it was always exciting to go back to that house. the rickety fiat would pick us up and there would always be an issue fitting the suitcase in with the 'step'nie' amidst various other gizzards of the creaking car.
there would be that dusty ride that went through the main 'chowk' with 'mithaiwallas' and of course, past the white palace where the scindias still live. and i remember the beginning of the end of the ride, what with the gigantic naala, enough to swallow minetta brook and with the fetidness of gallons of waste. but i was always fascinated by the giang pigs that seemed quite unmindful of the trash of others, the piglets, nothing like 'poo mucking about, their skin not quite covered with grey bristles (issey toothbroosh baneinge as the guy delightfully told my mother in Jaipur when she saw the local Municipal fellows taking away an unfortunate porcine)
And we would turn left and go past the kinaray waali dukan, the ubiquitous one selling Nirma, Life Buoy (hai jahaan tanduroosti hai wahaan...life buoy!) but of course, it was the closest supplier of aam papad, the one my grandparents mistakenly assumed was one of my favorite things from gwalior, along with the basin kay laddoo. There was the temple with the awkward pattern of multi colored bathroom tiles to the right, where the pujarin was this ancient creature, not however, as old as my great grandmother. We would turn the right and come to the gate and with a flourish the driver would kill the engine and smile at us, almost triumphant we made it alive as though we would have the temerity to question his driving skills.
The gate was this menacing black and red contraption, with a smaller one built into it with devious springs ready to snap shut on a five year olds fingers and definitely lived up unto their sole purpose.
The courtyard always felt clean even though the plot opposite never had anything built on it and dust seemed to fly over the wall, irreverant of the cleanliness my grandmother was so particular about. But she would be at the doorway, panting from the effort but a huge smile nonetheless, her dentures putting my own gap toothed smile to shame. And there would be much hugging and touching of feet as blessings went all around.
The living room was almost magical to a kid. There were porcelain plates with Buddha on them, a mantle piece with pictures of people, some of whom I recognized, faces with fewer creases, more teeth and thicker hair. But they were sepia toned, faded edges in silver frames meticulously polished. There was a dried up seahorse mounted on the wall, above the deerskin cushion covers. There were books in Hindi, some of them by my grandfather. But of course, the only thing I would look out for was the giant lion skin on the carper, the head stuffed and carefully preserved, yellow glass eyes, you could peer into reflecting make your face, the mouth open in an unspoken roar, the tongue rough and its teeth yellow. And right between the eyes, almost Kipling like was a small hole, no bigger than my little finger, a small hole that led it from the jungle to the living room floor. I never quite got familiar with it, like my sister would later sit on its head holding on to its ears or reclining her head against his. I suppose much of the Jungle Book rubbed off on me and I never wanted to accept that the King of the Jungle would end up so.
The lights in the living room were anemic, yellow, heightened by the gaudy orange lamps, stylized vine leaves. But during the day, the room was dark and light streamed in from the other side, where, if you squinted, could see the main courtyard.