Wednesday, March 07, 2012

When the Price of the World Was 80000 Rupees

After spending the first two years in Agra of which I have no memory, I moved to Mysore with my parents, since my father, a banker had been transferred to the place. I have no memory either, of the suburban house that we first lived in. Shortly after, my father bought a house in the then outskirts of the city.

Mysore, 25 years ago was an altogether different place; especially our Siddharthalayout. There were just a few houses in the immediate neighbourhood and there were vast open spaces all around.
As we stood in front of the house facing the road, we could see Lalitha Mahal diagonally opposite towards our right, not very far away - a white magnificent palace that was built for a visiting viceroy during the British rule.

On a full moon day, on the horizon facing us, the moon rose. It was so big, the span of it was wider than you could cover if you stretched both your arms outwards. It’s yellow colour gradually turned white as it went higher and higher up the sky. There were hardly any vehicles.
My grandmother and my mother would count the number of autorickshaws that passed in front of the house in a day and report it without amusement to my father, when he returned from office in the evening.

The silence was so complete that we could hear the lion roaring in the famous Chamarajendra zoo, a good two kilometers away. And the spaces so clear that we could see the Mysore palace, four kilometers away, from our terrace.

My father would return home in his Lambi scooter which he called a helicopter. It was another of his precious material belongings. His most precious material belonging perhaps was the idol of Krishna and ironically there was nothing material about it! This idol, my father had purchased in Brindavan which he had visited when he was posted in Agra. It is a marble statue, one foot tall, playing the flute.

My father bought this idol in Brindavan for 400 rupees. That had seemed very costly at that time – in fact prohibitively expensively and mother was not too keen. After a lot of dilly-dallying, my father finally bought it. It is probably the most valued article in the house. Through many transfers that took us all over the country, he carried the idol in his arm, carefully wrapping the idol in a soft cloth, too reluctant to put it in a suitcase, trunk or any other baggage.

He became so possessive about it that he did not allow any of us to go near it, leave alone touch or hold it. And in course of time, he became so attached to it that he would stand before the idol in silence and look at it. Further, there arrived a stage where he had to touch it at least once every day.

Twice a year, I would eagerly await my father’s return home on his helicopter. After mid term exams and final exams. He would bring with him my reward for getting the first rank in class - a 5 star chocolate. Once he had bought the diary milk. How I had looked forward to eating these.

Whenever my father had to summon me, he would call out ‘Soumithri’. That had been his only way of calling out to me. And that the was only nickname I ever had in my life.

It was a small house.
But we had a good amount of land between the outer wall of the house and the compound, left for gardening. My father planted various kinds of saplings. Three coconut saplings, a cheeku plant (or Suppota as it is also known) and a pomegranate tree were among the fruit bearing ones. Among the flower bearing, were the thorny bougainvillea, a pink rose shrub, a jasmine creeper …
And then there were the show plants. Ashoka plant, croutons etc.

The Christmas tree was right at the centre of the garden and beamed like a jewel. In years to come, it would tower over all other plants, over the house itself and over the entire neighbourhood.
10 years thence, there would come a day, when it would be felled to allow fruit bearing coconut and Suppota trees to flourish – a day when beauty would be felled for the sake of utility – and the family would forget that a Christmas tree had ever been there in the garden.

The soil was fertile; virgin as it was. All the plants flourished very well – with their shiny green leaves, branching twigs and all. Our garden burst forth with life.

Very soon, there were healthy and good looking pomegranates dangling from the ends of thin woody branches. Although not seedless, the colour of the fruit was a deep rich blood red.

One had to keep a watch on them to protect them from street urchins who pelted stones at them or mustered the bravery to jump the compound for the fruit.
Once, we plucked a fruit rather impatiently, unable to bear the thought of losing it to some rogue. Alas! It was half ripe. Then we decided to be more patient the next time.

When the fruit appeared on the plant we fixed the ‘auspicious’ day on which we would pluck it. Everyday my granny, my mom and my dad would go into the garden when no one else in the neighbourhood was noticing, take a good look at the fruit and return to the house with the assurance that everything was ‘alright’. Just one more day was left.
The three of them had a small discussion about whether to take the ‘risk’ of leaving it for another day or not. They unanimously agreed to take the risk.
We all woke up the next morning. Without saying anything to one another, we walked into our garden and towards the pomegranate plant. Alas! It was gone.

We all stood in a circle around the plant in a stupefied silence as if hoping it would reappear on the branch in a while. What a costly mistake it had proved; not plucking it the previous evening! We made our way back into the house. Everyone was silent the whole day. Not much was uttered but for the occasional remorse filled remembrance of the pomegranate fruit.

On luckier days, we did pluck the fruit. My father had taken upon himself the duty of cutting and distributing fruit to all of us.
This duty, he has been unfailingly performing to this day….after every family meal, day after day, for over nine thousand one hundred and twenty five days now, he has peeled fruits, diced them, sliced them, or shelled them and divided them into four unequal shares, always giving his children a little more.

We would all sit in the portico - I, mother, brother, grandmother, grandfather and father - and eat our share of the fruit - a handful of ruby like pomegranate pearls - with love and relish.
The initial excitement when the fruit was first seen on the tree, the vigilance of all the days and the waiting forever - this was the summation of it all. A few minutes of fulfillment on the portico.
The summation of all life is a few minutes of fulfillment.

1986. It was time to say good bye.
I had lived in this house ever since I could remember. I had no memory of any place before this. I had just completed 1st standard in Teresian primary school. The foundation had been laid. And a good one.

The croutons, the Ashoka trees and the Christmas tree and the pomegranate were growing well. The bougainvillea had grown wild. Its boughs laden with pink flowers had claimed most of the front portion of the house.

When I had found this resting place, my father had been transferred to a village called Nagamangala. There were no English schools there. It had been decided, after a brief consultation with me of course, that I would stay in my grandmother’s home in Hassan, for a year.

On the day of departure, I stood in front of my house, looked at our home and our garden with a keenness and with a fondness I had not felt before. I looked at everything as if it was for the last time. With complete Innocence and devotion, I genuflected before my home, even before anyone had taught me gratitude.


It had been my world. This home. My first home.
Living in this home, with my mother, father, his helicopter, his marble Krishna, the garden, its pomegranate tree, those blood filled rubies, and the five star chocolates –this home feels 100% real.

When my father had bought this house, he had been earning 1400 rupees a month. He had bought it for 80000 rupees and he remembers that day when he did not have 10 rupees left in his pocket after he had arranged the sum after much scrambling and given it away.

We returned to this house after 10 years of nomadic life.
Today, after all sorts of alterations, it is much bigger and much better decked. The helicopter has made way for a long silver grey car. The garden has become half its size, for the house has become bigger. There are much better pomegranate fruits available in the market – seedless.
5-star chocolates seem boring.
My father no longer calls me Soumithri. Somewhere during the battle that began with the beginning of my teenage, that tenderness was lost and so was the nickname.

It is still my home, my beautiful home. Within beautiful surroundings.

But when I close my eyes and think of a space, of a time, of an experience that’s 100% real, it is the home of 1986 that I think of.
For it was the home of a time when life had not yet begun to break its promises.
That home was my world.

And the world was so much more beautiful when its price was 80000 rupees.

Here is a picture my father had taken from his camera - perhaps his first camera. He had admonished me for some reason and I had been angry. He framed the picture and placed it in the showcase. Throughout our nomadic life, this picture of his had a place in many a showcase. Just like his marble Krishna.


This post has been written for the Kissan 100% real contest, hosted by Indiblogger:


RamaDrama said...

The consistency of small things brings more joy than the grandiose of gestures shown occasionally. Good to know your story..all the best for the contest!

Sachin Thombre said...

btw its Lamby and not Lambi :).

I have fond memories of how my dad used to stylishly drive this 150 cc sturdy machine throughout Bangalore in mid and late 80s. I learnt to drive our Lamby in the vacations of 93 after a few falls and then used to occasionally take it out to show off, whenever my dad or brother were not on it. for over 2 years in 2001 and 2002, I used to take 3 of my friends in the same scooter! and we could easily race out many of the new bikes. The scooter was part of our family and life for almost 20 years, although we had other bikes and scooters. it seemed to have miraculous powers - we could ride on it even with an empty tank, punctured tyre, poor brakes and what not, but not even once, did the scooter fail us when it was needed. it just used to keep taking us everywhere till we realized that we were doing something horrendously wrong.

And one day, dad decided to donate it away to a watchman who used to cycle 15 kms one way. I was not even home when the watchman drove it away. that day was one of the saddest moment of our lives.

KVS said...

So full of 'experience' and so full of nostalgia.
Excellent narration, Sowmya.

Seema said...

Hi ...CONGRATULATIONS...for winning the contest

numerounity said...

hey congratulations!!!

The marble krishna pic is cute!

Sowmya said...

Thank you all for your comments and your congratulations... :-)

Chenthil Kumar. P said...

This is an exact replica of my life..
Outskirts of the village..
The 5-star and the diary milk..
We had guava, sitapal and coconut tree.
Even the pomegranate stuff is same yaar..