The Servant’s Quarters by Taamra Segal

Like countless others in the city of Delhi, I live with my family and in our home there exists a room given the mundane and simultaneously grand title of the ‘Servant’s Quarters’. When this house in a gated community was bought, almost 15 years ago, the main purpose of this particular room was to house any maid that would work for us. It’s not a tiny room as the name may suggest, and comes with a lovely view of a large patch of empty government-owned land where construction of the dreaded multi storeyed monstrosities that pocket this city has been banned. Although, as I write this, a slum is stealthily creeping its way across, but being an eternal optimist I choose to see only the parts not yet destroyed, still in the majority thankfully.

Over the past decade my family and I were based abroad and so never hired a maid except the temporary find to clean for us when we visited Delhi once a year for a few weeks (and what a feat that search was! This is Delhi after all). Now since the servant’s quarter was not being used for its original purpose, it seemed to take on the natural avatar of dumping ground for unwanted items found around the house. My father’s old LPs, family photo albums, unused electrical appliances and piles upon piles of dusty books. Belonging, as I do, to a family of readers and authors, poses a heavy burden, literally.

This eclectic mix of artefacts was stored in two cavernous trunks which took up almost half the room. Standing against the walls were paintings, larger than life, the kind one collects from various parts of the world; colourful lampshades, exotic Bhutanese head pieces, grand paan-dans from generations ago, tiny baby clothes, Persian carpets and other such collectables which could only ever belong in a drawer labelled ‘memories’. Not functional enough to be moved into the main living area, but not old enough to be thrown (or perhaps too old, and therefore too dear, to be discarded with careless abandon.)

With every trip to India over the past decade, the collection in the servant’s quarters grew steadily. New material possessions replaced the old and unless broken beyond repair, the old would be shunned forever to join the other artefacts in companionable silence. Out of everyone in the family, I seemed to be the only one fascinated by this room and what it held. It represented for me an ode to memories, a silent sanctity to explore. Located at the end of the hallway outside our house, each silent footstep toward the door was a step backwards in time.

I’ve always known I have a love for the past, the years gone by, not just my own, but of people in general. I covet memories and find them comforting through what they tell me and perhaps through what they don’t. I’ve always collected birthday cards, not only mine, but of everyone in my family. A feeling, no matter how fleeting, should be preserved, especially if it brings joy to whoever is in possession of it.

I devour piles and piles of vintage photo albums that lie carefully buried in the trunk in the servant’s quarters, and wonder what my first birthday party was like, what happened to all the people in those pictures, the ones no longer around. I flick through the now seemingly gigantic LPs that my father collected, wondering which shop in London he bought them from, were they absolute favorites or were they bought on a whim.

Every time life seems too rushed, memories too hurried and people too shallow, I find myself hastily moving toward this safe house within my house. A jar of memories frozen in time, servants quarters built from fragments of the past, solely for me to keep and cherish now and in the future.

This story has been published in Vol.04 Issue.12 of our magazine. Find such stories and more in print and online.

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About the Author

tamara2

Taamra is a writer with 4 years of content creation and editing experience. Fiction is something that has always been at the back of her mind and she wrote this short piece about a particular room in her home in New Delhi.

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