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Can a house feel and absorb the emotions of people who live in it, who have lived in it? I think yes, because I feel these too.
They say death changes lives, tragedy affects people in permanent ways. I have noticed that death or loss of any kind changes places too, structures concrete and seemingly indestructible succumb to the pain of change, just as us, mere mortals.
I have experienced this twice in the years past and am narrating the stories for those suffering from similar symptoms. May you find the courage to deal too and believe that it won’t last.
A few years back, I experienced my first truly agonizing breakup. And unfortunately went through it in the place most close to my heart, most filled with life and love – my childhood home. As I went through the motions – denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance, in no particular order – like countless other women and probably men before me have (the current, bitter cynic in me feels men are just different), I hated HIM most for taking away the comfortable cocoon that my home had until then stood for.
In the months that passed, as I sullenly walked around the various rooms of my beloved house, completely dejected, I couldn’t remember how the yellow, sunshine walls of my girlhood bedroom had so excited me when I first moved in, a mere 13 year old.
Instead the room now reeked of the tears I cried in the very space for the boy who had broken my heart, and who should have meant much less. The garden where my family and I had joyfully played Holi and my beloved dogs had run amok, unhindered, amusing us with their antics, now only made me long for the long talks with him, that I remained engrossed in for hours, walking around the hedges. Every single corner, nook and cranny, reminded me of the pictures I had excitedly clicked, wanting to show him a part of where I came from, the things that made me happy.
But there was nothing that I could do about all these thoughts. I had made my bed and now had to sleep in it. And for a very long time, I believed that along with my childish trust and faith, I had lost my house forever too.
But God is kind and surprisingly benevolent.
A few months after the same breakup, my elder brother got engaged, soon to be married in my least favourite season and month – February – the winter season, since anything cold and dark makes me depressed (this includes snow and dark rooms) and longing for sunshine and February – because it’s the month of love and I would now have to spend it all alone.
Anyhow. While my mother worried about the wedding wardrobe preparations in which I had by then lost all interest (retorts of “who cares how I look” frequently followed excited questions by my sweet and patient mother), I struggled to deal with the eventuality of witnessing a love story that had stood the test of time while mine certainly hadn’t. But the date had been set and invitations sent. And the wedding was happening, however reluctant I was to be a part of it.
As I made travel plans, applied for leave, after spending a horribly cold winter in New Delhi, I simultaneously and constantly bickered about the sleep loss that accompanies such events – raging to whoever would listen about all those people I would be forced to make polite small talk with, navigating questions about future prospects of my eligible self that I would inevitably have to endure, etc.
But something surprising and beautiful had been in the works much before my arrival, orchestrated by the same kind God.
As soon as I entered the hallowed doors of the shaadi ka ghar, the ladkey vaalon ka ghar, I was overwhelmed by an unexpected feeling of good cheer and pure joy. There were innumerable relatives, old and young who began doting on me immediately, praising my wedding wardrobe (all carefully curated by the darling mother as earlier mentioned; I had refused point blank to involve myself in any preparations), my weight loss and generally enveloping me in warmth and belonging.
As the days passed- with three days of wedding functions, reunions with numerous long lost cousins, elaborate plans hatched to sneak in alcohol and other illegal substances while the elders were not looking, long heart to heart chats with my favorite “cool” aunts, the house began to resemble once again, my once cherished place of love and safety. And as the events dawned to a close and I reluctantly and sorrowfully bid my friends and family goodbye, I thanked the powers for making me fall in love again, albeit this time with a handsome and stately house- the stage of many a past happy memories, making it all mine again and utterly recognizable.
Many years further in the past of the above events, an elderly relative lost her husband of many years. She had been one of my favorite aunts- equal parts old mother Hubbard from the nursery rhyme and a much milder version of the cranky recluse Miss Havisham from Great Expectations. As an aside, I am one of those people who has favorite relatives. I have always considered my paternal grandfather as the handsomest older gentleman I have met, with a distinguished baritone to match and cannot recall any old man as fun loving, eccentric and exciting as my maternal grandfather, with his unabashed love for Norah Jones, dumbbells and literary tomes. I also have favorite aunts, uncles and so on.
Anyway, back to my story. Along with the deep affection I felt for this old woman, I had equally adored the house in which she had lived her entire adult life- a treasure trove of heirloom clothes, painstakingly maintained, books- all wrapped in a thick coat of dust and a particular pleasing old book smell, old school crockery cupboards, sundry falling to pieces artifacts and invaluable black and white pictures.
When my parents and I visited the house for the first time after the tragic event, to pay our respects to the grieving widow, thus, I was struck by foreboding at the gate itself- a premonition of some great horrors lying beyond. I held my mother’s hand tight and entered to the sound of wailing. In that moment, I experienced a strange sense of deep loss for a man who I had never much interacted with in the past. But also found myself blaming him for what the house would now forever symbolise. My worse fears eventually came true.The huge house now somehow seemed even larger, each corner a proof and victim of the loneliness and despair that follows and precedes death. I avoided the old lady the entire duration of our visit as along with the shattering of my vision of her house, I knew I wouldn’t be able to bear to see her changed too. I never went back again either, a fact I now deeply regret.
A few years later, the old woman passed away peacefully in her sleep. A young couple with children now occupied the house on rent. While cycling around the neighborhood, where I too lived, I passed by THAT house and decided to stay awhile, very close, in curious anticipation. The windows of the house lay open on that hot June afternoon, a deliciously comforting and familiar smell of dal chawal wafting out. There was the sound of children’s giggles and laughs, a maid servant calling them for lunch, odd dog toys strewn around the garden, a small bright white swing planted solid, speaking of permanence and a general, delightful unkempt-ness of a family home abound. I remember cycling away after a while, finally at peace, these happy sights deeply cemented in my mind and a huge weight lifted off my heart.
I felt in that moment that the house had found its soul back. And along with it, a part of my own heart had mended too. Nothing after all is permanent.
Image source: a still from the movie Family Katta
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Shriya Pandey is a qualified lawyer with specific work experience in the area of intellectual
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