All @ Vales - of homes and houses.

68 Janakpuri, February 2017

The true difference between addresses, houses (or apartments) and homes hit me very recently. At age 24, I guess I joined this party late. The process of understanding and digesting this began with my aunt's (Kala Chitti's) passing and culminated almost six months on, with my grandmother's (Paati's) passing.

I was born in Madras during the November rains of '92 (my singular attempt at making my birth sound fancy). My maternal grandparents had moved to Madras after decades in Bombay to continue life in (relative) retirement. Ma went there to give birth to me. From the hospital, I was brought home to 68 Janakpuri - or Vales, as most of the family usually refers to it. Vales isn't random - by talking of its origin story, I'd be giving out the address. It was my first house and home for the first couple of months of my life. 

January '93, Ma and I left to join my father and brother in Chandigarh. Chandigarh was (still is) home. But oh, we switched many many homes - many many homes had preceded my birth too (fabled stories of the 19 sector neighbors). My family and I lived in 5 houses after I was born till we moved to our own home. My parents made sure to put in effort to make us feel comfortable in each one of those houses. After 20 years of being married, my parents finally moved into a non-rented accommodation - a fairly new apartment complex which had come up in Mohali - we could call it our own. Finally, I'm home, I thought. Big relief for a 10 year old who never had to go house hunting or assist in the full blown packing and moving. No looming specter of moving out. No more cautious decoration of a room. I could paint my cupboard door - show the artistic creativity which was not really hiding in the depths of my being, contrary to what I believed. We could own the neighborhood as our own. 

I understand I was no army brat. The moves were not that frequent. I could keep in touch with friends in different parts of the city - it was a tiny city, after all. But it felt oddly liberating that we could call this house our home, our own. Ma went all out with the decorating the place. We even had a traditional south Indian swing in the middle of house - a feature most friends of mine recall with a lot of fondness. I could scribble on the wall ("Diz rockz!!" or "I rullllle" or "In the end, it doesn't even matter"). I finally had a permanent address. 

A little over five years later, we had to move. We moved cities, in fact. New Delhi, with its old apartments. I'm writing this from our fourth house in Delhi - three of which have been in the same complex. I've seen some beautiful views from these homes, enjoyed my brother's wedding and experienced some other special moments. My permanent address is still the same, back in Mohali. New Delhi is still not home. Every year that we've lived here, the dream goal of moving out shortly, back to Mohali perhaps, keeps getting pushed (for 8 years now). 

All these rants aside... all this while, 68 Janakpuri was always home. It's always been there. It's the quintessential grandparental home where summer holidays were spent pitching tents between the wheelchair and the walker, cricket was played in the driveway, family reunions were had, cultural performances by grandchildren were given, and birthdays, engagements, wedding ceremonies were celebrated. All @ Vales (this is a family thing). 

Ground floor was Thatha (grandfather)-Paati (grandmother)-Latha Chitti's (aunt) place. First floor was where Kala Chitti and family lived - they moved there in 2000. Either way, 68 Janakpuri was lively, full of people and mostly fun memories cultivated over vacations.  

Over the years, we have lost family members to old age (our grandfather, Archita's paternal grandmother), to the USA (Akshay Bhaiya, Anand Bhaiya). But last September, Kala Chitti passed away. You could feel her touch in different parts of the house thoughtfully and tastefully curated and decorated by her. But her absence made the place feel so empty. We were probably 20 people at Vales for the 13 days of rituals but we distinctly (and obviously) felt the absence of the person we were mourning.

My next visit to Vales was some months later when my grandmother's health had deteriorated. Archita (cousin sister), of course, had moved to New York by then and so the house felt stranger and emptier. I couldn't get used to the idea of visiting without Kala Chitti or Archita at Vales. It had never happened and strangely, it had never occurred to me as a possibility. I spent most of that visit outside the house, while managing to spend time with Paati whenever she was up. We were 10-13 people and yet the house felt strangely lacking (not just because the massive tree that was there as far back as I can remember was a casualty of the Vardah cyclone). 

A week later, Paati passed away. 68 Janakpuri lost another strong, brilliant person and by extension, some of its personality. 

Vales still houses two people very close to my heart - Latha Chitti (ground floor), Sridharan Chitappa (first floor). I know I can land up there whatever time of whatever day and I'll be welcomed just as warmly. And yet, in a span of six months, the glorious looking 68 Janakpuri has shrunk in its energies and become bigger and emptier. 

Mohali is my address. Chandigarh is my home town. 68 Janakpuri has been the constant home.
Sometime in the '90s, with Paati, outside Vales


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