Breaking down a house

Breaking down a house

A Story by Shafeeq Valanchery

an unfinished story; in fact the last one I was working on when I registered here


What follows is a report of breaking down a house, as I saw it.  I can only be reporting to you.  As someone who has lived all his life in hostel rooms, dorms and in other people’s houses -residences that are never broken down but only renovated, added more space to, shared more and made more cluttered - I cannot be speaking to you of the emotional breakdowns that attend such incidents of once a lifetime. But so far as I saw it, this was much different from others.

Breaking a house, that stuff of which nostalgia is made of, generated much different feelings in him that day.  The process had started a few days back.  Mansoor from the neighbourhood had been working on it for atleast three days now.  First he removed the tiles from the roof, mossy ones, dark brown ones, ones from the kitchen which had turned harder than the rest, once which turned black from the last monsoon and the sun that followed, the tile flashings installed at a time when electricity was so rare and when available so feeble.  Mansoor was perched right on the crown of the house and there like a victor from the revolutions he had only seen in pictures, Mansoor held his hands up, and then to the sides, calculating the intricacies of dismantling the roof which stood over a dozen people’s head.  He took them out, the ridge anchors at first, and then columns followed columns, handed down meticulously to Mansoor’s two helps, to be piled at a corner.

At the end of the day people wondered how the house stood for so long.  The house looked like a skeleton now.  The wooden planks which had supported the roof for so long appeared to have splintered in many parts, eaten by moth, inhabited by cockroaches, preyed on by lizards and spiders and by the quiet implosions of the bedrooms each night, night after night.  There were as many sighs of astonishment, as many praising the Lord the One above, as there were people.  It was a time for the old time friends.  He was not old enough to have them.  But everyone else had.  And they were all here. After all, breaking a house is a grand thing.  It’s like something in between a wedding and a death.  There is tea, but no biriyani.  There are teardrops like the bride’s farewell ones, but there are also endless stories like someone is passing on to history.  And there are more reasons for relatives to be here.  Recently they uncovered bags for the dead along with a few rusted knives and lamps as they were digging up the ground near his mother’s uncle’s house.  These are houses that have been standing for generations.  ‘There were here forever, from the time of the first seafarers of our family’ they said.  Aunts joked in groups, ‘be very attentive to the ground under the front door.  That’s where treasures were kept in olden times’, and guffaws and laughs followed, hearty or salty, depending on which aunt spoke it.  But laughs were hardly there when he could hear ‘make sure the distribution is right’ and then a forced laughter, the corners of their lips curling like those of serpents about to bite each other, or so he imagined.

Sitting in the courtyard of the house newly built by one of the uncles of the house, he, like the others, stared at the immensity of what he had always felt as a house too small.  He never knew that the house had space for anything open, it had no sun coming in, all the flashings layered over by years of expecting others to do the renovation. It did not have enough ventilation; the rooms were a maze, just like how all the old houses, all the joint families should be.  There was enough darkness for secrets, for memories to wander and hide as and when it was fit to claim arrogance or to curse the passing of years.  He had seen nostalgia reeking with each newspaper of each morning.  The Communists, the caste politics, the moneylenders, cement vendors... He had also seen, no, felt, arrogance, at the tip of the moustachioed someone whose body creeps into his bed and whose hands in between his thighs the many nights when the only other noise to be heard was the lone song of an insomniac nightmare.  It made him glad staring at that skeleton of a house from without in the brightness of the night.  Like the night was freed off its roof.

The next day they would be dismantling the doors and the windows.  And then the walls.  Years of growing up stacked the concrete racks.  Magazines, unopened covers, cuttings from ‘little magazines’ with semi nude photographs, the wooden false ceilings layered with another time’s fantasies... He wouldn’t stay for all that to be over.  He will go away.

© 2011 Shafeeq Valanchery

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Added on September 28, 2011
Last Updated on October 1, 2011
Tags: muslim, kerala, mappila, communist, caste, religion


Shafeeq Valanchery
Shafeeq Valanchery

Hyderabad, Andhra Pradesh, India

PhD Cultural Studies student. Writes short stories. more..