The Room (नानी का घर)
by Bharti Bansal
I have memories in a little box, the one my lover promised to give me, "I will give you a little box of happiness." This sentence has been playing like an old song stuck in my mind. A little box of happiness. Ek chota sa baksa khushiyon ka. Which reminds me of the small room in my grandmother's rented house. We had two rooms. One large enough to fit two beds. I loved the bedsheets as a child. White, floral bedsheets glowing in the evening as the last sun rays fell on them, as if congratulating it for being so clean, a prize for its supposed discipline.
The bluish green coloured windows had bars outside them where crows and parrots would sit and look for food. Parrots, in their prayer like voice would keep chirping all day long as they would come to meet mithoo, our pet parrot with injured wing.
This room was the bigger one and then, we had a guest room where all the visitors would sit. Two brown-coloured sofas side by side with their brown-coloured covers complemented the yellow walls of the room. Two single beds arranged perpendicular would also become the makeshift sofas when guests were greater than the sofas' capacity.
It was funny, when guests visited. The room was full with masi's paintings, one she drew of mother and child, and mother and a little girl holding her dupatta. After so many years, I now realize how her paintings were never devoid of the shades of womanhood. A young girl braiding her hair, her eyes so focused on herself, I wondered she wouldn't notice even if the world disappeared.
The guests would sit in their sophisticated facade, their backs straighter than the pillars, as the silence dawned upon the entire house. We had a wooden boat which sang "Für Elise" of Beethoven which I didn't know then, but we danced nonetheless to it. It was what captivated the children that would visit. We didn't know better about music, but we felt it without the guilt of lack of knowledge.
The bigger room was where celebrations happened. Birthdays, making kaleere for my aunts' wedding, my aunt making gulabjamun, and other sweet dishes, Mamu playing Himesh Reshamiya's songs on his old black radio. These memories now, kept in that same little box of happiness, remind me how feeble and transient moments are. I celebrated most of my birthdays there, my aunts would stitch new clothes for all of my cousins and me, would buy chocolate cake for us, and visit the small Bilaspur market whose road went through what we called "dead house," a morgue basically by the hospital side. I had a weird inclination to look inside from the small window and the room was always empty with eerie silence. I could feel the coldness of the room even from afar. Dead and their silly ways to acknowledge us.
The first time Mamu brought pizza from a local shop is what I remember as historical day. There was no Domino's in our place. I had only heard my other cousin talking about having pizza where she lived, which brought a little inferiority complex. Pizza could make a kid insecure, who would have thought. Mamu brought one for me and I didn't like it at all. Pizza, just a fancy roti with vegetables was what I surmised. Next day my aunt and my mother had it with tea, which made them ill and we all laughed. Laughter, then, needed no reason. One just had to speak and our entire room echoed with loud happiness, it could beat the jet airplanes flying above.
The room had a big space which was the temporary cupboard with a curtain covering it. All the clothes to be washed then were kept there and sometimes even the clutter when guests visited without informing. My sister loved cleaning the room along with Masi while mamu and I loved dancing to the Himesh Reshamiya's songs. Jhalak Dikhla Jaa had rumors about it that it could summon dead people's spirits. Illogical is what my most favourite memories are. And then, when some of my aunts visited with their husbands and kids, the room felt smaller but never not enough to house everyone.
Men would sleep in guest room whereas aunts and kids would sleep in the bigger room, all of us fighting for who would sleep on the floor. Mithoo loved talking. He would keep reciting my masi's name, repeating her sentences, "What happened to my mithoo?"
I watched Titanic in this old computer which Mamu was the first to learn how to operate it. We would watch Aap Beeti at twelve in the morning, all of us in warm blankets, huddled together. Life didn't scare us, but fictional spirits did and it was my only knowledge of horror. He would borrow CDs of the latest movies released and we would enjoy our makeshift theatre hall by drawing all the curtains close, turning off the lights and keeping the sound on full, believing that it was how big theatres looked like.
The room had everything. A big family, laughing kids, aunts talking about their would-be husbands, painting sessions, mamu telling us ghost stories of Mandi hostels, and all of us together in that small dip in the space where gravity worked the best in keeping us all together. We could have sworn then that this was how happiness looked like. We could have taken the world by storm.
In French, ciel means sky. Which makes perfect sense, because our small room and its old fan creaking like an old man with painful knees hummed us to sleep. It was this ceiling that showed us what universe felt like when the stars came together. Ceil-ing, a continuous symphony of endless sky, never breaking once, always shielding us from the outer space where things die all the time, I firmly believed that I was put on this earth to meet my grandmother and aunts and uncle. I was happy in that knowledge. My closest cousins then would play all day long, trying to sing English songs, slapping each other, fighting, laughing, bathing together, all of us could have killed what tried to separate us.
After all these years, with no contact with my childhood best friends, my cousins, I think time does create wounds that it cannot heal on its own. Nani retired after years and had to move back to the village. A part of my childhood is left in that old rented house from where I could see a dilapidated house where a girl was murdered and haunted people in their dreams. This small house with two rooms and just four beds had a family it could boast about. I am forever stuck in my past. I am forever looking for a way out but the old room keeps coming back, nudging me, telling me that it still is here, but the family isn't. Perhaps children do believe they can change the world. As an adult I have made peace with the fact that I can not. Sabr is what my Nani has taught me. I think I am going to wait for the home to rearrange itself again. Until then, I am going to keep it safe in my small box of happiness.
मेरा खुद का खुशियों का बक्सा
Bharti Bansal is a 25-year-old woman from India. She loves cats. She can be reached at her Instagram: @useless_thought25