82 Araghar was my Nana’s house, my second address all through my growing years. It was tall, white, double storey opposite the Araghar Post Office. In fact Nana’s house looked like a slice of cake with pretty white trimming, served on a narrow platter. A gushing canal ran along its boundary walls for many years till a metal road came up over it.
For such a big house, the main gate was surprisingly small. It opened into a narrow passage that skirted around the house, all the way back. A few years later, Nana bought the adjacent property and there was finally a bigger gate and area for the four wheelers.
I adored the old house. It was ancient, the rooms were all squashed together without any thought to size or function. Nani’s tiny bedroom by virtue of being in the center of the house was a thoroughfare.
Nana had a bee in his bonnet to modernize his rambling house. Every sail he came back from (he was in the merchant navy), he would want to replicate what he saw in the foreign lands. That meant each holiday, we would be greeted with some home improvement project.
Nani was never comfortable with the modern changes. She let Nana have his way to an extent. Once he was off on another sail, she would quietly let things go back to as they always were.
She may have left the Kumaon hills as a young woman but she never abandoned the Kumaoni ways. She cooked Kumaoni dishes, wore her saree in the pahari sarong manner and spoke only in Kumaoni with a smattering of Hindi. She ruled the household with an iron fist.
My favourite memories were of Nani’s wood burning clay stove in the old kitchen. All of us- my three uncles (mamas), mother, younger brother, Nani and I, sat on the floor on our individual pidkas (small wooden stools). Had mobile phones been there, it would have made for a dramatic shot! This kitchen remained even when the new one came up with proper stove and a gas cylinder.
So there were usually seven of us sitting shoulder to shoulder in the small, older kitchen that Nani ran, efficiently doling hot, round humungous chappatis. Oh! She also loved cats so there was always either a Maradona or a Platini slinking around. Yes! I come from a family of football nuts. Those were the only names used alternately, for every time a kitten came along.
In this kitchen, the tea was always boiling. Food could wait but not the scalding cups and there were countless cups through out the day. Today we may have scattered afar but the tea drinking ritual continues in our individual households.
For special treat, it was shaya (sweet halwa made of rice flour). My dear friend dubbed it ‘the jaw breakers’. It became one if it wasn’t eaten instantly. He learnt it the hard way and since then the name struck.
Then there were stacks of madua ki roti and bedu roti kept in a small straw basket for the perpetually hungry members of the family. I remember palyo (a curry made of skimmed milk/ curd) and bhatiya or bhatt ka Jolla (made of black soya bean) for lunch.
Today, these pahari words feel foreign for none speak the language. While I write this, I strain to remember the pronunciation of the pahari dishes so that I can write it phonetically close to it. I blame myself. Somewhere along the line, I turned my nose up and salivated after KFC and Pizza Hut. In the bargain, lost this.
Nana’s house was a tangible proof of my carefree childhood days. I fell in love with Luke Skywalker and the Star world Universe in its drawing room. I learnt to fly an actual kite. I discovered that I adored old books and comics. This was the place where I spent my childhood trailing my youngest mama to the roof, clambering up the walls and strolling in the garden.
Ah! The garden. Even that was something of a marvel. It was my eldest mama’s domain, the man with green fingers. Mostly he would be found pottering, spectacles perched on his nose, scowling in absolute concentration.
Thanks to his efforts, it was a tropical forest of gigantic jackfruit, mango and litchi trees. Pumpkins and bottle gourds creeped and climbed all over the place and the huge cement pots always had some evergreen plant blooming. It was easy to get lost in the shrubbery. Perhaps that’s why Platini had her litter there. I know because I followed Nani there to feed her one sunny afternoon.
Today, neither the house nor the garden exist. Last year it was sold. The tall slice of cake smashed.
All that remains are its photographs and the memories that are fraying at the edges.
Once they go, I would have truly lost my second address forever.