“There is a house built out of stone/ Wooden floors, walls and window sills/ Tables and chairs worn by all of the dust/ This is a place where I don’t feel alone/ This is a place where I feel at home.” — The Cinematic Orchestra
I live in a house like that. I have left it often, just like you leave places that hold on to you. The floors aren’t wooden, and it is not made of stone. It is old beyond belief, its bones creaking with memories, and is built on the dreams of people who will never be forgotten, cloudy, dense dreams that are strewn like moonseed in every corner. It is, as was once said, a place where the doors are moaning all day long, the stairs are leaning from dusk till dawn, and the windows are breathing in the light. It is where the rooms are a collection of so many lives. Even when it is all I have left, it is where I will never feel alone.
It is in houses like this that trails of memories, love and conflict grow longer, and fade, with every passing day, where every minute soaks up the residue of the love of the last. Old, sturdy furniture, worn with the touch of human hands, groans with the weight of wanting to be touched again. Fingers on polished wood and quiet walls trace warm spots where the hands of dreamers, soft and cushioned, have already rested. And you feel a quiet, desperate mix of dread and longing at the prospect of pulling open that drawer or unlocking the almirah by the bed, for fear of all the years you lost that will spill out. You look at the tall boxes carelessly steeped with fragments of your childhood — right at the top of one is an old colouring book, in the pages of which colour bleeds beyond every line, just like love — and the urge to rummage through it slowly seeps out of your arms. Everything is coated in dust and silverfish, but that is not what stops you. It’s a tall box, and you’re not strong enough to deal with the shards it holds inside.
You fit into tiny clothes once. Clothes that you can now slip your upper arm into with some difficulty. They still lie in a wooden cupboard that is now a good foot-and-a-half shorter than you. There was a time when you would fit into a corner of it, during evening after evening of playing hide-and-seek with indulgent cousins who pretended they had no idea where you were hiding. You sat among those clothes once, quietly, bravely, in the dark. That little, deep-maroon velvet dress, with a sailor collar? It is more than 20 years old now. It was yours, but you remember it more vividly as the dress in which your baby sister looked like a Russian doll. Misha — perhaps it was fitting that her name was Russian too — with her cherubic face, golden-green eyes and light-brown, wispy hair tied in a fountain atop her head, in that dress. It is an enduring image in your head. And the dress is still there, light as a velvet feather with the years.
And when you unearth those old books, scores and scores of them — the first ones your eyes fall on are Noddy Goes to Sea and Podi Pishir Bormi Baksho, much to your amusement — there is a calm inside you, like a space where you can breathe. After the years of dust have been wiped away, you see the holes in some of the pages where silverfish have burrowed. You watch silently as some of them scuttle away in panic at the light. Among the pages of a few of the books are letters, some written by a sister to her brother, some by a newly-wed bride to her sisters-in-law, asking them to teach her how to run a household. The handwriting is beautiful; you wonder what happened to such lovely handwriting. Much to your amazement, the books are fine. They’re perfect. Old, and torn in some places, but at this moment, which is heaven to no one else but you, they’re perfect. And each page tells a story greater than the words on it. Stories of the fingers that leafed through those pages, the same warm, soft, strong fingers that combed and tied your hair when you were little.
There are too many stories to gather. You can’t pick them all up; they will spill out of your embrace, and onto the floor of the house made of dreams. Sometimes, you just tell yourself that they’re all there, in a room, in a drawer, in a cupboard in the house, for you to go back to when you feel ready. But even then, you realize that you will not always be strong enough to walk that distance, to touch upon the years. Some memories are legacies. As long as you can touch them, read them, and hold them close, in a house of dreams, you know they will be safe.