When I was five or seven perhaps, we lived in the (even more) verdant Deccan Gymkhana.
Back in the day, almost every house in Deccan could boast of a veritable orchard in its backyard. Mango, chiku, guava, jackfruit, coconut; all grew in great abundance and summers were invested in discovering leaves and roots and butterflies and dragonflies under this vast canopy that extended from house to house.
Squat houses dotted lanes and bylanes of Deccan. The call of the koel woke you up to bright, sunny days and a very cool evening breeze made the sunset even more memorable.
Back in the day, I lived in one such house in a quiet lane off Jangli Maharaj Road. And in its verdant backyard I would build what I would imagine — my own house.
My house was under a mango tree in our backyard. The thick mango trunk was a Moghulsarai of sorts for ants who were in constant transition; picking up and delivering bits of food into a nest far, far away. I was never interested in their habitat.
But what intrigued me back then, and still does, is the loads that they carted. Up and down, in and around the huge, flaying mango labyrinth.
And in one of its hollows lay their life’s worth of toil and existence.
There were birds too. Predominantly koels and crows.
Flocks of noisy obstreperous parrots, perhaps disputing election outcomes, would descend towards the evening. And, after having destroyed a sufficient amount of fruit, would fly away noisily.
My mango tree house consisted largely of a chatai (reed mat) that I would spread under the tree. It had large, gaping holes with frayed edges, but that really did not steal from any of its comforts or the thrill it offered of sleeping under the tree.
The floor space of the chatai was hemmed in with walls of old sarees. The walls were optional, and could change from day to day depending on my mother’s generosity and my own ingenuity.
My house was constantly under threat from Moti, our pet dog, who preferred the sturdy mango trunk and its vicinity to relieve himself. When not on a vigil for Moti, I would often lie on the chatai floor and try to count the raw mangoes hanging precariously from the higher branches.
Catching the sunlight peering from the leaves in magnificent diamond bursts was also a favorite sport.
I would sometimes carry down my toys and treasures to my mango tree house. My treasure chest consisted mainly of various feathers, butterfly wings, stray marbles, vials of attar my grandfather would buy, scented erasers, coins, and such.
Counting or merely rummaging through them under the tree in the changing light of the day made them seem larger and me richer.
My mother would sometimes pack a lunch of poli and bhaaji (naan bread and vegetables) and I would eat it in my house. I’d leave it only to go to the loo, a creature comfort I couldn’t dream of giving up on even back then.
My favorite time in the mango tree house was twilight. There is something rapturously beautiful about summer evenings and the breeze that blows.
It’s the most faint, gentle, breeze fragrant with the bounty of summer. Mellifluous in texture and serene in touch.
Come evening and aai would call out to me. And I would dismantle the house mulling over architectural changes that needed to be made the next day.