“I’ll never have more kids than I have rooms in my house,’ her own promise to herself echoed in Ragini’s ears, loud enough to even drown for a minute the chorus of fourteen children reciting the multiplication table of 12, and ten more children busy in various other recitals. Her eyes stared at the books that had, just a minute ago, stood in the shape of a tall tower. But once again, for the tenth time that month, the tower had collapsed in protest of its poor structural integrity and had come crashing down, sending the books flying all across the floor.
Her despairing eyes looked around her living room. It showed evidence of a lot of living for sure. Near the door were piled shoes of all shapes and sizes. Near one wall were piled a number of rugs and bedsheets, the only ‘carpeting’ that living room had ever known. These adorned the floor every night but shrank to a corner when the day dawned. One of the girls did her best to cover them up with a bedsheet to bring some neatness and order to the room. But that was just as impossible as her own attempts had been when she had tried to bring neatness to her own, or rather the ‘children’s room’ in her parents’ home.
Ragini was one of five kids that her parents had. She had two elder sisters, one younger sister and a brother who was the youngest of the family. Five kids, an ailing grandmother, and forever busy parents, living in a house with only two bedrooms and a hall that was definitely too small to be called a hall. Her mother did her best, but quiet and order were things that the house had never known. Never, at least, since Ragini could remember. Worst of all was that nobody in the house seemed to mind it, except her.
The small living room that they had was divided into two. One side served as Ragini’s grandmother’s bedroom. The other side had a few chairs and a table in it, and also an old lamp, and it thereby made a show of being a living room. Her parents’ bedroom was crowded with cupboards, her own room, the children’s room, was crowded by children. Sleeping, laughing, crying, fighting, playing, dancing, singing, shouting children. Ragini loved her family but hated her house. And before she stepped into her teen years, she had already started looking forward to the day when she would have her own home. Her own dream home, neat, clean, orderly, and adorned in best style. ‘My home would never be like this,’ was her promise to herself. ‘I would never have more kids than I have rooms in my house,’ was one thing that she was sure about in the realm of the Future, even if everything else was nothing more than just specters of hazy possibilities and expectations.
As years passed, Ragini’s elder sisters grew up, got married, and left the house. But the house still seemed almost as full as before. Because the younger sister and brother had grown up too and needed more space. Their things filled up all the spaces the elder sisters had vacated, and their friends provided just as much crowd and noise as there had been before.
‘Next is your turn,’ Ragini’s sisters said to her whenever she teased them about the trials and tribulations of their married life. She rolled her eyes at this statement and hid the fact that she was eagerly waiting for her turn. Her sisters mourned the loss of their freedom after marriage. But to her, marriage seemed like a door to freedom. It will take her out of her parents’ house. It will give her a home of her own. Her own to adorn and nurture. Her own to put to order and decorate as she chose. And she already had a scrapbook full of ideas for that home. A secret scrapbook that drew her attention far more strongly than any of her coursebooks.
That scrapbook attracted items at a greater speed after Ragini’s marriage. But alas, none of its ideas could be used. Her husband was a professor in a private engineering college in Gurgaon. But his family home was in Hisar, and he lived in a rented apartment in Gurgaon. The apartment was bigger than her parents’ home, but it was rented. It was already furnished, so it did not need new furniture. She couldn’t have told her husband that she hated the furniture he had put in his apartment. She hated the few showpieces and one painting that he had adorned his house with. And most of all, she hated the colour on the walls. All the walls were covered in the worst shade of green that anyone could ever think of putting on their walls. But she could do nothing about it because it was a rented house and the choice of the house owner ruled. She could only add more and more items in her scrapbook, spend hours designing her dream home, and try what she could to make the rented apartment better by way of buying new cushions and curtains and some pretty showpieces. But more than that, she could do nothing.
‘Wouldn’t it be better if we buy our own home?’ she asked her husband Tanmay before she had completed a month in that apartment.
‘We already have a home in Hisar. And you know I have a plot in Noida,’ he told her. ‘I bought it last year. Can’t afford to buy a house now.’
‘Let’s build our home there!’ she said, her eyes shining with dreams. ‘Our own home.’
‘But my job is here,’ he reminded her.
‘You can find a job there too,’ she suggested.
‘Hmm, maybe,’ he replied, carelessly.
The plot did develop into a house, and Ragini and Tanmay moved into it. But that was only after three years of living in rented apartments. But those three years could easily be forgotten. Ragini had what she had always dreamed about – a house of her own. Her own to furnish, her own to decorate, her own to turn into a home. Their budget had allowed them to build only two bedrooms in it yet. But more could be added to it if needed by turning the single storey house into a duplex. That’s what her plan was, at least. She had a daughter and was now expecting her second child. And she wanted each of her children to have an individual home. She did not plan to have any more kids, but even the thought of putting her two kids in one room was a breach of promise. ‘I would never have more kids than I have rooms in my home,’ she had promised to herself. She still held on to that promise.
Meanwhile, she could content herself by adorning the two bedrooms and the living room that were already built. For the last one year, while the house was being built, all of her spare moments had been devoted towards gathering more ideas and learning more rules that were important for making a house beautiful.
The house needed to be well lit and well ventilated, she knew. And she had made sure of that while the house was being built. Beautiful lamps and hidden lighting were planned to create more drama of light and shadows in the chosen spots.
And no boring floor for her. She would make sure that the flooring of each room adds to the beauty of the room, instead of ruining it. None of the old furniture was to be allowed in it.
She wanted to furnish her home with light furniture, with soft curves instead of bulky sofas or furniture with harsh straight lines. She would choose just the perfect furniture that would make her home look more spacious and warm and comfortable.
She would use the space under the stairs as a comfortable reading nook.
Her kitchen would be modular and will always stay neat and clean.
She wanted to cover one wall with a beautiful arrangement of photographs. Even Tanmay thought it a good idea. For one, it was the least expensive of Ragini’s various ideas. And then, photographs reminded one of past good times and people close to heart. He liked the photographs.
Ragini also wanted to always have fresh flowers in her home. And scented candles too. Fresh flowers and plants, some nice sounding chimes, and such would add positive energy to the house, she had decided. But she was not going to stock the house too much with fancy showpieces. The showpieces and other decorations were to be strictly as per the plan and requirement. Too much of them would create a cluttered look. And Ragini hated nothing worse than a cluttered house.
She would instead concentrate on colours more to add beauty to her house. A beautiful play of colours can add beauty to even the blandest spot. Whereas a bad colour on walls can spoil the look of the entire room. She had read that the colour of the walls can also influence the mood and is often always the first thing that visitors notice. She hadn’t yet figured out exactly what colour combination she wanted in which room. But she was not going to ignore the beauty of walls, that much was certain. She will adorn them with patterns, beautiful wall art, and tastefully chosen paintings. In her mind, she had already formed a picture of the living room decked in soft pearly white, with a vibrant touch of colours here and there by way of cushions and well-placed artworks and flowers.
‘White?’ her husband countered, raising his eyebrows. ‘Are you sure? White catches stains very quickly, and it will be a home with two small kids.’
‘Okay,’ she told herself, ‘white living room can wait till the kids grow up.’ She had no shortage of alternative ideas to make her house into a house of dreams.
But life had different plans. And her husband had different dreams. And life’s plans conspired with her husband’s dreams, and before she entered her house of dreams, the house had already become a home for two orphans from the nearby slum. And before Ragini could furnish the living room, a portion of it had been turned into a makeshift school.
It didn’t take long for Ragini to realize that Tanmay had planned for this with just as much zeal as she had spent in planning her house of dreams. He just hadn’t revealed his dreams to anyone for fear of being ridiculed. But now that he had a home of his own, he wanted to do what he had always wanted to do. Help and teach underprivileged kids. He had wanted to do it even when he himself was a student. But his parents had never given him permission to even teach them outside. They wanted him to concentrate on his own studies instead of wasting time. Now that he had built a home for himself, he felt he had a right to use it to fulfill his dreams.
Ragini protested that a living room was not a place to gather children who looked as if they had never bathed in their life. He said he would teach them the value of hygiene. She said her kids might learn bad habits from them. He said he would teach them good habits. She said they would spoil the furniture that she wanted to buy for the living room. He said they need not buy fancy furniture. Their own girl was yet only a toddler and a baby was soon expected. They would soil the furniture too. She said it would spoil her plans for a beautiful home. He said she could do what she wanted in the bedroom, he would do what he wanted in the living room.
A lot more was said and heard. But Tanmay did not budge from his decision. Whatever free time he could spare, he devoted to his charity school. Ragini could only satisfy herself and take her revenge by buying the most expensive adornments she could afford for her bedroom and the children’s room. But her daughter was too young yet to lay possession on the children’s room. And before she became old enough, five kids of strangers had made it their own.
Time passed, and Ragini found herself and her kids restricted more and more to one room. While Tanmay’s dream expended to take possession of every remaining corner of the house. Two more rooms were added to the house on the roof, but only to make room for more orphans. In a little more than five years, the number of orphans in their home had grown to 19. Many of them found and sent to them by the kind and benevolent people who wanted to help the kids, without much trouble to themselves.
The extended family constricted the reach of Tanmay’s income. Although some of his friends sent their contributions towards the maintenance of the kids, Ragini found it necessary to start coaching classes of her own to supplement the household income. Not because she wanted to help Tanmay, but because she did not want to sacrifice the comfort and desires of her own kids for the sake of Tanmay’s bunch.
Ten years had passed since. The home looked more like a school now than a home. The fancy adornments and furniture Ragini had bought for her bedroom now bore a tired old look. She still had her old scrapbook. But looking into it was useless now. Her house of dreams was lost forever. It had long been taken away from her and sacrificed by Tanmay to fulfill his dreams. She had accepted that and had even stopped fighting with him about it. But she had not stopped resenting it. Tanmay knew it, but didn’t care. She knew that Tanmay knew, but she too didn’t care.
‘I wish I had the good luck of Mrs. Tripathi. How nice and orderly and quiet her home always is. She has no kids so she can decorate her home as she likes. And all I have ever had is small, noisy and cluttered houses to call my home. God!’ she mumbled under her breath as she stood staring at the books scattered around her. She didn’t even bother to pick them up now. The kids can do that if they wanted to. She will not bother to clear up their dirty mess. They had robbed her of her house of dreams, she will not slave to make her home comfortable for them.
Just then, the doorbell rang. One of the orphans ran to open the door. ‘Seema didi!’ she cried. ‘Seema didi is here! Everyone!’ And soon, all the remaining kids, including Ragini’s own two, came running to meet the visitor.
‘Hi, Seema, how come you are here?’ Ragini asked the visitor, giving her a tired and not a very genuine smile.
Seema was one of the first kids Tanmay had sheltered in his home. And one of his best students, as he often said. She had progressed well in his classes. Her aptitude in computer studies had even filled Ragini with admiration. And to fulfill the promise of this aptitude, Tanmay and a couple of his friends had sponsored her computer studies. One after the other, she had gone through three different computer-related courses. And by the time she passed out of school, she was ready for a job. One of Tanmay’s school time friends hired her in his own company. And she was now working in Delhi and living independently, continuing her further education and even contributing some money towards the upkeep of other of Tanmay’s kids.
‘It’s Saturday, so the office is closed. And I was missing everyone here so much. So I came,’ said Seema.
‘We all miss you too, didi,’ several kids said at once.
‘Whom do you miss most, didi?’ one girl asked.
‘Me!’ ‘No, Me,’ ‘Me!’ several shouted at once.
‘I miss you all. But most of all, I miss this lovely home.’
Ragini was going into the kitchen. She whirled at the words. ‘This home?’ all her suppressed anger of many past years came to echo in those two words. ‘This dirty, noisy, cluttered home?’
‘Yes, I know, Ma’am, that we all make it too noisy and cluttered. But it’s still a house of dreams! How can I not miss it?’
‘What? House of dreams?’ Ragini stumbled a step backward at those words.
‘Yes, before we came here, we all were just existing. We had dreams even then, for sure, but no hopes of ever seeing them come true. But when Tanmay sir brought us to this house, we did not just gain learning. We also gained the courage to dream bigger dreams. We also gained a chance to see those dreams come true. I would have been nowhere today had I not come to this house. It’s only because I was lucky enough to come to this house that I am today what I am, an educated, independent person.’
‘Didi, I got 100 % in my maths paper this month!’ one kid announced, interrupting Seema.
‘And I got 97% in Science. I’ll be a scientist when I grow up,’ a girl announced.
‘I’ll be an engineer,’ another declared.
‘I’ll teach in college like Tanmay sir,’ a third one added.
‘I’ll be a mother like Ragini Ma’am. I can be, can’t I, Ragini ma’am?’ a five-year-old girl, the most recent member of the household asked.
‘Yes, yes,’ Ragini pushed through her mouth. She felt too stunned to say another word. She just turned and dragged her feet to her room, her vision getting blurry as her eyes brimmed over with tears. Behind her, the kids continued declaring their dreams.
Seema was right, her house had really become a house of dreams. A house of dreams.
Disclaimer: The story is purely a work of fiction and bears no resemblance to any person, living or dead.
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