I walked to SDA—Safdarjang Development Area. Sombabu said the name in a special way. He really liked the place. He liked Hauz Khas even more and changed houses four times there, not moving out. But after that he liked SDA, where we lived in the second year after our marriage.
I cannot find the house. I tried to trace the way that I would emerge from our home after breakfast and set out, to the archives or a library. The way is still in my memory but the geography has changed. The girls’ hostel that was opposite us has disappeared. An ugly, large, almost obscene school has come up, of solid stone, pink and red, its size mocking my puny educational efforts. Our house was three stories and we lived on the second floor, the doctor owner couple on the ground floor and perhaps another tenant on the first floor. We had two nice rooms, each with an attached bathroom and a separate kitchen. Everything opened to the wide roof with flowerbeds at the edges. We used the roof as much as the rooms. We sat and ate there in autumn and winter, spent mornings and evenings there in summer, and entertained there in all seasons. A few times we had a music baithak there. Once we even had a tent. There is a picture of master moshai at this concert, taken by a Japanese journalist and published in a Japanese newspaper.
The kitchen was nice. We both cooked there. We did not have a cook that I can remember. I made apple pie and pumpkin pie in a dome shaped aluminium oven that was placed on the gas burner. We made mayonnaise and Russian salad. I made borsch and Sombabu made dahi baingan. Who made rotis, I cannot remember, or did we always have rice? In the house before, Gulmohar Park, I tried to make them but could never produce more than four or five which left us always underfed and hungry. I know we often had seedy bread from somewhere.
Komi has worked hard to become non-attached and therefore not suffer. I am not suffering. I am just feeling. Of course it is all right. I know that people must die. They die without goodbyes, without telling you they are going and will not return. You have hardly relished the moment when it is over. Like the evenings over our gin and tonics.
Sombabu and I always had a drink and an early dinner. Then we settled down to work. He would play. I would read some quasi-Marxist book on India to understand my country better. Our room was clean, spick and span. We had few possessions—an old, sweet, flowered carpet given by nana, a sofa set of Scandinavian style given by mummy, two beds, two desks with shelves designed by us, wedding gifts including a tea trolley, pictures, books, lamps, some Belgian bric-a-brac. We never lived so simply again, unless you count the one year in Trumbull when we lived out of cardboard boxes and second hand things which therefore does not count. In SDA our living was simple but bourgeois and we were proud of our little home.
This after dinner time was pure pleasure. There was a boy called Amardev who worked for us and lived with us, the nephew of Anjali’s parents’ cook. He must have been ten or twelve years old. He would sit with his books and study while Sombabu played and I poured over my India studies. Amardev had a bird-like trill. He could re-create any tune in perfect pitch. We all went to Anandmayi Ma’s ashram near Dehradun once. We all heard the bhajan singing there. On our return Amardev would sing under his breath a perfect rendering of the bhajans. He was like a happy, singing bird. He must be fifty years old now, somewhere….
Our life was not untroubled. The biggest trouble was Chandana’s. Sometime around then, when she was maybe twenty, just finishing college, she took a job teaching Bengali in a school or college near home in Srirampur. The experience was traumatic. Her mind slipped from its tracks. She developed acute persecution neuroses. She would pull out her hair, mutter to herself about people saying and plotting things about her, look around wildly, not hear you if you spoke to her, and in general be tuned out. We began taking her to psychologists and psychiatrists, giving her therapy and medicine, talking to her, making schedules for her, discussing her between us. Every day was a new trial and a new set of resolutions. One of the steps we took was to talk to Pradeep, a family friend who wanted to marry her, about her problem. He wanted to look after her and promised to do so. The wedding was fixed. Chandana had long spells of normalcy and all this must have happened during one of them. Doctors, too, gave all kinds of advice, and a clear one was to get her married, no doubt to occupy her and distract her. But this did not turn out well in all respects. She was not ready to be a homemaker or a partner in life. She did have two sons and they turned out well. They have good jobs now and look after their mother. But Chandana had an amazing set of trials. I wonder what we could have or should have done. Sombabu spared no efforts and it’s fair to say that for fifteen years at least dedicatedly and then for almost another fifteen as best he could, he worried and worked for her.
Were there other troubles in our life? We would have said no. Sombabu would have said, “I have my sitar.” I would have philosophised about something or the other. In any case, when you are only interested in The Revolution, things are supposed to become worse before they become better so nothing counts as a trouble.
Delhi was a pleasure to live in. We loved hosting guests and at least once a week were cooking up a storm to have over our colleagues, our musician and academic friends, relatives, college friends, slight acquaintances, old school buddies, even my parent’s friends and staff members we loved. Equally, we were infatuated with walking around, eating here and there and visiting people. We went to every musician’s house, whoever there was in Delhi—Sombabu knew them all. We dropped in at publishers and historians and economists and friends of friends and friends of relatives and relatives of friends. We had insatiable curiousity and interest in people. Delhi felt like our own little city which we traversed in all its parts and felt comfortable in.
I am sitting in a park that did not exist then. The road beside it did not exist. All these grand houses around did not. What did exist was this life of ours in the house I can perfectly remember but not find.
This life is not a dream. I am not making it up. It happened. It happened forty years ago.