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The Kuchcha House

It was a summer afternoon. This meant it was the season of mangoes. Every year, around this time, we would have a plastic tub at home that seemed to always be filled with mangoes. This year was no different.

I was around 6 or 7 years at the time. It was summer vacations at school, so I was mostly at home. I finished my lunch and took two mangoes from the tub. I had to have lunch first. The grownups used to say: “Have a jackfruit on an empty stomach, and have a mango on a full one”. If the grownups said it, they were probably right.

I ate my mangoes fully, except for the skin and the seeds of course. They were ripe and sweet, and I remember thinking that nothing else comes close to how happy it made me feel. I then went and threw the mango skin and seeds out of our rear balcony.

Our house was a two-storey building. We lived on the first floor. We had a balcony on the back which faced an empty “site” – a plot of land allotted to build a house. Houses had already been built on either sides of this site. Whoever owned this site probably had no plans of building a house there yet. So it was in a pretty unkempt state housing a lot of weeds that wanted to grow there, the main one being parthenium. Us, as well as people from the houses on either sides of the site used to throw out garbage and food waste into the site.

I used to imagine this site as a “peninsula”. In school I had learnt that a peninsula is covered on three sides by water and one side by land. I equated this site being covered on three sides by houses (one of it our own) and one side by the road in front of it to being a peninsula. Our schooling then was limited to what we saw in text books. This was before computers and internet became commonplace. So to think beyond what we saw in a text book, one’s imagination was the only way. You can see why I imagined the site as a peninsula – I couldn’t really go see an actual peninsula.

One morning a few days later, when I went to throw some waste away, I was pleasantly surprised by something else that had cropped up in the site pretty much overnight. This was another thing I had learnt in school, and only seen in the text books – a hut. I had learnt that there were two types of houses: pucca houses and kuchcha houses. Pucca houses were built strongly in a way that would withstand the weather and other challenges well. Kuchcha houses, on the other hand, could not withstand these well as they were built of weak materials like straws, hay, and other materials like a dried old coconut tree’s leaves. I knew we lived in a pucca house, but I had never seen a kuchcha house. Until that day.

I stood staring there in amazement. It looked like a family of four – a couple and two kids – were living inside. One kid was very young, probably less than two years old. The other one was around my age. I wondered if he went to school like me. His mother seemed to dress in a manner that was similar to the maid who used to come clean our home everyday. Our maid used to bring her kid with her who used to just sit in a corner while the mother finished the chores. I wondered if this kid in the site behind also just tagged along with his mother on her everyday work. I was envious of him, because I had to get ready and go to school on time. He appeared to be free.

I came back inside excitedly and told everyone that there is a kuchcha house behind our house. I opened my textbook and saw the picture in it. This hut looked so similar. I couldn’t wait to go to school and share this news with my friends. However, to my astonishment, I did not get the reaction I expected from the grownups. They didn’t seem to share my excitement. They went to the rear balcony. Folks living on the either sides of the site had also come out. They were enquiring the family who had moved into the hut – “Who are you?”, “Where are you from?”, “Why have you built this hut here?”. The tone of questioning didn’t seem friendly or enthusiastic.

I headed to school and shared the story of the magical kuchcha house that had been built overnight with my friends. I pointed to the picture in our textbook and told them it looked exactly like in the picture. I promised I’d show it to them if they visited my place.

On getting home in the evening, I rushed to the balcony. The hut wasn’t there anymore. I was confused and disappointed. I asked folks at home about it. They told me the hut wasn’t supposed to be there. That the people in the hut did not own the site. Folks of all the houses around the site had opposed to them being there and had forced them to move out. The grownups told me it was for the good of everyone. They told me that the folks in the kuchcha house would have littered the site if they had been allowed to stay for long. If the grownups said it, they were probably right.

Slowly, I washed my face and had my dinner. I followed it up with two mangoes. I then went and threw the mango skin and seeds out into the site behind.

Sketch of a Kuchcha house

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