Saturday, September 27, 2008

show and tell

I believe a home is one of our few chances to break away from the spirals of genes that tie us firmly to our love handles, clumsiness, baldness, twitches or whatever else we may have inherited when we were too young to put our foot down. It's also our chance to liberate ourselves from the conventions of the past and a society we spent our teenage years pitying.

So. Call it ego, or compensation for not being a rebel when I legitimately could have carried it off, but I don’t want anything in my apartment to be conventional and off the shelf. As a result, most of the furniture in my apartment is in my head.

Last week, I decided to change status quo. I met a highly recommended carpenter and sketched him a cubist conch shell that was to be my music rack. He looked at my drawing with pity in his eyes and helpfully offered me his fevicol catalogue.

Rather than explaining the thing about mass market personalities, I suggested we start with a bookcase instead. Easy enough. Take out a window that gives me an uninterrupted view of the neighbour’s underwired collection, and put in glass shelves. I described the effect – it should look as though a square in the wall has been built with books instead of bricks.

He took measurements, offered to put in sliding doors for a nominal extra charge and promised to return in three days with the showcase.

Not showcase, bookcase, I laughed nervously, gulping to push back images of crystal curiosities and fabric flowers that rose up instantly. The carpenter didn’t notice, he was busy tucking my advance into a fevicol catalogue.

Three days later, I became the proud owner of what can only be described as the S word. The sliding doors I had eagerly agreed to complete the effect. Even with books in it, but it’s still a… I’m not strong enough to say the word yet.

When a friend suggested that I should just cover the borders to make it look less showcasish (she smirked as she pronounced the word), my mind raced to beaded macramé and DIY stencils.

And I knew I’d lost the battle.

Never again will I tell funny stories about a generation that spent most of their time abroad in bargain basements, to feed the big S at home. Or about dolls that spent their lives behind sliding doors, safely out of the reach of children they belonged to.

Never again will I look superior when people ask me if I have a ration card. Or turn the other way when I pass a Swarovski store or a velvet wall hanging featuring a pride of lions.

How can I? I’m one of THEM now.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

lost and found

Spring cleaning day today. I start the operation by plunging into a dusty tangle of junk jewellery that had moved cities and apartments without once being taken out of a giant wooden chest. The plan is to give away at least half of it, to make space for more important things.

The first to come out of the tangle is not junk jewellery. It’s a pair of gold hoops my mother believes she has lost. I think of old photographs of my mum, wrapped in silk saris that her parents had bought for her as appropriate post-marriage wear. She smiles into camera, presumably at my father, who she had met thrice before her wedding. She fits her form demurely against backgrounds she had only seen previously in Hindi films and on wallpapers in photo studios. She could have been a stereotype of an Indian wife or mother of the 60s, if it hadn’t been for the rings. They wink in spite of the British gloom around her, wild, gypsy-like, a tiny spark of individuality rebelling against a life vowed to conformity.

I rediscover a silver pair my friends had given me as a farewell gift when I had left Mumbai. They were loopy, large and flamboyant and l had loved them instantly in the poor light of the restaurant. I remember wearing them for months afterwards, loving the way they swung against my neck when I shook my head. Come to think of it, I shook my head a lot those days. I hold them now against my ears and feel overpowered. When did my clothes fade so much I wonder. And when did I fade?

Buried under the tangle is a pair that I’ve always disliked. My sister had given it to me when she had started working, and they’re well… hideous. Of course I hadn’t told her so, or anyone else. On the contrary, when a friend had remarked tactfully that the earrings weren’t my type, I had lied shamelessly about how beautiful they were, and defended my sister’s gawky demonstration of affection.

I find a pair I had once hurriedly bought to wear at a traditional wedding. I hadn’t had the time to get the 22 carat stuff out of the locker, so I had paraded all evening in a pair of burnished brass imposters. I had beamed all evening at compliments without a twinge of conscience.

There’s a set of earrings given to me by someone who I had loved once. And another given by someone who had loved me. The earrings are the only symbols left of both relationships. For the first time since I got them, I look at both pairs objectively, unclouded by feelings of hope, mush or guilt.

The tangle reveals dozens more and before I know it the morning is gone. So is the afternoon.
I put aside the gold hoops to return to my mother. They are hers, even if she doesn’t need them anymore to express her individuality.

The rest are mine, even though they may stand for things and values I've lost. I want to believe they're still there, hidden deep in me, waiting to be untangled and dusted. I make a start by putting all the earrings back into the box, promising them and myself, that one day I will be worthy again of each pair.