The Swift Dzire whizzed past the stolid, ornamental gates, took the swank drive way and halted at the glitzy porch, all aflash and well illuminated even on this bright sunny morning. Dazed by the grandeur, Anima, as if in a trance, took the stairway instead of the posh lift up to the 5th floor apartment which offered the finest view of the manicured garden below. The concerned client who required her final signature on certain documents not having arrived yet, she sat herself in the living space. Her eyes flitted towards the balcony but her heart held onto the seat. The jetlagged mind worked its trick and the dozing senses ushered in the melodious, ..Ei akashe amar mukti aloy aloy… (in the effulgence of the sky lies my freedom — a song by Rabindranath Tagore)
Yes… the first taste of freedom was offered by her verandah that opened to a boundless, fathomless sky awash with profuse bright sunlight during daytime and sprinkled and dusted with diamond like stars at night. With ample leisure marking the after-school hours, their ‘flock’ of siblings watched the home-bound flock of various birds soaring and flapping in the glory of the vast firmament and underwent a transformation in spirit ––– the verandah was their sky away from the strictures set down by the adult world. Among other creatures, her generous verandah had doled out a space for the oleander foliage which gladly stretched its arms through the balustrades and the children, ever enthusiastic, joined in with the tuntuni (the common tailor- bird) to sip off the oleander nectar. The cornices crowning the pillars that stood as sentinels at their verandah were the favourite home to a family of sparrows. Their chirps mingled with the human chirrupings during the ludo and snake ‘n’ ladder tournaments in which all the little ones of the neighbourhood huddled for a tug-of-war in this portion of open space.
And who should make the most of this hullabaloo but the visitant cat! She too loved to take its nap in the warm lap of the verandah where the rays of the afternoon sun loitered in after a hard day’s labour, slouching lazily on the red oxide floor counting the last hours of the day.
How could she forget, Anima reminisced, that it was in this verandah that her 5 year-old-self had solemnly taken up the pursuit of the trailing ants and discovered that they too have homes of their own just like hers. It was here from where her brother Neel had stolen mango pickle in snips that his grandma had laid out to soak in the sun. In fact, all the flavours of childhood had been savoured here in this verandah. None of the six siblings or their cousins would disagree on this, no matter what differences remain strewn all over the world among them today…… The first hailstorm, the first kalbaisakhi (the norwesters) after the school annual exams, the first gush of rain, the first rush of love… All.. All were the bestowal of their verandah.
An hour had passed; Anima’s reverie from the yesteryears was suddenly interjected by a surge of impatience, her busy schedule couldn’t afford such delays. The client in question had yet not arrived. Time seemed to have come to a standstill…. And there, back there it seemed time had flown so fast; childhood gave way to adolescence.
Love was in the air. Neela, her cousin, a bookworm by nature, fell in love with Bankim Chandra as she poured over his writings sitting by the banister of the veranda all through the morning hours of her summer vacation. Who knew then that their second cousin Animesh’s first love would even be cradled by this verandah as the exchange of glimpses across the two houses while the other brother Nikhilesh would stomp and romp about foraying imaginary enemy territories to set up fanciful quests after hidden treasures! All in the verandah…
The adolescents grew up. They were now in different parts of the globe, doing different things. While some had weaned away from the verandah, some could not. It was needless to say how much they had loved, still loved, their verandah. The most favourite part of the entire mansion was as precious to them as were their grandparents. It was the other name of their childhood, of their youth. However, just as childhood must pass, just as the old fades to make way for the new, so did the verandah.
A knock on the door and snippets of business talks brought Anima’s mind and heart back to the present with a heavy but muted thud, the sound of which only her soul could hear.
Shoving everything aside, quick exchanges of few words led on to the final acceptance of the inevitable. Anima put down her signature — the last gash of her scythe of love —- she cast a look of bitter happiness once, for the last time, at the 5 feet x 4 feet structure cooped up with guardrails to be called a balcony now. Gone were the glories of the balustrades and cornices and Dorian pillars. Upgraded to a fifth floor but dwarfed before the looming towers, it was now the penumbra shaded in by the concrete umbra of the condominium.
The final transfer of her share of the promoted property was complete. She didn’t want it at all.
Anima walked out quite at peace, with freedom in her heart — to be forever treasured as long as she would live.