Our Taj Mahal...
The little tin-roofed house stood forlorn in the middle of vast fields. Buffaloes wallowed in shallow pools in front of the house. Sis and I looked on in disbelief.
“Is this where we are going to live?”
We had never imagined shifting to Guwahati would be to a place like the one in front of us. Even though we were staying in a jungle previously, that was in a large wooden bungalow, while our vacations were spent in our grandmother’s sprawling mansion.
“Don’t worry,” Ma seemed to sense our apprehension. “We will soon build a new house here.”
I still remember our excitement when Deta (my dad) returned home one evening with the blueprint of the house from the architect. We had fought over our bedrooms and debated over the wall shades. That night we slept with smiles on our faces, dreaming of our ‘castle’.
“Be prepared now, girls,” we were told by the daughters of our parents’ friends on the day of the bhoomi puja. “No more clothes, books or toys till the time the house is complete. They won’t entertain any of your demands.” They whispered sinisterly, pointing to our parents.
And so the construction began. It went on for years. The house was being built with the salary of an honest man, after all. In the interim, Deta got transferred twice to different places, faraway from Guwahati. At times, there were monetary crunches and work had to be stalled. We traced our fingers over the frayed blueprint, wondering if we will ever get to live in our dream house. Even Deta started jokingly referring to our house as the Taj Mahal. (Taj Mahal took 20 years to build.)
The house did get built sometime in the early 2000s. But by that time sis and I had moved out for higher studies and later on, our career. Technically, we had moved in to our new home when it was half completed. Deta had decided to get the completed part painted and we pored over the Asian Paints pamphlets, arguing over the shades and the types (distemper, washable and what not). I left for Delhi for my MBA before the painting started. It was a pink house that I returned to after 5 months.
Wall hangings from Sikkim, bamboo painting by me! A perceptible North-Eastern theme...
Although Deta meant the time period when he said that our house was no less than Taj Mahal, I think the cliché attached to it fits our house more – a labour of love. For, it was Deta who sat awake over nights with pen and paper and designed the doors, the grilles and the work on the walls. And it was Ma who without consulting any interior designer, magazines or the internet, lived out her dreams by decorating the house. Maybe today she could have taken help from Asian Paints Home Solutions!
Our wooden furniture gets a new leash of life with fresh varnish; the mask is from Sikkim and the white birds on the walls are my dad's designs
Traditional Assamese Xorai (L) made of bell metal, handiwork on jute cloth used as wall hanging (made by my cousin)
Various hand crafted knick-knacks collected from all over the country
“How does it look?” she would ask us after every new addition, rearranging the cushions and the curtains. The house was her little world.
Today, we sisters are married and stay very far from our home in Guwahati - the ‘castle’ of our dreams. The one we could not live in forever. Ma and Deta shed a tear every time we visit them.
“We built the house for you,” they would say ruefully. “And now you come as guests and stay just a few nights.”
Their greatest regret remains that we could not spend more time together as a complete family in our new home. At the same time, I perceive a happy glint in their eyes when my nieces from space-crunched Mumbai romp abandoned around the house and announce that my parents have the loveliest house in the whole world and that they would like to have a similar one for themselves when they grow up. Another set of dreams, just as we had when we were their age.
“They just refused to leave our house,” Ma would relay to us happily over the phone. Sometime later she would tell us of offers received from production houses for filming TV serials at our home.
“No!” sis and I would object.
And yet, whenever I think of our home, my mind harks back to those days when it used to be filled with incessant chatter and full-throated laughter. A cheerful house, filled with cousins who would spend their vacations with us, along with our raucous horde of pets. We had a few guests living in the attic as well, a family of spotted owlets who had to be evicted eventually when they multiplied, leaving behind splatters of white droppings all over the front of our house.
Family bonding around the bonfire on Magh Bihu
Even though we are not there with our parents today, the house continues to serve its purpose. It is where relatives drop in when they are in the city for a few days, where my aunts gather in the evenings and share their day’s stories over cups of tea, where Bihu feasts take place and happy tidings celebrated. Our home has seen three weddings in the family, my sister’s, mine and our cousin’s, and has been witness to all the madness that had transpired.
Today, there are no buffaloes wallowing in muddy puddles in front of our house. The area is choc-a-block with houses, crammed against each other. In the midst of all that, remains our oasis. My parents’ labour of love – our Taj Mahal…
Our Taj Mahal