A home for everyone
This is a collaborative piece.
Text: Sharmada Sivaram
Illustration: Pallav Chander
Two weekends ago, I moved with my parents into my tenth residence in 24 years. Every move has come with a little tug at the heart strings, usually indicating that I’m not ready to let go. Every move has also come with the burden of making the house a home. And shortly after, I become used to it. Till I move again. These have been rented accommodations and so, for years I envied friends who grew up in a single house, a single home. I placed premium on things like unremarkable corners which held evidence of a child’s height over the years, a tree that was as old as an occupant and knowing neighbours for decades. I guess I envied this stability of a permanent address.
It wasn’t until a series of recent shake-ups in my life that I realised, I'd had it all along.
My grandparents’ house in Madras, affectionately referred to as Vales among the family, was the first one I was brought into. I spent every summer vacation there. As I grew, so did the house. My aunt and her family had moved in, and then a first floor was built, extra rooms were built, doubling the space for fun and creating memories.
Vales was the quintessential grandparental home, where makeshift tents between the wheelchair and the walker had created alternate universes in a way that only children on summer holiday could create. Cricket was played, windows were broken. There were attempts at cutting coconuts, which hung close to the terrace, using a simple blade by a couple of ten-year-olds.
Family reunions here involved cultural performances, impassioned intellectual debates, and rounds of thayir saadam (curd rice) served to a circle, in a way all Tamil kids know. The house would be bursting with energy when it came to birthdays, engagements, wedding ceremonies and anniversaries. Nostalgia makes me notice magic in the mundane as well— watching Kasturi draw the daily kolam (rangoli), Paati (grandmother) picking flowers from the garden for the temple, watching intensely engaging Tamil TV shows together, hearing daily arguments between my Paati and my youngest aunt.
Over the years, some of those living at Vales moved away to other cities and continents. But everyone would eventually find their way back home.
Lately though, for the past couple of years, the thought of a trip to Vales just brings up sadness and anxiety. My aunt had been diagnosed with cancer, and despite hopes and prayers, she passed away last year. Vales had lost one of its pillars. Six months on, Paati too passed on after being unwell for a while.
All of a sudden, the narrative at Vales had changed from that of happy family reunions to coming back to be together in mourning.
When Paati passed away this March, my oldest cousin and I were the only grandchildren who could be present in Madras. In the quiet afternoon of the day we cremated her, the two of us stood around, talking about our memories of the house. The conversation brought a bittersweet epiphany with it: Homecoming to Vales, my anchor, would not mean the same anymore. With my aunt and grandmother gone, the absence of a distinct vibrant energy was striking; the sense of loss felt greater.
What the epiphany did give though, was way to a dream, one for the bucket list. Actually, an old dream became much larger:
When I was younger, I had dreamt of being a single, independent woman who owned a cosy, small flat (delusionally enough, in my twenties). A flat that would reflect my personality, with hand-painted walls and quirky paraphernalia. But for some reason, this didn’t account for life beyond my twenties or for starting a family.
Now, my dream is large-scale: It includes a house big enough to entertain nieces, nephews, and grandchildren. A house with a ready supply of thayir saadam and filter coffee, desserts, and wine. Cultural performances during family reunions would not be the only source of music or dance. Paired with the library would be corners to curl up with a book. Souvenirs brought back by friends and family would find their own space.
Somewhere along the way, a new generation would have found home.
Sharmada Sivaram is a sociologist who enjoys a well thought-out Marxist meme. This filter coffee addict tries to travel, write and photograph as often as possible, and is forever on a lookout for "her DDLJ moment".
Pallav Chander is a full time artist, from Delhi and he loves theatre. The imagery within his work is more of an unusual observation of the society, rather than a judgement or a statement.