Tuesday, April 17, 2012

The House

The silence, it tip-toes into the room behind the shadows. The afternoon had been yellow with the sounds of playing children. Now back to the darkness and the dustiness.

She doesn't like the harsh whiteness of tubelights - they remind her of hospitals and offices. She likes yellow light - sunshine, candles, small bulbs hidden behind creamy white paper. Yellow light makes everything shine - her blue and white china, the hundred year old wood of the table, even her cheap steel spoons. Yellow light makes life friendlier.

Her children berate her, of course. "You'll ruin your eyes, Amma," says the eldest from his first world home in Jersey. "Amma! You'll walk into something and break your bones," warns the youngest, balancing a baby in one hand and the phone in the other. The middle one stopped caring many years ago, after he got married. They want her to sell the house, to move in with them. Spend four months of the year with each of them, flitting from child to child like a lost migratory bird.

The house is shut up, the tables and chairs covered in dusty drapes. She uses just three rooms - the kitchen, the dining room, and her bedroom. She knows these rooms inside out, can find her way around in the darkness.

The afternoons are good, the children from the orphanage come to play. They are good children, they don't come anywhere near the house. Or maybe they are scared of her, she doesn't know. She supposes she must seem scary, with her mouldy eyes and the spots on her hands and her slow walk. Old age always did frighten youth, even when she was young.

She watches them from behind her curtains. Shrieking, climbing trees, daring each other, playing hide-and-seek - she is glad she allowed them to play in her yard. Children need space to run around and play, and the orphanage was too crowded for that.

Sometimes, after dark, she pretends she has gone blind. She doesn't light the candles. She walks around in the darkness with her hands slightly in front of her. A bit of moonlight filters in through the windows, which helps after a while - once her eyes have adjusted to the half-light.

She hopes that ghosts will talk to her in the darkness, tell her stories of long ago glory. She can tell them stories in return, stories from her own life. Her childhood was bright with yellow sunshine. She considers her marriage, and it is pink - a fresh, bright pink in the beginning, vivid and full of promise, but fading to the paleness of onion peels by the end. And after her husband died, there was grey, darkening now into black.

She walks through the rest of the house sometimes. She takes a candle along - she doesn't know the other rooms so well anymore. Furniture shrouded in sheets, an occasional rat squeaking around, a quiet that just reminds her of the excited shouts that used to ring out here many years ago.

She stands in the middle of the hall, and closes her eyes. She imagines the hall as it used to be - the black and white chequered floor, the large oval mirror on the far wall, the sunlight filtering in through the neem tree outside. A teak table with lion claws for feet, a dresser full of unused dishes. The children used to rush in after school, leave their bags and shoes in the hall, and run to the kitchen to be the first to tell her about their day.

On holidays, the house used to reverberate with their shouts. They used to play hide-and-seek on the grounds, throw stones at the mangoes on the trees. The boys' friends would come to play cricket on Saturday afternoons, and then beg her for her famous lemon juice. Her youngest was a reader, she would sometimes go off to remote corners of the house and read by herself.

The house seems to speak to her sometimes. "Can't you see what you're doing to me?" it asks her, "I am meant for a family. My staircases are meant for children to rush down, my balconies and turrets are meant for them to clamber over. My mirrors need someone to preen in front of them. You're wasting me. I could be making so many people happy right now!"

"Wait," she responds, "Be patient. I will go away soon. And then you shall have your wish."

She knows that none of her children will want to come back and settle here. They will probably sell the house and divide the money amongst themselves. She wonders who will buy, though. Who would want such a large rambling house, with its old-fashioned bathrooms, its outdated kitchen, its trees that seem to shed leaves every minute?

She knows what she has to do, of course. She feels that she is being guided by a power bigger than herself. It's too perfect a match, surely?

She wonders if her husband would have approved. He would have, she feels - he was always a kind and generous man. Her children will be livid, of course. But they won't miss the house. They'll just miss the money. 
• • •

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Changes in the Air

It is baking hot in Bangalore. Old-timers reminisce about ten years ago, when the weather never went beyond "slightly warm", even at three on an April afternoon. They speak with horror of the traffic, and the pollution, and the heat, and the dust. Walking about in the hot yellow afternoon, it is quite an effort to remember that Hyderabad must be hotter, Delhi must be dustier, Chennai must be muggier.

Ticking away the moments that make up a dull day 
You fritter and waste the hours in an offhand way. 
Kicking around on a piece of ground in your home town
Waiting for someone or something to show you the way. 

Time feels strange these days. Maybe it always does during periods of change, if only one weren't too busy to notice.

Next week, after three years of corporate life, I am taking a break. Life will no more be split into five days of work and two days of relaxation. No more of hurrying to catch the 7:30 bus, no more coming home late, no more office food, no more of sitting hunched in front of a laptop.

I have to admit - it is damn scary. Life is easier when there's a set routine. And the easier the routine, the tougher it is to get out - of the rut or comfort zone or whatever you want to call it. People tell me it was a brave decision to make, but I did it without even thinking much about it.

I already know, of course, that it will require a lot of willpower. It is going to be a torturous year, where I will almost certainly be wracked by doubt, by a sneaking suspicion that I'm not doing what I actually should be doing, that I should be doing more than I currently am.

The other change is that we are moving to a new place. Not our own, though. We realized that we were doing the whole house-buying thing too hurriedly. After all, a house is a life-long investment - it's almost like deciding whom to marry. It's not something that should be decided with a deadline in mind.

So we are moving to a rented place as of now. The guy who showed us the place kept using the word 'penthouse', but all that it means is that it's on the same floor as the terrace. Which is actually good - I am looking forward to the monsoons, and to seeing black clouds massed up against the afternoon sky. People crib about having to shift houses, but I find myself excited about it. I guess mostly because I've never done it before and I don't know any better.
• • •