Daad Diary

I feel that the memories of the bygone days are largely defined in one’s mind by episodes having special emotive significance. When one reflects on one’s past the everyday and the mundane generally pale into the background. One can remember only the emotive milestones. The ugliness of the times gradually fades away in the bottomless depths of mind and only the sweet and the fragrant remains.
I had turned eleven when we landed, bag and baggage, at our ancestral house in Daad, my parental village. The family had moved from Chandigarh on exhausting its stamina and finances after a series of abortive attempts by my Dad for finding a vocation true to his heart. He had finally given up and had decided to be discontented with his job for the rest of his years. The grandfather felt cramped by our urban lifestyle and our exaggerated sensibilities on issues of hygiene and he made no attempt to disguise his discomfort. The house had been built by my great grandfather around the time of the First World War. The front gate was an unpretentious iron sheet that swiveled on hinges fixed into the outer wall. It opened by the side of the foul and stagnant waters of an apology for a village pond. It was a virtual cesspool, into which the dirty water from the adjoining houses got drained. A narrow pathway ran alongside the pond that was later lined with Eucalyptus trees planted by my father to make the entrance slightly more cheerful and to screen off the ugly site and the smell. A much bigger haveli style wooden gate opened on one side into a congested and squalid village street into which opened the houses of our not so distantly related clansmen. Their abysmal levels of hygiene and profane language made that side of the house out-of-bounds for us. Papa would be horrified at any attempt on our part to socialize with the ill-bred village louts! The house itself consisted of a series of rooms arranged unimaginatively in a single column like railway compartments. The rooms had been added at different times over a period of 50 years and had little commonality by way of design or build quality. Towards the end of the serially arranged bedrooms was a small courtyard with a kitchen and a storeroom at the far end. An open to sky staircase led to the terrace and a solitary room on the first floor. The dank storeroom dated back to the early 20th century, was sans any windows and had a dark, melancholy, stale, decaying feel to it. It was probably the earliest part of the construction and it housed the junk collected over three generations besides the huge iron drums used for storing the wheat kept aside for domestic consumption. My great-grand father had offered refuge to some Muslim families at the time of Partition and they had hidden in this room while their brethren got massacred in the madness. As a child, I always had an irrational fear that the room was haunted.My grandmother suffered from a mood disorder and her manic swings scared the wits out of me. I somehow connected them to the dark brooding room that I dared not to venture into. The wheat drums attracted an abundance of rats and this did not help the situation. The rats would invade the adjoining kitchen at night and my mom would get the entire kitchen utensils washed in the morning undeterred by the glare of my Grandfather and the loud protests by my granny. I was afraid of the rats like any eleven year old city-bred kid. My sister who was four years older to me would get hysterical on spotting one!
I have always believed in burning the midnight oil. Even as a kid I was a master at procrastination and invariably would be saddled with the entire syllabus on the examination eve. I would try to achieve the impossible and study in a day what actually needed a month. My frantic efforts to cover the lost ground would time and again prove inadequate and it would be midnight before I had finished even half the quota of syllabus. I would then demand to be woken up at four in the morning as I could not hear the sound of the alarm clock ring over my exhausted sleep. As it was a regular feature, and as I apparently refused to learn, my mom eventually refused to undertake the task of waking me up with a glass of tea at unearthly hours. All her earlier advice to me for studying on time had been ignored by me term after term. My Dad slept even more soundly than I and he had enough on his plate without him being asked to take on such ridiculous responsibilities. I was after all a student of class four. My brother was three years elder to me and the idea of studying for any kind of exam was completely incomprehensible to him! That left only my sister. She was, however, the soundest sleeper of us all. I would not let her take the chance with the alarm clock, so she would be coerced into reading a novel till four-in-the-morning, forcing herself to keep awake until it was time to wake up her spoilt kid brother! But that was not the end of the ordeal. I just could not wake up without my cup of bed tea. Now ‘Didi’ was an imaginative teenager who imagined supernatural spirits prowling around in the dark court yard and inside the menacing storeroom. Even more petrifying was the sight of the well fed rats that she would have to confront in that ghostly kitchen in the dead of night. She would invoke the benevolence of all the Gods and the holy spirits that she actually did not believe in and would somehow brace herself and enter the kitchen. And she would emerge triumphant from her silent, lonely battle with the cup of tea for her brother. All this for a not-so-grateful brother who would promptly forget the good turn once the exams were over!
But I never did forget. These are those happy moments that are etched in my consciousness forever. Moments that define my childhood for me.