Surveying the city of London in the early hours of dawn, Wordsworth exclaimed, “Dear God, the very houses seem asleep!” When I read this poem in school, the first thought that struck me was, how can houses sleep? After that, I started looking at houses, not as architectural specimens but as human beings. Over the years, this exercise has almost become an obsession and I am convinced that houses have a distinct character - a reflection of its inmates.
My grandfather’s house in Mysore was a very lively one. It had a courtyard which was like the lap of a mother — always inhabited by gurgling children. Surrounded by rooms, it spelt a cosy comfort and privacy from the prying eyes of neighbours. We practically grew up in the courtyard; eating, sleeping, playing, fighting, crying...On warm nights, we’d roll out a big “dhurrie” and sleep under the stars, exchanging giggles and whispers.
Childhood and courtyard have become inseparable symbols for me — evoking memories of a mother with a large heart — with the capacity to clasp a platoon of children, to her ample bosom.
When I talk to my sons about the courtyard, they exchange indulgent glances which say, ‘Let mom have her fancies!’ They cannot fathom this attachment I have for brick and mortar. I once took them to the place and they watched with amusement when I surreptitiously pressed my cheek against the wall — almost like a caress.
How can they understand? They are the product of an age when a house is a shelter. Frequent transfers have taken us to different houses for short spells. To them, a house has no emotional connotations. As long as they have walls to put up their posters of ghastly looking singers, they are happy! How can I blame them? It’s the changing values that they reflect.
A house has ceased to be an entity exuding love and protection. It has become a dear commodity over which land-lords and tenants breathe fire and brimstone! It is no more a warm, pulsating being which can open its arms to the stray nephew... the widowed aunt... the destitute girl... the ailing grandfather... Like the inmates, houses have become selfish beings
who don’t want anyone other than father, mother and children.
Courtyards are a waste — to be used more practically for building rooms which can be rented out. Doors and windows are no more like a spontaneous smile, lighting up the house. They are mere modes of ventilation. You don’t hear the creak of the gate anymore — no one has the time to open it and come in...
The houses I was used to as a child, were like a large buxom woman who beams with pleasure. Now, they are like the slim, sophisticated socialite, balancing herself on stilettos — looking through contact lenses — pursing her lips lest she loses her icy aloofness. I look around and exclaim, “Dear God, the very houses seem dead...”