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A Home, An Institution

 

 

How do you detach yourself completely from a “home” so unique, woven in the life fabric of people from over 10 states in India! In Bihar, often perceived as a backward state, my parents created a lively atmosphere for living. An experience most of our former and current tenants like to reminisce and cherish.

 


Notwithstanding the fact that i’m often sized up for my (short) height, quite frequently a person’s “worth” has been gauged by the kind of house they live in. And not seldom it comes with an assumption of being vain and selfish – for which i Am guilty at times. Not quite owing to the worth in terms of money (yes i love my home to bits, even if it were literally bits), but the “amount” of attachment and sense of belonging it evokes among those who have lived here or have just dropped by for a visit. Friends, Family, In-laws, Guests, Tenants. Oh, even enemies (if we have any) have been awed by the spirit of our home.

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Celebrating my cousin’s birthday back in 1998

Take that from someone who’s worked as an ‘asset valuer’ – if it’s about my childhood home, i’m all blindsided and rather emotional. When i design other peoples’ homes as an architect, i can visualize their life stories and aspirations in motion. Ain’t no messing around with the sanctity of the house!

So when it comes to a humble piece of ‘land & building’ that i call my “home”, it’s less of a property to be preserved, and more of an idea that is to be propagated.

And why is that? Because there are things that made my home unique. Well, so is every “home”, and here’s the story of mine, a simple house in Patna, fondly known as “Engineer saheb ka ghar”

Building it up incrementally in 3 phases, my parents are from the era when owning a home was an important milestone in life. Having lost a baby early in their marriage, they set out to build entirely with their savings when suburbs in Patna were far from developed (Now they are packed with traffic and noise). One should have seen the excitement and euphoria it generated in my entire family (which was pretty large back then and stayed in the same city!), since my parents were the “go-to” people for everything that mattered. Long before i set foot on earth.

You may be surprised to know, between Year-0 and Year-35 (well almost!), people from over 10 Indian states have stayed in our home at different points of time. Officially as tenants, but more like extended family. Knit together by a sense of bonding for which the full credit goes to my parents.

Start of bragging rights – some of the families skipped visiting their native places during regional festivals to stay around the house and celebrate with us! Our former tenants still come to meet us in Patna or have hosted us in their native cities. One particular stay at the Lakhwaras had us spending two days even at their in-laws’ place, with unending “khatirdaari” and sumptuous Punjabi food. They booked an Omni taxi, large enough for the entire family that accompanied us, to show us around the Delhi of the early 1990s!

then we also had Parmars from (Amreli) Gujarat. Tiwaris, Singhs and Awasthis from UP.

Kumars from Jammu & Kashmir. Suryakars and Ahmads from Maharashtra.

Raos from Andhra Pradesh. Ghosh and Banerjees from West Bengal.

Misras from Orissa. Mahtos from Jharkhand.

Mishras, Sinhas & Upadhyays from Bihar itself. Another family of Kumars from Manipur.

Yadavs from Haryana. And of course, the Lakhwaras from Delhi-Punjab.

To my parents, sharing parts of our home with people from diverse regions of the country came quite effortlessly. And while growing up, it sure broadened my perspective despite staying in the same state all my school life. We would exchange recipes, gift clothes and narrate our respective life stories. We were practically living in a mini-India!

And then there are other things we did at home, long before they were cool:

  • Adopted a street dog as a pet. Back in 1992!
  • Hosted groups of random strangers to see the TV in the mid-80s. Let’s call that ‘co-watching’ Ramayana, Mahabharat and other popular shows of yore
  • Hosted an epic birthday party every year. Trust me when i say it was all about the guests and not about the birthday girl 🙂 Oh, and it hurts to know how my dad would say, “We’ll celebrate your birthday like this, till the time we’re alive”. He is gone. I don’t want the birthdays anymore, want my papa back! But his jovial and positive spirit lives on.
  • Outdoor barbeques. With stone and wood. And cowdung cakes. And dried leaves. Lest we forget i was a born foodie.
  • One of the few homes in that area, designed by a professional ‘IITian Architect’! My dad learnt so many useful tips from the exercise, he went on to give pro-bono advice to more than 30 houses under construction.
  • Given his knack for the unusual tech, dad pre-ordered salvaged wooden beams from a dismantled banquet hall. We could have secured some green building rating points way back in 1982. Talk about adaptive re-use, the “Engineer saheb” way!
  • My parents ran out of money for real, while building the house. Investing in real estate can be risky (i say this on repeat mode), but they sacrificed and persevered. My dad had given up study options at IIT Kharagpur right after his school to stay and work in Bihar, and help out his parents, brothers and sisters. I gave up career options in Germany and NCR to stay close to my parents. Well, there’s more talk about an inheritance of loss, with a pinch of salt and pepper. The dark side of life, sigh!
  • Getting back to the good, we have offered free shelter (and still do) to more than 7 families that stayed in ‘pucca’ rooms in our backyard. And a toilet for them came up before the rooms did.
  • Built my first website from this very home, at the age of 14. In the early 2000s, internet was more of an “evil” phenomenon in a lot of Indian households, spoiling kids with all that exposure. But i managed to get the better of it. The exposure i mean.
  • And because my dad gave up a chunk of his savings to get me the first Pentium III computer at home, i self-taught and endured to get top ranks in Olympiads and put my state on the cyber-map-of-Indian-whizkids – again, before it was cool.
  • Rooftop roller skating, kabaddi and badminton games with friends – like a boss!
  • Friends and family loved the front veranda and the 3 swings we had put up for everyone to enjoy!
  • Me defacing all the wardrobe surfaces with chalk drawings of floor plans. At the age of 9 or 10, i’d found my ‘true calling’…
  • Optimized the experience of “Soch-aalay” as a broody little kid. All i can say is – great bathrooms foster great creativity!
  • Learnt to replace a flat tyre before learning to drive, in our little portico

Ok, end of bragging rights 🙂 But there’s always more…

Farming and gardening have always been popular in Patna homes. And we tried to take it to another level in an urban context by keeping pet birds like red avadavats (“lal muniya” in local lingo), chickens, parrots and pets like 2 dogs, a guinea pig and some unsolicited snakes, geckos and mongoose running amok during the tropical summers!

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My parents liked to have greenery right from the outset

The premises still have large trees of Mango, Neem, a “Christmas” conifer, Pomegranate (hell yes!), Ashok, Guava, Lemon, Kaner, Papaya; plants like Banana, Rajni Gandha, Night Blooming Jasmine (Raat Rani), and the usual fares like marigold, hibiscus and the revered Tulsi. In the past we also had 2 other mango trees, a custard apple tree, wood apple and orange! From kitchen gardens to terrace planters, smallest pockets of space were utilized to grow vegetables like cauliflower, maize, brinjal, okra, green chillies and tomatoes.

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Kaner, Guava, Banana, Mango and Neem trees seen together (2017)

You see, subconsciously we were aiming for some major biodiversity! Most of it is still very well preserved and serves up to a full bloom after the monsoons.

In our compact premises, we even hosted 2 weddings and nuptial functions, 30 years apart. One for my cousin sister (a successful dentist who’s a grandmother now!), and one for me.

All this while i stood firm with my parents in times good and bad – hostile takeover attempts, life threats, a scary but harmless burglary during the maladministration days in Bihar (and morning of my Class 12 Physics paper!), several earthquakes, and the works.

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Hibiscus plant at my home (2017)

The best memories are to be created. It’s the way we live them. Of hosting dad’s college friends and colleagues, their children. Sharing good times, or rather making bad times good together. We can make the best version of our lives with whatever little we have.

Though now my mom is less active, having devoted her time and energy to maintaining the place, visible age just adds up on a structure. Leaky taps, patchy roofs, busted pipelines, creaky timelines. Being ‘home’ nowadays can be equated to running a full-time “repair and use economy”. But what makes a difference are the tenants who still stay here – the Nandans, Rais, Baidyakas, Pandeys – closely knit with this little abode. The unique bond inculcated by my parents still thrives and invigorates the brick-n-mortar’s soul.

Probably we will reinvent the place as a true “guest” house, for it’s my parents’ fervent hospitality and delicious food that a lot of acquaintances still remember! Or we could go with a training center. Or just leave it as it is. We don’t really know.

The house has learned to take care of itself, but the home is definitely, deeply missed 🙂


 

What are your thoughts on this candid write up about a home’s story? Tell us in the comments.

If you have a unique story related to your home, you can participate in The Home Connect Contest

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