Journeys always attract me. But home is the source of energy that helps me set out on these trips to explore unfamiliar places without even knowing what lies ahead. Home is the place to come back and take rest after each exhaustive and unpredictable trip. We need some assurance in each moments of life . And it is the assurance of my home that gives my mind and soul the energy to start the next journey.
My house in Bangalore, named Frangipani, is miles away from the noisy crowded city. With a number of trees and a stone wall demarcating the compound, the house looks nestled in greenery. I can’t imagine the suffocating life in a cramped house in the busy city.
I am of the view that one’s house reflects his or her personality. My house has an open design with minimal use of walls. But my reading room upstairs is high on privacy. Though I mingle a lot with people, I don’t let anyone enter my personal space. The design of this house reflects that character.
Every part of this house was built after detailed planning. I think we keep on striving throughout our lives to recapture some of our childhood memories. I tried to bring in the essence of the childhood I had while constructing this house. There is a corner in this house where I sit quietly. I used to sit alone at a corner in our ancestral house, Raj Vilas, in Shoranur enjoying the rainfall. The corner in my Bangalore house helps me relive those childhood moments.
The Toy Farm House called Raj Vilas
When I was a kid, I used to look forward for summer vacations to go to Raj Vilas, our ancestral house in Shoranur that was built by my grandfather. We were in Chennai and our schools usually remained closed for the summer vacations in the months of May and June.
Just when ripe mangoes began to fall from the trees, we used to reach Raj Vilas. Having lived in small apartments in Chennai, where my father was employed, the Shoranur home was kind of a wonder for me. Raj Vilas, with its rich woodwork, vast compound, cattle shed, firewood shed and an attic had a lot of corners to hide while we played hide and seek. By playing hide and seek there, I could feel the kid in me slowly growing up. The atmosphere was lively with uncles, aunties and their children. There were hens, cows in the cattle shed and a few ducks that were sometimes brought by my uncles. After a few days the ducks somehow vanished. That house still reminds me of a toy farm house. Rains would start on June 1 and then the schools would reopen and my cousins would all go back. After they are gone, only my brother and I were left in that big house. Then we had only one thing to do. We used to occupy some corner of the house and immerse ourselves in reading.
I found a comfortable place by the window where I would sit and read. I used to enjoy the rains sitting by that window munching on banana chips. Then, my mind would be full of imagination. I used to feel separated from the real world yet complete by myself. I felt I didn’t need anything more from this world. One can enjoy loneliness only when the mind has a world of its own.
My grandmother passed away when I was 15. Two years after her death, when the house was all messed up as the partition was going on, my mother and I relocated to Shoranur. In the entire house, my mother, I and our dog Julie were the only occupants as my brother and father were in Chennai. I joined the Ottapalam N.S.S College. The colour of the house had dimmed by then.
I was an extrovert and found it very difficult to cope with the slow pace of life in a conservative village like Shoranur. So, to fight boredom I took up the task of repainting Raj Vilas. Each day, after returning from the college, I occupied myself with paint and brushes. Neither my mother nor my uncles stopped me from painting the house and in a matter of days the house was back to its bright shining self once again.
The road that leads to Raj Vilas looks like a driveway. The house stands in the middle of that driveway. I used to sit by the window of the room upstairs and look outside. From there you could see all the visitors coming to Raj Vilas.
The house in Mundakkottukurussi
My mother’s ancestral house was eight kilometres from Raj Vilas in a place called Mundakkottukurussi. We used to go and stay there at times. As a kid, I always felt that it was far away from Raj Vilas. We had to cross a lot of narrow serpentine lanes to reach the Mundakkottukurussi house. And the route is still the same and even today, Mundakkottukurussi remains a village. Electricity first came to that village in 1981. I had even travelled in the first bus that started from Mundakkottukurussi which was in 1983. I am told that our old house in the village had a courtyard which was replaced by an old-style house with a cattle shed and a lot of crops around it. My favorite pastime there was to roam around in the thick shade of the trees that didn’t even let the sunlight penetrate through them.
The nights there were magical and beautiful. The pitch dark night was illuminated only by the light of the fireflies. Then my uncles would start narrating ghost stories and my mother would get scared listening to them. If the house in Shoranur was like a toy farm house, this one was a real farm house with a lot of crops cultivated around it. Bulls and cows were also kept in the cattle shed and I used to like their smell. Maybe that is why I still love the smell of cow dung. Although my mother and others in the family dislike the smell, I just love it. The sight of cattle grazing outside the compound of my house in Bangalore and their smell triggers nostalgic memories of our Mundakkuttukorussi house.
I stayed in Raj Vilas for two years. At the age of 19, I came back to the metropolis city of Chennai and got married a year later. After marriage we lived in various apartments. Whether we lived in flats or row houses, we always had gardens. Since I grew up with a lot of rich greenery around me, I have always had a special liking for gardens. I even grew plants in a pot in the flat we lived in, so much so that the entire house was full of plants.
My uncle has a big five-storey house in Manhattan, New York. Once while I was staying at his place in Manhattan in autumn, the snowfall outside reminded me of Raj Vilas. The lavishly built wooden staircase that I was standing on had dim corners and the courtyard of the house became dark ahead of the snowfall. All this reminded me of Raj Vilas and when I asked my uncle whether he too felt that the Manhattan house was similar to Raj Vilas, he shook his head in affirmation. We felt as if we were back in time to that period when my mother’s youngest brothers were just like my friends.
Going back to childhood
I built a cottage-type home on the land we have in Shoranur. It is called Syamanthakam. I did not think about my husband, my son or my brother when I built it. It was made exclusively for me. A small kitchen, an inner courtyard as small as a carpet and a tiled roof that leaks during monsoons are the characteristics of Syamanthakam. My mother used to make fun of me by saying that your house leaks in monsoon. Old worn out clothes and empty tins of paint that my mother has given me are used to tackle the leaking roof. The entire house has an area of only 999 square feet out of which 330 square feet is its Verandah. So one can imagine how much space will be there inside Syamanthakam. But that is enough for one person. The only luxury I have in that house is a music system.
My parents’ house is also in the same compound in which Syamanthakam stands. Every monsoon I come and stay there. I like to sit there and write. Several parts of my novel Idris was written sitting in Syamanthakam. The noise of rains lashing onto the tiled roof is the only reason why I go to sleep in that house. Earlier, my father was scared and did not allow me to sleep alone there. But I made him understand that a globe trotter like me can safely and peacefully sleep in her own house in her own village. Going to Syamanthakam is like an escape to an imaginary world and my son and husband make fun of me by saying that I am like a child obsessed with her toy house. I feel free once I reach Syamanthakam. I am relieved of all the loads. There are no responsibilities and the pressures of role playing. There are not many facilities there. One has to light a candle if the electricity is gone but I feel safe since my parents stay close by and I feel their love embracing me.
Each trip to Syamanthakam is like a return to the childhood. In June last year, I stayed here for two weeks. There is a big hill behind the house. This house was designed so as to enjoy the southern wind and the scenic beauty of the hills. At the foot of the hill, one can see a lot of palm trees, characteristic to the topography of Palakkad. Sometimes, peacocks emerge from the line of palm trees. There are a lot of birds too. Tree dogs jump on to the tiled roof at nights and as a result a lot of tiles have broken. The branches of the coconut tress often fall during heavy rains and that disturbs my sleep.
Still, I love spending nights alone in Syamanthakam. The house in which my parents live is hardly 100 metres away from Syamanthakam. I flash the torch as a signal upon reaching Syamanthakam from my parents’ place. Only then will my parents go inside their house. Generally it is pitch dark outside at night and my parents think that I am a small kid going out alone at night and I too behave like one in front of them. Syamanthakam quickly turns the clock back and makes me a child again.
(Anita Nair is a decorated Indian born English writer who has won many awards. Noted works include, Ladies Coupe, Mistress, Lessons in Forgetting, Better Man, Cuts like a Wound and Idris. Anita Nair who hails from Shoranur also writes travelogues and children’s tales and is currently the editor of online magazine Heavenly Bliss Salon for Men. She lives in Bangalore with her husband Suresh Parambath and son, Maithreya Nair Parambath. She also runs Anita’s Attic, a writing academy to nurture kids who have a penchant for writing.)