This is the house I grew up in. It is a part of an ancient building which has been built over to some extent now. Such building are a dime a dozen in the old part of Jamnagar. I lived there, approximately from 1961 to 1979 with an absence of nearly 3 years when I went to live with my parents in Bangalore from 1971 to 1973. At that time everyone I knew lived in similar houses, all aged at least 50 years.
The house was, I presume, one of those grand havelis that was constructed in a closed rectangle. Three walls of the rectangle were a series of rooms built in double storey with a verandah in front. The south wall had two huge gates, one on the right side and one on the left. Between the two gates stood at least four err.. Latrines.. Sorry, there is no other word to describe them. The center of the haveli was a large courtyard. The haveli belonged to two brothers and the younger brother lived with his large family on the right side. The left portion that belonged to the elder brother was let out. He lived in another house close by. Some part of it was let out to my uncle in times when there was less commercialism and a lot of love between people. The landlord had called my aunt his sister and had decreed that their family could live there as long as they liked at a rent of, I don't remember exactly, but something ridiculous like Rs.35/-. The wing we lived in, the left corner, was accessible from both the courtyard side and the other side that overlooked the main road.
As I said the house was built in a series of rooms that lined the courtyard. There was a small room in the back say about 8'x8' and large 12'x8' room in the front. We lived in a set of 4 such rooms, so a total of 8 rooms. A small gallery, used as a passage, separated one set of 4 rooms from the other. The first 4 rooms were our primary living area. There was a living cum dining room, and the smaller room in the back was used as a kitchen. This was the hub of the family, this is where we all hung out. My aunt's bed was in this room, and the dining table, and the sewing machine, and the dressing table, and most of our things. The other 'set' was connected to these rooms from inside too. The smaller back room was our bathroom, used only for bathing. As we had no running water, large drums stood here filled with water. The front room was where we had a proper drawing room, lined with a sofa set, bookshelves, wall hangings and a divan. This was where guests were entertained. My school books and clothes were stacked in a covered alcove in the walls (which were two to each room) in this room. This is where I sat most times, reading a book, clinging to the transistor.
The other two sets that were ours were a little apart from the main living set, and were kept locked if not in use. The rooms were given names, my uncle's rooms, with his bed in the front was called 'Papaji's room'. As this room was supposed to be the most secure as it belonged to the head of the family, it contained all our precious stuff. Our safe stood in the smaller room at the back, which contained all the jewelry of the family. It had all the mattresses, clothes and such stuff. The last set of rooms was called ..Duh.. 'last room'. This was the bachelor hang-out. It belonged primarily to the male cousins and my brother. The inner room was the food store. It had our stock of wheat, onions, masalas, and daals. It had shelves that were stacked with large canisters of these things. Right next to this was a flight of stairs that led to the main road. This was our main exit and entry point.
In the mid 70s, with 3 eldest cousins married off, there were still 5 of us, my 3 cousins, my brother and me. Now you would think, that living in such a house, so open, and with doors opening everywhere, anyone could come and go as they pleased. Alas, our elders were wily and very alert to our movements. In a time where there were no cell phones and no GPS, some older person would always be savvy as to our whereabouts. In the dead of the night, our steps would ring out loud and we had to hold our breath and tiptoe, if we were sneaking out somewhere. A click of the key turning in the lock was a dead giveaway and so was a creak of the stairs. But why did we need to sneak about? Those were conservative times, and children were not allowed to run about as they pleased. A visit to a friend's house needed to be monitored, visits to the movies were severely restricted and sanctioned sparingly. Our family has always been high spirited and for us, walls were meant to be scaled, not meant to hem us in. Hence we would be as good as we could when we were under scrutiny, and break out when we were not. Of course, the height of our rule breaking was to go see a late night show, so it was more or less harmless fun.
I find a smile creeping up on my face when I think of those golden days, where we were cosseted by a family that had lots of members around and enough fun that was to be had. I spent at least two hours each evening visiting my best friend's house with was barely half a kilometer from mine. My uncle was a doctor who ran his own dispensary. He shut his shop at 8 PM every evening. I had to take permission from my older cousin for a visit, but the standing primary rule was always, “Be back before Papaji comes home”. I would often start from my friends house a few seconds before 8 PM and run all the way back, race up the stairs, break into the drawing room, sit on the little sofa on the far left of the room, and open my school books. When Papaji walked in, a few seconds after 8 PM, he would find the house in order. Everything neat, the younger kids at their homework, the food cooked, the transistor switched off, everyone looking quiet and meek. Any cousin who broke the protocol was scolded by my uncle, much to the merriment of the rest. Being the youngest, I could not afford to jeer openly, because I could get a whack from anyone who was even a bit senior from me.
Now that I am a parent, I know it was not possible to control such a large family unless the head of the family was firm and undeviating. And frankly, things were so much more fun when they were a little hard to come by. All those movies we saw, all our little rendezvous had a flavor of adventure that heightened our pleasure.