OUR Army bungalow in Manipur’s capital Imphal was unique; it was built on stilts four feet above the ground to escape the earth’s extreme dampness. Its verandah was lined with hanging ‘baskets’ of sunset-hued flowering nasturtiums. But these were not crafted with the potter’s wheel. They were actually helmets of wounded/dead Japanese soldiers who had crossed the Myanmar border during World War II.
Another house, which was also above ground, floated on water! When my father was posted in Uri, a ‘non-family’ place in the snowy Himalayan heights, we lived in Srinagar for seven months in ‘Shylock’, a houseboat on the Jhelum river, having a piano, vintage Cheshire crockery, Sheffield cutlery, Persian carpets and Kashmiri walnut furniture carved with chinar motifs, et al.
Father’s postings often made us move, bag and baggage, criss-crossing the country, akin to a Bharat Darshan tour. Travelling to different and distant places in trains, jeeps and even a huge steamer (crossing the Brahmaputra from Amingaon to Pandu, when there was no bridge over it) was an amazing experience.
From Srinagar to Yol, then to Cuttack, Meerut, Imphal, Thiruvananthapuram and other places — it meant living in various kinds of houses, even in bamboo ‘bashas’ (huts) in far-flung, almost unheard-of places such as Wokha in Naga Hills and Tuensang area (now in Nagaland). I lived in bungalows, barracks, bashas, forts, tents, cottages, mansions, etc, so different from matchbox-like flats common nowadays.
In Yol, we virtually shared our picturesque colonial bungalow with howling jackals! After daddy’s shoes were polished, they were kept in the sun for a mirror-like shine. But next morning, they invariably went missing. Later, the gardener would bring them from the kitchen garden’s radish/cauliflower beds, sometimes from under a soapnut (reetha) tree, left there by jackals.
This happened daily till father was posted to Cuttack (Odisha). There, the mighty Mahanadi flowed right behind our mansion, overflowing its embankments into our lawns full of custard apple trees and croaking frogs. Once I was standing outside a tent in Baripada/Jatni (near Bhubaneswar) when something fell from the tree above with a loud thud at my feet. It was a jackfruit big enough to feed a battalion. I jumped out of my skin, thinking something had landed from the heavens. And I also found red ratti (abrus precatorius) trees in the forests of Udayagiri and Khandagiri caves in Odisha.
When we first saw imposing Thiruvananthapuram’s Pangode house with a porch, fountain, badminton court, etc, atop a hill, having several cashew apples dangling from trees, we thought we had come to a wrong address, unaware that it was our majestic residence there.
It is said that the best journey takes you home. Ultimately, home is where the hearth is.
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