Post 3 in the series ‘ From My Window’
The window on the first floor was not visible from outside unless you had keen eyes and knew the various facets of the house. The construction was old style, steep narrow staircase, high ceilings, a tin shed in the backyard, similar one in the front courtyard, a sweet basil plant in a corner(planted a little higher than the rest of the kitchen plants), wooden door with an iron chain latch that opened to two small steps leading to a clearing where the milkman, washer man and vegetable vendor etc. would come and spend some time chatting with the lady of the house who would sit on a woven chair to do daily accounts and keep an eye on the happenings of the neighborhood. Sometimes other women would join her , especially in the evenings, and the group would discuss knitting patterns, family news, recipes and other things. Modhas or peedhees would be pulled out for them and the kids would run around like little slaves serving them water, tea or sweets whatever their mothers would send from kitchen.
All this one couldn’t see from the window but I thought it was necessary to tell something about the house. The courtyard at the center had a hand pump where the domestic help would wash soiled utensils, clothes etc. Sometimes during hot summer afternoons when the humans would retreat into the coolness of the rooms the pigeons would come trotting to the tiny square around the hand pump to quench their thirst ,wash off the dust and grime and frolic in cold water. Rarely one would spot sparrows as they preferred early mornings when there was also chance of getting pieces of leftover rotis.
In the evenings the two young mothers would wash the dirt off their boys before setting them off to study. I always wondered how they managed to see properly from behind the long veil of their sari that covered almost three-forth of their faces. I guess it was an art they had mastered over the time.
I had found the window accidentally. The room with this particular window was the last on first floor and was mainly used by the younger son of the family with whom I was spending a month before heading to my granny’s home in Pune for summer break. The young man was a loud mouth, short-tempered rebel of sorts. Everyone kept their distance from him. One day while playing with the kids I discovered the bolted door and insisted on looking in. Though smaller than the rest of the rooms it had the best view of the world and as the owner was away on a college trip I decided to park myself there when I found time. The other kids refused to even step inside.
My uncle got the huge Semul tree pruned after a huge branch fell during a storm. It was a chaos outside the window on the day the storm raged and uprooted a small Neem tree, broke a few window panes along with a hefty branch of the tree which shielded the window from public view. Next day after a meeting the residents decided to prune the tree. I watched the three men cut the threatening branches while the birds protested in chorus from ledges and parapets. Suddenly a whole new world opened in front of the window. It now provided a wide view of the terraces of other houses, the white marbled temple top with a loud-speaker and a bright saffron flag that fluttered like hummingbird’s wings, the dusty playground where cricket matches went on all through the day and way beyond that the railway track which wasn’t visible but came alive when the local trains flashed passed twice a day camouflaged by the line of Eucalyptus trees. However hard I tried I never succeeded to count the number of carriages which flashed by like bolt of lightening.
In the mornings and evenings when the day was cool the old woman in a building on the right usually sat near her first floor window watching the flurry of activity, confusion and disorder of the world outside. At times someone would spot her and exchange greetings. The fruit vendors usually called her to ask if she needed something and a few times I saw her dropping down a cloth bag tied to a string in which she would put the money after serious bargaining with the vendor. He would then take the money out and put the desired fruits into the bag which she would slowly pull up. The old couple stayed alone in that house and though the old man came down during evenings she remained cooped up due to her arthritis pains. At times I saw her muttering mantras with a string of prayer beads in her hand. Her eyes looking into nothingness.
The neighborhood terraces were mostly empty during day time except for someone coming up to dry clothes or inspect the freshly made badis (vadis), or whole spices spread on a cloth for drying or to turn around bottles of pickles put in the sun for maturing. A network of hundreds of tangled electric wires dominated the landscape as they crisscrossed over them .
The most interesting activity took place on the terrace of red building on the left of the window. Almost every day around noon the owner’s daughter came on the terrace and lingered around pretending to rearrange clothes on the clothesline or water the plants (section of their terrace was full of potted plants), after a few minutes a boy would come on the adjoining terrace, look around and jump over the low wall and land on her side. They would stand in the shaded area holding hands and talking. Usually the boy would stay for not more than fifteen minutes but on some days the couple would be more relaxed and sit on the parapet chatting merrily. Maybe on those days there was no one to intrude on their secret meetings because on other days they would bid a quick adieu and disappear from where they came at the slightest noise.
On holidays boys would fly kites or play on the terraces oblivious to the heat and sun. Their excited voices would reverberate in the stillness of summer days.
During the evenings a servant in the building opposite ours would throw buckets of water to cool the terrace and then place charpoys for the night. As the power cuts were a routine during summers people preferred to sleep under the cool night sky. Sometimes the families would come up during the evenings and sip tea over local gossip and household discussions before heading back for dinner.
Not much changed outside the window except the sky.
Years later when I visited the house again, I found that the room with my favorite window was now converted into a store-room and the view was once again permanently blocked by the branches of the semul tree. The girl who secretly met her boyfriend had married and moved to Delhi. The old couple had died a couple of years ago. My uncle lost his mother too so the gatherings at the main door were just a memory now. Much to the relief of people the priests had brought down the temple loudspeaker after the authorities slapped a notice for using it during restricted hours and causing noise pollution. So much had changed over the years but one could still hear the lonesome sounds of the trains passing behind the Eucalyptus trees.