Exploring Identity and Belonging through my Ancestral Home

By Akshita Ajitsariya

I live in a house that is about 80 years old. It was built by my ancestors when they shifted to Guwahati from Rajasthan. As bhaiya (brother) and I stroll in our very fast pacing 20s, my family (who have adapted to the growing needs of the modern world) have started their planning for our settled lives. With this planning comes the inherent realisation that our beloved home is not enough. Dear readers, please note the irony in this statement and the situation. The home that became the foundation of my family lineage, the home that withstood the perils of time, the home that sustained all experiences—that home is not enough!

And as the conversations about the comfort of a modern, tech-friendly home picked a serious tone in my household, I was irked to do something to save my heritage. It’s a funny feeling—while I am aware it is preposterous to assemble the memories lived in this home within the ambit of mere words, I feel doing the exact thing is needed. For someone who has a memory span of a six-year-old, these limited words will be carved in my soul, till the end of time. After all, what are words but fuel to life.

For someone who leaves bits of her heart in places and things that touch her, my home was a mirror that reflected my desire to be rooted as a person. It became a reservoir of pieces of my identity; bits that people witnessed as well as the ones unknown to any. On challenging moments during my time in Delhi, I relied on a journey to the cocoon I lived in for some comfort. Maya Angelou said “The ache for home lives in all of us.” I guess, this very ache for home pushed me to make a home for myself wherever I was, while still feeling rooted to my origin.

Papa and his friends posing in front of our shop

Ancestors: Going back to the roots

I have learnt all I know about my great grandparents and their parents from maa (grandmother). She loves sharing backstories, be it about an antique object I am curious about or a contrasting lifestyle that prevailed before me. In efforts to keep her roots alive, she weaves history in a motion of the pendulum—connecting our present with our past and vice versa. On one such storytelling evening, we navigated through our old photo albums. The black-and-white photographs recorded some of the many moments that were created back in the day. I see the younger portraits of my great grandmother and maa smiling into a camera. Maa tells me how great grandma taught her all that she knows about stitching. I find a childhood photo of my aunt, using the typewriter maa bought. Maa tells me how she saved every penny to purchase the typewriter in 400 rupees; an amount that is no longer of equivalent value. Dadaji looks young in one photo, as he is captured brushing. I have learnt he was a reserved person and did not hold onto belongings. In another photo, my father stands with his friends in front of our shop, giggling away. Papa has come a long way from then; he runs the business now.

Maa in her twenties

Amidst the changes our home went under, things remained as they were. The old, ugly-looking fan remains fixed in a very spottable location. We still use some of the furniture and objects that are more than 50 years old. They have stood strong over time and are reminders for my family of the bygone days. And as for me, they enable me to experience my heritage and create new memories in the present.

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Childhood: innocence across generations

From what I can recall, I remember having a woven swing at the entrance of my house as a kid. My cousins and I spent hours swinging, playing and falling from it. My home became our playground when we were kids—toys everywhere, having tiny bicycles with support, mumma running after me in attempts to feed me. This house also bore papa’s childhood: his playfulness as a kid, his fondness for cricket and kite flying. It is wonderful to note how generations spend their childhood in one place and have so different experiences. With newer inventions, so much of my childhood was spelt out in playing with toys and dolls. Papa, on the other hand, collected pebbles with his friends and played evergreen games like pithu and gatta

Me as a kid in my woven swing

The model of my house withstood the minor yet constant changes that it underwent throughout my childhood. Despite shifting to an LCD TV from the box-shaped one, the essence of our family was carried in the passed down toys and clothes. One was never too old enough to celebrate birthdays the traditional way—maa puts a tilak on the forehead, lighting a dia (which can’t be blown), everybody singing ridiculous yet funny versions of “happy birthday”. There are patent spots within our home that are meant for various occasions. If we do not sit in that one room to celebrate Raksha Bandhan, the festival will be incomplete. My old-built home personalised the sanctity of the traditions and customs and made it ever so more valuable.

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Maturity: of homes and humans

The thing with an old-built home is that, like older times, it seeks to keep everyone closer. The architecture—shared washrooms in one corner of the house, big rooms to accommodate all—reflected and propagated this emotion. Ideas of singularity such as privacy, nuclear families or just eating alone never crossed its mind. It always made sure someone is around at all times—to love, to care, to fight with, to tease, to laugh at and with. And this is why I felt something was missing whenever I was not here. Whenever I was away for either a vacation or graduation, a constant yearning to get back home filled my heart. It made me homesick on difficult days and appreciate the heritage on the bright ones. All the needs of the current times are imbibed on the strong backbone that this home has proved to be. At the risk of exaggerating I’d say, this home grew with us. This physical location became the core of our family heritage and values. It taught us humility by not giving us all at once; it was gentle to us when we fell and hurt during silly activities; it was homely when everyone gathered at the dining table and laughed our hearts off. While writing this essay, it whispered to me “it’s okay to not remember everything as long as you remember how you felt”. I remember, dear old-built home.

Author Bio:

Akshita Ajitsariya is an English graduate from Lady Shri Ram College for Women. She is a firm believer that words heal, change and inspire people. A dreamer and an observer, Akshita loves to escape reality by following her train of thoughts and landing on the Notes app. Her life moves by the force of To-Do lists and aesthetic organisation. Her ideal hangout places are coffee shops, stationery and book shops. Akshita finds comfort in hot beverages, books, TV shows and words.

Social Media Handle: @sunflowerhues_ (Instagram)

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