I stepped into my maternal grand-parents home in Baroda after 18 years. When we were re-designing our home and looking for a swing that would grace our living room, my mother suggested that we bring the one that once swung in her parents place. So I went to Baroda, ostensibly to get the old swing but also visit my ancestor’s home that had been lying vacant ever since my grand-mother passed away. The house on a busy Khanderao market area stood desolate. My maternal uncles had moved away where there jobs took them, never living in Baroda in the house they grew up. My granny had lived alone for nearly a decade or more after my nana had passed away. She was a gutsy lady with a mind of her own. My nana was a simple man; handsome with piercing blue eyes who was known in the old Baroda as a no-nonsense French professor. He taught the language to his sons but not to his daughter to whom I always complain of wasting an opportunity to learn not only good English but French as well.
As I struggled to open the lock, memories of my childhood flitted before my eyes. I remembered a ‘strike’ we children had resorted to when we were refused permission to go to a movie. We had even shouted slogans against them, something like ‘Narayan Bhuvan murdabad’ or so. Or of my grand-mother sitting on the swing and planning the day.
Cob-webs and unprecedented dirt greeted me on opening the door. The staircase that led to the first-floor living room was full of dense cob-webs and it was dark. The entire house seemed eerie as I went about searching for the elusive swing and its parts, especially the precious bronze-chain and hooks. I found the swing easily but it took some amount of time to locate the bronze-chain as it was locked away in the steel cupboard by my maternal uncles.
I dusted the chairs and sat down on one to catch my breath and looked around. Everything sat exactly as it was when I was a child – the old radio, photo frames of my grand-parents, their sons and daughter on the wall, decorative items in the glass-cupboard. Even the ‘prized’ miniature motor-cycle which was bought by one of my uncles who had gone to Mauritius which we had envied when we were young, stared back with dust and obscurity. As I continued to look around, the calendar caught my eye and sent a chill down my spine – it showed August 1992, the month my grand-mother had breathed her last. Nothing had changed in the house since that day, only there was no one living now.
The house had become silent, bare and lifeless. Just 18 years separated life and emptiness. What was once a home which throbbed with conversations, food, music, French tuitions, quarrels, speculations, tensions and celebrations and lots more had passed into oblivion. Only memories stood testimony to the struggle its elderly inhabitants went through so that their children could make success of their lives. The sons and their children have done well for themselves – some even migrated out of India to make home on foreign soils, some are doctors, some engineers, artists, bankers and so on. No one goes back to Baroda and to ‘Narayan Bhuvan’ anymore. Sadness filled my heart on seeing the decay, physical as well as spiritual. A lived-home full of rich experiences and memories has become useless, unworthy in matter of few years. While education helped the family to so-called success, it didn’t ‘teach’ any lessons to value the roots and traditions that gave shape to their destinies.
The swing holds pride of place in my home. As it swings to and fro, it connects to the past, opening a corridor in which old memories can easily travel and inhabit and co-exist with the present.