A peep in time

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There has only been one time in my life that I lived in a house that let me look into the homes of others. It happened to be when I slipped into my teens. All it took to have a crush and to dream away the hours in building possible scenarios of a romance unlike all others was some time spent in the baranda cum dining space of our flat. A longish corridor ran in front of our bedrooms, and served as a uncertain dining room. Unlike a proper room, this space had no doors and no windows. On the side that faced away from the bedrooms, this baranda space had a waist high wall and then a metal wire net of diamond shapes. It was said to have been designed so to keep the flats cross ventilated and well lit in the hot and humid Calcutta climate. Just as well, because in those long long hours of power cuts that plagued Calcutta then, the open to air baranda dining rooms were where we huddled by the precious and rationed light of the inverter or flickering candlelight, and tried to focus on our school books. With mosquitoes resistant to the coils of kachua chhap smoke, one needed to frequently get up and move around. One mugged a few points from the notes and then looked away to recall and revise. One looked into the baranda dining rooms of others. The night outside was well lit by the moon, and the rectangles of other dining baranda rooms were patterned with lines and shadows. An arm across the wall in the flat across the backyard was so easy to fall in love with. You didn’t really know the boy who lived in that flat. But you had seen his silhouette pass through that baranda when he returned from school an hour after you did. You had heard he was a class ahead of you in another school. You had heard others too talk of how handsome he was and how he played tennis like a pro. No wonder those arms had such a magical pull across the yards.
Baranda prem wasn’t just corporeal. Not was it just romantic. There was that still and sweaty summer afternoon when it was impossible to lie on the bed and impossible to read another word of school work or story books. Mixing ice in your glass of Rasna at the dining table you spied a vision from a foreign fashion magazine in the baranda of the flat across yours. The flat had been vacant for months making you a part of its loneliness and you had begun to avoid looking that way to escape that hollowness left by old memories of when your shadow and his had touched. The new figure in a short and stringy white slip with its décolletage visible across all the space and foliage was not that same old teenage crush. It was a new kind of friendship and it was the first adult like love. It was the lifting of the veil on fashion and feminism and much more. It was the beginning of growing up. It was the end of the sort of innocence which rushed to pretend you hadn’t been looking out for just that moment to happen, when the neighboring boy teen stepped out and looked at you with equally made up surprise. It was the end actually, of baranda prem. It was the start of rendezvous at the neighbourhood petrol pump dosa stand, of movie hall action and rum and coke.
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