My late mother used to often say that a house is not always a home, but must become one. The true wisdom in this phrase dawned upon me when I attained adulthood, married and had children and grandchildren of my own.

A house is a lifeless thing made of brick and mortar, which can only be called a home, when it is full of living beings and contentment. Experience has taught me that contentment is a state of mind, free of prosperity or social status. I happen to know hundreds of families with meagre means, who live in humble abodes. I have never heard then whining about lack of this or that. They eat simple food consisting of a single meat or vegetable dish, take meals as a family, wear old clothes that are clean and neat and exude an air of contentment that is palpably reflected from their walls and ceilings. On the flip side, I know of wealthy families, who are never together at the table and are at each other’s throats because of family assets. The atmosphere inside their ‘houses’ for such places are definitely not ‘homes’ is tense and ‘unhappy’.

A close friend of mine is gifted with the extra sensory ability to detect phenomena termed as ‘auras’. He claims that he can feel if a house is happy or in other words, if the place is a home. My initial skepticism with regards to this claim has of late, turned into unsettling acknowledgment as he ‘hits the bull’ every time he visits a place. This individual believes that all houses and the people, who live in them combine to generate an aura, which in some cases is chillingly forbidding, while in others it is warm and comfortable. This (according to him) happens because of the nature of people that live within those walls.

The result of my experiences with him has been that I now look at every house during my daily travels with something more than mere interest. For example I have seen structures topped by something that looks like an eagle, a huge football and a crude representation of an airplane. These concrete figures are perhaps manifestations of the owners’ personality and passion.

During a trip on the (then) under construction Murree Expressway I spotted what appeared to be a two roomed stone hut fronted by a verandah standing amidst a dense stand of pines, some distance up the slope. Some unknown instinct made me stop and climb up to the structure. What I now discovered was a simple home amidst an idyllic mountain setting, complete with flourishing vegetable garden and fruit trees laden with apples and apricots. As I stood savoring the beauty of the place, an old man emerged from one of the doors and walked up to me. In the next five minutes, I was surrounded by half a dozen children and the man’s son and daughter-in-law. I was overwhelmed by the gesture as this was a singular honor being bestowed upon me in spite of the fact that I was a total stranger.

It turned out that the old man was a retired army havildar and this piece of paradise was his only asset. His son worked as a daily wage laborer with the company constructing the Expressway. In spite of my polite refusal I was forced to join the family for the evening meal. This was taken in the verandah sitting on a charpoy and consisted of spicy cooked potatoes and large sized chapattis washed down with piping hot sugary tea – one of the most satisfying meals that I have had in my entire life. The aura surrounding the house and its occupants was so ‘positive’ that I was reluctant to leave, but did so with a promise to return at another time.

It is not only human homes that have character and auras. I recently discovered a bird nest in one of the broad leaved climbers that adorn my verandah. The nest itself was ball shaped made from thin twigs glued together by what appeared to be mud or perhaps a regurgitated glue-like stuff. The amazing thing about it was that one of the leaves had been arched across and secured across the top to form an arched roof or canopy. I have waited many hours to spot the architect that made this wonderful home, but have not yet met with success. When I do, it may perhaps inspire me to write something more about nests.