The House of a Snail

snail-house-img2So I got my relocation orders again. As with me, if you are a minion of a financial behemoth, all relocation orders are the same. But then, as they say, some relocation orders are more same than the others.

As usual, my first line of defence is denial —a weapon bequeathed to me by my long-forgotten ancestor who was one of the first to have gone biped. Truth be told, in his protracted supine state, he refused to acknowledge all kinds of approaching dangers, clear and present, till he was at an eyeball-to-eyeball distance of a flash flood or a ferocious predator. It led to a condition where his spine locked into a permanent erection and he could no longer scamper on all fours like his Old World cousins. As a consequence, he was constrained to thrust his legs one after the other harder and harder, but all it could afford him was a measly linear traction compared to the invaders. He was forced to improvise and discover many acts thus, referred to as long jump, steeplechase, marathon, skiing and pole vaulting in later years.

You would agree how modest yet potent this course of action is, at times referred to as the Ostrich Syndrome. It spares me the panic and the unnecessary trauma of the sight of an approaching blight. The trick, of course, lies in awakening just short of the event horizon, when one must react with a fight-or-fright, which again is a stratagem I owe to the same genealogy. And like a faithful grandson, I have invariably chosen ‘fright’. If it sounds grossly dysfunctional, please remember it helps me retain my sanity in the face of impending snafu, allowing me to retain the hard-won biped stature.

These are the times when the Venusian in our home becomes restive. All along the day, and even at the nights as we get older together, I am enjoined to get into touch with the vultures who feast on banquets such as these, and usually go under the moniker of ‘movers and packers’. The porcelain army she has commissioned must be attended to, as should be the crystal-ware of the household, much before the eventual deportation. Cellophane bags and pouches of desiccant must be pressed into service of the delicate wardrobe. Telephone, Internet and cooking gas connections must be surrendered and requisite certificates and caution moneys extracted from institutions our wards are enrolled with. I am not without my share of furrows on the forehead either. The exploding community of books must be harnessed to a predefined order before they could be boxed. The comatose appendages of photography must be consigned to designated shells. Moreover, there are searches to be undertaken for a prospective habitat in the future city. An exploration of colleges that would eventually mould the destiny of my wards is also in eminent order.

Days slither past faster than a serpent in grass and before long I am at the eve of departure without having accomplished any of the rituals. Darkness falls like a drizzle upon the city that was briefly a home and I am ushered to the last supper which is a contentious affair. I must leave by the daybreak for the bus service that will deposit me in the next city two hundred kilometres east by north, if I have to keep working for the same employer but the ostrich in me could well have been a wax figure at Madam Tussauds. A grey trolley bag is scrambled amidst much grumbling by the ace pilot of the household. An assortment of electronic gadgetry is lodged in alongside carefully counted sets of apparels the civilisation expects me to be dressed in.  It is akin to an impromptu drill and the resounding moto is not to skip anything vital, which I fail in honour of the Murphy’s Law —I forget the pouch containing my ID, driving license and ATM cards. Even if it has remained the same over a pair of decades, the fright has sunken to my bones this time, but more upon that later.

One week into the new place which was once known as the City of Lakes and I am deflated and bemused. I have registered my request for a company-owned accommodation and I happen to be the number one in the queue, but it is going to take about a month for my predecessor to clear out. I have the option to rent a house elsewhere however, so I engage a broker to zero-in on a respectable abode. In between the slivers of morning and evening and a brief lunchtime, I check out apartments, duplex and row houses on offer. I am frustrated repeatedly by a galaxy of niggardly, avaricious, and sloth-like landlords who own either overly abused or half-constructed units. Each night I return to the tiny cell of a guest house atop a flattened hillock. Just beyond the wall and dense trees of unknown variety, there is a beehive of shanties. I slide the glass of the tiny window and try to peer across. I can make out the hushed noise of life escaping those cardboard roofs under the dim light of a sodium vapour lamp. The family of crow pheasants dwelling in the trees is less discreet in their calls though. Like Du Fu, the impoverished poet, I think of my wife watching out of the moonlit window far from where I am stationed, waiting for me to return with joyous tidings.

I get disconsolate and visit the official in charge of the real estate owned by the company. Since moving the family into the guest house is not an option, I am offered a temporary shelter in an ‘unrenovated flat’. A visit to the derelict house is enough to rattle even a saint. Spiders, cockroaches and a myriad mosquito welcome me with a Zulu dance. The doors are festering with pathogenic colonies of fungi. The walls are algid with seepage and accumulated debris. Flakes of paint are falling off the ledges and ceiling in tandem with the rising stink from the soot-coated floor. Sinks and commodes seem to have become one with the gutters below. Some of this can be addressed, my purported benefactor informs me with a smirk. I expect him to turn into a bat and fly past my ears.

Meanwhile, the ‘highly rated’ college that had agreed to enlist my daughters, expresses its displeasure at their continued absence. In a fit of palsy, I agree to move into the dump, provided I am allotted a ‘proper flat’ within a week or so. Little did my family know what lay in store for them when they set foot upon this picturesque patch.  To cut a long story short, they were in and out of the dump in its slightly cleansed state within a space of ten seconds and refused to return till a battalion of janitors scrubbed, scrapped and fumigated its bemired confines to the best of their abilities. Whitewashing was out of the question, however, for reasons more than one. It was clear though I would never be forgiven for the felony.

The truck carrying our belongings arrived not long after that and we got the entire cargo dumped in the rooms where they stand mummified till date, except the set of cane chairs, deewans and the mandatory mattresses we had to unpack to continue living. The initial nights did resemble a nuclearised war zone where we battled for a toehold  against lizards, rodents and centipedes.  Many glue pads, insecticides and pressure cans later, we have seized a respectable floorspace from the enemy. Days have since stretched into weeks and weeks into fortnights but we have remained focussed at the spark at the end of the tunnel. But in a massive setback to our morale, the lords and the masters of the company-owned properties have allotted the ‘proper flat’ to someone else the moment it was vacated, overruling my right in the queue. I am sure it is a brazen disregard of rules, and it has had a multiplier effect on our suffering. Perhaps, God’s not in His heaven. All’s not right with the world.

The best we could do next morning was to take out the cane chairs on the crumbling patio and stare blankly at the surrounding shrubbery, where suddenly, my daughters squealed when they saw a snail creeping high up the wall. How lucky he is, they agreed, to be carrying his house on his back wherever he goes!


  1. transferred again? Rajasthan?well, we cant be as lucky as snail but then we devised that saying….a home is where the hearth is…..perhaps this came into being under such circumstances only ,in an effort to console ourselves.Relocating is exhausting on more than one level. liked that ….’some relocation orders are more same than others.’…..more same …that phase has a nice tinge to it.

    1. Actually, I have landed at Bhopal. But I did have a stint in Rajasthan —Jaipur, to be precise. Bankers are still the nomads in the good old sense of the word.

  2. So there are moments when being human is reduced to being jealous of a humble snail.
    By the way while going through your travails I was reminded of my transfer times in IAF.
    Once it so happened that I got temporary accommodation on my arrival at my new place of posting. After six months I became the occupant of the next level of accommodation that was called non status accommodation. After about a year, I was half way through the process of shifting to the next level, (status accommodation) when an insensitve colleague informed me of my transfer order.

  3. You’ve summed up to a tee my 13 moves of house in the last 17 years, with the 14th pending in October. I am frustrated repeatedly by a galaxy of niggardly, avaricious, and sloth-like landlords who own either overly abused or half-constructed units. Two examples will suffice – I mention them simply to jolly you along – 1. We didn’t get our bond back because one of the seven broken windows was “more broken”. 2. The landlord took us to court and tried to sue us for 5 and a half thousand because there was moss growing on the gate posts.

    1. It seems Homo Landlordians are the same everywhere on the planet (and I fancy, even the aliens are inclined that way in galaxies far far away), even if they are holding the properties in trust or are merely petty managers. My heart goes out to you!

  4. Moving sucks! At least this last one did for us. You have the same creatures there that we have here…make friends with the lizards, they will keep the yucky bugs away. Nothing keeps the mosquitoes at bay, I’m afraid.

    I feel your pain and your families as well…the only ones who like where we have moved now are the cats! They have lots of new things to catch and kill. Oh, btw, my husband had to find our house without me. I saw it for the first time after the closing of the sale and the night we moved in. That was an interesting first!

    My sympathies are with you all.

    Have you thought of teaching creative writing, Uma? You would be good at it and I imagine you would love it…especially the upper level classes where the students enjoy writing.

    1. Lizards are good as long as they don’t topple on the bed in the middle of the night! Hats off to your husband for finding that house alone. I am not sure about creative writing, Vicki. But I would love to give a shot to PhD. I had to abandon my earlier doctoral thesis on ‘Comic-Apocalyptic Fiction’ for matters more urgent, such as the daily bread and butter. Thanks a ton.

      1. lizards in your bed in the middle of the night sounds pretty apocalyptic! yikes! I’d be outta there fast and not look back. You all are brave souls for sure…true endurance and loyal to the bank.

        bread and butter is pretty important stuff.
        Hopefully you can get back to it down the road.

    1. That’s right, Purba. I did seed the grapevine with the idea of throwing a ‘hissy fit’ through an RTI query, and pat came the confirmation call.

  5. What an account of one’s transfer….satire I was about to write but then was in two minds! There are very few class bloggers and I am lucky to follow you 🙂 loved the post and the ostrich syndrome!!

  6. What an absolute nightmare, Uma. It seems only last week that you suffered you last transfer. Of the many excellent phrases yo have used, ‘days slither past faster than a serpent in grass’ is perhaps my favourite. I can only hope the writing gave you pleasure.

    1. I have been undergoing this since the first week of July —the days have truly slithered away in a flash. I am glad I could offer something to you across all that cribbing. Many thanks, Derrick.

  7. Given that dad was a doctor with the Railways, I know the pain of relocation and not being allotted the right house. Management can be insensitive at times. This too shall pass. Let the porcelain army rest for the time being.

    1. That’s true, Alka. And that is where my father worked too! As long as my family doesn’t get reduced to a terracotta army, I will let it pass.

  8. A great description of the moving process…I’ve moved more than 50 times for various reasons (no, not witness relocation)…my dad was transferred often like you and then it was one thing or another. The last time, two years ago, I shed everything and arrived at the new place with what I could get in my car and 25 small boxes I shipped with what mattered most to me. I’m now a snail!


    1. Your travails remind me of a quote by Demi Lovato: ‘Nothing is more beautiful than the smile that has struggled through the tears.’ I am glad you are the proverbial snail now, Molly!

  9. Oh Dear! So we’re not the only ones who moved a lot! And our next move is taking place on 2nd September!! Out of choice, which is a blessing. Wish you the best to settle in, from experience I can tell you that it takes time but it does happen. You’re daughters will make new friends at school, your wife will start enjoying the view from the kitchen when she’s cooking, women have this tremendous ability to make a house into a home and you’ll love coming home every evening……

    1. It is apparently a global pandemic. I am happy it is a blessing for you. I was fond of quoting Nietzsche in my younger days (maybe I still am) who says that which does not kill us makes us stronger. Many thanks for extending your blessings to my family.

  10. Uh-oh! Another move? But didn’t you get a transfer not so long ago? Or were there two transfers in the recent past?

    Oh gosh! What a sorry state. I hope you got to that light at the end of the tunnel. Here’s wishing you all better days ahead. Happy settling in. 🙂

    Btw, how can I leave here without telling you that that was another great piece! It really was. 🙂

    Best wishes, USP. 🙂

    1. Relocations and ‘rotations’ have been institutionalised in certain services and are apparently beyond questioning. Having said that, it is a malleable regulation whose abuse is not uncommon. Thanks for your good wishes, Divya!

  11. Moving is a pain, but moving with a family… You have to make a huge effort to stay positive and happy. As moving around seems to become your routine, make the best of it. A professional traveler talking to you here 🙂 Don’t let life get to you.

    1. Sometimes, it seems to transform you into a magnet for troubles! But I promise I’ll remember that, Inese. Many thanks for the encouragements.

  12. I could not sleep and chose one of your posts I had not read yet. A great narrative. You make a simple move sound almost epic–it could be a film, picturing surreal dreams as the days approach with you all trudging forward with huge snail shells on your backs.
    You see the places my mind goes when I have not slept 🙂
    Very clever, especially ‘The porcelain army she has commissioned must be attended to–‘ made me smile

  13. I know what you are talking about being the son of a banker having to bid tearful farewell to friends and being shunted from place to place every 3 years. Having done this from childhood I began to feel like snail. Home is where our things are for me , not someone’s house where we dump our things for 3 years having never lived in one place for more than 3 years ever in my life.

    1. There, there! Apart from the writing bug, there is something else that links us deeply. Perhaps, as Hemingway has said, it has made us stronger in places…. Thanks, yet again!

  14. A wonderful read! What an adventure! It reminds me of a few of my own where all I could do was surrender to the moment, eyes fixed on the ultimate objective. I just discovered your blog! I look forward to reading more.

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