Friday, February 4, 2011

A Tale Of Two Houses

Most of us love visiting our childhood. Be it in the form of food, books, people, places, music, movies...anything, just anything that connects us with that wonderful period in our lives. Something that may seem to be very ordinary to others, is significant and very dear to us, because it takes us back to the time when we were kids. I do not know whether our fascination lies in the simple, uncomplicated lifestyle of the yesteryears, or the age of innocence we were in at that time. I guess, it is a combination of these.

I relived a little bit of my childhood during a recent trip to Dhar. Now, Dhar is one of those places that were important centuries ago, but lost all their glory somewhere along the way, and are reduced to being nondescript, small towns today. The history of Dhar is synonymous with that of Raja Bhoj, under whose rule Dhar prospered and became an important centre of learning in the 11th century. Today, it is a dusty little place, overshadowed by its much bigger neighbour, Indore.

Growing up in Indore, I used to go to Dhar often, to visit my paternal grandmother's sister and her family. It was a joint family, living in two houses. One of the houses was called 'old house' and the other,'new house'. The houses had an old-world charm about them. And for someone like me, who did not have much experience with rural or small-town life, they held a great appeal. They had wells and cow-sheds and the floors in the rooms had to be smeared with cow-dung every now and then. I remember spending some happy days in those houses. Later, when I got married and moved on, I did not get a chance to visit Dhar. It was not far, only about 70 kilometres from Indore, but it went very far back in my memory.

A few months ago, when I was in Indore with my parents, we decided to go to Dhar, just for old times' sake. My grandmother and her sister passed away years ago, but their families have maintained a close bond. I was looking forward to checking out the two houses, and of course, meeting my relatives who lived in them. Three of my father's cousins with their wives, children and grandchildren live there now. When I checked with my uncles about the age of the houses, they estimated the 'new' house to be about 100 years old, while the 'old' one, anywhere between 150 and 175 years old.

We go to the 'old house' first. It is in a small alley, standing in a row of houses that are tightly packed, with no gap in between. It looks exactly the same as it did decades ago, when I had seen it last. The front door is unusually short. One has to bend to pass through it. 'You have to be polite, otherwise you can't enter!', someone jokes. The house looks smallish from outside, but is quite spread out inside. There are rooms of different shapes and sizes, connected to each other like coaches in a train. Many of the connecting doors are quite short.

There is a festive atmosphere in the house. Folks who live in the 'new house' are here too, so that we can meet the whole family at the same time. The lady of the house is busy in the kitchen, preparing a traditional meal for us. I am meeting most of them after years, but they are all very warm and genuinely happy to have us. There is laughter and bonhomie around the dining table where we relish the delicious lunch, taking turns in batches of six. They have acquired gadgets like a fridge, television set and even a computer. But they have chosen to live in the house that their ancestors built. Sure, they don't have conveniences like attached bathrooms and modular kitchens. Why, even answering the door while working in the kitchen is a challenge, as the front door and the kitchen are miles apart. But they are taking it in their stride. They have seen the outside world...the adults work in banks and schools, the children go to school, they travel...but what they call home is this. And the best part is that they seem to be very comfortable here.

photos by Prateek
Later in the afternoon, we go to the other house for tea. It is a three-storied house, with balconies on the outside. But the toilets are downstairs, in the backyard! And going up and down the steep, narrow staircase isn't a piece of cake either. But life goes on... has been going on all these years. I became a little girl again...seeing these homes. Most of the other old houses that I visited in my childhood have either been demolished or renovated beyond recognition. That makes these houses unique. And looking at the people who reside in them, I wonder if they are so incredibly warm, loving and simple because they are living in premises blessed by their forefathers. Or they are happy in these old-fashioned places because they are intrinsically unpretentious and down-to-earth. Whatever it is, I wish them even more happiness than they already have.