Grand old symbol

There is something about an independent house which an apartment lacks... Character?

Recently, my parents mentioned shifting to an apartment from their independent house and my heart lurched. It wasn’t only because of the memories associated with the house. It was also for the fact that my little daughter would not be able to experience life in an independent house.

We live in an apartment. My parents-in-law recently shifted to one. Where and how would my daughter experience the joys of an independent house now? There is something about such a house which an apartment lacks. Maybe character? Besides, grandparents living in an apartment just doesn’t sound right!

When I was her age, I spent my summer vacations at my maternal grandparents’ sprawling house. It was a labyrinthine haveli with rooms that had exotic names like ‘baradari’, ‘chaubara,’ ‘jharokha’ and ‘darikhana’. A gala time awaited us from the moment we stepped inside the haveli. Right from playing with cousins in different rooms and rooftops, to sleeping on terrace at nights, I relished every moment of my stay.

The haveli was said to be 150 years old and had fascinating stories about tunnels, ghosts, hidden treasures and bygone luxuries, which kept us suitably mystified through long summer days and provided grist to our gossip mill in the nights. The house was so big that it was an ordeal in itself to find and collect us all during meal times.

Visits to my paternal grandparents’ place were a memorable experience of a different nature. It was a small town and the house was rustic where floors needed a cow dung and mud plaster every 15 days. A couple of rooms were dedicated to storing hay. In summers, cart loads of mangoes would land in those haystacks. Imagine eating bucketful of mangoes for breakfast and competing with cousins in throwing mango pits the farthest. Pure bliss!

There was an open well in our comp-ound and it fascinated me no end. I loved the sound of a pail going splash when it hit the surface, the glug it made when tilted and the rush of water once it started filling. Pulling up the heavy bucket was hardwork and a cousin was always aro-und to give my little hands a helpful tug.

Here again, the days were spent playing both indoor and outdoor games with cousins and in reading comics. The highlight of the trip for me, however, was a visit to our fields. Mango-laden trees, a ride on a bullock cart, a shower at the tube well, a picnic in picturesque fields, were all a treat to the senses.

My parents’ current house, though very pretty, is neither that exotic and nor is it full of cousins. In fact, my daughter is the only child around when she visits them. Large families gone, large houses are bound to follow suit. Why am I so hung up on a big, independent house then? Some contemplation led to enlightenment. A large, independent house is the last vestige of that joie de vivre which was a hallmark of joint families. I miss that feeling of being in a joint family, albeit for vacations. Knowing that those times aren’t going to come back, I think I am just stuck on the symbolism!

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