Sepia winters

A walk round the house is all it takes to fall down the rabbit hole. This time it was a patchwork quilt – spun of old bits, uncovered by the sister in the hometown; most likely a vestige of our childhood years. This led me to others, spun from grandmom’s sarees – small floral patters in blues and browns – that she would wear all her life. Weaved intricately, with borders and patterns from the pallu, the quilts lay largely forgotten, since we seldom visit in the winters.

I figure we get more nostalgic as we grow older. The younger me would have never noticed the patterns on a quilt or the ceramic plates and bowls on the shelves. Off-white, stark, heavy – brought by grandpa’s brother, who was a sailor – with the imprints of France, England, even Japan. A few pasta plates from these have already made their way to Mumbai. The kitchen, which I liberally borrow from, belonged to this uncle’s wife, called Habiba, whom I never met. In the one photo I could find, she’s tall, lanky, wearing the same flowery saree that grandmom wore.

There are cane baskets, once used to wash rice, long wooden spoons, and shapes, carved with geometric patters to make snacks. The old wooden cupboard, with all these items, in itself, is so simplistic and functional that I want to take it home too. It’s the last of the big pieces, made specially for the family. The long wooden bench, found in most Maharashtrian villages, in different shapes and sizes, is now gone. Ours was carved with hearts and diamonds, where you would find grandma sitting, no matter the time of the day. Grandpa’s wooden chair, which became mine whenever I visited, is probably broken and stashed somewhere.

These aren’t heirlooms or even collectibles, just ordinary objects with enough associations to stir memories. Through their prism, you can see life moving on and standing still at the same time. Habiba’s house metamorphosed into ours years ago, passed on as an inheritance. Still, it belongs to her in these small ways, while our presence is always fleeting. Is there anything here that speaks of us? I wonder if our generation will only leave behind digital footprints.

The maternal house, a few steps away – once brimming with people and full of chaos – has turned into a shell without grandmom. At least, Habiba’s has visitors. Here, there are only locks and an outgrown veranda, taken over by weeds. It’s still an anchor, in some ways. There’s the mango tree. The steps I had a nasty fall from. What will happen to it in a few years? What can I take that keeps it intact, at least in memory? Maybe I need to follow grandma, and plant a few mango trees, ensure that the roots go deep. For now, maybe just an old trunk, that’s back in vogue – so that when I lay my eyes on it, albeit for a few moments, I can remember where I come from. And her spectacles.

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