Pain of losing childhood home

Pain of losing childhood home

Col HP Singh (retd)

Iam selling the house,’ said my cousin hesitantly. It took some time for the meaning to sink in. There was a surge of emotions so strong that before I could respond, a lump came to my throat, interrupting our conversation. ‘As it is, I cannot live there given its vintage, congested locality and the effort required to maintain it. I am getting a reasonable price,’ he continued as I tried to reconcile with the enormity of his decision.

Built by our grandfather, this was my first home after birth. With both parents working, the responsibility of looking after me devolved upon my doting grandparents under whose tutelage I spent my formative years. Time may not be irretrievable, but the moments etched in time remain a part of us. Fond memories took me back to those days of a cherished childhood with plentiful playmates, profuse camaraderie of neighbourhood and simplicity of life.

I have fond memories of flying kites, racing across rooftops to catch hold of the ‘downed’ one in a dogfight. Berries plucked from the neighbour’s tree, whose branches intruded into our airspace, have been the sweetest I’ve ever tasted. It was fun watching the milking of our cow and see grandma churn madhani to produce butter. Meals were served besides the chullah, whose fire was kept alive by adding wood and cowdung cakes. We would take turns to draw water from the hand pump, a more reliable source of water than the tap. Sleeping on an open terrace counting stars in summers, playing in flooded streets during monsoon and sitting next to the fireplace in winters was something we looked forward to each year.

Nothing remains of those carefree days of an undemanding life. My grandparents are long gone, and so are my uncles. My cousin’s job keeps him away and a caretaker now resides in the world that was once ours. As the neighbours climbed up the economic ladder, they left the mohalla one by one for greener pastures. The cow and kites are history, and so is the open-air kitchen. The receding water table has made the hand pump redundant, which stands as a relic of an era gone by. The walls along the terrace of all houses have been raised, leaving little manoeuvring space for transgression. My heart mourns the passing away of a way of life which was so simple, pure and naive.

I visited the house to have one last look before it changed hands. While my memories are sweet, there was little left there to connect with. I felt like a stranger in the neighbourhood where almost every house has been renovated. The only living being which connects my past with the present is the berry tree, dwarfed into insignificance fearing its own impending slaughter. My eyes welled up, seeing the once-vibrant letterbox, and I wonder whether I will ever revisit my childhood castle. The ache of my heart stops me from making any commitment.

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