Passing bite | Columns

Dwelling dreams

More and more I catch myself trying to recreate the feeling or mood of some home that I’ve experienced

People have all kinds of fantasy homes. While some people are lucky enough to be able to realise their dreams, many of us can, at best, only partly realise our wishes. Depending on my optimism levels, my ideal shifts from the grandiosity of ‘one house in the city and one near a beach’ to how I would do up a small flat in some city in which I want to live — small but hopefully one with a view of some greenery.

Sense of the seventies

I grew up culturally lucky but monetarily strictly in the middle of the ‘middle-class’ of ’60s and ’70s Calcutta. My parents were people with reasonably modern tastes and, within their means, they managed to get replicated from magazines furniture that did away with the carpentry curlicues so favoured by older generations of westernised elites and with the kitsch so loved by the Western Indian business communities. Part of my sanskar, if you like, was the appreciation of straight lines, of understated curves, of bright colours (but not ‘gaudy’ ones) and streamlined light fittings. While my parents went abroad only a couple of times, they had friends who would travel to phoren regularly, bringing back gifts or requested items. This meant that among the brass, steel and glass in the kitchen and dining table would be the odd bit of American pyrex, German plastic or Scandinavian ceramic. On the walls of our two bedroom flat were some original paintings by artist friends mingling with prints of Rembrandt and Van Gogh, with one wall assigned for the Krishna image, a watercolour painted by my father to which my mother prayed.

Calcutta itself was probably the most ‘tasteful’ Indian city in terms of a certain modernism (though across my growing up, Bombay caught up and surpassed it in this area) and we had local pottery from Janah and Rajaniklal, and a fair sprinkling of handicraft objects and textiles. As a kid I noted that my parents’ friends had décor that could be divided into roughly four categories: there were people more or less like us, their typical Calcutta middle-class houses containing a mixture of contemporary and inherited furniture; there were the Bengali bohemians and artists who seemed to live in a deliciously free chaos of books, paintings and ashtrays in their non-veg smelling flats; there were the showy rich who had, to repeat my mother’s favourite pejorative, gaudy tastes, all extra gold, silver, silk and too many god-pictures; and then there were the tasteful rich, (also to be found in Bombay and Ahmedabad) with the Husains and Ram Kumars on the wall, the really long, straight sofas and huge coffee tables (complete with fat coffee table books) and the Eames armchair in their air-conditioned bedrooms.

As everybody grew old, the uncle-aunties who had espoused Scandinavian taste in the ’60s gave in to the stodgy heavier furniture that the ’80s demanded of those who had money. The Bong bohemians stayed the same, except some of them moved to larger apartments and acquired a few gadgets. The rich Gaudies also didn’t change much, except they now had large TV sets in each room of the mansion. The tasteful rich shifted more subtly, their living spaces now displaying more temple antiques, pichhwai hangings and tribal sculptures.

Now, on the scale-shifting canvas of my fantasy pad, I project varying things, but more and more I catch myself trying to recreate the feeling or mood of some home that I’ve experienced rather than too many specific objects or styles. It’s not that I don’t crave chairs, a Barcelona chair and a Breuer Wassily plus that Eames lounger — why not? — or a decent kitchen with an oven next to a big dining table; a small Nilima Sheikh painting or a sketch of a Durga by some mid-20th century Bengali master; it’s not that my dreams can do without spaciousness or natural light; it’s not that I can completely forget about a garden, whether on a small balcony or a proper one.

But what I find myself really wanting is the laughter around a long lunch in place X in year Y; the feeling of discovery and excitement from a house next to the sea, somewhere else; the winter light from a messy ground floor studio in Jodhpur Park in 1968; the smell of fresh Gujarati food cooking from a flat in Sion or Altamont Road in ’70s Bombay; the great dance party from a terrace in Puerto Rico; the deep sleep from a particular hotel in Tokyo.

On a longer arc

Mind you, its not at all that I want to live hemmed in or bubble-wrapped in the past. Any new house you set up alludes to the future, the kitchen shelf you populate with spices, the medicine cabinet you stack, the throw pillow you chuck on the sofa, the angle of the TV set you adjust — all of these are a pranam to the life you intend to inhabit. But, just as you imagine spending your coming years in the company of your close friends while being open to meeting new people, perhaps you also want your house, the machine you use for living in, to provide you with the platform of memories upon which new ones can form. Therefore the dwelling I dream of setting up wouldn’t necessarily have to be big, or have too many rooms even, but it would have to be approximately sixty years long.

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Printable version | May 31, 2020 4:29:28 AM |

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