Satyamurti frowned as he heard the doorbell chime. Letting out a groan, he got up from the floor where he was sitting cross-legged offering his prayers. The door bell continued to ring persistently. “Coming!” yelled out Satya, as he shut the door to the pooja area. He ambled towards the front door, muttering how it had become impossible to say his morning prayers without being disturbed. Unlatching the door, he swung it open to reveal a delivery man smiling at him. “I was just about to leave” he said thrusting a thickly padded package into Satya’s hands. “Yes, yes. You people can’t even wait for an old man to get to the door. Always in a hurry” mumbled Satya as he hastily scribbled his signature on the delivery sheet.
As he closed the front door behind him, Satya wondered about the contents of the package. He wasn’t expecting any deliveries, especially not at the rented address he was staying at presently. The package itself was nondescript with no markings or indication as to who the sender could be. Curious to find out, Satya grabbed a knife from the kitchen and ripped open the package. Inside was a rectangular wooden block with the word "Meenakshi" engraved on it in cursive. He smiled as he read the sender’s address on the gift receipt inside the packaging. He had often thought about getting this done, but his only daughter had surprised him. Once again.
As he placed the wooden block on the teapoy, he glanced at the decorated invite lying next to it. He smiled again as he picked up the invitation for the house warming ceremony for “Meenakshi”, the new apartment complex that he was going to move into soon. He was excited just like the rest of his family was. He'd been waiting for this for a long time. Three years to be precise. He slowly walked out to the balcony and peered through the grills at the four-storeyed apartment block in the distance. Though the construction had been completed a few months ago, the painter and his team were busy applying a final coat of all-weather paint to the exterior walls of the apartment complex. As he followed the painters’ brushes moving in deliberate patterns across the wall, he felt his mind starting to flood with memories of his home.
Even though it was over three decades ago, Satya clearly remembered the day he bought his first and only piece of land. When he was sixteen, Satya’s father had passed away after a brief but vigorous battle with Typhoid. As the eldest of five children and the only son to his parents, he had taken over the helm of the family to look after his sisters and ailing mother. It hadn’t been easy. Since his father had died while in service, the Railways provided a meagre pension to help support the family. Satya desperately wanted to help supplement the income and hadstarted working part-time after school at the local tea-shop. Though he’d cleared his boards with flying colours, unlike his classmates, Satya did not have the opportunity to study further. Fortunately one of his father’s colleagues helped him get a paid internship with one of the state banks and he was soon flourishing in his career as a bank officer. By the time he had turned 30, Satya was working in Chennai as the Assistant Manager for Reserve Bank of India. His four sisters had been married off and were settled comfortably and his mother reminded him it was time for him to do the same.
Since they were still staying in a rented house, Satya decided that it was high time that they got one of their own. Having secured a house loan against his meagre salary, he purchased a plot of land in Adyar in Chennai. At the time, the area had been mostly residential and far away from the bustling crowds and traffic of Central Chennai. Though he was conscious that he would be repaying the loan for the next thirty years, he had decided that it was imperative that they have their own home before he got married. So in September 1974, along with his mother, he laid the foundation stone for what was going to be their family home. Satya had been actively involved in every aspect of construction and design of the modest three bedroom house and it was a dream come true for him and his mother. It was into this family home, that his beautiful bride Meenakshi had set foot first after the wedding. It was in this very home that their three kids Karthik, Balaji and Radhika had been born. It was in this home, that his mother Subbalakshmi had breathed her last.
A lone tear trickled down his cheek as Satya thought about his deceased mother. She had been his guide and source of strength, and he had never taken any decision throughout his life without consulting her. The sound of a group of kids playing hide and seek snapped Satya out of his melancholic thoughts. Watching them run around carefree and enjoy themselves, his mind started racing once again. During summer holidays, their family home would turn into a playground with kids of all ages running around the house and making a mess. Along with their own kids, Satya and Meenakshi had almost an entire cricket team of kids to look after and manage. Though Meenakshi always complained about it, he knew that she secretly enjoyed the presence of all the kids. She had been an only child and nothing made her happier than when she was in the presence of young kids. And she had left a positive mark on all the kids. Even today as grown ups, some of their nieces and nephews preferred to speak with their aunt Meenakshi about their issues rather than with their own parents.
Before they knew it, their three little kids had grown up and had families and careers of their own. Karthik and Radhika were settled abroad and Satya and Meenakshi hardly saw their grandkids except when they visited India for two weeks every year. Though Balaji and his wife were still in Chennai, they had rented an apartment closer to their work location and hence apart from the occasional visits during a family festival, Satya and Meenakshi were mostly alone. And suddenly the modest three-bedroom family home started to feel really huge for just the two of them.
It was when Karthik decided to return to India and Balaji started to look for his own flat, that Satya decided that it was time. The decision to build a block of flats over their family home was not an easy one for Satya to make. The home held a lot of memories for them and demolishing it to build an apartment was akin to him being stabbed in the heart. But as a father, he knew that he had certain duties to fulfil. A joint family was no longer the norm of modern society and he had decided that it was time to give each of his kids their share of what they were due.
When he had broached the subject with his kids, they had been shocked by the idea. To them too, the family home was a treasure trove of childhood memories. Though they had initially opposed him, they eventually agreed to his plan and had supported Satya emotionally during the past three years. He still remembered the heartache he experienced as he watched the bulldozer tear through their home. He hadn’t been able to eat or sleep peacefully for weeks after that incident, but his family had stood by him.
A noise from behind - snapped Satya out of his trance like state. He turned around to find Meenakshi placing a steaming cup of filter coffee on the teapoy. She had noticed the wooden block which he had placed on the teapoy and was admiring it. He smiled as he walked towards her. It was just a matter of days before his wife and him, along with their sons and their families would be moving into their new homes in the apartment complex.
As he sat down on the chair, he made a mental note to call the carpenter to fix the name board before the ceremony. He took a sip of the strong coffee. It was bittersweet, just like his memories of the family home.
[This post is written for the Project 365 program at We Post Daily aimed at posting at least once a day, based on the prompts provided. The prompt for today was "You receive a gift that is bittersweet and makes you nostalgic. What is it?" ]
I'd also like to add a special thanks to my lovely wife Janaki who provided the basis for the story and Seeta Bodke (of "The Lady in Black" fame who blogs at "The Write Side" for going through the rough draft and helping me fine tune it.
Main image : Courtesy Google Images