Great! Another house dusted down the drain. Not literally but yeah that’s what happened and that too in just one look. It seemed perfectly good to me, but NO was all I heard from Amish amidst his bout of recurring cough. No logic or explanation, just that he didn’t get the ‘vibe’.
Gosh, how I hated this word. It had always been about the vibe. Everything in his life revolved around it. Even meeting me and deciding to be with me was narrowed down to, you guessed it the vibe. Given that being in the profession he is in, he is by the way an interior decorator, it made sense. What we see as walls and windows, basically an empty shell, he sees as a final product in his mind’s eye, not what a house is, but rather what it could turn out to be.
House hunting had been fun when we decided to get married. The expectations and needs of a newly married couple were our foremost priority and when we saw the flat- our flat, we simply fell in love with it. It was everything I’d imagined, specifying ‘I” as for Anish, he brushed it down to, quoting verbatim, “he loved the vibe of the house”.
The house in question opened into the hall, which was humongous. Tall and spacious french windows were in every room of the house. The entire house, all of the 3 and a half rooms, kitchen, and living room were just so lit up and ventilated with sunlight streaming into it from all quarters. The kitchen had an island, which was a pre-requisite of mine, not that I was much into cooking, but still, a girl can surely have a say in how her kitchen, which would be hopefully taken care of by a fabulous cook which again I would have to desperately hunt for, would turn to look like.
The house was done exactly to our taste and personas, nothing flashy and it definitely helps to have a husband who is the decorator himself. Earthly hues and colours, yellow transparent curtains adorned the french windows, the kitchen was in shades of grey and black just as I had envisioned and the rooms were tastefully done in beige with a mix and match of furniture procured from literally everywhere, right from the streets of Chor Bazaar to the artifacts from Home Centre, furniture was a mix of IKEA and some truly customized work from Amish’s in-house carpenters. The house when done, totally resonated with US.
I would’ve assumed a happily ever after post moving into our dream house, but guess that wasn’t to be the case. My dream house, which I so dearly loved wasn’t exactly welcoming to both of us. Since the time we moved in, there arose some issues or complications on a daily basis. This was probably the only time when Amish’s vibe had backfired. From domestic issues to leaking facets to breaking down an entire wall as it was infected with ants, the house was continuously making us work for it. Since Amish looked after the repairs and all the plaguing issues all by himself, the less difficult tasks were left to me like managing the servants (who were very seriously pissed off with the number of repairs going on every other day) to the little more difficult decisions such as telling the cook what to make for our meals. I’m dead serious, just like there’s a simplification like wearing the same type of clothes daily ala Mark Zuckerberg, to enhance productivity by not wasting time on such inconsequential decisions, there should also be a tried and tested daily food menu which by itself should be repeated without much pondering. If only people took it as seriously as dressing up in similar clothes every day or maybe they will if enforced by ‘The Mark Zuckerberg’ himself. Ahem! If only he was listening or in this case reading.
And if all of these reasons weren’t enough to get us thinking about the house and its so-called ‘vibe’, my husband had been very ill and the doctor was insistent that we must give up living in the town. It was essential for him to breathe the purer air of the country, if he was to get strong again. So, I was feverishly house-hunting. Of course, I had seen innumerable houses, but there was something foreboding with all of them, as per Amish. They didn’t give him the vibes.
Amish who ironically was unable to even fathom what was wrong with him per se except for the disgustingly visible running nose and bouts of cough. He couldn’t really articulate his illness or symptoms in any words, all he kept saying, no rather repeating, was that he wasn’t up to it and didn’t feel well. Our doctor, who also happened to be Amish’s childhood friend Rajat, came to the conclusion that Amish needed a breather, a much needed break as his illness was not as much physical as it was mental. According to Rajat, Amish probably needed an out from the daily routine of his so-called busy life.
I couldn’t believe what I had just heard, THAT was the prognosis of the life-threatening disease my husband suffered, Seriously? My rising frustration had not gone unnoticed. The task of staying in the country for one and most importantly again uprooting and settling in a new place all over again. The task of house haunting in the country was no easy feat, there were extremes there, with some houses built remotely and some in a cluster like a small village. I’ve kinda lost count of the number of dwellings I’ve looked at…looked into…from top to bottom at Amish’s insistence of course, and not to forget his nitpicking, in the past month. If people clicked pictures like in the previous days and had negatives to develop, I guess I could create an entire house with just the negative rolls. Thank God for small mercies and newer technologies. Sometimes I feel Amish was misusing my professional talent fully and completely, taking undue advantage of me, or else how would you explain a product photographer, taking pics of ‘houses’ and their surroundings… from all possible angles, at that? The search for the perfect country house became long and menial like an erase and rewind process all over again.
And then just when we had our ‘nth’ fight (I had lost track of the number, it had been so often recently) and I threw an envelope of house pictures at him mouthing go to hell and stormed out of the room, I heard him scream.
“This one it is babe. Let’s go finalize on this one.”
“Are you sure? Is this one giving you your vibes? After shifting our entire world there, would you want a break from the country again and Rajat would prescribe some town therapy?”
“C’mon. You know I’m not really keeping well. Rajat knows my aversion to medicines and hospitals and wants me to recover naturally with as little medical intrusion as possible. In today’s time which doctor do you think would give us such good advice? Besides just looking at it, it’s the most beautiful house I’ve seen. I’m feeling better just thinking of all the changes I can make to it for us.”
“I give up! Arguing with you is the most futile thing ever. You only do what you want. If that house is where you think you can get back to your feet and get rid of this nasty cough and cold, so be it. Personally, I think medicine from the local chemist would’ve helped in healing it much faster, but suit yourself. And also, this would be the last time I will move houses, so better find your health and vibe back there soon-”
Before I could complete it, Amish unceremoniously pulled me to the bed and engulfed me in a bear hug. “My love, trust me this house is going to change our lives. I can so feel it,” he said.
So this is how I made a video call to the house owner (he lived in the US), who was totally against reselling the property at first as it belonged in their family for generations. But after hearing the story of my ‘sick husband’ whose health condition depended on the country air as per his doctor, they finally relented and sold us the house for much more than the market value. It was definitely a win-win for them and if that wasn’t enough, the house came with its share of repairs and renovations and no sane person would want to bear those expenses themselves, or buy a house that old, except for us of course. Once Rajat gave us the go-ahead, we started packing our newly unpacked belongings back into cartons to unpack them, yet again! I could’ve seriously cried.
Whoosh! Finally, I’m all unpacked or so I hope. After a week of settling in our country houses, I wouldn’t be surprised if another carton or two gets delivered in a fortnight. I can’t blame the movers and packers for it, this place, our current new home is located in the wilderness literally, and reaching it actually requires mammoth effort. That was exactly why I’d saved the house pics for the last to show Amish, but as you say, life had other plans and here we are. The house was an old bungalow with a shed and a basement and a beautiful garden overlooking both the front and the back. It had probably been inhabited for decades as the previous owner along with his family were in the US with no plans to shift back again.
Amish was getting back to being his former cheerful and non-sick self again (if there ever was such a word). The house was made with a lot of thought. The master bedroom even had a changing room-like structure adjoining the washroom. The hall was huge and the ceilings were extremely high. The kitchen required the most work as the faucets and sink were really old and needed to be replaced urgently. Amish asked his workers to do the repairs and thus it took away a
lot of stress from him. The workers and he worked in sync, almost like second guessing what the other had to say. Guess, that’s what happens when you are in close proximity with someone for years. I’m thinking when would this happen with me and Amish?
Our nearest neighbours (if you could call them that) were yards away. Houses here were clearly built for privacy and not otherwise as we would’ve thought of country homes. One way it was actually good as they were saved from hearing the horrendous repair sounds day in and out. The workers had adopted a time frame of their own and did things as per their convenience, they even lived in the basement (traveling woes), making it look like a makeshift dorm.
To buy even basic necessities the nearest store was a good 30 mins away. Stocking and buying in bulk was my mantra here. Because of the repairs going on, I had never actually found a house help and spent most of my time cooking and cleaning one room precisely, our master bedroom, as that was the only room untouched from the renovations for now. My month off from my job, for obvious reasons, was working in our favour, as I made the most of my leisure time at my new house.
Amish on the other hand was like a supercharged battery. His coughing bouts had drastically reduced and he just had a barely there cold. As they say, it is all in the mind, and that surely was the case with Amish. He has healed on his own in our new house and his passion and profession have combined with a double adrenaline surge as he personally overlooked every repair right to the tiniest of nails.
Our relationship which had gone through a strain thanks to his so-called ‘illness’ was back to its usual form. The jokes and banter, the teasing and affection, everything was how it was. Secretly I was loving our new country home and the laid-back life here. Instead of product photography, I started nature photography. The beauty and serenity around brought out the photographer in me and I must say it was an equally refreshing change. With nothing much to kill my time, even I started taking an active interest in the renovations and kept a tab of the work with Amish, it gave us something more to bond on.
Rajat was the surprise guest every week. He came unfailingly every Sunday and spent the entire day with us and checked on Amish and his progress. His presence brought a calming and familiar effect on both, me and Amish in the new surrounding we were in with not many knowns or acquaintances. Sometimes we both did miss our life back in the city with its familiar routine and people around us. The most we had started missing were our favourite joints and food stalls we frequented on a regular basis, plus the cafes, the movie halls, and the malls, the list of stuff we missed was getting endless. On the other hand, whenever we spoke to Rajat, we always had something new to offer him. How we spotted a new plant breed, how Amish had designed a fabulous space-saving closet, or how I managed to mix the best of both nature and productphotography and was thrilled at the collection I had amassed in merely 6 months and how I left my job and started freelancing as a photographer.
6 months…Gosh! Time seriously flew. The house renovation was still ongoing and I and Amish both had found a rhythm. The best part was I even made friends. Some of them lived near while some were right in the midst of the small country village. I wouldn’t really call all of them friends but rather acquaintances whom I met on a day-to-day basis. One of my close acquaintance cum friends was the store owner from where I bought my groceries in bulk and another one worked at the small internet café cum electronics shop which doubled up as my workplace as well. The internet at my house was very pretty shoddy and took ages to edit or upload/download pictures, hence I preferred moving out of the house and setting up my makeshift workstation here at the café. The other plus was interacting with the locals and making newer acquaintances.
And that is exactly where I met Nadia and Danish. Both were locals and had been born and brought up here. There was the perfect case of childhood buddies turning into lovers. Sometimes I’m amazed when I see the two of them interact, it is like they can read each other’s minds. They even complete sentences for each other. What I share with Amish is excellent beyond doubt, but sometimes I too yearn for a bond like theirs.
Nadia is a super chatty person like her better half Danish, I consider it to be the perks of their profession. Danish works as a wildlife enthusiast and trekker whereas Nadia works as a foreign language tutor in a school. The two of them by themselves are perhaps the livewires of the sleepy country. Every fortnight on a Saturday evening they hold the ‘Country Club’ where the entire community gets together for a session of fun and games. This is probably the only time when all residents meet each other face to face and a wide array of talks and ideas are exchanged.
When Nadia had proposed that I and Amish join the next meet, I wasn’t too sure but still thought I’d ask Amish about it. When I broached the subject casually over dinner, he too didn’t seem too enthusiastic about the whole idea and we both didn’t think too much about it until I bumped into Danish one Wednesday morning, barely 3 days before the meet. He was on a trek to discover a less tiresome route to reach the top of the hill, where a maximum of the locals and tourists rush to catch the sunrise and sunset. What was I doing there? Well, I must have lost my way trying to capture that elusive multicolored butterfly whom I was chasing right from the house and who led me to the midst of this wilderness. When I saw Danish, it felt like I started breathing again unaware that in my nervousness I had held my breath. When he offered to drop me back home, I couldn’t have been more grateful. The trek back with Danish was extremely fun and knowledgeable amongst other things. When we neared my house, I invited him in for lemonade, I surely owed him one, I said. Danish stood staring at the house as we approached it. He was amazed at the work we had done to restore it and appreciated the changes we had made as well.
“Wow! That is some work magic you guys have done on the house. Like draping an old heroine, in the current generation’s modern avatar.” he marveled. “When you guys had bought this place, there were many people who thought you both were given the short end of the stick, but looking at this marvelous transformation they surely would be eating out their words,” Danish said. “Really, but why? In fact, it was difficult to procure the house from its original owners. They relented only when I told them about my husband’s ill-health as they thought they were doing a noble gesture for the souls of their forefathers,” I countered.
“Hmmm…who knows what the truth is. But this house surely has its share of history and mystery. You know I think you and your husband should definitely attend the meeting now, the older folks would definitely have some facts about your house. What say? Would I be seeing you both on Saturday then?” asked Danish.
“Well now that you put it this way, we’d surely love to join you and Nadia and also the rest of the lovely town people. Guess it’s high time due for us. Saturday it is then.” I affirmed enthusiastically to Danish who gulped the last sip of his lemonade and was on his way out. Amish was not too enthusiastic about the Saturday meeting but agreed at my insistence and more so he also had Danish to thank for helping me.
Saturday arrived much faster than expected. Once we reached the meet address, we were surprised to see such welcoming faces who rushed to greet us and self-introduced themselves.
“I live in the house that’s across your garden, though still a good 20 yards away. That makes us neighbors, or at least the nearest,” Mrs. Percy told us animatedly. “You can surely count on me for any help, not that I’m much of it, but still. Besides I also make lovely cheesecakes, my Neil simply loved them, God rest his soul,” she made the cross and prayed for her deceased husband.
Another Mr. Parekh, who was friends with our original house owner, was extremely inquisitive about our experience in the house and whether we faced any problems with the renovations. Amish and I didn’t understand his question and politely excused ourselves stating that we loved living in the house. We mingled with many more people, some known whom we had met during the course of our stay here and some unknown ones, who were extremely delightful and fun people. The evening was going fantastically well and I and Amish were actually enjoying ourselves. Amish found good company in Danish, who was beside him throughout taking care of him and circulating him amongst the townsfolks and eventually arranged a date with him for a trek. That was surely a win for Danish, as I knew Amish was the last person who was interested in anything that had to do with walking and especially the early morning ones. When I heard Danish boldly proclaiming to the entire group about Amish joining in as the newest trekking member, I couldn’t help but look at Amish’s constipated face. It was exactly at that time, that he looked toward me as though asking for help, to get him out of this arrangement, but all I did was wink at him. He surely deserved it for uprooting me and my life in the name of his so-called illness.
I mingled with most of the ladies and circulated myself. Most of them were excited at my line of work and wanted to know what I did, which I gladly enlightened them. Amish too was networking and I saw him hand over his business cards to quite a few people. It would surely be nice to see him back in his element and considering most of the houses here were old and definitely needed a facelift, Amish would be getting some good projects and offers. Many people like Mr. Parekh were curious about how well we were settling in the new house, which I found somewhat unsettling. Not the question, but the way they were asking it. I had just finished a conversation with the mayor when I was approached again by Mr. Parekh. “Wait hear me out. I
tried speaking to your husband as well, but he seems extremely disinterested. It is for the good of you both.”
His last line caught me staring at him. “What do you mean Sir?”
“Well, the house that you are currently residing in belongs to my old friend Rustom Daruwalla. We both were ‘chaddi buddies’ as you youngsters call it nowadays. I’ve frequented the house so many times and practically lived there all my youth. But the cursed house drove my Rustom mad. He said that he heard strange sounds at night, tapping ones like there were other people in the house. His paranoia started growing to such heights that he had to be taken away to his maternal grandfather’s house in the US from where he never returned back. He eventually settled there and raised his family. If not for his letters every Christmas, we would’ve lost touch with each other. Even in his letters, he claimed to hear the sounds and I absolutely believe him. My purpose is not to scare you, but rather to make you aware of the fact that I know firsthand. If you say, there is nothing untoward happening in the house, of course, I shall gladly trust you and pray that this house treats you and your husband much better than it did to my Rustom,” saying so he retreated.
I was mortified and grateful for both. Mortified to hear the story he just narrated about the house that we lived in and grateful that he wished us no harm and was instead looking out for us. I would surely have to convey this information to Amish, he definitely has a right to know the history of the house, the same one, that had given him his vibes.
On the way home, I narrated to Amish what I’d just heard from Mr. Parekh. Amish screeched onto the brakes and looked at me. Was it shock or anger, I couldn’t fathom? “Did he really say that? You know everyone in the meet warned me about him, saying that he’s a loner and a lunatic and that we shouldn’t really believe a word that he says. I now understand why they’d say so. He sure knows how to cook some fancy tales.” Amish started the car again visibly disturbed. The drive back home was silent. We had a great time at the meeting and enjoyed interacting with the others, other than the incident with Mr. Parekh nothing stood out as odd or unpleasant. Why did he have to ruin our evening? I thought to myself.
Once back home, I somehow couldn’t sleep. Mr. Parekh’s words kept ringing in my ears, not because I thought he was a lunatic, but because I had felt every word of his right to my bones. Because I too like his friend had heard sounds in the house, which I never acknowledged. Did I too become a lunatic or was the house seriously haunted? Amish’s happiness at moving into the house and his health improving mysteriously were reasons enough for me to keep my fears to myself. I decided never to speak a word of it to anyone again. The days passed uneventfully and at night the same thudding sounds came alive like someone was banging at a door. I put my hand over my ears and shut my eyes tight. I definitely must be imagining the sounds, seeing how peacefully Amish slept next to me without a care in the world.
One Sunday when Rajat was on his visit, it started raining heavily and I and Amish asked him to stay back the night and not drive in the bad weather. He agreed and slept in one of the guest rooms. As sleep approached me, I heard the thudding sounds again, louder this time, and woke up scared. I was about to ask Amish to inspect it this time when to my surprise I found Amish missing from the bed. I walked towards the guest bedroom thinking he’d be chatting with Rajat when to my surprise I found it empty as well. I was seriously panicking now. Was my mind playing tricks, how else could I explain the disappearance of both Amish and Rajat from their room at the exact same time of the night?
Soundlessly I tiptoed towards the source of the increasing thudding sounds and found myself near the basement. I could see a dim light there and muffled sounds. Scared out of my wits with no sign of Amish and Rajat anywhere I decided to investigate myself. As I neared the basement, I was shocked to hear the clear and familiar voices of none other than my husband and his doctor. If I say they were equally shocked to see me, that would be an understatement. Their jaws had literally dropped. Behind them, Amish’s workers were relentlessly digging up the soil which now looked like a huge tunnel-like hole. I finally understood that my paranoia was not real, instead, I was completely sane.
“Amish what the hell is going on?”, I demanded angrily.
Amish looked from me to Rajat and then back at me again. “Rajat she deserves to know the truth, especially now after she’s witnessed everything.” Rajat made a gesture with his hands as though saying if you want to. He couldn’t care less, his entire focus was on the workers.
“Rajat had a patient who was a close associate of Mr. Rustom Daruwalla just like Mr. Parekh was. He had also narrated the same tale to him, albeit with a different story. According to him, this house was used as a safe house during both the world wars and is said to have beneath it a lot of hidden treasure. The sounds Rustom heard were exactly the same that you heard as well, they were digging sounds. Many had tried their luck to unearth the hidden treasure but had failed due to time constraints or lack of equipment. When Rajat told me of the treasure and this house, it sounded too good to not investigate. Besides, I could easily obtain all the tools to carry out the search without raising any suspicions from anyone. And that’s when we formulated the plan of me being unwell and the plan to shift to this house. We didn’t want to involve you till we were certain that there indeed is a treasure here. But the last couple of days, the metal detectors have been beeping alarmingly and that’s when Rajat and I decided to supervise the workers, but still no luck,” Amish explained.
“I don’t know what to say Amish. Whether I hope you unearth the treasure and are proved right or that you both would live like fools to stake your careers on a quest that could be nothing but a false story.” I heatedly told Amish. “Not just your life, but you even played with my life and career and that’s not something I will let go of so easily.” I stormed out of there grabbing the metal detector from his hand in my anger and rushed out of the house into the rain and cried my heart out.
Was Amish so stupid to believe Rajat blindly or was I the bigger fool to leave behind everything at the drop of a hat and accompany Amish here in this wilderness over an un-named fake illness? Anger and outrage seeped into me and I flung the metal detector as far as I could to soothe my anger.
I was as surprised to hear the sound and even more to see Amish and Rajat running out of the house as maniacs. “Where is the sound coming from?” Rajat asked me.
All I could say or do is to point my finger in the direction where I flung the detector. No words were needed, both of them rushed to the spot and asked the workers to start digging there. After several failed attempts, the sound of the shovels banging against something hard was heard, loud and clear. Digging further, they found not one but three wooden caskets, that shone bright and gave out a glaring light when opened. The contents of which didn’t need any introduction. The legend of the world war treasure had turned out to be absolutely true.
Rajat and Amish cried out in sheer joy and both came and engulfed me in a bear hug. “We are going to be super-rich. Just imagine, having everything you ever dreamt of! Unbelievable, isn’t it?”
I remembered Amish’s words from before, “My love, trust me this house is going to change our lives. I can so feel it,” he said.
The house definitely gave out the right vibe.
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