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Khanna Aunty’s room

By Nickunj Malik - Sep 17,2014 - Last updated at Sep 17,2014

Huge rambling mansions remind me of the days of my childhood. The bungalows we lived in had more rooms than inhabitants. The British had them built, during the Raj, and after independence, native officers inherited those dwellings. My father was one of them. 

But by the time we moved in, the fireplaces, all several of them, had developed cracks, and there were gaps in the ceiling, from which rainwater would trickle onto my mum’s expensive carpets. They were not actually so costly, now that I think about it. Those rugs on the ground, that is. It is just that on a government employee’s salary, she would painstakingly save money for many months, in order to buy these small luxuries. And once she purchased them, they acquired the status of family heirlooms. 

And the house rules, ah the house rules! We could not walk on them with muddy shoes, dirty sandals or wet slippers. In fact, it was safest to keep a secure distance, and generally tiptoe around gingerly, on silent feet. 

So you can imagine the ruckus that was caused in my home, every time raindrops had the audacity to fall on these floor coverings. There would be chaos universally, even if it were the middle of the night, with frenetic activity involving plastic sheets, mops and buckets. 

Everyone would emerge from his or her room to take part in this rescue mission. And we had plenty of those, like I said before, some of them locked up because of non-occupancy. Other than the dining, drawing, living, sleeping, lounging, bathin grooms and kitchen, we had several guest rooms too. 

There is a cheeky word in my mother tongue Hindi, which is called, “faltu”. Its exact translation is, “unwanted”. I know it has a somewhat negative connotation, but our domestic staff would have no qualms about using the term. 

If a guest walked in unexpectedly, they would announce, “Faltu Sahib is here,” without batting an eyelid. They would then proceed to ask if they should prepare the “unwanted room” for the “unwanted visitor”. 

Even as a child, I would become embarrassed at such blatantly rude references to our poor unsuspecting callers. But these domestics, trained by their erstwhile employers, were simply immune to my pleadings. 

When I got married, for the initial decade or so, I lived in flats, where a couple of rooms were all we had. And so there was no point in earmarking anything with specific designations. Then we moved to a huge villa where, after allocating the usual quarters, we still had three extra guest compartments. One I turned into my study, but the other two were crying out for a name. 

Khanna Aunty was our first visitor here. An elegantly grey haired, wonderful lady, she arrived from Delhi, to celebrate her seventieth birthday with us. I loved her company and promptly christened the chamber she was staying in, as Khanna Aunty’s room. It helped to distinguish from the other parts of the house, and there was less confusion all around. 

Next, we were relocated to Jordan. As the packers unloaded the boxes I saw several pieces marked as Aunt K, in bold ink. 

“These will go into Auntie’s room,” declared one burly un-packer.

“Which one?” I asked. 

“You don’t know your own Aunty?” he was horrified. 

“She does not live here,” I clarified. 

“Why not?” he queried. 

“Never mind! At least Khanna Aunty’s room travels with us, just put it there,” I directed.

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