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regular-article-logo Sunday, 16 June 2024

If only those walls could talk

One would get to hear of the memories and moments, big and small, that went into their making

Anasuya Basu Published 26.05.24, 07:25 AM
Representational image

Representational image Paromita Sen

Unlike Mohun Biswas, Mr Basu had a relatively smooth passage to building his own house, a double-storeyed abode built in the late 1970s in Calcutta when cement was rationed and construction took time.

As the government released cement, one would buy as many bags as one was allotted and stock them lest one ran out of the vital construction material. But then workers wouldn’t be available all the time and as one waited for them to resume work at
Mr Basu’s half-done house, the tropical rains would come pouring down. Mr Basu would wake up in the middle of the night and check if his precious cement bags were protected from the torrential downpour.

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It was no easy task or time. Are the workers mixing sand and cement in the right proportion? Is the foundation deep enough? The furrows on Mr Basu’s forehead deepened as he spent his life’s savings on the house.

And then one day, it was finally ready. On the chosen day, Mr Basu crossed the threshold holding on to the tail of a cow with the missus and two children behind him.

A lot of thought had gone into making the house. Not thoughts of vastu but things to do with Mr Basu’s health. That he should have the room that got a lot of sunshine. That the children’s room should be right beside it. There should be a puja room too and a comfortable corner for the pet. The floor shouldn’t be too smooth or else the pet would constantly slip and fall. The black telephone, a ubiquitous thing in those days, had to be kept in a place so that all conversations could be heard from every part of the house, after all, Mrs Basu wanted to know what the children were up to.

And soon enough the Basus settled down to their lives and routine and as years passed, Mr Basu, having led a rather eventful life juggling professional pressures and familial responsibilities, setbacks and successes, succumbed to his chronic ailments and left the world when he had barely stepped into his 70th year. Now the house was Mrs Basu’s, except that she was too distraught and overwhelmed to enjoy it.

The house fell eerily quiet. No more early morning chants of Gayatri mantra or the milkman’s shout out, no more the clang of utensils as the help started cleaning nor the honking of the impatient horn as Mr Basu waited for his daughter to check herself out before the mirror one last time before leaving for school with him, the whistle of the pressure cooker following them out... The sights and sounds of a functioning household slowly but surely changed to a quietness and stillness which neighbours unfailingly commented on.

“It’s too quiet next door,” said Mrs Ghosh, a neighbour.

The daughters spread their wings and flew out of the quiet nest one day and the house became even quieter. But Mrs Basu took good care of the house. And whenever the girls returned for a visit, she would ask anxiously: “Have I been able to maintain the house?” A word of praise would light up her soft face.

But it was not long before she too fell ill and made her exit.

The younger daughter who had returned to live with Mrs Basu during her final years, decided to stay on. She missed the house when she was away and would often wonder from the verandah of her rented space in another city what it would be like if she could shift her house, the house that her father built, to her place of work. Just scoop the house and re-establish it here where she worked.

Back now, she was happy. Friends dropped by, they slept over. Often they would ask, “Aren’t you scared living here alone?” Why on earth, she wondered. The live-in help often complained of an eerie feeling, as if someone or more were walking about, but not her. And frankly, if Mr and Mrs Basu were walking around the house, she would be delighted.

For a year after his death, she would get a whiff of Mr Basu’s after-shave at his book corner. She often asked her mother about it who would smile feebly and say nothing. Even today, after so many years since their passing, she catches a footstep on the stairs or a shuffle around the corner. When work-from-home was on in full swing, she heard these more often. It was probably the house lizard scurrying around or a resident mouse making its way to some dark corner. But she would want to think otherwise. They didn’t have enough time in this house, Mr and Mrs Basu, they should be here, she thought.

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