[By Meenakshi Chauhan; pictures by Mayank Austen Soofi]
Almost everyone I know has lived in different houses but I had only one home since the day I was born...Sujan Singh Park.
Ever since the Delhi Walla Mayank Austen Soofi asked me to write on what it is like to live in this "elegant address" I have thought a lot about it. Each time it turns out to be a story of my life which is categorically not what he wants! Sorry Soofi, if I want to pen down my thoughts about this Delhi landmark, it will have to be about my life and there is no getting around it.
Most people do not know it exists. Some who are unaware ask where this 'park' in Delhi is located. God forbid, if you come across anyone familiar with the place. Her reaction inevitably would be 'You live in upmarket Sujan Singh Park!', or better still, "Oh, isn't that where the great Khushwant Singh lives!"
Sujan Singh Park, with its red brick exteriors, high ceilings and thick walled flats is one of the rare little havens left in this city. Founded by Sir Sobha Singh, the legendary builder and real estate owner of New Delhi, he named it after his father. Owned in bits and pieces by his various grand children, residents like me, who are not related to the family, live as tenants under a trust. But please look elsewhere if you are interested in a detailed history of the place. What fascinates me is my life here.
We fondly call it SSP. I live in G block, the only block which stands a little apart from the main complex. The rest of the colony, if you can call it that, has buildings in a clear O with the Ambassador hotel forming part of it. However as a child I wanted to live in Greater Kailash or Defence Colony or any other place where there were other kids around. The only child of my age in my block was a boy! A very shy boy at that!
Everyone loves their own house but it's a rarity that everyone will love your house. I never understood why I was the envy of my friends. You see there are several oddities in my flat - I have a living room with a fire place, but what use is that when Delhi never gets that cold? What use is a big garden with a badminton net strung across the trees when the dogs keep chasing the 'jungli' cats in the middle of the 'court'? What use is a bedroom-sized bathroom when your drains regularly overflow, cockroaches constantly appear and the Royal Doutton pot from the 1950's needs a plumber equally old to fix!
Yet, all these places have their charms. The garden with the lovely Ashoka trees planted by my father is ideal for day dreaming. In winters, it is the perfect place to soak up the sun while nights are made lovelier by big bonfires. The fireplace is ideal to hang Christmas cards. The bathroom is so spacious that you need not worry of it getting wet and slippery all over.
Mapping the House
I have lived different lives in each and every corner of this house. In the hallway - hurried pecks to the boyfriend as he would drop me home late in the night. In the study - it used to become our playground on summer afternoons. I would play teacher-teacher or office-office with my sister. (We always fought, she invariably won) Once my sister started going out for dates, her room, known as the Little Room, was where I would dream of boys and have private chats on the phone while Richard Marx would sing in the background.
No description of my house could be complete without mentioning the huge window cooler in our dining room. A cooler bigger than any I have seen in any home. A cooler I dreamt of on my long journeys home from Miranda House when it was 46 degrees and I knew my house would be a good 10 degrees cooler.
Our living room too deserves its glory. It can fill in about 15 people and still not look crowded. Its ceiling is so high we use a ladder if the curtains need to be taken down. Then there is my armchair - the best place in the world for me to read and for my dogs to sleep. Of course, there is no way of ever forgetting my mother's room where many tears have been shed by all of us.
Here is My Room
It surprises me when someone sees it for the first time and exclaims - wow your room is so huge.
For the first 18 years of my life it was my Daadi's room where I'd watch Chitrahaar on the only television in the house. Else I would play Rummy with Daadi or help her with knitting.
After she died in 1998, I was given the room on the condition I would have to move out if we have guests. Fair enough, but we always had guests! However, I gradually made it my own by first pasting posters of Bon Jovi, then hanging orange and pink curtains, and finally decorating the wall with pictures of all the people I loved and who I hope loved me.
Things changed in 2006 when I spent many months out of Delhi. Only during the travels did I come to value the uniqueness of my SSP home.
Drastic changes are expected this year. I'm getting married. Me and Aditya will live at Sector 41 in Noida. As the day draws nearer I think of my life here, of some dreams fulfilled and some shattered, of sorrows and laughter. When people ask what my biggest fear or apprehension is regarding my marriage I could think of only one - of leaving my haven...leaving my home...leaving Sujan Singh Park...forever.