I stood in awe of our neighbour’s apartment. Teakwood furnishings, glass cabinets, exquisite showpieces from around the world. In short, something that I wanted our house to look like. As we stepped out, and reviewed our unfinished apartment, I noticed something on the opposite side of the road. A tenement of smaller houses. Old, and evidently poor. Loads of black children played around, walking in and out through the chipped doors. I felt strange. I was a little afraid.
Friends came a-visiting the next day, and as we sat around the coffee table, chatting about petty things, we could sense an uneasy air around us. Something was happening outside these four walls of concrete, that none of us could gauge. In retrospect however, I think all of us knew, but simply didn’t want to acknowledge the fact. That our life was about to change.
It happened the same afternoon. My friend Aarthi (I even remember her name, after all these years) and I fought all the way on the staircase, over whose paints and brushes were of better quality. We returned home to interrupt a small conference that was going on in our hall. They were mostly our neighbours (including a Muslim man, with high contacts with the government, who left his wife behind at home to entertain his worthy colleagues!!). They looked very grave.
I peeped out through the window, and saw unusually frenetic activity in the opposite side of the road. But they were not all the black children that we had seen earlier. I stared again, and saw a lot of familiar faces (including that of my mother’s) having a meal at a big over-crowded oval-shaped dark-wooden table. All of a sudden, I realized that my own house was teeming with the black families. They were all over the place. And finishing off all our rations. “What will we do for food?”, I asked. “Eat the jam”, someone answered. I wondered how I could eat jam without bread! But there wasn’t any time to think, or even protest.
The blacks had swapped houses, and more importantly, swapped places. They had completely taken over our home, our place and our life. What scared the life out of me was that we had been pushed into their place…homeless, impoverished, and literally, under siege.
After the meal was over, presumably the “last supper”, they rounded all of us up at the top of the hill. It was crammed. There was no place to move. One wrong foot here, and we could very well be sliding all the way to the bottom of the hill, and onto the highway, so that even if we survived the fall, the speeding vehicles would vanquish us.
And suddenly, there was a commotion. Nobody knew who caused it. And the next thing I could remember was that the hill was empty! I remember seeing a colourful box-like toy hanging by a little bush.
Many years later, we met again. Purely by chance. We sat around the coffee table. There were four known families. Sadly, there were just one or two members from each family. Aarthi was gone. We sat with mugs of coffee in our hand, and talked in monosyllables. We re-lived. And shuddered.