At The End Of The Lane

The Raja family took the flight out today. Uncle has retired so they’re moving to the house they bought in their native city awhile back, in anticipation of just such a time. They leave behind a spacious flat on the top floor of a building at the end of a leafy, shaded lane, a company flat in description but home for nearly two decades to a family I’ve known well.

On our mantlepiece there was a family photograph that was shot in the Rajas’ living room by uncle. We had a new party-for-two-families on their sprawling terrace one year. When a powercut during late class stranded me in a deserted college building and I couldn’t reach my parents, I called aunty and she said, “Come over, I’ve made pulao.” I’ve spent innumerable Sundays lounging around in front of their TV set, drifting in and out of conversations with uncle-and-dad and aunty-and-mum, playing Uno with their daughters and napping in their bedroom. After the weekly tutorials I’d go over to their house next door and meet my parents for dinner there. The ‘Neglected parents association’ was formed one evening after a gripe session of how the younger generation never wanted to spend time with them anymore – resulting in a monthly (if not more frequent) movie/dinner/outing plan between my parents and uncle-aunty.

During the July 26 deluge, the worst ever rain in Mumbai and the only natural calamity I’ve ever had to face, I couldn’t cross the water-logged areas to get home. So I turned around and waded down a dark gulli, the water level rising with each step, even as my fellow-traveller urged me to pull back. I trudged on because I knew exactly where the road would stop sloping, I knew we’d make it to the building without drowning. I knew this because we were going to the Rajas’ place and I’ve been going back home there for years now.

We said our fond farewells yesterday. I know we will keep in touch. Uncle and dad are buddies, an unusual friendship for both of them, typically shy South-Indian men. Mum and aunty will continue their phone updates of health, TV, movies and unwed daughters. Priya, the baby of the family left for the US ages back. And her elder sister messaged me last night,

All the best to you, babes. Though we are not best friends, we have a different relationship. Keep in touch and come down to see us soon.

I know. This is a relationship that goes beyond an individual’s common interests with another. It is bigger than any of the pairs in our two families. It is a familial bond and it binds us all together. We will stay friends and family.

But the top floor flat in the building at the end of the lane is second home no more.

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