I’ve said goodbye to this house twice now. The first time was 6 years my parents were moving to Gurgaon, but the house stayed with us and they eventually rebuilt it and moved back.
The second time was this morning. Within the next few weeks, if all goes well, the house will pass to a new family to love.
I’ve known this house for the past 35 years. It was my grandfather’s: a plot of land given to him upon his retirement. At least I think that’s how we came to have it, long before Vasant Vihar was a posh colony.
When I close my eyes and think of home or my childhood, I am drawn to an image of mine with short hair, in a green dress with an all over print of benign looking alligators, in the open area behind the house.
I must be about eight or ten. There was, probably still is, a steel door that led into the back alley, and a stairwell up towards the help quarters.
There may have been a generator back there too, a moody beast of machinery that seemed to take pleasure in performing inadequately. Little shards of class topped the wall, to keep out intruders.
I’m not sure if I ever wore that particular dress there, in that space, but that’s the way I always imagine it. I don’t even know if that’s what the dress actually looked like. And yet it’s there, locked in my memories, as fact of what was.
And I always think of it in its oldest iterations, with a family room at the back with a door leading to that open space that haunts my memories.
I remember my grandmother’s room. I remember my grandfather’s room, a later addition, past the washing machine and dryer, a handwritten sign outside that read “the retreat.”
This is how I remember it at least.
Both of them passed on in this house. In addition to the human ghosts, there are those of the animals: Axel – our golden retriever, Aristotle – a Siamese cat, Nemo – a Labrador, Snowflake – a fluffy Persian, and his brother Felix. I may be missing one or two here.
The last one to go was a cat I brought from Canada, Penny. She passed away last year.
To say the ghosts of their memories haunt the place would be unfair; I would rather say the house feels peaceful, like the spirits are at rest, satisfied with the happy full lives they have led, and whatever care we could provide towards the end.
It feels weird that I won’t come here as home any longer. It feels weird to not have a permanent address.
The house was my rock in though times of turmoil, a reassuring presence that comforted me through difficult phases of my life, even when I was far away.
I wonder if I did the goodbye justice. How do you bid adieu to a presence you took for granted for so many years?
There are many things I didn’t do. I didn’t visit the neighbourhood bar that is walking distance from my house. I didn’t go to the D block park to walk (also because 41 degrees is really not an ideal temperature for a walk).
I didn’t go to the terrace on the roof as we sometimes had on hot June nights when we lost power back in the 80s. I didn’t meet friends in the area.
All of these things felt excessive though: forced. There would be no ideal way to fit it all in. Perhaps doing everything that one last time wasn’t as necessary as it seems. Perhaps the last 35 years are enough, just as they are, as memories.
Goodbyes are necessary and all phases of life must come to an end. This is one chapter I close with mixed feelings.
I would have to say goodbye to the house at some point or another. My parents and their fur babies will now be much closer to me. I won’t have to eke out time and money to go see them, leaving my own little (mostly fur) family behind.
And yet there’s a bit of mourning too. Mourning what is now lost, which is much more than the structure that stands, in fact it is the collection of memories that linger between those walls.
Those memories stay, much like the old open space at the back, with the wall guarded by glass shards. It doesn’t exist like that anymore but it stays like that always, forever in my heart.
And yet this choking sensation in my throat tells me it that I will still remember with a twinge of sadness.
And because I won’t be there when our things are packed and shipped out, it will remain trapped in my memory just as I left it this morning: awaiting my next visit, as a ten year-old in a green alligator print dress.