I am back at home, and I have discussed with my mother about wanting to stay separately in a house, in my hometown itself. After much discussion the decision is in my favor. Next thing I know, I am standing right outside a house with my mother and my mama.
This house is old, and we’re standing in front of a big, wooden folding door, which has an almost rusted chain latch and a big lock on it. The door is painted dark brown, the kind that looks black at night.
“Come, we’ll show you the house now.”
The strong wooden door opens, there is light outside, which now starts filling the room, but is interrupted by white light when my mama switches on all the lights in the room.
He says to me, smiling,
“So this is one room, it was the garage but we can convert it into another room for something.”
My mother also has a smile on her face. They both are behaving almost as if I am a new buyer of this house.
I look at both of them, confused, yet amused. I find myself smiling, almost blushing, and I say,
“But I know this house inside out. This is the house I’ve spent most of my childhood in.”
There is some laughter, and we move to the staircase that leads up to the second floor.
What is on the first floor can be kept for later.
There are two entrances that lead to the staircase, one from inside the room and one from outside the house, right next to the big, wooden folding door. The steps are made of stone, the staircase itself is steep, and each step is high, higher than usual steps, the kind that would be very difficult to climb for a six or a sixty-six year old. The steps are grey and they have a cold smell to them, which is probably also because the staircase is made out of 20-odd steps, and the width of the staircase is such that two 18-year olds cannot stand next to each other on one step. The walls are that narrow. The whole feeling to the staircase is dark, which gets darker as you climb up.
But once you do climb up, the darkness suddenly disappears because of the light filling in from the two entrances, one on the right, which leads to a room which is used as a dining and storage room, and to the left of this dining room is the small kitchen, and to its right is the long, narrow balcony, which is common to the room that you get into from the entrance on the left side of the staircase.
This is a big room, with a window on the right as soon as you enter the room. This window is laid deep, deeper than usual windows, so that one can sit on the ledge of the window and look out or face the room, provided, one is not more than 13 years old. The view from this window is of the building behind this house, and a building to the right, and one to the left. All these buildings look alike, with the same number of floors – three, minus the terrace. The building right opposite the window has three similar windows, and the window on the first floor has an occasional visitor, who is a really old woman, frail, and widowed. She is a very pale woman, with no teeth, and pale sarees, and all her sarees have the same wrinkle-count as her face and hands. But when she opens her mouth her voice is always loud and can be as shriek as a 4-year old girl’s.
She comes to her window to put two small bowls on the ledge, one she fills with water, and the other with different dals, or sometimes, bread crumbs. She is mostly the entertainment of every kid sitting at this window on this second floor of this house, because these kids look down at her and tease her with this one line which goes, “buddhi aunty…” something. I don’t recall it anymore. But the old woman always reacts in her intensely loud voice while filling the bowls and then she goes away.
When you turn around to see the rest of the room, there is a bed opposite the window, and this bed is made of metal, like those old beds used to be. Next to the bed, bang opposite to the window, is the door that leads into the long, narrow balcony. On the other side of the bed is a 21-inch Videocon TV, and opposite the bed, on the left of the window, there is another old, dark brown wooden door, with the same almost-rusted chain latch, which leads into the not-very-well-lit puja room. All the idols are kept on shelves on the left side as you enter, and this one is a narrow and small room, too. But as you enter this room, you see, in front of you, another door, which leads into a bigger room. This room is the main storage room, and it is dimly-lit, with a yellow bulb, all the time.
I know and I expect to see all this once we have climbed the steps and reached the second floor. I don’t expect to see the old woman because the last time I visited this house, about 13 or 14 years ago, she was in her 80s, so I am pretty certain that she is now gone.
We climb and cross the first floor, which has one entrance that leads into the big living room, which has sofas which are decorated like any other sofa in any other house in a typically Muslim area, and this room also has walls filled with framed photos of my ancestors and some other photos, too. There are also cabinets with many things arranged neatly in them, which I don’t recall anymore. This room, in spite of having all these things, has a very empty feeling to it.
“I am coming to this house after so long. It feels really good and soothing to be back here and to know that this will be my house now.”
My mama smiles at me as we climb up slowly, and my mother smiles but it quickly fades away and she says,
“Bas, thoda darr lagta hai yahan,” she says, as we reach up to the room on the left, and she continues,
“woh agar abhi bhi bhatakti hain yahan pe”, she mentions a name which I don’t hear clearly, but it sounds like nani-ma, and my mama continues right after she finishes saying that while we’re all standing, just looking at the room.
And he sighs and says,
“haan, woh, aur Ma.”
At this point, almost simultaneous to him saying it, I notice two things. One, the big storage room inside the puja room is now in front of us, its entrance is on the extreme left of the wall behind the TV, and the TV is gone. That room is still dimly-lit with that yellow bulb, only now it is in the corner of the main room, and the next moment I notice the other thing. It happens as soon as my mama finishes saying Ma. We all notice it.
Inside the dimly-lit storage room, on the inside wall, a shadow is seen walking towards the room door.
Everything after that happens like a free-fall.
I climb down but it feels like I am sliding down, almost, being occasionally obstructed by my mother and mama, and we are all panicking, scared, and I don’t see them but I feel them and I am still sliding down, now almost feeling like I have been thrown off my feet and I feel the fall. I know I am about to fall on my back on the stone staircase and I will probably hit my spine on the steps first and then my head and my neck will break and so will my backbone and I feel all this and I anticipate it while I am in the air and I am scared and confused and cold and then the fall is about to end and I try to keep myself ready for the pain and then everything becomes faster and chaotic with a very hollow scream and the feeling of being followed all mixed up in one second and then I wake up.
I wake up in my bed, here in my room, miles away from home. The first thing that brings me back is my shadow on the wall next to me. The dim light source is my laptop on my desk on my far right. I wake up cold, and scared, and uncomfortable. I wake up at 2:45am.
I don’t know what to make of my dream, I don’t even know if it’s a dream or a nightmare, I just wake up knowing that it could just be a very scarily real nightmare, or a very indirect way in which my Nani’s spirit tried to communicate with me last night, by drawing me to that house in my dream, and making her presence felt.
After all, it was her old house I was in.
I had this dream on the night of December 6th, 2010. In my dream when I was in that house, it drew me to itself very strongly, so much so that when I woke up, even though I was scared, I still felt an urge to go visit the house this time when I go back home. Nobody lives there now, but it used to be my Nani-Nana’s old house. It is in the older part of Bhopal, and it was a three-floor house.
I have spent more time in that house during my childhood days than I have in my own house. All my cousins from my mother’s side of the family and I were the kids who used to tease the old woman from the window. It was really one of the best times of my life. Everybody was very alive and happy and well. All my summer holidays were spent in that house, and winter holidays, too. There are many, many fond memories in that house.
But now they have moved to a different house, and it has been very long since that happened. My younger mama, who was in my dream with my mother, used to go stay there alone at night earlier, till he wasn’t married, because they believed that it is not good to leave the house empty. I think they still haven’t sold the house and they use it as a storage house, since their shop is in that same area.
My mama, till today, believes that there are spirits in that house. He says he has felt them, and seen them. He is not scared. He says it could be my Nanaji, and my Nani’s mother, and so there is no need to be scared of anything.
Till my Nani was alive, she believed him, too.