MUMBAI

When I was three, I would wrap my arms around the huge coconut tree in my grandmother’s garden, the limbless trunk nimble boys would scoot up to retrieve the fruit. It’s not there anymore. It was cut down because a neighbor complained that it was a menace to the car he insisted on parking under its shade. The touch-me-not, the unique little plant that shied away from my touch, closing its delicate leaves to my finger, is dead. The thick, hardy betel leaves to the left of the gate have been uprooted. Someone had told my grandmother they were unlucky. The side entrance to the garden, into what once was my grandparents’ bedroom has been bricked off. The room used to be pink; it is now white.

The middle room, that once connected to the first room, is still blue. The glass cabinets that held the troll dolls and toy cars I would play with, the Archie comics I would read, have been removed. The pink bathroom is now white. The pungent smell of Tiger Balm that my grandfather hated rarely lingers on my grandmother’s pillow anymore. The heavy velvet blankets are gathering dust. One is torn. The three stainless steel plates, designated for Sudha, Maya, and Vijay, sit in the cupboard, only used when they cross three continents and two oceans to reclaim them. There are pictures of all these things in a box covered in floral paper, tucked away in a cupboard in Connecticut.

The round glass table is still in the room that connects all the other rooms. I still feel short, the sharp glass cutting me horizontally at the chest as I read the morning paper.  The marble is still cool and pale under my feet. The crows are still sharp, murders circling Adarsh Nagar for scraps of food. The oblong field is still in the center of the complex, muddy in the monsoon season, dusty otherwise. The water tank, the one my grandfather lobbied and organized to have installed, the one that always looked like a giant cement turtle shell to me, still sleeps in the same corner of the colony.

The bhel walla still comes some evenings, with a giant wicker turban on his head filled with sweet and savory chutneys, boiled potatoes, onions, cilantro, lime. He still fashions cones of glossy magazine paper, still mixes the puffed rice with the chutneys, still concocts an impossible combination of flavors to balanced perfection. He still squeezes a bit of lime onto the bhel and finishes with a flurry of cilantro. He still shoves the parcel into my hands over the chain link fence. He is the third generation of bhel wallas the family has done business with.

The place is still standing. The home I saw before my eyes were open and seeing. And I am still in it, and I can see now.

 

 

 

 

 

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