Chainpur Bungalow

In a far away place in the state of Jharkhand, India, stands the grand old, Chainpur Bungalow, by River Koel. It’s not just a house but a sacred entity – proud, resilient, dignified and unbent, reverberating with forgotten old songs, chants, conversations and emotions of long gone residents. Vibrating with some ancient energy, which only exists in holy places, it might appear mystical place to many. For me, it is home!

According to my father Patait Baldeo Narain Singh (the owner), this house was constructed under Raja Bhagwat Dayal Singh, my great-great-grandfather. It is many, many years older than my grandma (Rajmata Prafulla Manjari Devi), who is more than 100 years of age. Our family belongs to an illustrious Royal family, Raj Chainpur Estate, and the house is certainly a part of history and architecture of the region.

Despite all later additions, original architectural elements of an English Bungalow, are intact in the house. The Bungalow style homes originated in the Indian subcontinent, having design elements of long verandahs on each side, low roofs, chimneys, fireplaces, eaves, shuttered windows and rooms flowing into each other for easy accessibility and comfort. The rooms opening into adjacent rooms as well as innumerable doors and windows still confuses many, who often get lost while finding their ways to bathrooms or verandahs. Earlier there were no boundaries around the house and the gurgling river could be seen from the backside but security issues led to making of boundaries. There was a tennis court, many outhouses, servant quarters and a thick forest surrounded it. Much has changed, some things still remain! The house is history in itself and I feel so proud to be a part of that history.

The real beauty and magic of the house lies in the fact that it has always been all inclusive. It has belonged to everyone, including visitors, guests, tenants, staff, house helps, who proudly got associated with it. Whoever stayed in the house, felt at home. Everyone has a story to tell in the backdrop of the house! Some scary ones too, mind you! For me, it has always been magical to see the house swelling and accommodating huge family gatherings in one big embrace.

I am sure my ancestors and descendants have their own interpretations and memories of the house. My father in his short story ‘Kadamb ki Atmakatha’ has alluded to the house, in his own way. But for me it always appears to be a living person – a deeply caring wise man – who makes you feel deeply at peace…at home.

And whenever I visualize the house, these images flash, overlap and make me nostalgic –

  • a meditative old lady in white saree
  • a lady knitting colorful sweaters

  • a man intently listening to the radio

  • an old lady feeding a bunch of kids

  • a girl teaching kids

  • a girl reading a book in a secret spot

  • a girl dancing on popular Bollywood number

  • a mischievous boy running around

  • elders cracking jokes and discussing in the verandah

  • boys playing cricket

  • kids running after the school bus

  • girls munching guavas and planning theatrical shows

  • everyone joining for evening prayers

  • ladies chatting and catching up

  • group visitations to ancestral village and car races

  • cold wars and disagreements

  • Cooks announcing meals

  • kids laughing and running around the house

  • emotional outbursts, disappointment and anger

  • illnesses and tears

  • crazy-sweet pets

  • chats on guava trees

  • winter evenings filled with made up stories

  • affectionate staff members

  • modeling around in new dresses

  • getting ready for marriage functions

  • teasing about teen crushes…

  • religious discourses and discussions in family gatherings

  • joyous evenings while playing games

  • midsummer nap in the comfortable hall room during family gatherings

  • puja ceremonies

…many, many more…images, feelings and emotions….

All long gone, never to return! Today, Chainpur Bungalow stands alone, yearning for the familiar sights and conversations of all those who once resided here. But it is also happy about the future, eagerly looking forward to a happy occasion – a celebration owing to new addition in the family. New generation… new beginning, new start for the family and the dearest house! I am sure my parents and brother (Kumar Vikram Bhawani Singh) have great plans in store.

As for me, I yearn to once again embrace those ancient pillars and find peace. I hope that someday, I take my kids to meet the wise old man so that they know those stories – of endurance, royalty, integrity, dignity, love, inclusiveness and spirituality – which were once whispered to us.

Shashibala, The Brave Servant Girl!

I felt as if I had walked along that bridge, a long time ago, in a different age. Strange! That was my first visit to the historic Fort in a small town called Monger.

The guide went on and on describing every little detail about the kings and queens. But I was not listening! The lake was holding me in a trance.

I was seeing a pitiable face down in the lake, crying out to me, asking me to rescue her. 

Instinctively, I screamed, “Hang on girl, I will help!”. 

“Who needs help? Are you okay?,” the guide asked me. I nodded with some embarrasment.

Later in the tour, the guide showed us the portrait of a brave servant girl who had drowned in the lake while saving a princess from drowning. 

It all came back to me. I looked closer and whispered – Shashibala!!!

(This post is dedicated to the maid, who saved my grandmother from drowning. When my grandmother was a little girl, she used to swim using an inverted earthen pot (matki), which slipped out of her hand on that fateful day. The brave girl died saving her.)

This is my entry to the flash fiction challenge, Flash Fiction for Aspiring Writers hosted by the lovely Priceless Joy. We are given a photo prompt and approximately 75-175 words with which to create our stories. This challenge is open to all who would like to participate. Please CLICK HERE for more. Thank you Joy Pixley for the image!

The Bride of Thirteen – 2

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Bent but not broken, she stood looking at the garden from the verandah of her bungalow. Her dimming vision did not allow her to see the untended garden, so she just saw flowers in bloom.

She thanked Him for the flowers!

She would be 100 in a couple of years. She took out one melt in the mouth candy and savoured its taste. Mmmm…! She missed ‘paan’ (betel) but the candies were not bad either. One of her granddaughters had got it from Oman. As she turned to go, the scent of red roses filled her being and took her back to the time when she was a bride of thirteen.

That seemed more like a lifetime ago, in the pre-independence era of India. She was getting married to a prince from a faraway state. The purdah system (married women covered their faces) was a dominant practice at that time but otherwise the women from royal families lead a lavish life. She was fortunate to be the daughter of a Ruling Chief and her marriage was a grand affair.

The royals of different states vied with each other in a show of extravagance at her wedding. Veiled women laden with Banarasi Silk, Velvet and Chiffons and resplendent in gold and diamonds fluttered around. The men had moustaches and long beards and they wore intricately embroidered Sherwanis that made them look noble, chivalrous as well as intimidating.

She had a crimson embroidered veil on her face and she was held by maids in waiting. She didn’t know what was happening as she couldn’t see from under the heavy veil. All she could smell was roses everywhere…on her hair…under her feet…in the garland in her hands. They were perhaps leading her towards the dais where marital rituals were to be performed. She heard that they were filming the wedding – a rarity in those pre-television days. She wanted to peep out of the veil but that would have been improper and scandalous!

She heard people talking that a train full of guests had arrived with the prince. Her father left no stone unturned to give them a spectacular welcome. Folk dances were performed, sword fights were staged, fascinating nautch girls (dancers) from Benares danced Kathak in the ‘janwasa’ and the guests merrily immersed themselves in revelry.

The maids made her sit on a mat and one of them whispered in her ear, “You are lucky princess. The prince is very handsome and perhaps he will take good care of you.” She heard them laughing. The bride was dark, skinny and average looking…little more than a child! She was enjoying the excitement until now. She was ecstatic to be the centre of attention and being fussed over. She had spent the last few months admiring her clothes and jewels but the maids’ words made her anxious.

The full reality of being married dawned upon her. She will have to leave her house, her parents, playmates and embrace a new life. She knew her in laws place was different from hers culturally and socially and the prince was a complete stranger. One day, out of the blue, her parents announced of her impending marriage to an unknown prince from a strange land. Arranged marriages were supposed to be unquestionably accepted in those days.

Moreover, she had thought of it to be some fun event but now it seemed cruel. She was venturing into the unknown and she didn’t know how she would survive in a different place without her loved ones.

The rituals lasted through the night and she slept fitfully between mantras. Whenever her covered head drooped to one side, she would be poked and nudged to wake up. She felt that getting married was a terrible job! She was not liking it anymore.

The following day,the world started treating her differently. The bridegroom and the guests left for the boarding house to change and get ready for farewell. Her status had suddenly elevated, she was a married lady now! She was asked to walk slowly, talk in whispers and wear a veil covering her face. Her mother instructed her for the umpteenth time to behave properly in front of the in laws and not bring shame to the family. She had to be docile, sweet and humble under all circumstances. This forced transformation from a girl to a lady was nerve wrecking.

She had so many questions to ask…but no one was listening to her. She wanted to talk to her siblings but everybody was busy preparing for the ‘vidaai’ (farewell) ceremony. For her, everything was about to change and they expected too much from her! The bride of thirteen felt like crying at the top of her voice. However, there was one thought that made her feel better.

“Well, not everything is going to change,” she muttered. There was ‘one person’ who would not leave her on her own even if the world did. ‘He’ would make sure that everything would be alright. ‘He’ would ensure that her husband, the handsome prince, like and befriend her.

She walked towards the prayer room and picked up the idol of Baby Krishna. He had been her favourite playmate, confidante and sweetheart all this while…she knew that He would make sure everyone else loves her in her new home!

She gently put the smiling Krishna in her gold potli (purse) and smiled broadly. There was nothing to worry, she would not be sad, lonely and miserable anymore. He was with her!

Her daughter-in-law’s voice broke her reverie. She had brought tea for her. It was also time for her favourite TV show. She gave one last look to the roses, smiled fondly and turned to go.

To be continued….


(Loosely based on the life of my grandmother, who will be 100 in a couple of years)

Image courtesy  Google