Learning to let go: http://www.thehindu.com/opinion/open-page/learning-to-let-go/article9345942.ece

22 Nov

Learning to let go

It may hurt more to hang on than to leave, in certain contexts

I had sold my ancestral house in Nagamalai in the Madurai region of Tamil Nadu several years ago. It was ‘Sara House’, named after my mother. When my parents were no more, gone for good, there really was no reason I should hold on to a house where I wouldn’t be living. I bought a flat in Bangalore and live there now, for several reasons that a big city offers. I visit Madurai once in a year to keep in touch with some of my relatives.

One day, spurred by nostalgia and in a fit of reckless financial bravado, I phoned the current owner of ‘Sara House’ (who too did not live there), and offered to buy back the house at the current market rate. I cited sentimental reasons, money was no object. I wanted to come back and live there, I told him.

The current owner had no reason to be sentimental, I should have known. He was nice and understanding about it as he heard me out, but I guess some business instinct had alerted him. He hemmed and hawed and said he wanted to hold on to it as an investment. Maybe he thought the real estate market in the area was rising, and wanted to see how high it would go. Or worse, he had guessed that I might not follow through, considering the filmic manner in which I had couched my offer.

A realisation strikes me now. What if the man had agreed to sell? Assuming I had re-occupied the house, the initial euphoria of getting back our lost heritage would have worn off after a while. Maybe I’d have a surreal feeling of never having left the house. The ‘yesterday once more’ feeling might have come over me, and it might have been sweet while it lasted.

But things would change in a month. And then with every tick of the clock my soul would get progressively desensitised. The heart-rending but pleasing nostalgia of Nagamalai would have no reason to continue to fill my heart. I’d have gone around the neighbourhood a few times, but the joy of rediscovery of the old haunts would wear off: they had diminishing and marginal utility. And then perhaps I’d wonder if this financial investment was worth it.

I think we tend to confuse places with people. I wanted mom and dad, who are no more. I associated them with the house. But I’d never get them back. So what would the house they lived in offer now in terms of emotional fulfilment?

The same is true when you visit places such as your old school, an office you had worked in, a campus where you had done a course, or places you had been posted to. You’re all dewy-eyed as you enter the building, and then realisation strikes. None of the people who work there know you, and you are on the verge (or slightly past the verge) of making a fool of yourself. You tell some polite but uninterested staff there that you sat at the very chair they are sitting on, or some such thing. You recount some anecdote during your tenure in that office, building it up to epic proportions. Those listening to you nod, seem to understand, but they wait for you to move on so they can get on with their routine. If you are observant you might even notice their looking discreetly — or worse, not so discreetly — at their watches.

If you are of the ‘reserved’ type, you might stroll wordlessly through your earlier work area, beaming at the staff working there. You want to say you’ve been there, done that, and that what you see now is but a copycat version of the standards set by you during your reign. Nothing can be sadder than a scene like this.

Letting go is not easily. We have to fight to release the claw-hold of the past, every single day.

It hurts to let go, but it hurts more to hang on. Our future lies ahead; our past is not our destiny.

sagitex@gmail.com

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Memories at Sara House

30 Jun

http://www.thehindu.com/…/memories-at-s…/article7342979.ece… Memories at Sara House THEHINDU.COM|BY THOMAS PAUL

My article published in The Hindu [Open Page] 23.6.15

MEMORIES OF SARA HOUSE

Last night, six years after we sold our old house in Nagamalai, Madurai, I woke up in a sweat, dreaming about that house we grew up in.

The proprietary feeling never leaves me; and the guilt, too, for not having held on to the house, at least in memory of mom and dad. But it is what sons do, don’t they, and regret later. My brother and I, both city boys now, talk about it wistfully, once in a while.

The house is in a time-warped colony, unchanged for all the decades that we had known the place. Compared to the laidback pace of my parents’ life there we, the sons, lived our lives in the frenetic metros, in a blur, fast-forwarding in dog-years.

A few years back, dad and mom had moved out of the house, one after the other, reluctantly I am sure, being dead, and all. Their cemetery is about 2 km away, holding them alongside other old-timers of their colony fraternity. I am sure a lot of chatting goes on in that cemetery, maybe in the dead of night. All their talkative friends are there.

After dad died eight years ago, mom had lived alone in that silent house, outliving dad by a good two years, listening to eternity itself in the second-to-second rasp of the quartz clock in the drawing room all morning, all afternoon and late into the evening; reading the Bible and drawing solace from what the good lord said. All day she sat in her favourite chair, under the row of wall-hung, electric pseudo-flame lit, black-and-white, framed photographs of dead kin. Two years later, she joined them too, going peacefully in her sleep.

The cemetery is a mile away. And I am sure at odd hours mom and dad visit the house, together, or separately if they happened to have had a quarrel. Mom does the rounds more frequently, I am sure, watching where they spent more than half a century of their lives.

After the sale, all signs of the previous occupancy of the house have been obliterated — unless you looked carefully and saw something that couldn’t be obliterated, where mom insisted on staying on, visibly. One of these is ‘Sara House’, words designed into the grill of the front gate, indistinguishable unless you take a second look. You wouldn’t notice it unless someone pointed it out for you. That is mom’s name — Sara — and yeah, it is there to stay, till the grillwork rusts and falls off.

Now, the present owner lives a hundred miles away, and there are no tenants. It’s better that way. The house is not tended. Leaves have blown into the compound, through the Sara House grill gate, swirl around, with nowhere to go, and settle down amongst the coarse grass and nameless weeds. The gates are locked.

We, the sons, are drawn back there, once in a couple of years, arriving during random visits to Madurai to attend some function involving relatives. And we make a trip there, to Nagamalai, drive past the house in a car, slowly, the tyres rasping on the gravel, spooky in the colony’s baking summer afternoon silence. It is hot here, notwithstanding the irregular shade of the trees that line the avenue. Not a leaf moves. And much as we would like to get off the car and walk inside the house, it is not going to happen. Wrenching though it is, we stop the car and stare at the house. That’s when we remember to see the front grill gate with the ‘Sara House’ design, like a codeword, telling us whose house it continues to be.

Soon, a soft breeze blows, whirling the nowhere-to-go fallen leaves inside the compound; and that’s when we know mom and dad have quietly appeared by our side, seeing from the outside, in.

How come, they want to know, we stand outside our own house like strangers? Doesn’t it say there on the grill gate, ‘Sara House’?

sagitex@gmail.com

My Front Yard Has Mange

6 May

Webner House

During the cold, dank, seemingly endless winter, forces of evil apparently attacked my yard.  Under cover of darkness and blanket of snow, terrible lawn creatures invaded and ruthlessly displaced our attractive carpet of velvety grass.

IMG_1171Spring has brought the unwelcome realization that our front yard appears to have a serious case of lawn mange.  Where tender shoots of pleasant green once grew we now find bare spots, crab grass, spreading sawtoothed dandelion leaves, and other unsightly, weedy characters.  The yard has a distinctly clumpy, uneven look to it.  And in the center of one of our lawn sections there is an angry-looking, purple-topped plant that appears to be the youthful version of the man-devouring miscreant from Little Shop of Horrors.

Having an ugly spring lawn is embarrassing, but it can have its advantages.  Dogs find our yard so appalling that they refuse to even answer the call of nature…

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