The house was an old sprawling villa. I first saw it when the old tenants, who were our family friends, were staying there.They were going through a rough patch in their lives and the house helped them to recover. Except for the drumstick tree and the date palm, the large area in front of the house used to be void of vegetation due to the presence of the rabbit population there. There were dozens of them running around- brown, white, gray, mixed, and they were so adorable! Occassionally some of the females would give birth and were given one of the huge bathrooms to be used as maternity wards. I used to love petting the rabbits while I waited for Rashid, my friend who lived there, to get ready for school.
My mother used to say that it was the stool of those rabbits that accounted for the vigorous growth of her vegetable garden. When we moved there in 1997, Rashid and his family had gone to settle in India by and his father had recommended us as the new tenants. And that’s how we got the house. It had three huge rooms, two bathrooms, one huge kitchen and a dining hall. The area at the front was changed into a flower and vegetable garden by my parents. My father did some major renovation and employed gardeners to till the area to be planted. A truck load of fine sand was leveled and then spread with manure. The end results were heavenly!
The next year, there was a huge bower of multi-coloured flowers and a vegetable garden where my father and mother harvested their own freshly grown vegetables. I used to bring the seeds from India. There were pumpkins, snake gourd, tomatoes, bitter gourd, egg plants chilli, tulsi, pomegranate and so much more! The photos of my sister witha huge pumpkin clasped in her arms were wonderful. My parents had green fingers, that was sure.And the drumstick tree was also very forthcoming with drumsticks. We could just walk through our garden to collect the ingredients for a sambaar. Next, Father cultivated the young date palm that Rashid’s mother had planted. He appointed special gardeners to tie the date palm with semen from other palms so that pollination occured. And the next year, there were sweet, syrupy dates to be had. They were a special breed, the best of the khlaas variety of dates. If there was nothing for breakfast, we would go outside and pluck a few dates and have them with milk. A more nutritious breakfast was never to be found. All our friends wanted a share of the harvest and Father was happy to oblige. Those were one some of the happiest years in Father’s life. When my uncle came from Saudi to visit his brother, he was astonished to see such an array of flowers and vegetables. My father had even tried a hand at planting plantains and papaya trees, both of which were not as successful as the rest. Still Father had managed to establish a curry leaf plant there and my mother would grab a handful of curry leaves through the kitchen window to flavour her curries.
In the year 1999, my husband-to-be came to see me for the first time in that same house. We were married in Bahrain on 17th February, 2000. The engagement had taken place a month ago at our house in Riffa, with everyone from the groom’s family coming to adorn the bride with jewels. It was an event in which the house shone. The petunias were in full bloom outside and garden chairs were arranged there. Inside, the living room was set up with a buffet table on which all kinds of traditional Keralite and western snacks were arranged for the men. The dining room was likewise arranged for the ladies. The party was a huge success! The reception was held in March and I came home with my husband for the first time. Almost a year later, our first child, Mohammed Roshan was born on 12th March 2001, at the BDF Hospital nearby and brought home to Riffa three days later. Oor first anniversary was spent cuddling our very own bundle of joy. Father was ecstatic to have a grandson to coddle and spoil and he was especially partial to Hammudi because he himself was a father of eight girls and no boys. He adored Hammudi. The next year, I gave him yet another grandson and that absolutely made his day. Rizwan was born on 23rd April 2002. a month or two after Mother came back from Hajj.
Every year, Father cultivated dates and drumsticks – the other vegetables were not just as good now, and so we stopped planting them. Through the years, even though I stayed in my husband’s house, We came visiting every week. My sons toddled their way through the flowers every year and soon both of them were running in to greet their grandparents and adoring aunts. They learnt to tricycle and swing from Riffa. My sisters from Abu Dhabi and Sharjah came visiting once in a while.
Through all this, the house was constant with us. The flowers drooped when my mother and sisters went to India for good so that my sisters could continue their higher studies there. The gardens were a constant comfort to my father when he spent lonely nights smoking and thinking of his family in India. My children loved their times playing house in the garden. Once, they even managed to build a little hut there by stacking bricks together and creating a carpetted roof.
All that finally came to an end when in 2008, the house was sold to an entrepreneur who wanted to reap his profits by demolishing the house and building a flat there so that it would be more cost-effective. We were asked to vacate. The house that Father then found was a studio apartment which fully consisted of less than one of the rooms in the old house.
Father moved, went to India for a couple of months, came back, had problems getting used to tha limited space in the new house and finally made his decision to leave for good. He left packing and taking away some of the the memories in terms of photos and bric-a-brac.
Six months later, Father also said goodbye to this world. His kidney had been weak; a fall and a couple of operations and medications later, it was claimed useless. The dialysis worked for less than a month and by then Father had stopped wanting to live. I was not there when he passed away. I was three days too late to see him. Mother and my sisters were devastated. Sometimes I think , he lost heart when we were asked to vacate the house. The trials and tribulations of daily life were not quite so trying when we lived there. The air, the trees, the whole environment in the neighbourhood were a balm for Father’s spirit. But Father had his own philosophies about life- that nothing was constant in this life. Neither the joys, nor the sorrows and he accepted it rather poorly.
We went there after the demolision. The site of the house had been razed to the ground. But where the drumstick tree had been, there stood a baby drumstick tree.