Last night I dreamed I went to Murari Pukur again (that does sound so Rebecca-ish!!!!) The house was still standing and had got a fresh coat of paint. The lawn was well kept and the flowers were blooming everywhere. The ivy on the walls was fresh and green and trimmed to perfection. The pond looked clean and inviting…..the skies were laden with clouds and I was wishing it would pour because I could just imagine the sharp cold drops of rain falling on my skin as the rest of my body was submerged in the warm waters of the pond. There was a clap of thunder and everything was dark, night fell with the winds that howled and told me a storm was approaching. I stood under the big bakul tree and could smell the fragrance of the fresh flowers assailing me from my childhood…how I used to love to pick up the flowers and string them to keep by my pillow at night. Memories kept tumbling, like snakes from a jar, I could shut my eyes and smell the sights and sounds that have haunted me……I awoke in my cold room and lay awake and still for a long time after that, wishing it all back, the house of my dreams, the innocence of the girl I was when I was young and little girls had their guardian angels to look after them. Then I do not remember if this was my imagination or really another dream but I was back there, sitting on the patio and having a drink with my father. The house was in shambles and the only light came from a lonely lamppost by the pond which now seemed so far away. My father was talking but I could not make out the words. I replied but my words would not come and I could feel the tears streaming down my face as I cried into my pillow……..
This is why I am quiet today. Reliving the times we have been fortunate to have, memories too multiple and varied to enumerate here. Let me elaborate….Murari Pukur is the name of a garden house my dad inherited from his father when I was very young. It consisted of approximately five acres of land and the main portion was taken up by a huge two storied house built in the early 1800s with pillars and thick walls…and a lovely pond with steps leading up to the pond from both sides. There was another house in ruins on the other side of the pond, we were told that that one was built for the women to stay in…. Later. those ruins were taken down and as that part of the property belonged to one of my father's brothers, it was walled up….So we had the house, the pond and gardens on all sides of the pond. There was even a tennis court and other adjoining lands. It was also, historically, the site of the Esavi Match factory where Aurobindo Ghose, Barin Ghosh and others plotted before the Alipore Bomb case during the struggle for independence. My father, despite the well meaning advice of his relatives, refused to sell out and insisted on maintaining it as a garden house. It was our home away from home. Each weekend and holiday would find us there, my father happily pottering about in the garden while we swam, climbed trees, read, ran about and generally had a good time. The house was a huge old colonial structure with high ceilings and marble floors. The staircase to the first floor was wooden and we used to love stomping our way up and down. Often, during the holidays, we would go and stay there, joined by our cousins, relatives and friends. I used to fish in the pond, swim, eat the unripe guavas from the trees and steal raw mangos, “falshas” and “aamras” all through the lazy afternoons when everyone else was asleep in the heat. Baba even made us a sand pit and we spent many happy hours making castles and getting dirty and running into the pond for a swim afterwards. I learnt how to shoot an air-rifle, ride an bicycle and even drive a car. I hid under the bougainvillea boughs whenever I was called in for a chore, dug for earthworms only to watch them helplessly squirming on the hook of my fishing pole and found several excuses not to do my holiday homework. Oh yes, those were the glory days. Only we never knew it then….Often we would not want to go when asked and had to be bullied into it. All my friends thought we were lucky to have a place like that to run away to but we took it all for granted. When we had parties there, there was a lot of love and laughter…….I remember my cousin and I sneaking around in the garden on moonlit nights when we should have been in bed. I remember a clear moonlit night when my father woke me and took me swimming….the waters were awash in the light of the moon and everything around me took on the glow of a dream. I guess that was when my love affair with the moon took hold. We grew gardenias, champaks, radishes, cucumbers, pomegranates, mangoes, lemons and anything that took our fancy. There was a cinnamon tree and we used to love peeling the bark and nibbling on its wooden sweetness. There were trees I cannot name and plants all around….if you are reading this and have seen the place in all it’s glory, you will know what I am talking of. The hasnahana and bakul flowers serenaded us with their fragrances morning and evening. Even now, when I pass somewhere and smell those familiar scents, I have to stop and smile…its like a breath of fresh air from my childhood.
Baba loved this property; he fought to keep it and poured a lot of love and affection into its heart. He planted a litchi tree a few years before he died and told me that when he retired, he would go and live there and sit under the litchi tree in the summers and have a chilled beer in its shade. The last time I saw it, the tree was big and strong and its branches reached out to sweep the ground….just as today my heart is desperately reaching out to my dad, trying to find him.
Baba always wanted us to keep the property, made me promise I would not sell it, a promise I could not keep. After Baba died, my mom decided she had to sell that property. So even before I returned from college, she struck up a deal with a slimy real estate guy who was referred to her by an even slimier family friend who, of course, my mother trusted with all her heart. After I returned, I was told to sign on the dotted line…an agreement for sale. When I refused, the explanations came thick and fast. Money, difficulty maintaining, trespassers, etc etc etc……the list was endless. I wanted to look at other prospective buyers but I was told that that slimy family friend had the right connections and I was not to upset the applecart because the talks had considerably progressed.
I signed. God help me, but I signed. And it’s the single biggest regret I have today in my life. I should have put my foot down, I should not have been blackmailed by my mother’s cries about money..... The house had to go, and, it was vehemently stressed, my dad would’ve understood. I did not. I still don’t. But it is too late to atone for my naiveté, stupidity and incompetence. Now I look around me and wish I had been where I am in today…. Sure as anything, that garden house would be mine, back then, had I the means, I would’ve bought my mom and sis out. But I didn’t. And all that is so irrelevant. Now. Oh I got my share of the sale proceeds…but as I told Amitesh, it was blood money.
So I live with the weight of a broken promise.
Its never far from my mind.
I've been dreaming of buying back the land at Murari Pukur. I don't know if I ever will have the means or the opportunity but somewhere in the back of my mind the thought is stuck.....and I am optimistic about things falling into place.....some time. I will build a house there, in tribute to the house that was...and, yes, I do hope to live there.
Sadly, the old house has been torn down...the promoter who purchased the property felt it had to go. Along with the litchi tree, the rubber tree and various other much loved plants, yes, even the guava trees near the drive. The last time I saw the place it was like that. Torn down and broken and I want to see it heal...I want to be the one to do the healing.
When the house was being torn down, a strange thing happened. The workers refused to go there...the place is haunted, they said.They refused to be near the place after sundown and they said that whenever they hammered the walls they could hear someone telling them to slow down, to take it gently......
Truth or fiction?
Whatever...... when I heard of this, I went there. That was my last visit. I just went and picked up a brick from there and brought it home. They say that there was no trouble thenceforth....the ghosts went back to where ever they came from. And that was that.
But that is never that. That brick is here, in this very room and I hope one day I shall be able to use it to build a house in memory of a house and a father that define my very existence. And if I am unable to build it, when I die, I wish it is thrown in the river (or wherever it is that they plan to scatter my ashes) and finds its final resting place with me. Nothing else really matters, I have sometimes been asked what that brick is doing in my room....curious maids have even asked if they should throw it away....I just hope I shall have the opportunity to use it again.
And I have heard that the original promoter that bought the place couldn't do anything with it and sold it to another who is now frustrated in his attempts to develop the place......can I then dare, to dream, that that place waits for me sure as I dream of it?
Wish me luck.
I wish you peace.