went to my home yesterday. What does it mean? Don't I stay in my home? No sir, I don't stay in my home. I stay in a hired place, in somebody else's house, like a bird in a cage. A cage is a cage, whether it is built with golden rods, silver, iron or even bamboo rods. It is a small confined place. You don’t enjoy there the blueness or the vastness of the sky.
The flats come in that category. Its rooms may be large, it’sdoors and windows may be large enough to ventilate air in good measure, there may be gadgets to feel the winter in summer or to ward off the cold winter, there may be other gadgets required for a comfortable living; yet it is a big cage, restrictive and enclosed.
I like openness where you get air and sunshine in plenty. This may chill your bones in the winter or give you the burning sensation in the summer. I love the sensation of the earth under my feet and the vast, blue sky over my head. I love many such things which were there in the beginning of the creation and will continue to be there till its end. But for the residents of a flat these are forbidden things; and by any chance, if you stay in a upper storey flat of a high rise building, well, you have it. You will live the life of a “Trisanku”, you neither belong to the earth below nor to the heaven above. You are a resident of the kingdom of ‘Trisanku’.
In such a flat I swayed like the nest of a bird. Though I pretended to be happy, actually I was not. I longed to be in my home.
From the earnestness with which I present you the picture of my home, please do not infer that my home is like one of those palaces you see in the cinema; not at all. Compared to the palaces in the silver screen my home is a shanty.
In fact my home is just a hut. I say this with honesty; I swear by it. It is really a small one, furnished to meet the bare necessity of one man. That is exactly the reason or which I named my home ‘Parnakuti’, the hut made of leaves.
This may be reminding you of the ‘Ramayana’, the story of Lord Rama who spent fourteen years in the forest with His wife and brother! Honestly, I did not have the right perception of the hut which has been described in the’Ramayana’ till I saw the serial of Ramanand Sagar’s ‘Ramayana’. I fell for the hut which Lakshaman built. I thought of living in such a hut. But how could I live in one which was made as per the requirement of the set in a serial?
That hut got pictured in my mind. I decided to build one like that, if not exactly the same; but not in the dense forest. Sri Rama Chandra had a purpose- to uphold the promise made by his father, but I do not have any such commitment. I am a man born and brought up in urban area. My life revolves round a city. I may live in such a hut in the jungle only in my imagination; that may please me. But that was not the reality.It is not possible at all. I am firmly convinced that I cannot manage myself if the lights do not glow with the push of a button or water does not flow with the opening of a tap!
But then, I built my hut; if not in the dense forest, in a place akin to that. Let me tell you, how.
The small town I belong to suddenly started to grow, grow at fast pace. It came to be known that the vast open space near the town which had only a few trees, had underneath valuable minerals.
The mining activities started immediately. People of different places flocked in our small town. The calm and sleepy town burst with activities, day and night. The town grew, the population increased, the commercial activities grew, the transportation got a boost; there was no end to it as the needs grew continuously. The supply followed the demand.
This presented the opportunity to make money. The prosperity of the town, centred round a booming business was clearly visible through the affluence of its residents. The wellness curve was on the ascent.
So, there was constant stream of the outsiders to the town. Somehow if a roof could be found over the head, any profession was good enough to get to the road of prosperity.
The value of the land sky rocketed. The land around the town which once was out of the owner’s mind suddenly came to the focus. The land value increased many fold. The outsiders were after the land owners. They were ready to pay whatever price was asked for. The land changed hands at a higher price. Neighbour of my ancestral home, Samantray had a big chunk of land at the outskirt of the town, at the bottom of a hillock. He plotted the land to small pieces and sold them.
I bought a piece from him. I wanted to escape from the congested place that my ancestral home was in the heart of the town.
My piece of land was in one corner, close to the hillock. No stream originated from the hill, but I imagine that rain water while flowing down the barren hill must be breaking up to small particles, creating a string of pearls against the sun light. There was a small perennial stream on the other side of the hill. Its gurgling sound could be heard from my land.
The environment reminded me of the hut. It was a large piece of land. I decided to build my hut at the centre, opposite to my neighbour, so that there would good distance between his house and my hut.
To ensure privacy and to justify the name of my hutment, I planted deodar tree around the fence. Then I planted trees like mango, guava and chiku which in time would grow to big trees and give a sense of forest. I left enough space for them to grow in their natural way. I also planted various kinds of flower plants around the house. On both side of the walk way, up to the main gate I planted seasonal flowers. In the back yard I left enough space for the kitchen garden. The idea was to pluck fresh vegetables to cook for the day. I planted creepers at the main gate which in due course made an arch. They flower in time and their fragrance permeates the surroundings. The arch of the gate looks green throughout the year.
This is the description of my garden. Let me describe my house. Outwardly it looks like the hut of Lord Rama. Inside I made just enough arrangement for a simple and comfortable living. There are two rooms. One is the bed room and the other sitting room. On either side of the inner veranda, I have the kitchen and the toilet. My furniture is scanty. In my bed room I have a bed, a small table, a chair, a small almirah, and a music system to listen to my favourite music occasionally. In the sitting room I have the arrangement to sit comfortably, but on the floor. I have a divan too. Two numbers of sofa chairs are also there. The front veranda, which has been enclosed by grills, has two stools to sit on. I have minimum utensils in my kitchen. There is of course electricity and water supply to my hut.
The way I describe my hut, you may get the impression that I am the sole occupant of ‘Parnakuti’. No, it is not so. I have many in my family to give me company. The first to come was Kalu. His original name was John. His origin is here, in this country, but the name is imported. In fact, it was not necessary to find a name for him as he was born with an appropriate name. He was born black, was quite healthy, soft and warm. His look was enchanting. It gave immense pleasure to behold him.
Kalu was the pet of my neighbour’s son. He did not takeproper care of the dog. He was coming to me often through the hedge which acted as a boundary for both the houses. I shared my food with him if he came at lunch or dinner time. This gradually became a habit with him.
Kalu was kidnapped by someone when he was roaming about in the garden. As Kalu did not show up for four, five days I enquired from Swaraj, my neighbour’s son. He told about the kidnapping.
A couple of days later, in the morning, as I was working in my garden, I heard Kalu’s miserable cry and Swaraj’s angry shout. Swaraj was trying to drive out an unwilling Kalu. Ultimately poor Kalu came to me through his usual path, through the hedge. Except his innocent eyes, there was not a single part of his body which was not battered. I was shocked. I washed his wounds in dettol and put some antibiotic ointment. I fed him milk and bread. He ate the food like he was starving for a few days.
Kalu stayed on .Swaraj did not show interest to take him back. The kitten, Chuin and Muin were next to come. Parnakuti was their home. They were born there. I did not know that their mother delivered them in an abandoned basket in the backyard. I discovered them when they cried out. I saw them first in the basket, one over the other, unable to find the way out.
They were hungry, looking for food. Till then their eyes did not open. They were a pleasure to look at. One was as white as snow and the other pitch black. I ran my fingers on them. They opened their mouth to eat. The mother was not anywhere nearby. I fed them drops of milk with the help of a piece of cotton. They were delighted. The mother was quite clever. She shifted the kitten from place to place, within the premises of the house; never took them beyond the boundary. Gradually they behaved as if they had a share in the house, the food, the sofa and even my bed
A squirrel had his home on the neem tree. When I work in the garden, this little fellow would observe me from a distance, a safe distance, from the branch of the tree. As his confidence grew he came down to circle around me. So, when I went to the garden I took some rice or a piece of bread with me. If it is rice the squirrel eats that on the ground, where I give him; but if it is a piece of bread, he grabs it and climbs up the tree as fast as possible. There, at his house he eats it leisurely. This became a routine. He probably waits for me. He comes down the tree as soon as he sees me. He never allows me to run my fingers on him. Why should he care for fondle of an ordinary man when he was fondled by the lord Sri Rama?
I called him Ramapriya.
These animals are my family members. Now, let me introduce you to the avian members of my family.
It is natural for the crow and the cuckoo to stay in the vicinity of human habitation. The crow cannot stay away from human beings. It has the habit to pick up food particles from the premises of the house. What about the cuckoo? The cuckoo maintains a certain distance. Rather it is going away from man, the gap is widening. The reason is not far to seek. Unbridled increase in population has created congestion. Shortage of space leads to high rise buildings; people stay one over the other. When there is so much shortage of space who would like to plant a mango tree which will grow to be a big one; and where is the space for planting the mango tree? If mango trees are not there, why the cuckoo will come? The sweet smell of the flowers of the mango tree may be a thing of no consequence to the present generation; but it had a special place among the people of the previous generation. They could not think of a house without a mango tree in the backyard. That was impossible. The tree whose leaves are sacred, the wood is sacred, the smell of the flower intoxicating and the fruit; just nectar! I did not have large numbers of mango trees in my Parnakuti; I had a few. So cuckoo was a member of my family.
The parakeets were coming in flocks, in winter, just at the time when guavas ripe. I wonder how they know about it. They land in flocks, never individually. They are not selfish. Even though they come in good numbers, they do not make noise; so their arrival goes unnoticed. Half eaten guavas littered around the trees will be seen. If you look at the tree, at the first glance you will not notice them. They mingle in the green leaves of the guava trees. If you observe closely you will see their red beaks. You talk to them, they will listen with one ear and then with the other. If they feel confident, they may come down to you. If you are holding a guava the brave one may even try to have a peck at it. Such loving birds; won’t you consider them as family members?
Let us talk of the sparrows. At dusk they gather on the trees in the backyard and make lot of noise. When time comes to bring new members to the family, they enter ‘Parnakuti’ without hesitation. I wonder- such small birds, they collect all required materials for the nest! They work untiringly, with enthusiasm. They do not succeed every time. The nest may collapse in unfavourable conditions. But that does not deter them; they try again to build a new one.
When eggs hatch, what pleasure for both for the mother and the father! The mother guards the chicks, while the father goes out to collect food.
The pigeons are still nearer. They build their nests where ever they want to. They coo most of the time, or sit looking at each other, if not cooing. I don’t know what they talk about, but they gossip among themselves for long periods. When they come down to the courtyard they walk as if dancing. Sometimes they stay away for a few days and then come back home. Throw a fistful of mustard, they come down en block to eat the food
Besides these, many other birds come to ‘Parnakuti’. I don’t know their names, but I recognize them because of repeated acquaintance. I throw a handful of grains in the courtyard once in the morning, before they go out in search of food, and again in the evening, after they return home. All of them come down to share the food. How happy they are as they pick up the grain with their small beaks! What pleasure! I wish I understood their language so that I know why they are so happy. I wish to communicate my feelings to them. Whether I understand their language is a different matter, but my family members have their own language. They communicate with each other in their language. I enjoy their talk even though I don’t understand the language, no difficulty at all.
You may wonder if my immobile family members also express their feelings! Yes sir, they do express their feelings. They do have a language. To understand their language, to understand their feelings, you have to dive deep into your inner being, to the land of silence! You identify yourself with them and watch! Watch how a small sapling grows to a giant tree! Watch how the tree swells with satisfaction when new leaves come out, when the flowers blossom or when the flowers fade to give rise to seed which spreads its clan! It does not end there. Watch the playful Nature, its actions and counter actions! During the day time when the sun shines, all around you is open, visible; but when the night descends the same objects wear a different look, a look of mystery, weird; and it wears yet a different look in the moon light! When there is no sun, no moon, in the darkness you feel as if you are lost, although you exist. What pleasure the first rain in summer, the first dew in autumn or the soft wind of the spring bring in! These are to be felt. If you can feel these you will never say that the plants don’t have feeling or they don’t talk. Yes sir,they do feel, they do talk. Plants have life. Sure, they don’t move about, but then, they eat, drink, procreate, grow and finally, like all other living beings, die. When there is life there is feeling, there is expression. Some of men do not understand it.
I could not come to meet all these family members for some time. So, yesterday, when I stepped inside after opening the gate, I was apprehensive that things must have gone haywire during my long absence. But nothing like that had happened. Everything was in order. I thought Kalu would show his displeasure, but he came running, put his front legs on me and licked me all over.
Chuin and Muin followed Kalu. The two ran as if they were competing to reach me first! They rubbed themselves against me and made so much noise that I was in a fix as to whom to listen first and whom to answer first!
From the hole of the neem tree came out Ramapriya. He did not dare to come near as Kalu, Chuin and Muin were with me. He looked at me from a safe distance. I assured him that I would come to him to talk in length.
My bird friends were not there. Only one pigeon was there to train her young one to fly. She came down to me leaving her off spring. I chided her- I am not going back in hurry, go take care of your young one.
The parakeets were not there. There was still time for the guava to ripe. Other birds were out in search of food. They would be back in the evening.
All my trees danced in joy. You may say there was wind, so the trees swayed, what’s the big deal? But I don’t think so. Had there been wind, all the trees would have swayed; but only my trees were swinging, I am sure.
My mind danced in joy. Peace and joy permeated my body and mind. After such a long time I could come to my home, my heaven which is only a tiny place on the whole of the earth!
You may be wondering, if I like my home so much, why do I stay in flat in that city?
Fact is, my body stays there, not my heart; and I don’t have a home.
Then what about ‘Parnakuti’ and its inmates, whom I described in such great details, so vividly?
Did I describe some other’s home as my own? No sir, how can I describe someone else’s house as my own? The truth is this : ‘Parnakuti’ is my home which I built in my dream.# Originally written in Odia by Indulata Mohanty, Translated by Rabinarayan Patnaik