Translated by Rizwan Shaik
When I turned at the end of the street, it appeared. It had stood there for centuries, my house, my haveli. Just as if you leave an old man on the side of the road, he stays there.
The day had finally arrived. There had been talk about it for the last two months. When I reached Peth on Saturday, I discovered that this road, too, had become a one-way street. There was a new, gleaming, completely outlandish white building where Joshi Kaka ‘s house used to be.
I parked my scooter next to the Hanuman Temple. When I turned at the end of the street, it appeared. It had stood there for centuries, my house, my haveli. Just as if you leave an old man on the side of the road, he stays there.
A large teak door painted in blue stood between black stones. I walked through the small gate after opening a brass latch. I stood there for a moment, wondering if this big door had ever been opened. I couldn’t remember.
The outer walls of the haveli were worn, and the windows were covered with spider webs. There were pigeon’s nests on the window sills, and sparrows merrily hopped around the courtyard. Termites had caused considerable damage to the wooden posts and rats had dug deep holes everywhere. A dog was relaxing in the shade of a jackfruit tree. These were the only tenants that remained.
A short man in a yellow hard hat ran up to me, panting. “Some of your belongings are still there in the haveli. Please have a look.” How many things could I possibly carry back?
As I sat on the big wooden swing on the veranda, a flood of bittersweet memories rushed through my mind. I must have been about ten years old. Winter mornings in Pune are often mildly foggy. The Kakad Arti of the Hanuman Temple on the next street began at four o’clock in the morning. “Kanchan Thal Kapoor Jo Chhai, Aarti Karat Anjana Mai…”.
When Aai, my mother, came back from the temple, she would first kiss my forehead. My cat Ovi and I would still be asleep, under the quilt. When she walked into a room, it would reverberate with the sound of her toe rings. The skin of her toes was callused, and the scars were visible, but she never removed the thick silver toe rings she wore.
She never took off the green glass bangles on her wrist, or her nose rings and earrings either. I assumed that she was either born wearing them or that she had received them as a boon as Karna did.
Whenever she woke us up, she would kiss me on the forehead. Aai, smelt of incense, sacred ashes, sandalwood, vermilion and soap. It would bring a smile to my face and brighten up my morning. When Aai, my mother, came back from the temple, she would first kiss my forehead. My cat Ovi and I would still be asleep, under the quilt. When she walked into a room, it would reverberate with the sound of her toe rings.
Aai, would grind barley on the mill, and sing sacred Ovis, “My first Ovi is for Yashoda’s Kanha.” Aai named my cat Ovi because she thought the cat’s voice was melodious.
Whenever Aai sang Ovis, my cat would lie in her lap.
Father always sat on the swing. His father also did it all the time and until his last breath.
There were thirty rooms in the haveli. Bade Baba, Vasant Kaka, and their families lived here. After Fufa Ji became an ascetic and chose the spiritual path, Charulata Bua also came and settled here. She would remember Fufa Ji, and she would often shed tears that I suspected were fake. She would sing bhajans, and eat peanuts with jaggery, under the pretext of shelling peanuts.
This secret was discovered when Vatsala Kaki opened the jaggery box to make Puran Poli on the morning of Makar Sankranti. Vasant Kaka pored over the information about the Sankranti festival in the Almanac. “This Sankranti is going to travel from east to west and devour a lot of jaggery.” Bua chased Vasant Kaka with a broom that day!
Whenever Aai asked Mahadev to pick a jackfruit from the tree, a significant portion went to Bade Baba. She sent the other parts to the rest of the family. If anything had remained, it would be her share. Aai never ate kheer, she made khove ke pede, but did not eat them. No stale chapati or bhakri ever came to Baba ‘s or my plates, neither have I ever seen her throw spoiled food away.
Baba used to buy two Paithani sarees every year. Aai would always give one to Bua. Baba asked her once on Diwali, “Why do you give your sarees to Charu?” “What would her heart say? Just because her husband has become an ascetic, is she supposed to curb her desires?” she replied, taking a saree out of the trunk.
During the Diwali holidays, Bade Baba’s three children had gone to their mama’s house. How would I build Shivaji Maharaj’s fort without Mansi and Sharad? I cried all day, and fought with Aai. “Aai, why don’t you have a brother? I want to go to mama’s house too!” She hugged me close! I clung to her, crying. Aai never visited her maternal home, so I had never seen my maternal grandparent’s home. Nobody knew the reason. She spent most of that evening seated in front of Krishna in the pooja room.
She hugged me close! I clung to her, crying. Aai never visited her maternal home, so I had never seen my maternal grandparent’s home. Nobody knew the reason. She spent most of that evening seated in front of Krishna in the pooja room.
The very next year Charu Bua decided that she would let two rooms on the upper floor out on rent. Vasant Kaka bought a flat. Every family member, except Baba, attended the house warming ceremony. Vasant Kaka, too, had his share of the haveli let out. After Bade Baba passed away, Badi Aai and Mukund left for Nagpur. Charu Bua had opened a shop where fresh spices were ground at Raviwar Peth.
Aai often walked around in the empty rooms. Her eyes had become weak, and she was unable to use the millstone.
Baba sat for hours on the swing, drinking tea while reading the newspaper. When I came to meet him from Mumbai, he would appear a little weaker every time, and the haveli too looked a little more broken.
When she returned from the Hanuman temple that morning, she was breathless. She sat on the swing for a moment. Then she sat by the mill, and the stones started moving. She sang, “Sita, Avadh is not yours, neither is Mithila”, that was the last Ovi that was ever heard in the haveli
“Sir, I found these toe rings behind Krishna’s picture!” The man in the hard hat gave me a small box.
As the bulldozer brought down the door of the haveli, it seemed as if the sun itself had arrived in person. Across the exterior was a signboard reading “New Age Builders”. Neighbours streamed in attracted by the noise of the bulldozers. But all I could hear was the musical Ovi, flowing through my mind, “My first Ovi is for Yashoda’s Kanha”