Are you afraid of stray animals on streets? Dogs, cats, even pigeons and crows? What would you do if these animals were to come inside your house and just take that parantha away from your plate that you were so ready to relish? What if this animal was a monkey who could hop, jump, climb walls and scare you with just a show of bare teeth?
Welcome to my home on Bhiwani Stand, proudly perched high on the 1st floor of an old building in Rohtak of the 80s. A truly connected living with past, present and future abound. Literally so as the past from which us homo sapiens had descended refused to leave their present, evolved form. And the future in which the unwanted guests from our past would leave us was a prayer, a vision and only thing we desired every time one of us would so much as go to the toilet.
Toilet? Yes toilet! Sometimes I want to go back in time and ask the architect of that house – Why would you build just one toilet and that too in the balcony? And it didn’t stop there. You, mister, built ledges just below the roof of the balcony, giving monkeys a ready space to live, rest and hide. As if this were not enough, the ledges had a small wall the height of a child’s hand at the front edge, making it impossible for any of us to peek and find out if monkeys were sleeping on the ledge.
None of us was anyways tall enough to peek over the7 feet high ledge. Peeing at the night was especially frightful. What if all my fears were to come true and the monkeys were to jump on me and take me away with them? Take me? Take me where? Who knows? My imagination only expanded till them taking me away not where and how!
So ultimately it was Dad’s responsibility to ensure that all of us kids, me and my two elder brothers finished our night trip to the toilet by 9.30 PM. He walked to the balcony with a long wooden pole, stood in the balcony door and beat the ledge with the pole. He made sure that there were no monkeys on the ledge. Then my dad, my super hero would stand in the balcony with the pole in his hand with his round tum protruding through his old white vest and white pajamas. He would call us one at a time, youngest, that is me, going in first to finish my business in there. Our bladders worked like clockwork those days. I don’t know if our bodies adjusted to the clock or it was just Dad’s fear or the fear of having to go to the balcony alone at night, I peed night after night, at 9.30 PM.
If the monkey’s reach would end at the balcony, it would still probably feel like we lived in our home while monkeys were the unnecessary intrusion and not the other way round. But you Mr. Architect were probably paid by the king of the planet of the apes.
After all, why would you build a house in which all rooms opened to a long central foyer that was open from the top? You could stand on the 2nd floor terrace and look inside the house. The foyer was the place where I found sun, made friends with moon as well as the rain. It was as a terrace with in the home. I did my homework there, danced there, played cricket and badminton with my brothers there, and did almost everything I am not going to tell you about there. All in can tell you is that it was my favorite place in the whole world.
Though monkeys did not live in the foyer or get inside the house, they magically appeared whenever I got my lunch from the kitchen after coming back from school. Imagine breaking a small piece of a parantha soaked in ghee with mom’s love floating as dollop of white butter on top. Imagine setting up a small, dark brown, antique teak wood table and chair to enjoy what would become a sin in the unforeseeable future. And then imagine the loudest scream that you have heard because even before my ass touched the chair after setting up the plate on the table, a monkey size of a year old baby licked the butter and hopped away to his mother with the parantha in his hand.
You mama monkey were the biggest culprit. While I got grounded for being careless enough to want to sit in the open, you patted your little one and shared my mom’s love that was meant only and only for me.
Thankfully, my mom never grounded me without more food and without reminiscing the good old days when she had a pet monkey of her own.
As the story goes, when my mom got married into the family, my grand mom and she used to give food to an old monkey every day. So much so that when the monkey became old and lost all her teeth, they used to make fresh chapattis for her, even soften it with their hands before feeding her. This monkey made the terrace her home. She treated it like a fortress in which no other monkey could come and cause any harm to our yet to dry laundry, spices, vegetables.
This was a time much before the house I lived in had taken shape. Maybe an open space that welcomed humans and animals alike was your inspiration Mr. Architect or maybe it was my mom’s and grand mom’s idea to build a home like that. Nevertheless, it was a home that welcomed birds, animals and humans alike.
There was always enough sun, space, and paranthas to welcome them all, with an extra dollop of white butter of course.
Even as I live in box-like apartments and block the sun with drawn curtains that protect my privacy, even as the sweet scented white butter is replaced with a butter salted and yellow, in my mind the picture of my Ma feeding an old monkey refuses to give way to anything else. That to me is my home and that to me is my hometown.