The first thing that comes to mind, are the checkered tiles. Although, hidden from the public eye, somewhere on the first floor of the building; it is the tiles that hold the memories wedged in between the tiny gaps among them. Weddings, funerals, Dholkis, the occasional game of tag, human chess and the many drops of rain that graced its glossy surface. The tiles, in short, carry decades of joy and grief altogether.
It was a two-storey house, situated smack in the middle of a small colony called Hadinagar, in the city of Hyderabad itself. Now if you’ve ever been to Hyderabad, you’ll know these certain ‘colonies’ as referred to in the local language (or ‘nagars’) are quite narrow, villas joined together; each one with its own awning at the entrance, usually.
Like most architecture native to Sindh, the house had its’ own quirks. Decadent fudge-coloured doors, leading to a complete dead-end; dusty glass-stained windows which would make an interior designer and church-goer baulk; marbled staircase, leading all the way up to the first floor and then another set of stairs entirely, leading up to the servants quarters. Which, at times doubled as a storage space for all kind of oddities.
My Dada bought the house in the 80s. He moved into the city from a tiny village called ‘Gambat’ in the district of Khairpur. With ten mouths to feed, the necessity for a large house and better opportunities grew more than ever. Although my father does remember spending his childhood in another place entirely, it is in this house where we lived and died.
I say died because like all things that reach the end of its course, the house had started coming apart at the seams with my Dadi’s passing. A glue which held us together, all my aunts and uncles and a truckload of nieces and nephews, who would frequent it every other day.
Being situated in the UAE, we only ever made trips to the homeland, in summers. The end of every scholastic year was marked by this fervent excitement, at seeing our extended family, cousins and spending an entire summer sucking on ripe mangoes; while being perched upon the charpai in the front yard.
A fond memory that comes to mind, is lying between my grandparents and stargazing with them. Hyderabadi summers often called for sleeping outdoors. Since the skies were clearer back in the day; free of light pollution and smog, it was much easier to spot constellations such as Orion the Hunter, stars like Sirius and Polaris (the Guiding Star). The charpais always felt itchy, too hard and uncomfortable, compared to my bed back home. But the experience was worth it, always.
The house was full of tight, small spaces. The kitchen was probably the smallest one. Situated on the ground floor, there was never enough space for more than four people to cook, clean and do the washing in there. But it was the kitchen, where, in the dead of the night; my cousins and I would sneak up to cook meals of all sorts — instant noodles with leftover korma, french toast (a rather sad and sloppy sight) and horrendously milky chai. It was the kitchen where we discovered a giant rat, the size of a newborn baby. Took the entire household to catch the critter and kill it in a rather gruesome manner — beating it to a pulp with a broomstick. It was the kitchen where after my Dadi passed away, we gathered to prepare food for hundreds of relatives that kept dropping in.
Then there was the case of the “supposedly" haunted servants' quarters, upstairs on the rooftop. The rumour among the cousins was that while descending down the stairs at night, one could hear the soft chun chun of the payal. That, a certain amorphous spirit resided upstairs, which could attach itself to anyone that dares cross its path at night. It didn’t help that the shadows loomed on the rooftop at night, making it seem forbidding and uninviting altogether. The adults dispelled it as mere superstitions, but then they too avoided going upstairs after dark.
I think it was only a matter of time before things starting coming apart. The house went through multiple renovations, but even then the first cracks in the foundation, starting appearing way before my Dadi’s passing. A lot of familial conflicts, embroiled with the heavy rains that would engulf our entire galli; the house was creaking and groaning already. It was inevitable. No amount of paint or plaster could fix the damage that had already been done.
And then there was the case of my Dada, an old man all on his own in a big house; with only the servants to talk to. All the ten mouths he had once fed, were married off and settled away from him. As much as my aunts and uncles tried dropping in (minus my family, since we were oceans away), the nights would be long and lonely when they would depart for their own homes. The house itself kept sinking bit by bit into the ground every year. No matter the number of fixations that were made, the yearly torrential rains only got worse, and the house was constantly flooded. It was obvious that it was becoming unlivable every passing day.
My memory is slightly fuzzy when it comes to remembering the exact date we sold it off. But I do remember memorising every corner, every surface, every crack in the wall and even the damned tiles before I left for UAE, yet again. We were told that it would be sold, and so we knew that we had to make something of it.
It was slightly raining that day, as I took pictures of all the rooms and the floors with my Nokia phone. I slid down the stairs that day, for the last time (as was my habit usually). I recall waving at the house, as we set off for the airport as if I was expecting a wave back. If houses could feel, I’m sure this one was disappointed, tired and heaving. Time for us to go, and time for the house to rest.
Rest it did, for now, stands a strange, unfamiliar structure in its place. Quite surprising how easily and how quickly things can change, but perhaps we knew it all along, in our hearts of hearts at least. With nothing left of its old halls, odd windows and terrifying staircases; the house now remains eulogized only in pictures, and imprinted in our memories.