the house which held a promise of mystery to my imaginative mind. The nooks beneath staircases and closets in the attic served as premises for my first ever library, ‘studio’ and a museum housing my collection of insects in neatly labelled bottles...

Then there was the garden hedged by tall poplars where we children would link our hands and race against the wind blowing through the poplars, feeling its rush on our faces… those improvised swings on apple trees... the plum tree at the corner on which I would perch for hours enjoying a feast of red and dripping, overripe luscious fruit… the huge pear tree beneath whose shade my grandmother would sit on a big chowki along with a couple of other ladies gossiping while they winnowed rice grains or prepared vegetables for lunch or dinner…the wild berries that grew on shrubs at the extreme  end of the garden…the path which my sister, a rather solitary character being at the tail end of brood, used to appropriate and convert into a hopscotch pitch… the constantly dripping garden tap circled by buzzing bees trying to steal a drink on lazy summer days... 

The house was always full of relatives, my mother’s numerous uncles and aunts and cousins and second cousins and distant cousins, ranging in age from elderly to infant. Thanks to this place I did not have a solitary childhood even though my own family was a nuclear one. 

Since this is supposed to be an obituary as I write it I recall that this house was the place where I was confronted with the issue of mortality for the first time. It was the death of a distant aunt who used to visit my grandfather’s house frequently, a sweet lady quite popular with us children. My mother was giving me a bath when the lady’s daughter came wailing to inform the household of her mother’s death. She left me naked and shivering as she went to get the details and console the distraught daughter… Of course I had heard of death before as well but that was the first time I heard of the death of a person known to me and the memory is quite distinct today as well. In later years death came closer when my own grandparents died one after the other in this very house with the same bier waiting at exactly the same place at the foot of those red coloured stairs...

Now the house too is dead... pulled down... it ceases to exist but memories remain. I am sure the house will keep popping up in my dreams. Like this old man I met once; he had migrated to US more than half a century back and yet, as he told me, in his old age the central feature in most of his dreams is his ancestral house in Srinagar. The house – and even the street where it stood – had disappeared decades back but in his dreams the place exists in perpetuity. 

Yes houses too die but like people these too don’t completely cease to exist leaving behind as they do many a poignant memory. It just takes a chance remark or some imperceptible stimulation of the subconscious to bring the memories alive any time… As long as I live and the child in me remains alive, so will my maatamaal...

(Truth is mostly unpalatable…but truth cannot be ignored! Here we serve the truth, seasoned with salt and pepper and a dash of sauce (iness!). You can record your burps, belches and indigestion, if any, at snp_ajazbaba@yahoo.com)