51-A Ferozepur Road
In 1947, its Hindu owners flung belongings into the well as they fled.* A doll was found there, my mother remembered; this became my memory too. And this is where the earthworms rise each monsoon; this, where the calf was kept.
This is where we spilt ourselves. In my mind, we were there for every vacation—twice a year, three glorious months in all. No, no, my mother reminds me, it wasn't quite so. Still, that is what feels right; it is the other home. Even before recognition sanctified it, here was a congregational space: Resident or visitor, each paid joyful homage to familyhood and friendship. And since, in an olfactory return of devotion, Rangoon creeper and Arabian jasmine have entwined themselves with the present.
It was extraordinary for its history and love—both the love for it and that borne within. How, then, would one define this abandonment? Between the shifting of consciousness crawled a new equilibrium. A new order sways from the splitting away.
Over the 18 years since my grandfather died, parts of the main house have been closed off or become inaccessible. Stairs have crumbled, roofs caved in, plants grown thick. In the original kitchen and pantry, cratefuls of empty Coke and Sprite bottles—unfailingly stocked, seemingly for grandchildren—stand under cobwebs and dust. Places that terrified with their darkness are flooded with light. The playroom floor is strewn with ceiling rubble.
Don't go there, someone cautioned.
Who, then, will see this for what it is? The house will be demolished soon enough. And we sorrow over this, but in an oblique way—as though we only half-recognise the truth of it. So, as with everything that is not ours alone, there must come a time and way to yield.
I dreamt of photographs that would let ghosts be ghosts, neither invisible nor corporeal. I came here to gather bones and discovered something still breathing, dignity and grace sustaining its flesh. Perhaps these images will lay claim to that which is no longer what it was...reclaiming it for all of us.
We're going to 51-A, she would say.
Yes. We always are.
This project was exhibited in Left Behind, April 2012, at Koel Gallery, Karachi, Pakistan.