Post -2 in the series ‘From My Window’
Today I will tell you about a one window house where I stayed for a short period. Before I take you into the world outside my window you must know something about the house.
The flat was on the upper storey of a two storey building in a congested, filthy locality meant for sweepers and lower staff of a government hospital. How I came to this particular house is another story. It was the first year of my marriage and I was seven and half months pregnant with my first child and the stuffy, humid post monsoon weather was no help. There would be unpredictable dust storms, heavy relentless rains or just intense heat. The house was filthy, unkempt and most of the places near the sink and balcony had algae growing in various shades of green. The ceiling was high and the only bulb that provided light to both the tiny cubicles called bathrooms was fused. I could not by any given chance change it.
The high point was the big rats who infested the house. Day and night they would practice high or low jumps and destroy anything that they could lay their teeth on , from suitcases to bedding to clothes and food.
I would sit there watching the scenario with brimming eyes, trying to protect myself and the few things I had. None of the neighbors spoke to me as they found me “above their level” and were strangely surprised to see us move in. With no help and long hours of loneliness I would stand near the window or sometimes pull a chair close to it and look out.
The window opened to an open patch of land between all the buildings and apart from a tree , some small saplings and a tiny patch of grass held nothing. I would stare at the vacant patch that resembled the emptiness inside me. I would wonder how I will manage once the child was born? How will I ensure its safety , what will I feed the baby, who will look after me? Why did the father of the child bring me to this hole? Why wasn’t he there? What went wrong? I sought all the answers from the world outside my window. No birds came there but I could hear their calls from nearby trees. One could also see other buildings that surrounded the dry patch. Plaster chipping off the walls, dirty water flowing out of the pipes, piles of garbage tucked in corners, mothers yelling at kids and kids yelling back. Sometimes one would even spot a drunkard trotting around in the fading light of dusk.
Mostly I had to keep the window close to keep away mosquitoes and other pests and from the hazy glass panes the view outside blurred to a dusty brown.
Even after rigorous scrubbing the glass panes remained dull and depressing. Most of the time I would feel sick and had no energy to even eat but the little life inside me nudged me gently to get proper nutrition. In the mornings the milkman came on his bicycle ringing the bell to announce his arrival. The sight of milk made me vomit but I still went to the window to watch the women from other houses take milk from him. That was one ritual that connected me with other humans. I listened to their conversations , watched the kids running around and for those 15-20 minutes my mind took a flight someplace else. I dreamed of fresh air, clear sky, my baby and a life outside the cell I was imprisoned in. Not that I could not or did not go out but due to my condition and lack of resources I stayed home.
In the afternoon boys would play cricket and scream and shout at every run taken and every dismissal. Rarely I watched the game. Evenings brought more people out of their houses. Men, back from work, gathered to exchange daily news, children came out with their elder siblings or mothers and rode their bicycles or played while mothers gossiped.
Usually a fruit or vegetable vendor would venture into the area but mostly I would hear them call from the road which was not visible from my home. Sometimes I could also see the thin elderly man who sold chana poori on his bicycle. He had a small stove, a pot and a basket which contained plates (dona) made of dry Banyan or Sal leaves). For a few hours during lunch hours he would set up his little food joint at the corner of the building. I could never see who bought the food from him but he seemed busy from his actions.
Many times there would be nothing to cook at home and on one such day the father of baby decided to bring food from outside. To my amazement he decided to try the same chana kulcha. The choice was clear, either go to bed hungry or eat what is served. Thick red oil floated on top of the chana and it smelled strongly of kerosene. With great difficulty I managed to eat a bite or two. Drowning away the sting of chilies and hurt with water. From then I would get an imaginary smell of spiced kerosene from the window. Only a good spray of mosquito repellant all over the window would drown that smell. Or maybe not.
Rain or dust storm would bring havoc as the window would struggle to fly free from its latches. I would struggle from the other end to tie a string to the two handles to keep the shutters from opening. Dust and water would still trickle in. It would enter from every possible place. The rats would hide till the storm raged but I was always able to hear them lurking behind things ready to launch forth.
My baby would be still too urging me to rest while I could. I would communicate with it and pray for the storm in my life to settle. Once the wrath of the weather gods would end I would open the window again and smell the wet earth combined with various other undesired smells but it was still better than the caged stuffiness that lay on this side of the window.
A cable ran across from the side of our building to the opposite one beyond the patch and usually it did not attract any visitors but on one particular day a sweet melodious sound brought me to the window and I saw a tiny black bird merrily singing. Oblivious to its surroundings it slowly swayed on the cable hopping to the right and then to the left as if dancing to its own tune. It was the only brightness the window ever brought into my life and a signal to something better for me and my unborn child.
Within days of that beautiful sight we moved out of the place to another house that would change the course of my life forever. It was a forced decision which I took for the sake of the safety of my baby who was about to arrive in this world within a month and a half.
One day before we moved out one side of the window pane crashed as the cricket ball found its target. The impact not just broke the glass it also shook the frame from its hinges. The whole day as I packed my meager belongings the window door rattled swayed and banged against the wall and the remaining part of it whole. A monotonous requiem for all that died before it had chance to live.
We bid farewell to the broken window on a still September morning never to return. Though I do feel an urge to take my elder one there once for some odd reason.
Do read Post -1