By Rituparna Roy
We have a new visitor at home this monsoon: a creeper. And it’s difficult to convey just how much joy it has brought in our famished lives – my daughter’s and mine.
Sixteen months since the pandemic struck us in India, confinement at home is now a way of life – willy-nilly, we have all adapted ourselves to it; my nine-year old, too. To an extent and with a maturity that amazes and saddens me in equal measure: amazes because hers is after all a very tender age; saddens, that life is being so unremittingly cruel to them, clipping their wings even as the world seems to be at their fingertips.
My daughter has figured out her own way of dealing best with the confinement – by spending as much time as she possibly can on our balcony. And she seems to continually discover new delights there: “Mamma, come and see something in the balcony, RIGHT NOW”, “Mamma, you HAVE TO see this; “Mamma, you WON’T BELIEVE what has happened today”! I get such urgent summons pretty frequently: during breaks in her online classes; post lunch, when she is unwinding; in the evening, when she is most wont at star gazing; at night, before retiring to bed. These are the official balcony-times for her; but there are unofficial times as well. And there are n number of reasons for which I can be summoned: the tiniest of butterflies resting on a leaf; the mother cat of our building, sunbathing with her litter; a sparrow perched on the railing; clouds floating by, seeming to touch the terrace of the building opposite us, continuously morphing into ever new shapes; rain slashing hard against our balcony; stars at night on a clear sky (this is her absolute favourite, there is nothing she loves more than star gazing); a full moon, resplendent in her white glory.
She was born and spent the first five years of her life in a beautiful, residential neighborhood of Amsterdam, where nature was an integral part of the surroundings — from tree-lined avenues and parks to canals lining the streets (home to ducks and fleeting birds) and flowers blooming everywhere (especially in spring and summer). Living on a 9th-floor apartment with wide glass windows also afforded an uninterrupted view of the sky. Her next four years in Kolkata has been spent on a first-floor apartment in a housing complex her mother grew up in with her aunt, in one of the better neighborhoods of the city. While the location is good and safe overall, the building itself is hemmed in by others on all sides, with a former playground now turned into a virtual parking lot. Result: there is far less green here and of course no soothing sight of a water body nearby. All you have is a few trees and the small gardens of those living on the ground floor.
We have clung on to their beauty during our confinement at home. This monsoon, we were gifted another.
There it was, suddenly one morning – a creeper!
It was first a tiny tendril, with the smallest of leaves.
We couldn’t believe how small it was – both my daughter and I touched its tender body, with a curl distinct even in that tiniest of editions. Tactility is the first response to a beautiful object: we want to touch the petals of flowers, the fur of pets, the impossible softness of baby cheeks. The small, tender leaf inspired the same affection in us.
The creeper grew – not little by little, but at an accelerated pace, jumping stages almost. It was in a tremendous rush to reach the top.
The most interesting aspect of its growth was that its upper part was always dangling in mid-air… till the point came when it finally hung from balcony ceiling to floor in a suggestion of ‘S’, though never quite managing the full double curves.
We saw small leaves grow large, overlapping one over the other. The lower portion was more crowded.
In the upper part, three perfectly heart-shaped leaves stood alone, gloriously separate.
After their presence, I can’t think of a red heart anymore and have begun to respond with green hearts in my comments on WhatsApp and Facebook now!
Seeing the creeper at all times of the day and night and observing the changing play of light on it has been such a delight this monsoon! In the clear light of day, it looks pretty, adding a natural decorative touch to the balcony;
at night, it is ethereal, in the reflected glow of a bulb from an adjacent building.
But in the rains, the freshness of its huge leaves is a whiplash on the stupor of our lives – the “living and partly living” that we have been doing for a year and a half.
That freshness also stands in stark – almost violent – contrast to the rusty grills, around which the creeper has wound its way to the top.
Our building happens to be about 45 years old, its inhabitants primarily the elderly, making it a veritable Geriatric Home. With mandatory fresh painting every few years, however, the building has been pretty well maintained (compared to many others from the same decade). The last time it was painted was a couple of years back. While the building still looks okay, overall, the grills and railings have rusted. Our own apartment was painted last even earlier – in 2012, in honour of my daughter. Ma wanted to welcome her in a freshly painted home, when she first visited as a seven-month baby. It hasn’t been repainted since. It was still fresh when Ma suddenly left us in August 2016; and after that, there has been no possibility of repeating the exercise, especially in Covid times.
I try to enliven the rooms by changing the curtains and bed sheets frequently. That always helps. The rooms invariably look a little different with every new permutation-combination of the two. But the dining room is a different matter: it was in a really bad shape and I opted for another solution there: I went for wall paper which could be pasted on in a matter of hours by just two labourers, without disturbing the routine of the house involving a child and an ailing elderly parent.
But the balcony railings are beyond any such quick fixture. The creeper changed that!
It added a small ounce of freshness and joy to counter the rust of age and survive a monsoon shadowed by disease and death.
Two weeks after writing this essay, a second creeper started winding its way up on the other side of our balcony. My daughter promptly posed before the newest arrival!
Rituparna Roy lives in Kolkata and is messily divided between writing, teaching, steering a museum project and growing up with her daughter – not necessarily in that order. She has authored two academic books and a collection of shorts, ‘Gariahat Junction‘ (Kitaab: 2020), about equally messed-up women who don’t know where to go or what to do and try to figure those out. You may visit her at http://www.royrituparna.com/ – the only home she owns; or find her @gariahatjunction.