I grew up in an old house. Some of you know it as the house at the end of the lane that turned into a river for our paper boats in the monsoons. Summer mornings were always ready for the carnival because Snehalatha flowers hung like pink chandeliers, named, planted and living for my grandmother, one Joyce Patricia Powell…Sneha, who is drawn onto my skin a million times as an old photograph, head tossed back with laughter, in a pink chiffon sari, in the old house. For three generations, my family lived and died in this leaky, damp, moss ridden, electrically exploding place until we finally lost it the year I left to college, because ancient promises and yellowing paper mean f*ck all today.
I cursed it in the rains, when the street flooded and anyone who visited would have to wade through three feet of water only to arrive at a weeping wet floor that oozed out a sticky, soupy, sweat for days after the skies had finished ringing themselves out. I loathed the fact that we had only one bathroom that you had to enter by walking through my parents bedroom. I would hold tight to whatever breath I had left every time I had secret sleepovers with the owner of the world’s most useless bladder. I despised the rattly old gate that sounded like the Saucepan Man mid seizure whenever anyone so much as touched it. I turned into a red faced dumb f*ck in school when everyone else lived in rather enormous erections and I lived in the crumbling to bits old house at the back of the car showroom. But 58 St. Mark’s Road was where it was at and there is nothing I wouldn’t do to be back in my little attic room on a rainy day, watching the neighbor’s chickens chase each other across our roof and into the bamboo.
Something happened in Bangalore, where gabled roofs and high ceilings were forgotten along with an entire culture, an entire history. Maybe it happened as our city started to get bigger and we stopped saying hello to one another on the street, on account of traffic, or long days, or whatever. Or maybe it happened at the time that we began to value neon green marble mansions over years and years of memories that live in the walls of old houses. The memory of my grandfather picking me up from school every day for the first three thousand or so days of my life, and then coming home to spend hours trying to solve Fermat’s theorem on old pieces of newspaper, that one was stored somewhere inside the damp walls of our hall. I don’t know when it happened, when we decided that the other stuff, you know.. money, power, road penises (copyright, trademark - Alex Hatch) was more important than this stuff. And OK, of course it happened, because development or whatever, but it happened at this insanely rapid pace while some of us were still living behind our lace curtain windows not ready for the onslaught of grey doom, fueled by information technology and masked in a pseudo arty, nouveau riche, Harley Davidsons plus Bollywood dancing exterior.
In the year that led up to our goodbye we spent the evenings in the garden, under the Casia tree and the blue fairy lights that my parents hung above us, as they had done on my sixth birthday. We ate breakfasts in the Lovely Room: the courtyard that three other rooms opened into, and that lived up to it’s name in every way. Its walls were painted with blue pin stripes, my mother’s doing some years after she had written out the words to a Joni Mitchell song on them, we are stardust, she wrote. We turned the back of my father’s studio, that once upon a time used to be a part of the garden, then a dining room, then a theater, then a recording room, then a guest room and finally on us leaving it, it was the room that we sang and played guitar in every night. We lit agharbatti every day, brought fallen flowers back from the garden and let them float in water, we took pictures, wrote some more on the walls, threw lots of parties, and then we were gone.
I went back two times, only because I like to feel like I’ve been socked in the stomach. The first time it was just locked up and alone, like we had abandoned it, see you later... tata, that sort of thing... and that sucked, but the second time was the worst. We joked that we should’ve got some dynamite and blown the whole thing to bits before we left and maybe we should have, because now it’s painted orange, filled with those blue chairs on wheels and is named The Arts (Farts) Village, but has been stripped of reminders of the 200 years of blow-your-head-right-off art that went on before, or at least all the marketers tried to strip it to make it more marketable ...f*ck you, you flatulent f*cks. But memories live inside the walls of old houses plus my mother says that I shouldn’t hold on to negative feelings, so moving on…
To 58 St. Mark’s Road, you were all the magic in the world and I’m constantly trying to find my way back to you; in cinnamon toast on Sunday mornings, in other old houses and their ghosts, in fallen Casia flowers, in godforsaken leaky roofs, in Brinjal pickle, in Cooke Town, in the smell of my wet dogs, in walking down Rest House road and handing out plum cake, in raindrops falling on my window, in Christmas curtains, in grasshopper cake, in blue pin stripes and in fairy lights everywhere, almost enough to feel like you’re there.