This was my childhood home where I spent those hot summer vacations. You know the age when the sun doesn't bother you. The carefree years. Its hard to imagine now that I once loved this place. In one of the distant and quaint villages of Gujarat, hidden somewhere far off from the developing cities and expressways there was a building I called home. It was like those vintage bungalows amidst trees and innumerable small houses, each having rattling noises of its own. The vessels clanging in the kitchen, the children being a riot, the old radio playing the tunes of the day, or just the creaking of granddad’s chair – the noises that somehow together spelt peace.
The slice of village life I kept hidden from my city friends, I don’t think I have ever mentioned this in detail to anyone. No one knew where I disappeared for a fortnight each year and came back tanned like a Dorito. It was my own secret adventure just like one of the many Enid Blyton books I carried with me here but never got to read. There was not an idle moment here, the village brimmed with life. A stark contrast to the fast paced concrete jungle where I came from. This house had seen a lot, the walls spoke volumes, the marks the children made on the wooden panel surrounding the door marking their height each summer also marked the years gone by. The clay vessels that we played with. And the pretentious tea we served to the old and young alike. This building I once loved. If only that one night hadn’t changed everything.
I was 8 , it was the rains that took him. Not once have I enjoyed that familiar pitter patter on my window since that day. The rains bring bad news I always say, and maybe they do. Maybe its the skies crying over the bad news. Maybe rains are a sign of destruction, maybe its His best illusion. That night I didn’t sleep at all. I don’t remember anything except that all night I was trying to wake my 6 month old sister, I pinched her awake every time she slept. Something was wrong, he slept and didn’t wake up I didn’t want her to do the same to me. The happy faces I usually saw here now had darkened expressions of deep sorrow. Why were they crying? It was finally raining. The hot summers were gone, and yet no one seemed happy.
The alley that led to my home was crowded with people, I tried to acknowledge the familiar faces but no one smiled at me today, I had probably grown taller than last time and they just didn’t recognize me. My mother held my hand tightly while we waded the crowd. As we got nearer I could hear wailing women and now I was scared. We walked into that door I knew so well, with elephants and horses carved into the thick wood and the door knob that I had picked when the last one broke. My mother didn’t bother to abandon her footwear in the verandah, something that struck me as odd. As we entered I saw that white mattress and he lied there lifeless, my 50 year old neighbour saw my mother and hugged her as she cried and my mother still holding my hand in hers fell to the floor near him. My aunt was there too her eyes red, my uncle perplexed and in some kind of shock. As my mother lost control I didn’t know if I had to cry too. My dad decided to take me away from this. But I saw him, his face blue. It had been 5 minutes since I had come home and he didn’t bother to look at me. I was now upset. Maybe I had to wake him up. I moved towards him but something inside me stirred with fear, some kind of instinct that tells you something was wrong.
I was 3 burning with fever, I was to start school the coming June. The panic was evident on his face. He was probably just tired of my constant crying. He walked 10 kms and back for the medicine I needed, that day he was some kind of a hero.
I was 5, atop his shoulder. It was Rakshabandhan, which meant lot of sweets and gifts for me back then. My mother tied him the rakhi I had picked. It had to be a Pokemon Rakhi, it didn’t matter if he was a little over 24. We were just about to say our goodbyes when I decided to pull at the curtains in the living room, the entire rod and the cloth that hung on it came crashing on me. I was about to cry when he came and picked me up and said “What?, are you going to cry now. Wuss!” and I didn’t cry.
I was 7, we had reached home after the celebratory dinner. He had bought his first car, it was obviously a reason to celebrate. As I got down from the car holding the icecream we bought on the way home I felt the door shut on my hand. I was screaming for exactly 3 seconds when he realised what had happened, got hold of me and released my hand. I was now looking at the swelling which had appeared over my tiny fingers with tears welling in my eyes. He had the same panic on his face, he always had when I was in any kind of pain and he decided to mock hit the car, I joined him while he asked my mother to rub ice on my hand, he couldn’t even bare to look at it. Should have known that car was evil.
Today as I sit in the same house, I sometimes feel his presence. Sometimes even now when I wake up in the car to realise we’ve reached home. In that moment between sleep and wakefulness I expect him to come and hug me tight and say “Finally, what took you’ll so long” Sometimes I feel blessed, I had good 8 years with him, all my sister has is a photo here and there and a vague account of what he was from the things we say, when we fondly bring him up. I never say anything. For a year after he was gone, I spotted him in various crowds. In the market where we went to buy vegetables, I saw that tall and lean figure with ruffled hair, he was so tall always easy to spot. Sometimes I even saw him at school during break though it would be odd if he was wearing the school uniform. I never had the heart to chase the stranger I thought was him, the fear of being disappointed was too much. Instead I decided to believe it was indeed him in the crowded spaces, and he was only looking after us. A superhero lurking in the corners looking out for a crisis. He was my hero and maybe these four walls remind me of him, and maybe I still somewhere hope that one day he’ll come walking back like he always does with the stride in his walk and his ruffled hair, so tall and easy to spot and then I’ll call it home again.