I come from what my 3rd class social studies textbook called a ‘joint’ family. When I was a child, three of my father's five siblings lived with my grandparents. Even though my father was not one of them, I spent most of my childhood in their house. We always called it ‘Peddillu’, which means ‘The Big House’ in Telugu. Even now I remember its address: 80, 3rd Main Road, West Marredpally, Secunderabad.
It really was an enormous house, with seven bedrooms over two floors. The main room of the house was called the Triangle. At one edge sat my grandfather, in a sort of reclining chair they call a Bombay fornicator. Every so often, he would tilt his head just so and whistle Carnatic music. The one defining memory I have of him is his Kharaharapriya, delivered with the calmness and confidence of a man who had a lifetime’s experience of both music and whistling.
Along the hypotenuse of the Triangle was a row of wooden chairs. These were the chairs used by relatives near and far, family friends and sometimes even strangers as they conversed with my grandfather and sipped my grandmother’s tea. Most of all, they watched us children run dizzy circles around them and the veranda that the Triangle was attached to. In all the world there will never be a house more welcoming to the joys and miseries of being a child. We hid from parents who tried to feed us, played cricket in whatever space would have us, argued about the rules of Monopoly and Pictionary. We were taught music and Sanskrit by much-hated teachers, and the art of batting and bowling by knowing older cousins who treated it more as a sacred duty than a mundane sport.
Perhaps my favourite room was the Question Mark room, which was quite literally shaped like a question mark. It was home to the only computer my grandfather owned, a machine fit for a museum when it was first bought. It was in that room that I wrote my first story, hunched around the keyboard with three of my cousins, all of us convinced that our words were the best. The plot of that story stays with me even today, as does the delight on my aunt’s face when she first read it.
80 Marredpally is now the home to a large purple atrocity of a building. After my grandfather died, the Big House seemed to lose a part of its soul. Though my uncles and my grandmother continued to live there, the house itself mourned him. In the years that followed, it fell into the sort of disrepair only weary neglect causes. My father and his siblings all wanted houses of their own. Their father’s house was too big, and too full of memories of him, for any of them to live there. They sold it to a property developer who turned it into apartments just like the ones all around it. I know that road intimately, but I have not been back in years. It is too difficult to walk past and not remember the large front yard, the bougainvillea trees that grew wild and manic, and the Little Heart biscuits my grandfather fed me, all the while telling me that having too many hearts was as bad as having too few.