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The house that built me

Our house is situated in a valley in Virajpet, Coorg. The street seems to have come into existence in the late 1700s when the new town of “Virarajendrapete” was formed by inviting tradesmen & craftsmen from neighbouring states to occupy the place. Although we aren’t sure when exactly the house was built, we presume that it was built around the same time as a Gothic Church here, which makes it about 200 years old.

When people find out that I’m from Coorg, they usually exclaim and start talking about the amazing weather, the hills, the coffee plantations, the pork & wine. The assumption is of a house in the middle of nowhere, with paddy fields & coffee trees around. Not that that isn’t true, but the “built” in Coorg is never a feature that many observe. Or perhaps the green is so overpowering that you barely notice anything else.

The house is bang on a very busy street which is now a highway. Every time a heavy vehicle passes by, the house shakes in acknowledgment. Owing to how old the street is, and the fact that it connects some of the major temples of the town, the different processions that happen during the course of a year all take place on this road. We have the privilege of witnessing them from our verandah, which comes in super handy during these times.

It is a row house with shared walls, and a depth that you couldn’t guess from the front. It is a series of rooms, one after the other, getting darker as you go further in. There are thick, rosewood doors at every room, with thresholds so high, that it is difficult for old people to cross over easily. The steep staircase that connects the two floors has a full height balustrade that is completely done up with various different joineries and not a single nail keeping it in place. There are two trapdoors connecting the floors, a feature that was exciting as kids, not that I’ve ever seen it being used. Thick mud walls, wooden columns, timber ceilings & partitions and red-oxide floors make up the old house, whereas the extension that was added about 25 years ago is a complete contrast. It isn’t very surprising to see that even now, we mostly occupy the old parts of the house.

The garden is at the back and goes on for quite a stretch. But there is an extent to which we can add upon the house beyond which it is believed to be a path that is trodden upon by Spirits, both good & bad (Oooooh). The extents of a built structure here are still determined by a system called “Kutti Adikkal” by supposed experts, while locating the absolute centre of the building.

Growing up in Coorg was fun. The best part was the rains which were heavier before, but not as destructive. We used to have Monsoon Holidays because that was the time during which transplantation of paddy used to happen and kids would get involved too. Traveling to school was sometimes not safe. The joy of seeing the rains lash heavily against the windows, while we played board games & read books, realising school was cancelled for a bit is still deeply embedded in my memories. The power cuts that made us all huddle up in a single room, in candlelight, while mom sang the “Aigiri Nandini” in a haunting tune in the prayer room would leave us terrified. Not to mention the ghost stories. So many of them! It was quite easy to play “Dark room” at any time, considering only a window would need to be closed. We would also form clubs (like in the Enid Blyton books) in the attic, which was mainly used to store junk.

This house used to cater to a large joint family that over time divided and moved into newer, more modern houses. My parents decided to stay back here and make it their own. The cosiness of the old house, the silence, the just about adequate light, the different experiences different people have had in the house are all something I’m grateful for. Each time I go back, it feels as if time has stood still and nothing has really changed. As if change has been defied.


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