Friday, April 2, 2010



The car, weaving carefully through the chaotic traffic of the Rajpur road, traveled earlier so many times and associated with a string of memories, soon took a turn to the Diversion Road to Mussoorie, and then branching off to a narrower road, new to me, twisting and turning up the steep gradient and then suddenly down a short cobbled path through a narrow gate, just wide enough for the Esteem to pass through. Set in the boundary wall of roughly hewn stones inscribed with 'AT LAST', the name of the house, written in bold letters, on the right handside post.

En route, I had learnt that the late Khandri,'Charlie' to his friends, had designed and supervised the construction of what he called his 'Dream House'. Unfortunately, the enjoyment of the fruits of his labour was woefully shot.

The path ended at the carport with two new looking cars, an Esteem and a Santro parked in parallel. The house, quaint looking, a balanced design of the modern and the classic, was noticed later but first the eyes caught sight of the large collection of ornamental plants, some exotic the others more familiar, arranged aesthetically. The recent rains had added extra life to the plants and they were looking so cheerful and inviting. Ahead was a small pond with a wrought iron candlestick in the middle with an assortment of plants and creepers surrounding it.

A small pathway connected the natural beauty outside with the charm of the house inside. Entering the lobby, one was greeted with artifacts, antique and modern, arranged in perfect harmony. The Clock with Roman numerals and the swinging pendulum, so popular in the 30's hanging on the wall was the first to catch the eye. The Harmonium, with the foot-operated bellows in the corner, which reminded me of my school days and the music teacher, shared the space with the modern Computer and the push-button Phone on the table. There were numerous photos, pictures and paintings hanging on the four walls. A couple of flower arrangements added to the charm and the piles of hard-cover books stacked around showed the taste of the occupants. My eyes wandered unashamedly though with genuine interest and appreciation of the decor.

Moving in, slightly uncertain and a bit apprehensive, me, a stranger who had tagged along, possibly uninvited, though not an intruder, was introduced to and welcomed by Roshni, the young and very young looking daughter of the house, a U.K. educated Landscape expert, now a practicing consultant.

Through the hall with lovely carpets strewn around covering the rough floor, the main surprise was still awaiting. Emerging on to the wide verandah, the eyes fell on a vista of verdant forest. Two rows of thick growth of trees extending far and merging with Mussoorie hills in the background and monsoon clouds some fluffy and others dark gray, pregnant and heavy with moisture, slowly floating in the azure sky.

I was suddenly in the backyard of nature, pristine, untouched and unspoiled by modern development; paradoxically standing in and watching from a house with all possible modern conveniences; an unusual combination, rarely encountered.

The gradually sloping ground, designed and landscaped, no doubt by Roshni, the in-house consultant, the well manicured lawns, connecting the house with wilderness, it took me some effort to turn the eyes from the veritable feast in front and give attention to Usha, the graceful hostess, advancing towards us with hands outstretched and a welcoming smile. Introductions over, we were regaled with the stories lovingly told and history recounted of the various items of interest, plants, bushes, creepers, with nostalgia and unmitigated pleasure. And there was much to talk about, mostly of relics rescued from the past, the wrought-iron chairs, the benches on the lawn below, the ancient cast-iron cooking range, now a stand for plants in small pots, books and paintings, old survey maps of Dehradun and, now, Uttranchal on the wall, medals, belonging to Usha's late Father-in-law, a second World War veteran.

Savita, one of the late arrival, the graceful wife of the General who was away on some important mission which Generals normally attend to even when retired, was gracious enough to spare a few words of small talk with me, an old foggy Brigadier. Thanks to the Army culture, a family that creates a strong bond; you drop four names and one of them would be common and known to those around,

The spread on the table, served by a maid and a cook-cum-bearer, catering to every taste; icedtea, coffee, hot tea with or without sugar and among other numerous items of eats, including the 'Cake' was sumptuous to say the least.

On that balmy July evening, the temperature and humidity changing by the minute with the occasional gust of wind adding momentum to the slowly blowing breeze, the eye and mind would turn again and again from the animated discourse going on, and despite the nagging distraction from the slightly confused dachshund, desperately trying to gain the attention of the visitors, to the dance of light and shade being performed beyond.. The shafts of light, from the now, low evening sun, piercing the gaps in the randomly floating clumps of clouds, playing hide and seek, like theatre stage spotlights illuminating different sections of the landscape, shifting by the minute; now on the rows of the trees and then on the gorge in between, a slow, enthralling performance to be watched and savoured.

Away from the hustle bustle of the town, even if for a short time, parked in the heart of nature with a feeling of utter peace and quiet within, I was suddenly reminded that it was time to leave. Reluctant to tear away, every one lingering as long as politely possible on the goodbyes, we finally did so with Usha, ever a graceful hostess, taking the trouble to see us off.

In a somewhat euphoric mood and wishing to pay a compliment, I addressed Usha "Ma’am, you live in Heaven", "Yes," she said, "But…," having said that she quickly turned and disappeared within the house without even once looking back, possibly trying to hide the unshed tear.

Overwhelmed with emotion, memories and the unsaid '…' conveyed far more than by what was said during the past hour or so of our stay there. Was the animated conversation an unbroken stream? A face? A camouflage to cover the inner turmoil and the pain of loneliness?

Until then I had not realized that one single word could convey so much pain and longing. On the other hand, similarly distressed, I need at least two.

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