Looking Back

By: Rupal Rathore

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The staircase opens almost directly into a narrow lane of Makarana Mohila in Jodhpur, inviting every passer-by up. At the same time, you might end up circling the house and wonder how to get in as this is not how we expect the entry of a house to be. The Old Post Office, that used to function on the ground floor, has morphed into tiny handicraft stores and workshops.

Two Koreans descend as we climb up the inky blue stairs. Even though it is off-season, an occasional traveller comes by to rent out one of the rooms knitted around the open-to-sky courtyard or to have a cup of chai at the rooftop cafe. The cafe is sourced by a lone kitchen on the terrace with light fusing through tainted blue and green glasses and is manned by Anarjeet. Anarjeet is known for his exceptional speed of rushing between floors to convey messages and for his quirky presence of mind. Like the one time when a Swiss tourist asked for lemon tea, he did not bother anyone but simply squeezed a lemon into a steaming cup of Indian chai. He then came and complained to my Nanisa how the tourist had stormed out without paying!

The limited options on the menu are compensated by the pleasant surprise one receives on climbing the few steps to the terrace. The Mehrangarh Fort reveals itself, hung in the sky like an overpowering mountain of hard rock. On looking over the parapet, one finds a blue fabric of houses laid out with the Fort hovering above it. I also peep into the terraces of adjacent houses dotted with stone staircases and Syntax water tanks.

One of them belongs to the house called ‘Gomukh’, acquiring its name due to the shape of its plot, which is exactly like a cow’s head. It’s actually the partitioned portion of the same house where I stand. I follow my Mamosa into ‘Gomukh’ whose entry is not quite as dramatic as its polygonal rooms. As we flit room to room, my Masi relates some her childhood memories attached to this place as I have none- “She used to be seated on her ‘khaat’ with her Pomerian on the side and commanded the entire household”. She being Mrs. Gopal Singh Gehlot, the house dates back four generations before me (It belonged to my Nanisa’s great grandparents). My Masi identifies an isolated antique bed or a hand-painted table in the old bedrooms. Some of the remaining furniture pieces are strewn on the terrace, covered with dusty sheets. From each side of the triangular balcony, one can view three different monumental buildings- Mehrangarh that glitters like a block of gold in the dark, Umed Bhavan fading away at a distance and Ghanta Ghar where the entire city buzz is concentrated.

We walk further under the glaring Jodhpur sun along the sloping streets and stop only when we’ve reached the ‘jhalra’. People warn us not to edge too close and we realise why. The water that used to be just 15-20 feet below the ground has sunk immensely to reveal a valley of hollowness, ending in a layer of a dense, grey liquid. I give a nostalgic sigh on learning that the water has been diverted and the place is being renovated.

After buying some cotton kurtas from the opposite boutique store, we hurry back to the confines of cool blue walls. We stretch our backs on the floor, drying the sweat off in front of the water cooler. The youngest kid is asked to shut all large, vertical, double-door windows that create bright yellow patches of light in the room. I walk barefoot along the corridor surrounding the courtyard, absorbing some of the coolness of the stone floor, and admiring the old framed pictures put up on the walls. Yanking the fading curtains apart, I come across the locked doors of a storeroom. Peeping through the jail, I see a pile of God-knows-whats filled from floor to ceiling. It’s flanked by a washroom and the tiniest kitchen possible on either side. However, the other side of the rectangular courtyard is occupied by yet another kitchen that merges with the dining area and holds another storeroom. The continuity is broken by the multiple divisions created to make rooms along the length of the courtyard as the family grew.

The original charm of the two houses has been stripped off, as some of the caretakers have relocated themselves on a farmhouse, or has died with its previous owners. Yet, it encases the grace of having staged multiple layers of history. It possesses stories that would seem out of context if it wasn’t for this living, breathing space. If I were to begin to unravel all that has happened in and around here, I might have to bring it down block by block, stone by stone. But that would simply kill it. What it has become now- parted, fused and transformed, is what holds together all the answers. The people themselves who are presently living there have not resisted this transformation; have gone on moulding it to suit their lifestyle. The place is enlivened by children who have not chosen to look back in the past. Maybe they’ll never question, never value and hence never preserve. The house will meet its own end as it edges closer to its life span. But it’ll be so gradual, so smooth, that we’ll only glide through with humble acceptance.

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