“Yes, I understand I will be paid handsomely for my share, thank you very much. Where do I sign?” And just like that I gave up my claim to my father’s and to his father’s property to a developer who promised to give me a flat in the new apartment complex that will come up in its place.
For all practical purposes, the decision made sense. The single-storey house with almost five rooms (a corridor was made into a room after it was found to be ridiculously big) was too much for a family going nuclear, both in size and temper. Maintenance was getting harder and someone had to water those plants every single day. It was also what everyone close to a major national highway was doing — the returns on it would be higher than what the coconut trees on the plot would produce in its entire life.
“No need to get sentimental about this,” my uncle had said before I signed. “We will all be under one roof.”
I imagine he did not understand how an apartment worked, or didn’t think of the walls that would divide us now. Sometime in his life, he had grown detached of the home he was born in and raised. And I was beginning to see it in me, too. I could feel that remorseless cutting of strings to the past and cold numbers taking its place instead.
I smiled and agreed. It was for the good of the family.
On a whim, I decided to stop by at Ravi Bhavan, the house named after my father (or, perhaps, he was named after it) built on the sole earnings of my now-dead grandparents when home loans were not required and materials locally procured.
My father’s death 15 years ago and the fact that a will was never made by my grandparents before their passing meant the claim passed on to all of my two uncles and aunts, my mother, sister and I. But if home is where the heart is, mine had long packed, bid goodbye, and taken a flight to a place far, far away.
Signing it off was easy, confronting it, not so much. Memories came flooding in as I stopped in front of the black gate, which was now shorter than me by at least a foot. Every summer, I would look forward to returning to Ravi Bhavan. My grandfather’s room was a treasure island. In his desk, I would find old currencies, including some that was used during the British rule. RBI Governors long gone had promised to pay the bearer of a one-rupee note its value, which was no longer acceptable currency. In one drawer, I found a particular photograph that made my heart skip: In some class in the 1970s, my doppleganger, a young Ravi, stared back at me.
Times have changed since then, and with it, the meaning of home, of settling down. Buying an apartment is not easy. One has to negotiate home loans at steep interests, wily developers and RWA rule-makers. It’s easier to rent them.
I have changed houses quite often, sometimes over rent, at other times, over the location, never staying at a place for more than two years. We have options, I tell myself. Our priorities are no longer the same as our previous generation. Home wasn’t a place to make memories in, but a place of rest for eight hours a night, a pitstop for a machine.
Not everyone is swapping individual houses for apartments, of course. The other day a friend showed off his new single-storey home built on the land where his previous one stood. He was blessed to have inherited the land and had the good sense to keep it. He had also added a few new rooms for his future children and their wives. Development was coming fast to his sleepy town. There was a newly-laid road already.
It had cost my friend just about half of what it would to buy an apartment in the city, but it took a good part of two years and a lot of his time to build it. He didn’t mind, though. “I will live in apartments and work my back off for another 30 years. But after retirement, I want to get away from the hustle of the city and the loneliness of an apartment. I want a patch of clear sky on my head and a chance to grow plantains. Now is the time I can prepare for all that, so I did.”
In short, he wanted freedom from the tyranny of conforming to another person’s design that is imposed on us the moment we leave our own homes for the world.
A few days ago, my uncle texted: “Demolition will start tomorrow.”
I replied the only way I knew how to: “:)”