The Sale of a House

My father, my mother and I – the family that lived in the houses that I lived in, in Africa and in India, at least till 1975 or 1976, when my cousin came to live with us. We fitted together, like dolls in a dollhouse, whether the surroundings were the hills and red dust of Ghana or the long stretches of road between Lusaka, Kabwe and where we lived in Liteta in Zambia.

When we moved to India, we moved into a house which was the smallest that we had ever lived in. Two bedrooms and a dining space in front with a tiny kitchen carved out of one end and a matching balcony glued on to the other. And yet, my mother never complained as much as she could have. There was so much that she could have ranted against; the fact that my father stayed on after we came back to India, the lack of space, the cruelty of my father’s brothers and his mother. But she never did that, instead going on to qualify herself further, cooking the family’s meals before she went to catch a bus to the Tropical School of Medicine each day.

I grew up, partly oblivious to the unkindness, partly developing the aloofness that I still at times present to people I do not know or do not like. That house had two floors and we set up home with new furniture, old books and mementoes of our time abroad, things that had been in every memory of the houses of Africa; a rosewood crucifix with a bearded Christ whose face looked like the one in Rio, copper lamps and wall pieces from Zambia and a zoo of heavy wooden carvings of animals, some with the adze marks still in them. Life ran a fairly even course till 1986, when I got married and moved to Australia, after a year in Papua New Guinea. In between, my father had bought a flat in Sunny Park while I was still in school but despite all my wishes of staying in a much larger place among nicer neighbours, we never stayed anywhere but the little house on Broad Street.

Now, with me all the way over here and old age being something that my parents have to think about, despite still being part of the work force, they have been trying to sell the house and downsize. There are of course other share holders to consider as my father never built the house for us alone. The father he had built the house for died in 1974. My grandmother lived till my children were born. The house passed into the hands of all three brothers. To describe it as an albatross around our necks would be putting it mildly. Over the last few years, selling the place has been part of almost every conversation that I have had with my mother.

Today it finally seems as though the house might be sold within the the coming year and I feel an overwhelming sense of relief. People so often describe houses as things they miss when it is really the people within the house that make it come to life and my memories certainly do not need the house to become three dimensional. For me the sale of the house is almost like a freeing of my parents from a prison of circumstances, thanks to my father’s sense of duty to his parents and his naivete about the way things work, when you help someone with everything you have got.

Oddly enough, and possibly indicative of my feelings about the house, I haven’t got a single photograph of the house in my albums. So you will have to believe me when I tell you that there is a pink house with green trim and green windows, on Broad Street, where I once lived, for about 11 years of my life.

P.S.: My parents are now in their first week of living in a new house.

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A pink hippeastrum that flowers each year on the roof terrace at the Broad Street house.

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3 Responses to The Sale of a House

  1. Kunal Sen says:

    This is a beautiful piece. I particularly loved these lines:
    “Oddly enough, and possibly indicative of my feelings about the house, I haven’t got a single photograph of the house in my albums. So you will have to believe me when I tell you that there is a pink house with green trim and green windows, on Broad Street, where I once lived, for about 11 years of my life.”
    I don’t share your apathy for abandoned places, but through this fragment, I understand it.

  2. rumachak says:

    I, on the other hand, have fond memories of this house for different reasons!

  3. This is so beautifully simply written, and so close to my heart about our ‘ancestral’ house built by my father while his parents were still alive, and thus named after my grandma, but owned by my dad. He decided the house needed to be equally divided among 4 brothers, – brothers whom he brought up, educated and even found jobs for because they were clearly useless – and he took the smallest and the most useless part among this house clearly not built for any future divisions in mind. And even then my uncles are not happy. I love my uncles, but I hate what they do to my dad, already seared by the greatest tragedy a parent can face. And now I have distanced myself enough, emotionally, to realize I love the memories of my grandparents and my uncles and aunts, as people they don’t matter to me anymore so much. And so, while they still bug my parents with calls and visits to sort things out, I have clearly told my parents to just leave it like that, because even a thousand rupees spent on it is an amount ill-spent.

    Isn’t it funny how the people you love are not always those you like?

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