Sunday, 25 May 2014

If Only I Could Go Back

A new post in the series - Things of Beauty

“Things in which we do not take joy are either a burden upon our minds to be got rid of at any cost; or they are useful, and therefore in temporary and partial relation to us, becoming burdensome when their utility is lost; or they are like wandering vagabonds, loitering for a moment on the outskirts of our recognition, and then passing on. A thing is only completely our own when it is a thing of joy to us.” ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Those big, heavy wooden doors with big hinges and a heavy chain-style clasp to shut them close. The dark hallway leading to the staircase made of some heavy stone, with no handrail but only the thick wall to hold on to as you slowly climb the high steps. Closer to the first floor the darkness begins to thin out, and you see another big heavy wooden door that is almost always open, inviting you into the large open veranda of the main house. 

This is no ordinary veranda or courtyard. This is a multi-purpose room where all the household activity takes place. The part that is open to sky serves as the outdoor living room with two charpoys arranged in an L-shape covered with phulkari-embroidered thick bedcovers, a couple of old rugged wooden stools that serve as perfect tables for all your meals, snacks, games etc., some rustic looking low chowkis that serve as extra seating and also as perfect footstools, and  a few of those round rattan moodahs that every Indian knows. 

On the right side of the living room is a thick stone bench carved into the low wall itself. On one side of the bench, which gets better sun, rest some potted plants, including a couple of Tulsi plants. The other side of the bench is left vacant, to be used for sitting if necessary, but mostly occupied by various things such as those off-white and dull-brown pickle jars and other food items kept out for sun-drying and processing. The bench curves naturally with the wall and leads to the far corner where is found a flower-print cotton curtain hiding the washing area and further down a dark bathroom and a dressing area.

Behind the living room part of the veranda is another staircase that goes up to the roof terrace, which is the preferred sleeping room most of the year around, except when it rains. But lets stay here on the first floor.

Directly opposite from the open-to-sky living room and on the far end of the veranda which is protected from the elements by a ceiling  is the heart of the home, its open kitchen. Thick wood shelves built into the back wall at different heights give a symmetrical look to the kitchen, and hold nicely polished brass vessels and utensils, beautiful in their yellow sheen and soft patina. There are a few new-looking stainless steel utensils too but they seem a bit out of place. On one side of the kitchen are kept two iron stands each holding up a big brass matka for storing water. On the other side is an old cupboard where all the pulses, grains, spices and other food items are stored. In the center is where all the cooking action takes place. In one corner are stacked a couple of low wooden chowkis to sit on while the cooking is being done on a low stove kept on the floor. Everything is spic and span, nicely arranged, sparse and yet rich in its simple beauty. 

In between the living room and the kitchen area are two doors on each side of the wall, opening into two rooms. 

On the right is the formal sitting room, with a diwan against the back wall, covered with another phulkari-embroidered cover and some matching bolsters. In the center of the room are two or three old-style reclining chairs and a couple of side tables. This room also has some in-built shelves displaying a couple of brass flower vases, some old books, some old photographs, prizes won by the children, and other memorabilia of a family life. 

On the left is a very large room - same size as this open veranda - where are stored some charpoys, several trunks full of family members' clothes, bedding, and many such household articles found in any home. There is also a small, nicely decked up puja area occupying two in-built shelves on the long wall of the room. 

This is how I remember my nani's house in Punjab. It was a magical place. Like all nani's houses are. I remember finding so many treasures there - material, emotional and psychological. And I haven't even described the dark store-room on the ground floor near the heavy big staircase, which used to be our favourite place to play hide and seek and to find all kinds of treasures like old glass beads and what not. Or that dried up well in the back of the house. But you get the picture, right! Magical place for any child.

But why do I remember it today, after so many years? 

Because of this picture.




This old-looking pitcher in its simplicity and solidity reminds me today of those well-used and scrubbed kitchen utensils in my nani's house. Especially the large tumblers and pitchers she had for storing and serving warm milk or cold lassi (chai was not very popular in Punjab in those days, or at least not in my nani's house).

She had to leave all those things behind, because the house had to be sold off in a hurry when the state of Punjab was going through a dark period of separatist terrorism. My grandfather had died by that time and my grandmother came to live with us. She never had a chance to go back to that house. Just a few things made the journey with her to her new home with us.

Sometimes she would reminisce about all the things she had to leave behind in her home, she would tell stories about where and how she acquired those big brass matkas for storing water, those big round thalis for serving meals, the shallow bowls and large tumblers, all those objects which make up the memory of a woman, a wife, a mother.

She used to speak of how she had to leave behind most of her good stuff in Pakistan at the time of Partition of India, including some of the things that had been gifted to her by her parents at the time of her wedding. She used to recount how she and my grandfather had to face some very harsh times in the new town, the Indian side of Punjab where they had migrated, and how they struggled to save pennies to buy some of the basic essentials for their new home and kitchen. I used to enjoy listening to those stories and reminiscences, and picturing those objects from my own memories of spending most of my summer holidays there. It was a simple but meaningful walk down the memory lane, for her.

And for me. Over the last several years, somehow I have taken on the role of the keeper and care-taker of many of the old objects that have been in the family from my grandparents' times. I have found a home for most of these things in my home, including several old utensils made of brass, copper, and other metals. I use them for various purposes around the house, as vases, urlis, and also to hold pens, candles, post-it-notes and all sorts of things.

Looking at the picture above makes me feel how I would have loved to own some of the heavy brass tumblers and pitchers that my nani once owned. Oh, they would have been so perfect for arranging flowers.

If only I could go back in time by some trick of magic, I would love to bring back some of those objects of beauty, some of those simple kitchen utensils that are not merely kitchen utensils. Some of those pieces of history - not just my history or my grandmother's history, but history of a time when each object meant something to its owner.

It meant something because it was acquired with a deep mindfulness. It was purposefully utilized, carefully cared for and consciously passed on from generation to generation. It wasn't just one more thing among thousands of useless things found in most modern homes. It was one of the few possessions people had in those times when life was not about possessions. It was one of the few things people proudly displayed on their shelves when life was not about display or exhibition. Even a simple household object, a simple kitchen utensil took on a different meaning.

If only I could experience that kind of magical simplicity in life. If only I could go back and bring back at least that one pitcher from my nani's house. And maybe a big brass matka too.


Certainly, peace, purity and silence can be felt in all material things
- for the Divine Self is there in all. (Sri Aurobindo)
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To see previous posts in this series, click here.

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This post has been selected as a WOW post for Write Over the Weekend, an initiative for Indian Bloggers by BlogAdda, written for the prompt Magic.