I went for a visit to my old neighbourhood in Delhi today. I had to run some chores and also needed to pick up a couple of things from my old home. We moved from the house a year or so ago to Gurgaon, a city next to Delhi, which forms part of the National Capital Region. We moved for reasons of necessity and practicality, and we had balanced rational vs the emotional when we moved. And yet when you do return, its hard not to remember all that has happened in those years.

The house where I grew up in has 69 years of history. Completed in 1946, my grandparents were amongst the first people to move into it after they married in 1947. Some might say that saying _ __first people _is a strange choice of words, but you have to understand how the people who came to Delhi in the lived 1940’s. The houses built in those time, were built in the same mould. You could walk into your neighbours house and know exactly where rooms like the kitchens were. These houses had 10 rooms which functioned as bed and living rooms and 8 smaller rooms which were designed to be used as kitchens or store rooms. In these rooms at one time in 1946 we had 14 families living together. And the families were of varied sizes – our own family at that time was 5 people growing to 8 in a few years, and our extending families all lived around us in a 5 minute radius.

So imagine if you will – how this large family + families which formed this household lived their lives in those years. Living up and down these stairs.

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The steepest stairs ever. Image : @akitirz

Through the years families moved out, families switched rooms, families took over more rooms, until ultimately in the late 1970’s my grandfather bought the house from the previous owners (who also happened to be his employers). At that time our family was now living in the whole of the ground floor of this house. It was here into one of these rooms, that I was brought from the hospital (No I wasn’t born in the house 🙂 )

The patterned courtyard

The patterned courtyard was a very distinctive feature of old Delhi houses. This pattern was not the original and was redone in the 90’s.

If I try to think back to my earliest memories of the courtyard, I can actually vaguely recall lying on my back in the verandah, looking up at the sky, with the clothes lines in my vision.

Growing up here also meant this house becoming the centre of all activity at least once every year. My grandparents had raised an extensive brood, and summers meant a collection of 7 cousins and 2 pairs of aunts and uncles assembling for periods. A home with a standard population of 7 happily swelled up to a population of 18. An integral part of these events was figuring out how to bed said 18 people. Mattresses on the floor set out every night and picked up every morning. I don’t remember any complaints from anyone saying, they didn’t get enough room to sleep. I think we had about 8 mattresses put away especially for these times.

In 2001 we actually moved up to the upper floors of the house (which we had previously rented out) that ended the need for the beds on the floor, because we all of a sudden had ‘guest’ rooms. Still, I think the beds on the floor, may have been more fun. Or it was a function of us cousins being young.

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Walking through the house, I remember how each room had its characteristics, earned through the personalities of the people who made the room their own. Wether it was my grandfather’s study, with it’s intriguing collection of camera filters in blue and yellow, or wether it was studying history with my great-uncle and looking through his hand written diaries of facts and knowledge.  Remembering my grandmother, who was not fond of dogs, and the one dog we had, who had to sit under her chair only.

But ultimately, these are memories, precious memories. The present always works to create new ones, and it does not bode to remain in the past. There is a phrase – you cannot go home again. I believe this is true. You can build a home anew, create more memories and cherished thoughts, but surely what you do leave behind, even if it is for the right reasons, you do not get again. Still the memories are there…