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The bustling main road, when observed from above, resembles an
irrigation canal with numerous lanes branching out. Each lane feeds the central
road with human and vehicular movement which shapes its image of being one of
the major thoroughfares of the city. In its entirety, this aerial view is nothing
extraordinary. After all, almost every urban setting would look the same at a
Pause awhile, look closely at each of these lanes and a very
different vista opens up. For just as each ramification of the main irrigation
canal could be watering a different crop, each lane has its share of stories to
tell-those of its inception, its inhabitants and its varied appearances over
the ages. Today, our exploration leads us to Twelfth Street which seems unusually
deserted considering its location within the city. The lane is narrow and
reaches a dead end after only a few hundred meters. Adjoining the wall
signifying the dead end stands the “Rainbow House”
Take a look and the name comes across as a joke, for the rainbow
house has no semblance of color anywhere. The crumbling walls, covered in
decaying moss, appear closer to black than brown thanks to urban pollution.
Look inside and the faded, peeling paint of the rooms appear a dirty, sickly
white. The gates have been removed long back and an ancient signboard
pathetically displays the farcical name while swinging mildly in the breeze
from its pegs.
Look closer still and it is this signboard which appears to be
the only element in the dilapidated house which could have once been colorful.
For the seven letters of the word “Rainbow” seems to have been painted in the
seven distinct colors of the spectrum.
It’s hard to spot them now barring careful scrutiny but if you are so
inclined, you might also catch the fact that the colors on some letters have
faded more than others-a finding that would lead you to conclude that the text
on the signboard lost its luster one letter at a time.
What’s the point of this exercise, you ask? Well, we have come
to listen to this ancient house tell a story before it gets pulled down to make
space for a high-rise. However, before the structure follows the colors into
oblivion, it wishes to leave behind a legacy. A story, which defines its
inception, journey and gradual descent from glory to desecration.
This morning, a middle-aged man walks into the ruins of the
house. As you observe the way he looks around and moves, you realize this is
someone who knows the house well. Look into his eyes and see them zoning out,
moving about and focusing again. Obviously looking for something specific and
puzzling over the lack of familiarity.
The man walks around the house and enters the garden. True to
the present condition of the house, the garden is a mess of weed, dead leaves
and branches. The man’s eyes seem to flicker and focus on something distant. Not
a sight but a memory. A vista of the garden when it was alive, fragrant and
“I must find my tree”, the man murmurs to himself and looks
around. Fixing his gaze on a corner of the garden, he walks briskly to the
crumbling walls. Arriving at the spot, he kneels and forages through the thick
overgrowth of weed till his hands touch something familiar- the stump of a palm
tree which had been chopped down a few months back in preparation for the high-rise
to take over.
The man’s eyes moisten as memories come flooding back. Memories
of almost 40 years back when, as a kid, the tree bore fruit for the first time.
It was planted by his father and grew to be a symbol of his childhood. Whenever
a discussion ensued about his life and ambition, his father would point to the
tree and tell him, “Alok, look at that tree, how it grows taller and taller
every year, surpassing everybody around it. You have to aim to be that tree. Outshine
all your peers, stand taller than everybody by dint of your achievements and
As young Alok stood looking up at the tree, the initial feeling
was that of jealousy and resentment. “Why do you grow so fast? How am I ever
going to match you in the sheer pace with which you leave your competition
The tree seemed to nod and a gentle breeze would blow over him,
soothing his mind. As he sat in its shade, Alok would talk to the tree like a
companion, sharing his thoughts, fears and plans. The tree, ever patient, ever
listening, would envelop him in its gradually expanding shade, seeming to
protect him from all his worries.
With the years rolling by, Alok had to deal with his family
falling apart. The growing arguments between his parents resulted in them going
their separate ways. Alok’s dad-a picture of confidence and composure at one
time, broke down at his failure to hold things together. Perpetual depression
led to despair and culminated in the moment which saw his father eventually
take his own life.
Through these bitter moments, the anchor which kept Alok’s
spirit strongly grounded was his only true companion-the palm tree. The steady
stream of human misery, betrayal and ill-will had shaken his faith on human
bonding. The tree was strong, yet gentle, silent, yet understanding, aloof, yet
comforting in its embrace. As Alok sat crying under it, the tree seemed to
whisper to him about all those violent storms it had been through. How it had
braved their attempts at uprooting it and continued to stand tall. Looking up
at it, Alok drew strength and the resolve to be the spirit it exemplified.
Today, as Alok looks down at the stump, an overwhelming
sensation of the end of an era washes over him. He sits down, acutely aware of
the missing shade, when a familiar whisper catches his ear.
“So you finally managed to stand taller than me!”
Alok smiles, “You jealous? Like I used to be in my childhood?”
“No. To see you imbibe the values I stood for is the greatest
gift ever. In these final moments of my existence, I am happy that you
weathered all the turbulence life had to throw at you and emerge victorious.
After being through so much sorrow, this place will be finally at peace knowing
the last surviving legacy is a success story”
Alok says with a distant look in his eyes, “I was afraid I
wouldn’t find you. There’s nothing familiar around here anymore. Remember, the
‘Rainbow House’ in all its glory? We used to say, all the colors which decorate
our lives have come together in this house. It’s no stranger to any emotion”
“That it’s not. As the people left it, the colors faded. But
today, after many years, I think I see a color spreading across the horizon and
painting this picture. Do you see it?”
Alok nods and leans against
the stump, closing his eyes and hoping for the cool, comforting breeze
which always greeted him at that spot. As dusk approaches, we zoom out of this
scene and take in the cityscape again. The sky, the buildings, the streets and
the lives they shelter appear awash in a single color while the sun goes down.