Saturday, October 02, 2004


By Aishwariya Laxmi

I lived in a huge rambling house before we shifted to our apartment here. The house we inhabited was definitely what one would call interesting. It was a colonial style mansion, which had seen better days. It had this huge cannonball tree from Madagascar near the gate and believe it or not there was a snake pit at its roots! The backyard resembled an equatorial rain forest replete with underbrush, canopy of thickset tree leaves, intertwining creepers, et al. In all my years of living there, I dared not venture into the ‘garden’ for fear of snakebite. A more enterprising inhabitant would have conducted survival camps in the ‘garden’ and made a hefty packet for himself. Alas, the woes of the fainthearted. When it rained, there would be bats swooping into the house and hanging upside down from the hall ceiling. Quite the horror movie background effect, that!

The front yard was made of red gravel and I would practice my shot put there without fear of it landing on anyone’s toes. In the two-storeyed house, the landlord inhabited the ground floor while we stayed on top. He would be away for most part of the year and the times that he was in town, the whole neighbourhood would know, thanks to the huge rows that he had with the watchman, who lived at an adjoining out house.

Now don’t get me wrong about the landlord. I’m on his side. It was the watchman who was quite a character. Almost eighty years old, the man could barely wake up and get through the day leave alone stand guard. He wore thick glasses and peered through them each time someone rang the bell. Every time I had a visitor, he would summon all his energy and pick a verbal duel, which he was totally unprepared for, with them on some pretext or the other. This proved embarrassing on more than one occasion as almost every friend of mine who came to see me would be subjected to this tirade. The two generations following his also lived along with him in the outhouse and having youth on their side, they were brash and obnoxious versions of the old man. The landlord was unable to throw this man out without seeming heartless and cruel and having that on his conscience. So the watchman lived on, in the outhouse with his insufferable son and grandson.

After I finally moved out of the house, I found out that some of my neighbours called it the Bhooth Bungalow! Hmm I was hardly surprised. Anyway, I now live in an apartment, which is the modern homemaker’s dream. No endless cleaning and paying exorbitant rates for grumbling maidservants. But it was just last night that I looked out of my window, and saw a bat weaving its way through the tree outside my bedroom window, which set me thinking of old times. This prompted me to take a walk through my old house. The sight that greeted me took me quite by surprise. The house was gone and in its place stood a modern multi-storeyed apartment block. A smart gurkha in uniform stood at the gate and spoke in halting English. My maid later informed me that the old man had passed away peacefully into the night. Suddenly I felt a rush of guilt for my apathy toward the old man. I missed the old house. Walking down the street I thought to myself, the old house definitely had a spirit of its own.


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