My grandmother’s house

I have spent about seventeen summers there, the house now long gone, the memories coming in flashes now and then. Like the sun peeps from within dark clouds, my gransmothers house was nestled between tamarind and jackfruit trees. They waited for my mother, my brother and I to arrive to bring down the sweetest yellow fruit I had ever tasted. I touched the outer skin and felt the prick, as they cut it and scooped out the fruit, I saw how skillfully they tackled the gum inside. The raw ones were chopped to make chips, the ripe ones eaten faster than they were plucked. The gates to my grandmother’s house were not metal. A few feet from the road, you went up and down some boulders to reach the three horizontal wooden logs supported by two more on either end. The tiny tots were lifted across the fence. If your legs were long enough you crossed them like a hurdle, one leg at a time. For mid-range people, you could move one horizontal log so the hurdle was shorter. There were two steps stacked of mud before you landed at another rocky terrain, the sideyard of the house. If you looked from here, you would see a two storey rectangle, with six equally spaced windows, the wall was a white and faint blue, the roof was a dark brown tile. It had seen better days, but as we aged, the house aged as well. There was a side step all along this side, the spot where we sat as an extended family while my father clicked pictures.

You walk to the right side to get to the entrance. Before you could reach the door, there was an ‘ummaram’, a roofed space with a half wall along three edges for people to sit and talk. The floor I remember, was a black colour, a variant of red oxide flooring. Right above the door to the house was a picture of guruvayoorappan. Surrounding him was a picture of my grandfather and pictures of us as children, neatly framed, gathering dust. Sitting here you could see the wooden fence entrance to the right, a huge tamarind tree in the front and a grove of mango trees to the left. Sitting here felt like sitting in a nest. My cousins and I played under the tamarind tree, every summer a swing was attached to the strongest branch with a rope and plank of wood. I remember my father taking afternoon naps under the tree. Right behind the tree was the walkway to the temple. Everyone who went or left the temple would stop to talk to anyone sitting at the ‘ummaram’, To the left side of the ummaram was a side-step, the place where my aunt powdered rice in here ‘uruli’, or we sat around her as she plucked jackfruit and threw them into the bamboo tray. There was an imaginary line beyond this point which we were told not to cross, as a huge well was there covered with a fishing net.

Inside the house was a wooden staircase to reach the only room on the second floor. It was my mother’s younger brother’s room. The staircase had no railing to hold onto, so coming down was scary. As I grew older, I mastered the art of going up and coming down those stairs, feeling proud of my accomplishment. As a child, we needed an adult to hold our hand or carry us down. On either side of this staircase were two rooms. One belonged to my uncle and the other my grandmother. In her room was a wooden box with hidden treasures. My mother always opened that box and went through the contents of the box. It usually had a new ‘set-mundu’ that my grandmother had got from someone for someone’s wedding. It had photographs of my parents wedding, a copy of the Manorama magazine on which my mother’s photo was published on the cover, letters that my mother and aunt had written to my grandmother from Bangalore and other nicks and nacks.

Beyond this room was the kitchen, it didn’t have a door, but a step, my favorite part of the house. I loved sitting there, from here I could see what was happening in the kitchen and look straight at the entrance door to see who was in the ummaram. On one side of the kitchen was a ledge with two fire kilns. They blew through a tube to kindle the fire as food was cooked in mud pots. In one corner of the kitchen was the bath area. It had an aluminum sheet door, fastened to the wall with a metal hook. A window from the bathroom had the pulley to the well. To take a bath, you drew water from the well, filled the buckets, closed the window and went about your business. The toilets were outside the house, which made night visits scary with the sound of crickets.

There was a back door to the kitchen which led to the side step with the grinding stone. The round one for dosa batter and the flat one for chutneys or spices. Behind here was a gooseberry tree, the small variety. We plucked those on some afternoons, dipped them in salt and squinted our eyes as we relished the first sour then sweet berry. A few mud steps from here led to our cousin’s house, a call away from my grandmother’s. 

The back, side and front yards were covered with mud. If the monsoons started before we returned to Bangalore, then the sound of the rains, the trees rustling in joy, the splitter splatter of raindrops in the mud, was heavenly bliss. The Hawaii chappals soaked in wet mud left marks on the side step. As the rainwater poured through the edges of the roof, we put our foot forward to wash the mud off our chappals and feet. 

This was my mother’s favorite place, the house she grew up in until she was eighteen. I can see her walking from the door, towards the ummaram, in a set-mundu, with a thin red border and a red blouse, smiling and brimming with happiness. Or she is sitting on the wooden plank swing under the tamarind tree, holding to the rope with one hand, and holding my brother on her lap with the other as she sways nested in the warmth of her home.

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