The House Of Hope
The House Of Hope9 mins 114 9 mins 114
I have always loved wet streets, wet walls, and wet sand with the love of a man who has received a surprise kiss from his lover. But today, as I walk through the wet street leading to my wet house with an emotionally dried up family, my love for the wetness resembles the love of a man who is denied a kiss from his lover because she has had a tiring day. I pass a television news reporter who is screaming at the camera pointed towards her. “…as Kerala reels out of one of the worst floods any Indian state has witnessed in the recent future, the Indian government is still accountable…”
The sight of my house drains out the voice of the news reporter. I halt and look at the remains after incessant rain. The large, iron-gate that served as the security guard to my father’s Hero Honda Splendor and as the wicket in the cricket games played between me and my sister is now missing. So are the hibiscus plants that my sister so dearly nurtured and the tulsi plants my mother so dearly revered. The television set and the refrigerator lie in the front yard. A couple of earthworms slowly wriggle out of the butterfly-stickers-laden refrigerator.
My younger sister, Selvi, grabs my arm and breaks down on my shoulder. I notice my mother enacting a similar action with my father. I throw a glance at my father – the man who always has the funniest things to say. He replies with his silence, a silence that teaches me two things. One, my father’s words can only be silenced by nature and never by mankind. Two, it is time for me to step into my father’s shoes.
“Why all this sadness?” I utter in a fake, jovial voice. I understand my father’s greatness as I mask desperation with hope. How does the old man pull it off with such elan? “Come on! We wanted to renovate our house anyway,” I add. My father lets out a chuckle and a teardrop. I wonder if the teardrop is for the loss of a house or for the gain of a successor. I place a mild slap on my sister’s cheek to shake her out of her sadness and lead her onto the front yard.
A broken refrigerator and a crushed TV set welcome us. “No more untimely roars from a refrigerator older than Selvi, and no more dancing visuals from a TV set older than me,” I say. My joke works with the entire family and the damp atmosphere begins to lighten up. I lead my family into the house. An unbearable stench welcomes us along with the books and utensils spread on the floor. “Were there any leftovers from your mother’s cooking on the day we vacated our house? Nothing else can smell so bad!” My father’s comment signals his return to his normal self and also adds a smile to my mother’s tearful face. An unexpected natural disaster is best dealt with an internal family joke.
My sister and I start picking up the books and utensils. My father points to a stainless steel bowl inside which a snail is resting and makes a happy declaration. “Finally, we have become a non-vegetarian family.” My mother places a mild slap on my father’s back and joins us in picking up the utensils. My sister lets out a giggle as she picks up two books that have gotten glued to one another by water. She holds them like a prize as my father and I understand her joke. The books that have gotten glued are Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion and Bhagavad Gita. My sister, the rationalist, carefully places the books on a table, not separating their embrace.
My mother steps into the kitchen with the utensils she has collected, and I follow her. The kitchen that had always glowed with the warmth of the first two Harry Potter films now seems to be filled with the eerie coldness of the last two Harry Potter films. My mother places the collected utensils on a shelf and slowly walks towards the battered wet grinder lying on the ground. I feel sorry as I look at my mother having to deal with the loss of her wedding gift from her parents. My sister enters the kitchen and rushes towards my mother to offer her a needed hug. Wanting to reduce the drama, my father also joins us in the kitchen with a ready remark. “Our son is 26 years old now. Let us just get him married and demand a wet grinder from the girl’s parents.” I throw an angry look at my father as the kitchen warms up with laughter.
“Mom! Come here! Just take a look at this kitchen!” Selvi’s screams and her enthusiastic face from a faraway section direct my father, my mother, and me to her. We arrive at the section where Selvi is busy with opening and shutting cupboards. “How great would it be to have a modular kitchen at our home!” My mother nods in approval of Selvi’s statement and walks to join her inside the kitchen. I follow my mother, voicing my confusion to Selvi. “Have you taken a sudden liking to cooking?”
Selvi throws me the look of a teacher trying to explain an extremely complex concept. “Why should I like cooking to want a beautiful kitchen? Isn’t an inclination towards good design enough to appreciate a good-looking kitchen?” I realise my mistake in trying to take a dig at my sister.
I step out of the kitchen and join my father. “Are you liking this?” I doubt if a communist like him would enjoy an interstate visit to IKEA’s store in Hyderabad, especially in its opening week. “It is definitely fun,” he remarks. "But isn't this against your ideologies?" I ask him. "Maybe.. but then, my family is not just me, right? It also has an equal place for those two women, " he says, pointing to my mother and my sister. I simply smile in response and my mother comes walking out of the kitchen.
“I think we have spent enough time trying to figure the right look for our kitchen. Let us proceed towards the living room section. That’s the room that relatives notice when they visit.” My mother’s wisdom directs us to the living room section. “Wow! This one has a Japanese table in it. Let’s buy one for our home,” Selvi shouts in joy and kneels before a table. “We can all have our dinner on this, with each person kneeling on each side of the table.” I look at my father who lets out a sigh, indicating that a joke is to follow. “Selvi still hasn’t come out of her punishment habit from her school days.”
My father's mobile phone starts ringing. He walks away with his mobile phone only to return after a few minutes with a serious face. “What happened?” My father looks at his mobile phone and calls out to my mother and sister to bring the family closer. “I just got a call from Nambi. It seems the rains are getting intense back home. Let us wrap this visit in the next one hour and try catching the next bus to Kerala.” My sister and mother nod and hurry towards the living room section while I stay with my father. My father starts making phone calls to the other neighbours in our area.
I exit the kitchen and enter my bedroom. All the efforts my sister and I would put to keep our cots as far apart from one another seem to have been washed away by the floods. The cots remain one on top of the other. My sister’s wall paintings of butterflies seem to have flown away, leaving behind an empty canvas.
My father joins me and places his hand on my shoulder. “Are you worried?” I turn to look at him. “Are you?” He shakes his head and tightens his grasp on my shoulder. “We will overcome this.” He then lets go of my shoulder and folds his hands. “Do you have any money saved?” I nod. “Do you?” He looks at me with his trademark mischievous smile and replies. “I am not as playful as my remarks.” I feel slightly offended by his misjudgment of my judgment.
“I did not refer to the remarks or playfulness. I referred to communism.” He remains silent. After a thoughtful minute, he tells me his idea slowly. “Maybe.. it will do us some good to visit the IKEA store again.” I look at him confused. “Let’s just say that I am a better husband and a father than a communist.” I return him his mischievous smile with my reply. “Aren’t we all?”
We silently stand next to each other. “Why do these things happen?” I ask him. “To bring us closer,” he responds with a smile. How does he always have the right answers? But I don’t ask him that question. I ask him for a different one. “How do you manage to be so optimistic?” He places his hand on my shoulder again. “You used to like Spider-man when you were in school, didn’t you?” I nod. “Do you remember that line about power and responsibility?” I nod and state the line. “With great power, comes great responsibility.” He turns to face me and lets me in on his secret. “Always remember this… with a great family and great love, comes great hope.” I stare at my father for a few seconds before hugging him tightly. Language seems a weak medium to communicate my admiration, my respect and my love towards him.
My sister comes running behind us. Her face beams with happiness. Usually, that would mean that she has accomplished something wonderful with mom. My father and I follow her to the living room where we find a Japanese-table-setting on the floor. It takes me a few seconds to realise that the setting is actually just the top of our destroyed-dining table supported by a couple of bricks on each corner. As I am still reeling out of this pleasant surprise, my sister drags me to the kitchen. I step into the kitchen and notice that a few of the cupboard doors that had come apart from the bedroom have been neatly arranged to cover the shelves. “Welcome to our new modular kitchen,” my sister announces with a smile to my father who follows us. “What did I tell you,” my father asks me. Unable to control my tears, I pull my sister and mom closer and hug them. My father stands as a silent witness, letting me take in all the love.
After I let go of my sister and my mom, my mom pinches my cheek and assigns a task to us. “Search the house and gather all the scattered idols of Gods. Let’s perform a pooja before proceeding further.” We separate in different directions and set out on individual spiritual quests. After the passage of half an hour, we meet again in the living room with damaged and muddy idols in our hands. “I finally found God,” my sister winks, and my father and I let out a hearty laugh. My mother joins us with two clean, undamaged idols that she had packed with her while vacating our house. She arranges all the idols in neat rows, like school students waiting to be photographed for the school album. She then lights a lamp before them and begins her prayer.
My father, my sister, and I silently stand behind my mother, knowing well that my mother’s prayers would suffice for the entire family. As I look at the tiny temple my mother has created for the Gods, I am reminded of my state’s pet name.
Deivathinde swantham naadu. God’s own country.
I look at the Gods and let them know that they can always visit my house if in need of hope.