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The most beautiful home, a pigeon hole

Updated: Feb 5

There is magic in the word, home.

Robert Southey, the famous English romantic poet said that home is a mystic circle that surrounds comforts and virtues never known beyond its hallowed limits.

We found this magic in our home, our sweet home, which provided us shelter when we needed it the most. We called our home, the Pigeon Hole out of love and affection.

The home isn’t where you’re from, it’s where you find light when all grows dark. The year 1959 was perhaps the darkest period of our life.

We were living in a spacious house in Lodhi Colony which also had a servant quarter. All of a sudden, my father had a severe heart attack and breathed his last in Safdarjung hospital. We were a large family of three brothers and six sisters .

None of us had jobs. Our paralytic Kamla massi, was also living with us. We were literally on the road after my father’s death. But as they say, if one door closes on you, God opens another.

My elder brother, Sham bhai who luckily knew shorthand and typing, got a job on compassionate grounds in Union Public Service Commission as a stenographer. He was now our bread winner. The best thing that happened was that he also got government accommodation.

It was a small two room house with a small balcony in Neta Ji Nagar, New Delhi. We had migrated to Delhi from Rawalpindi at the time of partition of the country in 1947. We had left everything behind and arrived in New India’s capital. We were also penniless.

We were lucky in a way to escape loot, arson, rape and murder of partition time which claimed lakhs of lives and rendered lakhs homeless.

My mother was a strong-willed woman, who would go to any lengths for her family. She believed in the maxim, Never say Die. She was highly religious and was of the firm opinion, that whatever happens in our life, it is for the good. Take it as God’s will.

These were double story flats and ours was upper floor. As you entered the house, there was open space on the right hand side which was eight feet in height and three feet in width with a slab in the middle. It was meant to be storage space if you could fix a door to it. But my mother, Mati as we called her, had other ideas. She converted this space into a kitchen.

With this change, our real kitchen was now available as the third room. We now had some additional breathing space. As the improvised kitchen was just next to house door, my mother made sure it was kept meticulously clean. As a matter of fact, our entire home was kept neat and clean by my sisters , who were well trained in this art by my mother.

Those days, you had no television, a telephone in hardly one house of entire block and of course no mobile.

Guests just dropped in without any prior intimation. My mother welcomed them with folded hands. She believed in saying, Atithi devo Bhava , meaning guest is godlike and always welcome. During our examination days, at times four to five guests would drop in. If any one of us objected, she would give a stern look and say, lucky are the houses where guests come. Learn to adjust in life.

Luckily, we had a rooftop and we would sit either in stairs leading to rooftop or on rooftop for our studies as entire house was buzzing with guests. There was no fridge in the house. Only an icebox.

As soon as some important guest came, one of us ran to nearby market. In fair weather, samosa and jalebi were served. In hot summers, ice and cold drink would also be brought. Most of guests were served nimbu pani.

We had limited resources and limited money, but our home overflowed with love, warmth and a feeling of belonging.

A dream home is where love resides, memories are created, friends and family belong, and laughter never ends. Music and laughter always echoed from our home. My mother, all my sisters and my elder brother, were good singers. Almost every night, there was musical Mehfil, where ghazals, geet and bhajans resounded.

My mother and sisters belted out folk songs to the beats of Dholak . Only luxury available at that time was piping hot cup of tea.

And then, I bought home a record player, Fiesta by HMV, His Master’s Voice. This was the first record player in market which could play records without changing needle. Voice quality had also improved quite a bit. Our entire family celebrated the event with samosas and jalebi ,accompanied by Adrak Wala tea.

By this time, we also had a Japanese brand Standard transistor. Soon, my granny, and my maternal uncle joined us. He got married in our Pigeon hole only and within a year, was blessed with a son. We were now 15 members in that little home. More the merrier maxim applied to our home. Best part of it was ,we were still a happy and united family.

My mother was an exceptional cook and our friends and relatives just dropped in to have Ghobi ka Parantha made by her. This parantha was so well made that you could feel stuffing bursting at the seams. My Mati is no more but that taste of her parantha still lingers in my mouth.

All my sisters tried their best to duplicate that parantha but sorry, none of them could recreate that magic. My mother had a big heart and she was specialist in tandoor food. Once a week, she would setup tandoor on our rooftop and send invitation to all neighbouring houses that tandoor was red hot and please come with your dough for tandoori chapatis. Ma was expert in making fermented tandoori roti which tasted heavenly with dal makhani, lassi , chutney and onion rings dipped in lemon juice.

My Mati was a spiritual person with a pious heart , overflowing with compassion . One room of our home had a charpoy placed in one corner. All quilts and mattresses were neatly spread over it.

These were covered with a fine quality embroidered bed sheet. Next to it was a three feet by six feet temple made of wood where Pooja was performed every day. Once a week on every Monday, there will be kirtan at our house attended by ladies. This temple is in our house now for 75 years.

It is now with me in my home where I perform puja every day and listen to Bhagwat Gita. There was also a cane sofa which served as my bed at night. How my Mati found time for everything, I still cannot fathom.

She would get up at four AM in the morning and start the day with a shower and Pooja. You could hear her singing bhajans in her soft and melodious voice as she went about doing her household chores. Besides household chores, she would do all marketing by herself. All of us would extend helping hand but she insisted that we concentrate on our studies.

As they say, the power of finding beauty in the humblest things makes home happy and life lovely. I firmly believe that a house is made of brick and mortar, but home is made by the people who live there . Mati wanted our home to be that kind of place. A place of sustenance, a place of invitation, a place of welcome.

She believed in the maxim, Simple living, High thinking. She had a kind heart. If anyone among our family or relatives was sick, mother needed no invitation to visit them. She would pick up her bag ,and leave to attend them. No power on this earth could stop her.

Alas, our Pigeon hole is no more. It was demolished along with other flats in the colony to make way for multi-story flats and malls. When I visited Neta Ji Nagar recently, I felt like a stranger.

The place gave no feeling of belonging and familiarity. But there is no doubt we spent best moments of our life there. Whenever I go down the memory lane, sweet and sour moments spent at Pigeon hole flash through my mind.

That period of our life was highly critical. We had just lost head of family. Resources and money were limited . I was in a state of depression. My Soma massi came from Ambala like my guardian angel and took me under her wings. She was more than a mother to me. Under her care, I recovered within a year and my self-confidence was back. As an icing on the cake, in final year of graduation , I got selected in army as emergency commissioned officer.

I had left pigeon hole as a sick child and was now back as an army officer. My first priority was to renovate our sweet home and setup drawing room where guests could be entertained. It was necessary as my sisters were of marriageable age.

Our one room was in real bad shape. Huge wooden shelves were made touching the roof to store luggage. I hired labour to pull down shelves , plaster walls and paint entire room. New curtains were put up, floor was carpeted and entire tapestry was changed. Of course my HMV Fiesta got pride of place in one corner.

Some art pieces were put in a shelf and room now had a new look. Now ,the biggest problem was finding suitable boys for the marriage of my sisters. My mother was a staunch believer in caste system and preferred only Brahmin boys for her daughters. That limited our choice.

My younger sister liked a Kshatriya boy and his parents came to our house with marriage proposal . Theirs was a well to do business family and boy was officer in army. I was also in army at that time . I met the boy and liked him. I came back home on leave and broached the subject with my mother and brothers. I told them that boy is perfect match for my sister. Why have we rejected the proposal. My mother looked at me and said simple Harish, they are not Brahmins.

What is important Mati, I asked, good family , good human beings or just the label of being Brahmin. But my mother and brothers refused to see logic of issue. Looks like no one here respects my opinion and feelings. I am leaving the house for ever. I got up and started packing my bags. My Ma panicked. I was her darling child and she did not want to lose me at any cost. She relented and this marriage was performed.

That opened doors of inter caste marriage in our family. It was in this Pigeon hole only that all my brothers and sisters got married, within a span of four years and that too without any dowry.

And of course, in this pigeon hole only, best friend of my younger sister, sent me marriage proposal. We got married in 1971 and what a marriage it was. Delhi faced worst storm and torrential rains same evening ,blowing away tents setup for wedding. Tables and chairs lay scattered on ground.

When marriage procession reached venue of marriage, my elder brother Sant bhai and his friends went into action to setup tents, tables and chairs. Their gesture was highly appreciated by girls side. By god’s grace, we now have a son and daughter.

My princess Shafina was born in this pigeon hole only. At night time, she would wake me up and point towards moonlight. As I carried her in my arms, she would look at moon with her big innocent eyes , giggle, and kiss me. I treasured these precious moments in my memory bank for ever. My brothers and one sister are no more. My sisters are well settled in life.

I sometimes wonder, how my mother handled all the pressure with little money and scarce resources. She stood like a rock to guide us to safety. She was our mentor who helped in our character formation. Now a days, we all have small families , comfortable houses and good financial back up. But you find, almost every one under stress and strain.

We cannot handle properly even two children. Present generation, of course believes in one child family. Our families are shrinking and so is the case with our hearts. We have forgotten the art of sharing. We have grown so selfish that there is no place in our life even for our old parents.

Children are being deprived of the love of grandparents. There is place for a maid in our house ,but not for grandparents. Where are we heading for. You may consider me old timer but my vote still is for a joint family , where we are there for each other. Children grow under the protective shield of elders. Just imagine, so much love and affection and so much security for children.

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