They live worlds apart, mastering their own purposes through time. Taking roads that don't go the same way, they still found their destination to be the same. Carefully placed in a different time, they had each built a museum of a million little things, a museum of memories.
I was here and I was there. I went to these places and met these two incredible people only a week apart from each other, but I felt like I met them side by side, I felt they were saying the same things, lived through the same visions but were still worlds apart. I was in a little village, in Goa and in Karnataka. ‘Lotulim’ read the board that stood right beside a happy dog that was to become my guide for the rest of the day. ‘Lakkinakoppa’ whispered the vendor in a crowded bus stand, when I asked him where I was. A sound that drowned in the mighty wave of buses that went back and forth, as he hid comfortably in the shadows of the Indian country side.
I had stumbled upon two people, a wonderful mind in each of these places. Two people who travelled the world on a map and back and forth through time, yet what they were, were a glass full of pride of all that was truly theirs, a memory of a forgotten time.
She stood carefully by the door that led to a beautiful little hallway. She was all of 89 years old, a former MP of Portugal and an entrepreneur, she was a strong insightful woman. ‘I’m Maria de Lourdes Figueriedo de Albuquerque’, she said proudly. She was the owner and sole caretaker of her beautiful 400 year old family home that she had promised to take care of, in honour of her sister and a childhood long gone by.
He stood completely at ease as he invited me through a 150 year old door and a hot cup of tea. He was 75 years old, an Indian historian, a thoughtful patient man, his eyes would close and drift into the darkness as he closed his eyes and picked a story from yesteryear. ‘I’m Khandoba Rao’ he said effortlessly. He was the founder and curator of an Indian history museum that he had built in honour of his late wife who was also a history teacher and possessed a love for India like no other.
‘My sister would have been the first woman judge of India, if it weren’t for my father’s death.’ Maria said. Her sister had taken care of the 400 year old house on her own. After her death, the family had originally decided to sell the house and share all of its magnificent riches. Yet it was a little moment that changed Maria’s mind. One little moment that made her entire life flash by. One moment that made her realise that the house didn’t just belong to her and her family, but to all of Goa.
‘My wife and I would talk about history all day long. That is all we cared about.’ Khandoba said. His wife had both of her kidneys fail, and Khandoba had given one of his kidneys to her. She survived 10 years after that transplant and then that fateful day arrived. Khandoba was truly heartbroken. His was a love marriage, their parents were opposed to their relationship from the begin. Yet after three years of convincing them, they had finally said yes and that was beginning of a perfect union. When she died, he wanted to honour her somehow and he almost let it be, till a moment arrived and that changed his entire life all over again.
It was a saturday afternoon, Goa was in its usual afternoon slumber. Maria had just finished arranging her medieval portuguese goan wooden cabinets. The kind of cabinets that had lions as feet, that are priceless in this day and age. She had walked all around the house’s large looming hallways when she decided to just sit down and take a break. She gently put her hands on the table and suddenly heard a burst of children laughing and screaming outside. The sound soon drifted away, but her mind still vividly remembered her own voices as a child. She was in that very table, pretending to play poker with the entire family. She held her hands closely together like she would as a child when she hid the cards within her palm. It was then that she decided to not sell the house. She was going to stay here and preserve all of the house’s grand secrets. She was going to turn it into a museum. A museum that told the world about how Goa once lived.
It was a Monday morning, the chaos on the streets of Shimoga had woken up everyone who dared to remain asleep. Khandoba was stuck in a maze of buses and vendors in a crowded bus station. His bus to Lakinakoppa had arrived, his hands rushed across his old bag to pay the vendor, and a bunch of age old coins just erupted like a waterfall of clinks that danced around his feet. They were coins that were hundreds of years old. Coins that him and his wife had painstakingly collected over the years. It was then that he realised that he was going to build a museum. A history museum of all that is India. A museum that would honour his wife’s passion for an India that was truly golden.
‘It was the year 1935, my entire family lived in Goa at that time. We had three houses in three villages at that time. Yet this was the house that we all came together at. Goa was one big community then, we all decided what was good for each other. All you needed to do to have a conversation was to step out to the balcony. We left our windows and doors open, anyone could come in and leave as they please. We had traders arrive at our shores, bringing us wonders of the world. They came to our doorsteps and their faces would usually drop at all that India held in her womb. Everything that we had was priceless. Everything we did had meaning, it had culture. Everything we did was a beautiful mix of what we learnt from a world that revolved around us and what we had learnt from our forefathers for hundreds of years.’ Maria sighed as she transported me to a different world. She soon took me through a brochure of african chairs, of portuguese cabinets and chinese silverware. She took me through japanese silk and english wool. She took me through mirrors that were handcrafted in the middle east and teak that was brought down from papua new guinea. Everything in there was priceless, yet one walk with her would soon find you being nostalgic of her childhood. She told me about the mattresses that were hauled up on the hooks of the roof, the kitchen where they all huddled to make a fire and the old piano where her piano teacher carefully played and she danced on the wooden floor. ‘Here, this window, no this. This is where a monkey came crashing through this priceless room and we all ran helter skelter, each with one precious item to save. All ten of us, running around in circles. It was beautiful.’ she chuckled.
‘It was the year 250 BC, Ashoka had just realised his vision for India. He had gone from being a monster to a monk. If anyone could personify India, then it would have to be him. There’s always a balance that India carries forward. That is what me and my wife loved about this land. People might come here and kick the dirt on someone else’s face, but you just dig a little deeper and you will find an entire civilisation built out of a tradition of acceptance. Me and my wife, we had history as our teachers when our parents didn’t agree to our wedding. I was a poor man, but in India you aren’t poor if you carry around words of learned men and do your best to understand them in their eyes and not your own.’ Khandoba said thoughtfully as he looked at his collection of a million little things. Ever since his wife died, he began rampantly collecting things from all across India. Any little slice of history meant something to him, for it wasn’t about carefully curating an era or a period of history. He wasn’t a modern day curator. He was a humble history teacher who had taught monotonously to bored students for years. It was his wife who made him curious about the very things he taught to the students. She often put questions in his head about culture. ‘What is culture?’ she would ask. He never had the answer to that question. Till she died, and he realised that preserving her memory, preserving all that her mind indulged in a land she loved, preserving all those beautiful art forms of peace and violence and lessons. That was culture to him. ‘ I wish I had the answer then. Maybe we would have built this museum together then’ he wondered out loud.
In the end, as I was about to leave. I ask them what they saw as the future of their little museums. What do you want this to be? I asked them both. They both looked at me with a careful thought and said the exact same thing – A museum of memories.