Hiraeth: A Home That No Longer Exists

I have a thing for old dilapidated houses. In them I see the decay of generations, the worthlessness of ambition, the insignificance of pride.

You find them everywhere if you look hard enough. I have found them in the middle of the busiest street, among the ugliest, albeit modern, buildings; in narrow alleys of old towns and in sprawling avenues of British built cities. I have come across them in Lucknow and in Bangalore, in Mumbai and in Calcutta, in Jamshedpur and in Delhi, and, most recently, in a tiny hamlet of a town called Bishnupur.

My phone camera is full of hazy images of crumbling, bungalows, my photo gallery is overflowing with faded facades, broken balustrades, and battered buildings. 

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I spotted this one along a street in Bisnupur in the heart of rural Bengal and instantly fell in love with it. I wondered who made the house and when, and how come such a bungalow was built in a small hamlet where most people cannot afford luxurious havelis or palatial bungalows. It might have been built by a wealthy zamindar like the ones we find in Tagore’s stories, or maybe a wicked businessman who laundered money of the poor to make a fortune for himself. And then it struck me that Bishnupur was at one time one of the wealthiest part of Bengal inhabited by musicians and artists, kings and kingsmen. That explains the presence of a large bungalow in the middle of a small town.

But then I wondered about the circumstances under which the house, which once would have been a magnificent property, reached this stage. Did the owner die of old age without leaving behind an heir? Did he — or was it a she? — have to flee to Bangladesh during partition? Did the family fall to bad times after the decline of the kingdom? Do the owners still live here or did they sell it off and moved on to greener pastures? Or maybe an old, bent with age spinster, like Miss Havisham, guards the house with her life? Is it even livable for humans or does it only house the ghosts of the past? Even though the board suggests that it is used by the NCC, I cannot but shrug off these questions for they only increase the mystery surrounding the place.

My questions are not unfounded though. Neither are they flights of my fantasy for I have seen many beautiful homes crumble and many magnificent buildings bite the dust.

The questions only increase the mystery surrounding this palatial bungalow and more such. Maybe someday I’d have the courage to walk into one such place and look for answers. Until then I’d revel in the questions.

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