July 2015 By Rupal Rathore Fortified by a visit to her home town, Rupal Rathore muses about the positive power of childhood memories and places, to strengthen us in the present There’s a trick I know. For all those times when I come home exhausted after spending nights in college, and yet not getting an idea worth the effort, when I feel utterly alone in a city where nobody even glances in my direction, when I just long for the steady Aravali mountains in my hometown, this is what I do: I shut the door and everything else with it, close my eyes and transport myself back to the time when we were little kids running carefree, without any aim. Not to reach somewhere, not to gain something. Just happy running. Memories get replayed in old but familiar places I have gone back not just in time, but also in space. I am standing in the porch against the evening sun in my cotton chemise, following my taller cousins, carrying two big pillows that almost eclipse my tiny stature. Only my dark hands show as I walk up the stairs, my fingers digging in firmly and my chest hugging the pillows. We prepare to lay the beddings in one line, and sleep under the stars because it’s summer time. When I open my eyes, I feel calmer and more confident about where I am at present. It’s as if someone’s kept a firm hand on my shoulder, and said, “Go ahead and live life but I am standing right here if ever you want to turn back. You know the way.” Now that I’ve got that fatherly push, I go back to resume my work. But I’ve made up my mind. It’s time to revisit that house and make sure it’s real, solid and standing. I’ve finished my first year in Mumbai and it is vacation time. But my motive to visit my aunt’s house is not architectural as my parents assumed, but something more. I was going to see who’s got my back. We drove into the narrow streets of Serohi (Rajasthan), dodging cows that wouldn’t budge. I did not recognise the house until we stopped right in front of it, because it had acquired a new coat of paint, white and olive green, replacing its original traditional blue. I’ve always been fascinated by this place. But it’s only now that I can appreciate how thick the walls are, or how spacious and airy it feels despite the weather. It’s not abrupt and rudely defined like today’s apartments (drawing room, dining, bedroom and over). It gradually beckons one inside from the compound, to the porch and the courtyard. As I wander about dazed, my mind registers subtle changes. The staircase now has a railing. If you turn the taps in the toilet, they squeak metallically, and you can hear the water rush down the pipe before pouring over. A house that holds memories The study rooms flanked at the entrance on either side of the veranda still have the feel of the disciplined lifestyle led by my aunt’s father-in-law, who was a draftsman under the British governor. He was one of the few people in the state then who knew English. The antique study table, the fading fabric of the lamp and the dusty diaries are lit by sun rays streaming through the multiple roshan-dans (ventilators). Standing in the kitchen to help my Buasa make chapattis, my mother can reach for everything while rooted at one place. I also notice a little iron hook to balance the gas lighter on. The central courtyard is washed with light that comes filtering through the green shade on the terrace, which otherwise would have been open to the sky. Their aged dog, Jackie (who by the way can no longer climb the stairs), also carries an ancient air about him. He spills some water from his bowl when he thinks nobody is looking, and lies flat on the puddle. The chikoo tree outside has shot over the terrace, and has little cloth bags tied around the fruit bunches to save them from the monkeys. At night when the air is cooler, we take a walk on the terrace. My cousin points at the palace firmly seated at the base of the mountains, dimly glowing in the moonlight. We chat briefly about the story of Jhala Rani around whose chamber a circular wall was built in this very palace. She died of suffocation. We are woken up around six by the sun warming our beds, and piercing our eyes. Before leaving the house in our pyjamas for a morning walk, I catch a whiff of the strongly scented raat rani (night queen) that has crept up the old iron gate, now preening under its fresh coat of paint. As we cross the street the floral scent mingles with the smell of cowdung, fresh milk and muddy water collected around hand pumps. By the time it is time to leave, I am already nostalgic. The house has been aging gracefully, firmly holding on to the sounds of children’s laughter, squalling peacocks and tinkling glasses. I am going to miss the quiet afternoons and chilly evenings, doors opening into doors, walking barefoot and a million other things I associate with this space. It’s like an old diary that I visit over and over to walk down memory lane. It leaves me feeling content, reassured. I cross over with a satisfaction that some things don’t change at all. They stand solid until we decide to let go of them by choice. I’ll make the choice when I am ready, ready to lead life bare and raw, yet not feel vulnerable. Even though my heart has been flooded with this recent experience, there is some room for a realisation to set in. We always consider that the past has to be let go of. We’re urged to live life in the present. But what a joy to recall an old friend’s laughter, return to childhood swings, re-experience the warmth of a hug, and surrender to the wind on that late night drive. Close your eyes, rejoice in the memory, and feel happy. Feel happy in the present. Life is not meant to be defined by the number of tragedies endured or even by the number of happy moments for that matter. But all of it together makes up the ‘now’, which is the essence of all the experiences one has had. My sensitivity towards spaces is such that I like to relive some of my experiences when I lie down in bed after a tired day. A shiver goes down my spine as I remember some detail that must have registered in my subconscious but I failed to acknowledge at that time. My heart skips a beat when I replay a conversation and see tender expressions like a watcher. Maybe I was too busy responding at that time and hence could not appreciate its beauty. But I trust myself to see it later. This allows me to observe my own self, to remind my chaotic mind that life is beautiful. To generate the watcher in me and keep my awareness alight. I am the body. I am the mind. But I am also something more… Bio: Rupal Rathore an architecture student in NMIMS Mumbai. Design has changed the way she looks at life
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