In the beginning, in the very beginning, all I wrote was a conversation. There was a story to tell, a matter to discuss and I wrote in order that I and the reader could reach new vistas in understanding. It wasn’t about meeting deadlines. It wasn’t about throwing words across a page just to get the job done. It was about writing to find myself and invite another into my world. Reading http://www.literarysafari.com/, I realized how far I’d wandered from being that person.
Do I suddenly know all the answers and hence have no need for ruminations? Or am I just not sitting still long enough to have those thoughts? Most recently, however, there has been a reason to pause and ponder. My grand-mother’s house, the one where all my pre-wedding day festivities were held, the house that became my home each summer for years on end, that home is to be sold this coming week. The house brought us all from across the globe to one place, a place all of us considered 'home'. My grandparents, without question, extended their roof to every short-term and long-term visiting child, sibling, niece, nephew, grand-child, friend. That symbol, that house is soon to become another’s. Another’s only to be demolished.
I remember the tall eucalyptus tree in the courtyard, it’s branches swaying dangerously, threatening to fall on the roof, each monsoon. I remember the rooms in that house – my aunt’s paintings dotting the wall. I remember the curtains long and limp at each wooden door, the high, curved ceiling, white paint, peeling limestone walls. I remember the monkeys that descended to devour our guavas that were ripe for the picking and my grandfather taking aim with his rifle, from behind the iron gated door in the inner courtyard, intending to frighten them off.
In that same house, I also remember my great-grandmother being ill and bed ridden for eight years. The same great grand-mother who hid chocolate in the mouth-piece of her phone to keep it safe!!! The great grand-mother whose love for After-Eight chocolates inspired my own love for them. Even with bent fingers, for old age and frail bones had taken their toll, she wrote letters to each of her grand-children and children who lived in countries flung across the globe. That’s what I remember of Nanna. She was Nanna to our father and that’s what we learned to call her too.
My own paternal grand-parents, though, are a more vivid recollection and that house is taking with it the most vital, non-living symbol tied to two people I loved so very much. In fact, the last time I visited India was to say good-bye to my grand-mother, five years ago. It’s strange that I still call that house my grand-mother’s house rather than my grand-parents house.
As my aunts and uncles and dad divvy up my deceased grand-parents belongings, I’ve asked for some of them for myself as well. There are black and white photos of my grandparents and myself. In one dada is holding a two-year-old me as I point at the love-birds he had as pets. He had a cage as huge as a room for them. I can’t recall how many love-birds lived in there but I remember small earthen pots being their nests. I’m wearing a short dress. My thighs are fat and chubby and I believe have stayed the same in honor of that picture. There’s another picture of dada and me eating ice-cream, another of me with my aunts watching over me…. I don’t remember all of them but I’ve asked my aunts to give those pictures to my parents who’ll keep them for me. My mom is an ace pack-rat and never loses a thing. For safekeeping, hers are the best of hands.
I’ve asked for those pictures and for a piece from a wall that was a lattice. It is cement but has a pattern that lets the sun through. I want one square I said to my aunt Mahnoor, in jagged broken sobs. I had already taken my grand-mother’s hair curlers and her night-gown as a memento in the days following her death. Everyone seemed surprised. My grand-mother, who was always immaculately dressed, wouldn’t I want one of her sari’s instead? Yes, she was immaculately dressed but no one sari seemed to leave the imprint that the black-and-white print nightgown did.
I remember that night-gown all too well. The lights would have been dimmed, mosquito coils smoking and my grand-ma in that nightgown, glasses on her nose, would sit in the spray of lamp-light, figuring out a crossword puzzle. Or she’d be wearing that nightgown to attend to Wimbledon. Or, that nightgown and the curlers, those were a frequent pairing. She was as stylish as she was well-dressed, and put more time into looking great than I’ve ever mustered the patience to do. My cousin Huma asked for my maternal grandpa’s dentures when he had passed. Considering that, my request for the hair-curlers, nightgown and lattice don’t seem so odd, even if Huma was all of ten when she requested the dentures. It’s strange what we remember about our adults.
“You have good in-laws and a good husband. Look after them well,” was the advice both my dada and dadi gave me. I think that was the only time they weren’t patting me on my back and instead seeing that I needed to be set on the right track. When my grand-mother died, and people spoke about her, they all seemed to say one thing. She took such an interest in each of their lives. I saw that she had cared to be involved in their lives just as she had been in ours. Listening well is another way of saying I love you, after all.
My maternal grand-mother, I believe, went to heaven the day she died. I don’t think she had to wait for the Day of Judgment and her record to be read. As Muslims we believe that the graves of those who are pious are filled with light and are roomier. I believe my nani’s grave has a forest for shade, the song of nightingale, light from God’s throne filling its insides and cats for company because she loved them so much. She hated to smoke out bee hives, even when they clung just beyond her room doors, knowing that it could kill them. She had a temper but kept it within the walls of her home. Her life comprised reading novels and reading the Quran. My cousins too recall all the times she cajoled us to eat one more ice-cream when she took us out in the evenings after those hot, hot days. “Why do you all come at all when you have to leave?” she’d ask us as we bid goodbye for Bombay, happy to be done with boring old Hyderabad and its searing summers, each year. Children are lucky to have grandparents for the unconditional, unhurried love they receive. My nani, her brief if any tenure in the grave done, I bet is sitting in heaven.
The impending sale of my Grand-ma’s house has brought with it this storm of memories and it's not my feelings alone that are in tumult. "Even we feel we're becoming homeless," said my grandma's sister-in-law, Manglee Aunty. Nor are all these memories just sentimental longing or nostalgia. They are a reminder to me that relationships are precious and need involvement. Further, I see that time is a-shrinking. I need to spend more of it amongst my nearest and dearest. As I told my husband, the last thirteen years of our marriage have been spent in the shade of his parents love. It’s time now for me to reap the benefits of having my parents in close quarters. I’ve said this before, but this time I want actions to follow where words and unfulfilled desires have long been lingering. Maybe Muscat should become home for us soon.
As for our family home, my grand ma’s home, being lost, nature abhors vacuums, or so they say. A new one will need to be created; a place that connects all of us relatives with memories and feelings of kinship and belonging. Perhaps, its foundation stone will be laid by my grand-mother’s eldest child – my father. Perhaps my parents home will become the next family-home, the next family haven. I think the need to belong and to be part of one big picture will set the wheels in motion. After all, if anything at all, hasn’t life taught us that as one door closes, another one opens?