The house that Grandpa built

I don't exactly remember my first brush with 'the house'.All I remember is that I was really 'small' back then.Yes 'small' is the word,not young coz I remember fitting on to the petrol tank of my father's evergreen bike without obstructing his view those days.

However,in no particular order,what I do remember is : numerous sightings of white as father pointed it out to me as we rode past Tamar with unerring regularity every few months,how it seemed enormous like an apparition when I was young to just about accommodating everyone during marriages which served as get-togethers for our extended family, getting down from the State bus on evenings with the courtyard visible from a good half kilometre and Grandpa looking expectantly straining his glasses and me running into the courtyard with shrieks of delight.Childhood indeed was awesome.

'Radha Govind Bhavan' in all it's glory
My first brush with the house came on a rainy evening when I was all of 10.We were returning from Grandma’s place,a village which was a 5 km hike from the highway,adjacent to which the house was located.We usually covered that distance using a bicycle which Grandpa kept in the house exactly for that purpose.Waiting for a bus to Ranchi standing next to the highway,we had been caught in an unseasonal deluge.

Despite both my parents being from Ranchi,I was born and brought up in Jamshedpur as my parents worked there.With almost everyone in my extended family living in Ranchi or places nearby,I ended up visiting Ranchi at least twice a year,courtesy,Summer and Winter vacations.
Some 60 kms from Ranchi on the 120 km stretch between the two cities lies Tamar.A tribal stronghold,it’s a nondescript place more famous for it’s Naxals and Elephant raids than the truckloads of tomatoes and wheat it produces.My introduction to Tamar was obviously that house.

I remember being rushed to a dhaba nearby.While grandpa had some tea,I remember settling down with some knick-knacks and the newspaper.I finished my snacks,Grandpa his tea.We even took turns reading the newspaper but the rains didn't relent.Sensing my boredom,he started asking me about school and studies.Now which self-respecting 10 year old would like to talk about studies during a vacation??..So,I cleverly diverted our conversation towards the house.And Grandpa willingly obliged.It was a prized possession of his,the eponymous ‘Radha Govind Bhavan’.

When the rains stopped,he took me to the house,plucked a few guavas for me and showed me the huge Sandalwood tree in the courtyard.He liked to pamper us when happy.A practising advocate in the Ranchi high court for over 35 years,Radha Govind Babu,as he was popularly known,was a different person with kids,quite unlike his serious demeanour at other times.He even bought me a comic book before we boarded the bus.Something I had said or asked must’ve made him really happy.Was it the house??..I’d like to believe so.

The next visit was with mom.The scorching June sun at it’s peak,we had stopped for a breather before proceeding to Grandma’s place.From nowhere,a few glasses of delicious Orange squash appeared along with fresh water from the well.And so did a pedal Rickshaw with a driver.Apparently,our tenants were really nice people.

However,it wasn’t until May 99 that the house endeared itself to me.

Imagine a sprawling house with 15 odd rooms,add a huge courtyard with trees on the periphery and a variety of plants inside,a well with sweet,cold water regardless of the time of the year and throw in long lost cousins who met each other only during occasions like this one.We were at the marriage of my youngest aunt.It’s location right next to the highway added to it’s accessibility enabling guests from both Jamshedpur and Ranchi making it to the place with ease besides our village folk.There it was,our very own version of Sainik Farms.

Needless to say,we had a blast.Having finished with my exams,we reached a week before the marriage and left a week after.Those two weeks were special indeed.Too young to be entrusted with responsibilities,all I did all day was have fun.

From cricket in the courtyard which saw the ball enter the cook’s enclosure more than once to bathing by the well,hand pump or the river as per my whims,it entailed all.
I learnt to change into dry clothes still wearing a partially wet towel while buses and trucks stopped and accelerated and people stared from a distance.It’s quite an art,trust me.

I learnt there was music in the screech and honk of buses,in the splash when buckets hit the water in a well,in the humming sounds highways make when a truck accelerates kilometres away and in the swaying of guava trees.Not to mention,when a ripe guava hits the ground with a thud on a windy night when you're just about to sleep on the rooftop.

I learnt food tastes best when cooked on one of  those huge chulhas which spring up at wedding venues fuelled by firewood from the forests.

And in a game trying to identify buses from a distance,I realised trucks,buses and most four wheelers resembled human faces.Some looked regal,some plain bored.There were a few angry ones and the pretty ones also seemed like the haughty ones.And once in a while I discovered real worldly wisdom  on the bumpers of trucks while the world looked elsewhere.

Chota Nagpuri music,even though with laugh inducing lyrics,had foot-tapping beats and everytime
I heard beats wafting in the air from a distance,I felt happy that I could connect.Happy coz maybe it gave me a sense of belonging.

Trekkers,Matadors and Pedal Rickshaws which would seem like vehicles from an alternate world to most city kids plied with gay abandon there.A trekker with a capacity of fifteen would often carry thirty people at a time.Some on the rooftops,some hanging precariously for dear life.And if that wasn’t all,a goat or a few hens would almost always be there somewhere below the seats.

Going back home always felt like a time warp.Time always flew past when I was in Pune,Kochi and then Mumbai.Back home in Jamshedpur,it almost seemed like another era.No traffic snarls,plenty of open spaces,and time seemed to crawl past,almost to the point of boredom.But it was also incredibly soothing.Almost as if someone had poured cold water on parched skin.

Tamar and ‘Radha Govind Bhavan’ seemed to slow down the pace still further.

You’d wake up either by the rooster's call or by the furious honk of the seven am bus from Ranchi urging the last of it’s few regular passengers to hurry up.There’d be scores of kids in blue shorts and white shirts waiting for one of the local buses to ferry them to government  school a good 15 kms away.While you chewed on a twig of Sal or Karanja,the silence would be shattered once in a while by a tired baarat returning from a marriage,speakers blaring from truck tops,either urging a dame to come to a dam instead of going to school OR  a recently 18 turned guy urging his folks to get him married to the girl of his choice

As far as I can remember,I’ve had this intense desire to see the world.Cities big,small,near,far,they all fit the bill as long as they seem new to me.Ever since I left home for college,one thought that often criss-crossed my mind was what if I ended up liking some place more than what I had back home??And as content my parents were with my progress,I could feel similar vibes emanating from them,even if they never put it into words.What if their son never returned??

Amidst all this I grew up,changed schools,switched from city to city and on busy afternoons when my heart ached for the unknown,I longed to be back.Not necessarily back home,but to the surroundings,to the overwhelming familiarity and it was then that I knew I’d always remain a ‘small town boy’.A cliched term I know,but cliches they say are cliches for a reason.They are true.

Grandpa passed away in 2003.The sandalwood tree was burgled in a daring midnight robbery a few years later.My place as the kid of the family has been taken away by younger cousins since.The house has seen another three marriages since and I could enjoy none of them.In 200,I was down with a broken collar bone plus final exams.2004 was again about exams so much to my anguish I went in the evening and returned the next morning.2013 was about a lack of intent from both sides so I stayed away.The only solace was that each of those marriages saw the house back to it’s state of impeccable white.

Meanwhile I itched to get back for an occasion where I had time in hand and my loved ones around me.A week before,a week after.I itched to relive all those experiences.I itched to relive my childhood on the other side of 25.

My elder sister got married last month.And I was there much as i would've liked myself to.I did the running around.I sat with father and did the planning.I shopped for the wedding after debating over mom why a particular saree would look better than another one and I made my sister wear the saree I bought.I bought the gifts and distributed the cards,connecting with people who’d been out of sight and hence out of mind.

 The house all decked up,much like the bride
And I loved taking my cousins for a bath to the well,getting them comics from Mumbai for them to bide their time.I enjoyed bursting crackers at night before going to sleep,stealing a quick getaway to the nearby dhaba for some hot ‘Aloo chops’,lending a patient ear to their ramblings,involving them in certain work to make them feel at home and passing tips on plucking guavas without damaging them.Times had changed and I had grown up from the pampered to the pamperer.I had built my memories long ago,it was high time I passed them over.

The Jharkhand Government has been widening the NH 33 over the last few years and our worst fears came true a few months back when we received a letter which said that a part of the house would have to give way for the highway.The courtyard would remain as would Radha Govind babu’s name.As for the memories,only time would tell.

P.s.-The land on which it was built was bought by my great Grandfather who was the local MLA and the house was named after my grandpa as a gift to him.I learnt this 25 days back.The title of this post still remains the same,just that the Grandpas have changed.

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