By Dya Singh | OPINION |
“Put me back in my childhood Malay kampung-style wooden house on stilts with a leaky thatched roof, in Pokok Assam, Taiping, Malaysia and, as long as family is with me, and a small room for Baba Ji, I will say that, that is my dream home.”
We are moving out of my ‘dream home’ after five years here in state Victoria, Australia. There are mixed feelings.
My oldest grandson Saffal was chest high when we came here. He now towers at least 5cm above me! My granddaughter Saahiel had just been in secondary school for a year. Now she is in university and has grown into a beautiful young woman.
My two younger grandsons were born while we stayed here. Ravi my youngest is now 3-years-old. We performed my second daughter’s Anand Karaj in these premises. Now her little boy Khiaan Singh is 4 years old!
It is a small plot of almost two acres in green open country with huge gum trees, with a creek running down one side of it which has ‘weeping willow’ trees on its banks.
Besides a main home of five bedrooms and a huge 90 foot ‘garage’ on one side when we came, we built a second smaller house in the plot for Nani and I and we also built a covered area (pergola) between the two houses so that the children could play under cover in bad weather within this beautiful greenery and the creek on one side. Yes, a dream ‘homestead’ you might say.
There was ample space for visitors who came for overnight, or a few days stay. We called it the ‘Sikh Retreat’. We even had overseas visitors who came to get-away-from-it-all for a few days. A friend stayed a month within a rather messy divorce. He needed privacy and time to reflect, compose himself, dwell in ‘naam’, as he planned his future. Such was the tranquility here.
Like many folks, all my life I chased a dream of the ideal homestead. I travelled from Malaysia, through UK, finally to reside in Australia and all the time I dreamed of that ideal house. But my dream has never been a palatial five-bedroom double storeyed brick building.
First, I wanted a shack by the sea. After the occurrence of the Indian Ocean tsunami which devastated Acheh, and besides numerous others after that, I dreamt of a small place in the mountains with grand views.
I have visited homes of non-Sikh friends on our sacred music tours globally and seen some very beautiful scenic small, mainly wooden homes. Most Sikh friends I have stayed with all round the globe seem to prefer huge houses of bricks.
Finally, I dreamt of a small farmlet with great views and enough space to raise some chickens mainly for eggs and perhaps some other pets, a vegetable plot and some fruit trees. I felt that was perhaps more practical and I wanted the rural quiet and tranquility. All I needed was access to an international airport as I am still a frequent traveller.
I visualised such a dream home for a quarter of a century as I pursued my other dream of being able to present kirtan and sacred music globally with my music group.
And then, it happened! Circumstances changed and the right space, about two acres, in country Victoria (Australia) appeared and it was within our means! It was the dream I had, manifesting!
I used to wonder why those who were in the money would want to build bigger and bigger houses when one should only build houses enough for one’s needs. But human nature is such that perhaps bigger is better, especially the prevailing Sikh nature.
I have visited our suburb in Ludhiana, Punjab and every few years the neighbours, on all sides break down smaller houses to put up bigger ones, leaving very little or no space for grass, trees or other vegetation. And a great many of the houses lie vacant because the owners live overseas. They visit perhaps once a year at best to stay for maybe a couple of weeks. Their future generations are never going to come and stay here. Why build these huge multi-storey houses?
A couple, friends of mine, with three daughters faced all sorts of obstacles to build a huge six-bedroom house. I wondered why they did that? Inevitably, all three daughters found their own lives and left, as was expected. Now he too has downsized to suburbia.
But then, I guess, like many of us, we have our ‘dream’ homes. We go through a great deal of wastage – of money, of material and time, for a dream, perhaps an illusion. ‘Jag rechena sabh chooth hai…’ (Life is an illusion…).
Even in Malaysia, I have some rich friends who, from very humble beginnings today live in palatial homes mainly for status. Husband and wife with a couple of kids in up to six bedroom houses. The off-springs now visit occasionally with their children, otherwise most of the house remains closed. I wonder whether they are happier in these large, mostly unused, houses? Are they really homes?
We stayed in our dream home for five years. We lovingly accumulated dogs, cats, aquarium and pond fish and even two tortoises. We experimented with sheep and even tried goats to keep the grass down! We resurrected a shallow disused pond and built it into a small lake with water lilies and other water plants, a water fountain and a miniature waterfall, with lights which we used to light up at night. It was heavenly!
Besides rosellas, parakeets, white cockatoos with their beautiful yellow plumes, black cockatoos, galahs, magpies, crows and other birds, we sometimes even have a flock of ibis with their long beaks descend to take a drink and fish in our pond for tadpoles and fish. (We introduced the local fish from the creek into our lake.) Kookaburras scare the kids with their loud screeching. We even have kangaroos running through our property occasionally. Rabbits and possums are common.
At night we have a symphony of frogs croaking to remind us that we are in rural surrounds. A cockerel crows early in the morning reminding us of Nitnem.
We kept chickens mainly for eggs and even had four white domestic ducks for their eggs until they were taken by foxes. The battle with the foxes is constant. Any slackness in our vigilance resulted in chickens and ducks being taken by them!
Our children experienced the ‘circle of life’ when the foxes used to take the chickens or sometimes grab rabbits right in front of their very eyes. They experienced two of our dogs dying. One was buried with a proper Ardaas mainly for closure for the children, and one had to be taken to the RSPCA crematorium. Tears were shed.
I even let them experience jhatka of one of our chickens, so that they understood that to eat meat, life has to be taken. I remembered my own experience as a 14-year-old being forced to commit jhatka by my venerable father behind High Street Police Sikh Gurdwara in Kuala Lumpur. “Or,” he told me, “if you can’t, then become a vaishnu (vegetarian)”!
We lovingly planted fruit trees like oranges, mandarins, lemons, apples, pears, persimmons, nashi pears, peaches, plums and also grew grape and passion fruit vines.
We grew our own chillies, even a curry leaves tree, tomatoes, vegetables, beautiful ‘keralay’ (bitter gourd) and ‘baingan’ (eggplants). Two different kinds of mint grew wild and we had home-grown and home-made mint chutney!
Our grandchildren played in the trees overhanging the creek and caught fish in the creek with butterfly nets or ‘chunian’ stolen from their mums and grandmother.
It was the ideal life that I had dreamt of for so many years.
But as time went by, I realised one thing. A dream is a dream until it materialises. Then realities take over.
The ‘down’ side of our dream home started manifesting. Two acres of gardening was difficult and getting gardeners defeats the purpose and in Australia is an expensive exercise.
I had my dream of building my ‘wooden house’ beside my daughter’s house. I designed it with my front room overlooking the garden and the creek with a Baba Ji’s room in a prominent position also looking out into the garden with a view of the trees in the distance. We built an upstairs with a wooden staircase, for a small studio where I could do recordings and also a library – a place to get away from the good wife when relations got a little strained! We had a decking all round our home where we could sit with a cup of tea and even eat out when the weather permitted.
But then keeping two homes clean became a problem and again, hiring cleaning help in Australia, is not cheap!
As we had opted for the countryside, even getting a loaf of bread or a bottle of milk became a massive operation involving dressing up and driving to the local shops, the nearest of which were a few kilometres away!
Leaving the premises or leaving them untended became next to impossible due to the pets we had. And watering the plants and huge garden especially in dry spells meant at least two hours of hand watering. We had not yet put in place a sprinkler system. So, someone had to be home all the time and the place needed constant attention!
Over the years the downside started outweighing the ‘dream’ factor. In previous abodes I could walk up to the shops for a cup of coffee or the odd meal or daily groceries. Here I was a prisoner to daily chores, and even filling up the holes in our very long gravel driveway became rather tedious. We also realised that the overhead costs did not justify the number of residents in the property.
Finally, came the ‘clincher thought’, to move. Was this the end for me? I had my dream come true and was I going to live out my life here? I did not like that thought especially for one who has lived in three different countries and never in one house for more than about 10 years. I realised that I was doomed to be a wanderer. I could not be tied down to one place. I was one of those who needed to know what was over the next horizon, physically, mentally and spiritually.
Home was not only where the heart was, but also where the family was. Home was not in a specific house or a special location. It was not in bricks and mortar. It was not a wooden house. It was not even green pastures with plants, trees and pets. It was where the family was and where I could have my Baba Ji.
‘Jithay jaye behay mera Satguru, so thaan suhava’.
‘Qar bahar tera bhervasa. Tu jan kay hain sang.’
A few years ago, while visiting my good friend S. Ranjit Singh Sidhu in my childhood town of Taiping (Perak, Malaysia), I met a childhood friend from my kampung Pokok Assam. We met after sixty years! His parents lived across the lane from us and we spent a few idyllic childhood years together in the 1950’s. He was my first friend when I gained my consciousness as a human.
Lawrence David stayed in Pokok Assam all his life. A staunch Christian, he married his childhood sweetheart Susan. He did well in his schooling and works in human resource management – now as a consultant after retirement. His children now living in Kuala Lumpur have tried very hard to get him and their mum to relocate to Kuala Lumpur but Lawrence says that a couple of days in KL are enough to drive him out and back to Taiping!
I envy him.
Put me back in my childhood Malay kampung-style wooden house on stilts with a thatched roof, in Pokok Assam, Taiping, Malaysia and as long as family is with me, and a small room for Baba Ji, I will say that, that is my ‘dream home’.
Malaysian-born Dya Singh, who now resides in Australia, is an accomplished musician and a roving Sikh preacher. The Dya Singh World Music Group performs full scale concerts on ‘music for the soul’ based on North Indian classical and semi-classical styles of music with hymns from mainly the Sikh, Hindu and Sufi ‘faiths’. He is also the author of SIKH-ING: Success and Happiness. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
* This is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily represent the views of Asia Samachar.
Does being ‘religious’ mean being ‘ritualistic’? (Asia Samachar, 15 July 2019)
Malaysia: My pilgrimage to Khalsa Land & Gurpuri Land (Asia Samachar, 5 June 2019)
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