Memories at Sara House

30 Jun…/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


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’?


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