The much awaited house tour

I’ve been promising you this since I moved here a year and a half ago. Apologies for delivering so late, but I guess I was just never happy with the way the place turned out. The house was too big with empty corners, a too small living room, large rooms with awkward walls and too many windows. The paintings were never up where I wanted them, the balconies were nothing on my Delhi terrace garden and the stairs were killing my knees.

So we’re moving house. Yet again. Apparently we’re just nomadic by kismat.  The furniture has been turned round and around and shifted and given away and borrowed and lent and we’ve not had a moment of peace. When we moved out of our last house the old landlord left us with, “Sometimes houses don’t suit people – if that happens, I’d love to have you back here.” Err… thanks old man for blighting the place before we even set foot in it. The last year has been miserable for us in more ways than one. No decent househelp, crazy distances that forced me to quit my job, loneliness everytime I looked out of the high rise even though we were surrounded by friends, and a general sense of not being home yet.

Inspite of that we soldiered on and then one day I snapped and told the OA we had to move out of here. This was still not feeling like home. And I am a huge believer in places feeling like home. In creating a home. So we’re moving. I figured if I don’t give you the royal tour now, I’d never get around to it. So here goes. Enjoy.

There is a strong cross breeze at the front door and I've lost a lot of my decorative stuff. So I decided to use unbreakable things such as books. This is a pile of only red covered books set on a green runner with accents of yellow and green. Take that, strong wind.

The first living room arrangement a la Indian railways. I changed it pretty soon.

This was the second option. Lovely for lounging on the couch in the winter afternoon sun. But it blocked the window AC.

Christmas brought inspiration and we finally found the best arrangement while making space for the tree.

And with the arrangement came new cream sofa covers. Clearly people with two kids never learn.

So whaddya think? I also added a new rug that according to the OA only looks older than everything else. The man has no taste. No, I'm the one exception in his life, thank you very much!

Dining room in summer. The chik is made of pretty white chikan counterpanes that I gave up all hope of using after two kids. Sadly you can't tell in this picture.

The staircase leading up to the bedrooms and away from the public areas. The spot you're looking down at is the reading nook.

Corridor between dining and drawing. We were lucky to find a little daru nook again! I don't know why builders keep putting these in.

In the winter this corner of the dining room gets the most delicious sun and I drag the rocking chair here to work while I oversee the kids' homework/craft or meals.

The reading and music nook. This is before we put up the pictures so it looks half-dressed.

Better and aerial view of the nook. Taken while hanging off the stairs and risking my neck for you.

The colour coordinated book shelf that you may also smirk at :). Can't help being anal!

One of the table settings during Christmas season. The Bean laid this.

Just for kicks, sharing the Diwali table setting. The tablemats have a fine gold design that you can't see in this light. I laid the table and did the rangolis etc. The OA cooked dinner. I think this is the beginning of a beautiful family tradition :p

A little row of lamps and cacti on the way up the stairs. They got the most sun and they loved it.

Some showed their appreciation by flowering promptly.

An old masala jar stuffed with greens and guarded by an old warrior on an elephant.

This is the same bookshelf as above, and holds some of the most precious books I own.

Guest room. The collage of pictures includes sketches by my cousin and some ancient postcards that my grandaunt used to send my grandmother from around the world, including my favourites - embroidered flamenco dancers.

The only untouched book shelf in this house - this one carries my cook books :p

A corner of the bathroom. I love the white pot.

And since we're talking bathrooms, I give you the frog guarding the powder room.

The balcony on the lower floor - the guest room looks out on to it.

And this is what it looks like if you're lying in bed and looking out of the guestroom windows.

This room went from being the kids' play room to the OA's temporary office for the six months he worked from home. It is now our laundry room cum second guest room so will not be shared in its present avatar!

Another view of the lower balcony, leading out of the dining room.

Because an AC backside always looks ugly!

After I got the lovely escritoire from the parents I gave the kids my plain old table. Yes, I'm mean that way.

But I was kind enough to set it up for them, right down to lining it with pretty paper. The OA spent half the night pointing and laughing at me. Feel free to do the same.

Because nothing fills up the senses more than a fragrant night and a cool night breeze wafting into your bedroom as you sleep with the doors left wide open. I guess there are some things I'll miss about living high up among the clouds.

The Brat reading on the bed, a box of dinosaurs kept for comfort at his legs. The Bean is as always busy with art and craft at her desk. They wanted these posters and I couldn't think of a way to do it without ruining the walls. So ribbons and clothespins it was.

A corner of our bedroom. Again, I've never really been happy with the way it turned out.

And I'm sure you remember this nook under the stairs for the kids. It's now their cycle stand!

In the worst of summer I removed the rug, left the floor cool, put up an inexpensive bit of chik and hung a couple of toys from the staircase to entertain them. Oh, and added some dancing bamboos.

The other end of their room. This was the day we spent making pirate masks and putting up a show for erm.. no one.

This is part of the balcony leading out of my bedroom.

This is the balcony leading out of my bedroom. Perfect for a morning cup of tea on a still day. On a breezy day its deadly.

Oh! And this was my last bit of genius ;) Black and whites taken ONLY by friends. This way I have a wall full of art that has great value for me even if it's not a Hussain.

And this is my favourite - a Mughal miniature by none other than the talented Lavanya Karthik (http://lavanyakarthik.wordpress.com/), featuring the OA and I in a romantic setting, with the Gurgaon skyline behind us. And oh, the two babies hanging like monkeys from a tree. Now this one I'd not exchange for a Hussain.

Because nothing fills up the senses more than a fragrant night and a cool night breeze wafting into your bedroom. I guess there are some things I'll miss about living high up among the clouds.

I believe you met Ms Escritoire in an old post. She belonged to my grandmother who was a writer, poet and artist. Each time I sit down to write I worry that I'm not living up to her expectations, even as I appreciate the privilege of owning her desk now.

Because I owe you a Diwali post. This year we lit up that window and kept fire crackers etc to a minimum.

A kitchen shelf. I love the old hen and the fat ladybird with some green on her back.

And the birdbath in my living room balcony for those who missed it when I last posted about it.

For anything I might have left out, go to the decor tag. 

Around the world in 100 bookshelves

So have you all heard of the Around the World in 100 Bookshelves project? No? Go over to papertigers.org and read about it there. It’s been on for a while and as usual I promised myself I’d do it someday but procrastinated. I finally pulled up my socks and hesitantly mailed the pictures in a couple of days ago wondering if it was over, but I was in luck. They are still running the project. So here you go. The Brat and Bean’s bookshelf makes it to the papertiger bookshelf project!

And since we’re on the topic of bookshelves I thought I’d share some of mine too. We should have a bookshelf project for adults too!

 

This one is in my bedroom, under the TV with the DVD player etc on top of it.

 

The old CD rack comes back in a new avatar. Anyone remember that I used it in the bathroom in the old house?

This is the lounging corner in the living room. Music and books -what more could one want?

 

From left to right, Tambi and the OA as babies.

Just a close up so that you can see the books are all mixed up and not arranged by author, genre or alphabet. A fact I intend to remedy really soon.

The bedside table that doubles up as a bookshelf all the time.

The bookshelf that holds my *choke* cooking books. It is rarely touched but much loved.

With love, from home

Last night a truck arrived from my home (Should I call it my parents’ home?), carrying a couple of bits of furniture I’d asked my mother for, the last time I visited her home. They have an old house full to the seams with old furniture, some are antiques (they have FOUR dining tables – can you believe that?!) and they have more than they know what to do with.

Anyhow, this time I was home Ma asked me if I wanted anything. I love the way my parents think. “This is your time to set up home and there’s no point my leaving you cupboards and teak consoles when I die, because by then you’d have set up home and will have no need for it. I would rather you take anything you want, right now while you are still young and have room for it” says Ma.

Now if I had my way I’d bring away the old four poster bed (it’s the kind you see in old Bengali films, with a little set of steps leading up to it) or my grandmother’s old carved cupboard with the Belgian mirror that reflects perfectly. But I don’t think they’d even come up the damn 14 floors and fit through the doorway into my apartment. So I picked wisely. Now that I am back to working almost full time from home, along with the OA, I picked the old escritoire and a simple book rack for the children’s room. And a painting by this gentleman, who stayed with a family friend in Allahabad and painted the ghat (riverside). At least I hope I found the right link.

A few nights ago Ma called and said they were loading up the truck and did I want anything else? I picked a simple triangular rack that goes perfectly in my dining room. I don’t know why I picked it, but that it is a piece of furniture that belongs not to my grandparents, but to my parents. They had it made 20 years ago in Munnar and everytime I look at it, it takes me back to the mist rolling into our home in the hills and Ma calling us for crepes at tea time. I know, I know I’m a whiny, soppy woman. Ignore me.

So anyway, the truck arrived last night and with it, came a little army. Men from my parents’ business, painter, polisher, helper. They were sent to buff up everything that might have got chipped on the way and anything else that I might want done. I’ve never had anything like this happen to me before and as I was soon to find out, there was a lot more than I had asked for.

The OA went down to collect the stuff and I generally hopped from foot to foot in excitement and finally unable to contain myself, woke the kids up to be part of the chaos (clearly I’m an idiot and a terrible mother!). The Bean slept on but the Brat who was dozing, jumped out of bed and joined in the fun gladly. I am so glad he got to be part of the general excitement of  -This way! you lift that corner! watch that wall! and so on. The furniture was unwrapped and I realised how much more they’d packed in. A day bed for the office that the OA and I will be sharing, the lovely old escritoire, the corner stand, the book rack… and paintings. And massive framed pieces of cross stitch, done by my mother’s hand. I cherish them so much more, now that she has a spondylitis problem and will probably never again undertake such massive pieces. She’s done a beautiful piece on The Last Supper and it graces their dining room at home.

Anyhow, what took my breath away, were the potted plants. She sent me at least 20 healthy well grown plants. They’d cost me a fortune if I attempted buying them in Delhi. And probably emptied a corner of her terrace. Isn’t that typical of a parent? To deny themselves, just to give you? As someone remarked when they walked out of the lift, straight into my plants – My God, it looks like a forest. One of my favourites is ten feet tall and I’ve got it at my door.  There’s a little story behind it.

I was home a couple of weeks ago (can I tell you a secret? I’ve been home thrice in one month!) and I was re-doing the house for them. I dragged this lovely plant down from their balcony and put it at their door like a sentinel. And as I was shifting things around I mentioned in an offhand remark that I wish I lived close enough to just carry it back home. And as the truck pulled away from the house, my father got them to stop and loaded up the plant. It’s heavy and it’s old and it might have got damaged but it’s reached me in perfect condition. Protected by their love, no doubt. I don’t believe my scatter brained father who doesn’t know how old I am, would remember an offhand remark of that sort.

Years ago, a friend in hostel would get parcels from home every couple of weeks. Those were early days when my very young parents were struggling to set up their business and they just about remembered to put my fees in the mail each month. I’d watch her parcel with a hint of envy – food, clothes, a little handbag, a box of bronzing pearls, nail polish remover, coffee… And I’d say – coffee? why would your mom send you a packet of coffee? And she’d smile and say, “Ma misses being a part of my life and it makes her happy to think that each morning when I sip my coffee, she’s had something to do with it. “

Well, over the last few years, that has been the deal with my parents. And so as the truck was unloaded I found myself in possession of three beautiful old hand embroidered sarees, a suit and a blazer for the OA, planters for my pots, a little leather three legged stool from Sri Lanka for the kids’ room and so much more. I sat there digging into the crates with all the joy of a five year old, my eyes filling up with tears as I thought of my parents painstakingly making up this goody bag for me. The OA abused and cursed as he and the men carried up the furniture and he begged the building to make an exception and let us get the truck in against the building rules. It was an open truck and it looked like rain. In the midst of this though, apparently, he sent my mother an SMS, telling her that he loves her and dad. I was shocked to hear of it today. It’s so un-OA-like.

Anyway, the mad sibling, aka Tambi, is sitting in the US and cursing and frothing at the mouth – “What? Now you send people to polish her house every time she has guests coming?”  Who asked him to go live at the world’s end, I ask him rudely. If he lived closer, he’d have all of us to help with home and baby (ah ha, see, this is psychological warfare so that he moves back home). My dad, always happy to cause trouble, added – “You better come home if you want anything. She’s already walking off with the family silver.” Gah. I haven’t touched a piece of the old crockery and I can tell you they have some lovely stuff. It’s just pointless with the kids and the fact that the maids washing it are sure to smash something.

So the house is a mess today. But my plants are up, the memory-making-dining table is being stripped and re-polished and I’m running around like a headless chicken. My arms are scraped and bleeding from all the bougainvillea I shifted around. The maid who cooked and cleaned left because she said she had TB so I’ve got a house full of people to feed, paint and chemicals all over, two children running wild and stories to hand in (and oh, the water purifier has packed up so we have no water!). Thankfully it was the weekend and Cousin J was with me, helping with the babies and dragging them out from under chairs and tables and feeding them. The OA looked around in disbelief at how comfortable we both were with sitting in the mess, feeling very at home with the hammering and yammering. I grin and tell her – “A woman makes a home darling, and she is one who carries on tradition. It’s not the man’s family’s traditions that get carried on. So remember – wherever you go, may the chaos go with you.” We giggle and she solemnly answers – “I will, Tita. I do try to cause as much confusion as I can, wherever I go.” The OA rolls his eyes in disgust and gets back to lifting something heavy.

But this is what I remember of my home. Through my growing years my parents slogged to do up the house and give us a home and never stopped trying to make it better. Furniture shone, the floor was waxed, curtains were fresh, plants were tended to, and the sibling and I were given little pieces of sandpaper and told to sit down quietly next to the carpenter and not trouble. It was during those days that Tambi made me a set of furniture for my dolls. Real little wooden chairs and tables. Today as parents the OA and I spend time and energy reading to the kids, taking them to cultural events and doing all sorts – at times falling prey to that new age notion of ‘quality time’. And yet, some of my best memories come from just being present while my parents lived life. Being a part of their struggle, having no routine or schedule and learning to wing it. Some of my favourite life lessons were just from being a part of their life and not getting in the way and forcing them to stop and do something merely age appropriate. On the other hand, those were different days and times and they didn’t have the luxury of doing that.  Thankfully, today as the house was shined up, the children too, behaved brilliantly. They didn’t touch the chemicals, no little paws on the newly varnished furniture, they patiently waited until I gave them their very delayed lunch, lay down quietly and napped through the noise and didn’t complain when we were unable to take them down to play on the swings. I am sorry I ever doubted them.

Tucked into a corner of the bag I am digging around in, are the keys to the escritoire and as I hand them to the OA and say – ‘Happy new desk, baby,’ I’m full of a sense of contentment. This desk has been with our family for years and now the OA’s shiny little laptop sits atop it. The new and the old bound together. From an old family to a new one setting up home. Some bits new and earned through our hard work. Others, handed down as heirlooms, with love. I felt strangely grown up.

For no reason, the Brat wandered up to me just then and said – “Ma, there is magic in our house.”

I don’t know why he said it, but the OA looked at him and then at me, and we both grinned. Yes, there is.

PS: Don’t you guys get started on pictures. I’ll show you some when I’m good and ready. Patience is a virtue.

A family

It’s not easy to start thinking of your children as real human beings. Not so long as they’re playing with snot, running around bare-bottomed and generally behaving like Thing One and Thing Two.

And then one morning you wake up and find a little dinosaur soaking in your bath mug, just as you sleepily put your hand out for a toothbrush.

A little face framed in curls engagingly grins at you and says “Mama, look, dada wants to play silly games with me and is messing up the bed”. The man playing peekaboo lowers the counterpane in shock.

A little boy patters down the corridor to put away his plate and glass unasked, and obligingly gets a fresh bottle of cold water for his parents at the dining table.

A little girl lifts up a cold glass and places it on a coaster with – “We mustn’t leave marks on the table..”

Two little children demand their own kiddy living room under the stair case so that they can entertain their friends and decorate it with their  school made handiwork and a couple of books.

You stare at your old man and find the same question in his eyes … When did this go from being the house of two adults and little mewling brats, to the home of a family of four? When did they become human?!

Perhaps somewhere around the time they began to invest in this home emotionally?

And oh – thank you all for the birthday wishes. I am having a great day  – possibly the best birthday ever!

When the weekend is wet and rainy

…. and your knees are a mess. All you do is sit in a corner, grab your kids’ paints and get busy (always good to be local guardian to young cousins you can bully into painting with you and washing your brushes).

It’s not the best I can do but the brain and the fingers are rusty. Give it another couple of months and I can be that famous artist in a wheelchair!

Notes from the suburbs

In no particular order…

  1. To me, the suburbs have come to be defined by lack of option (and I’ve been here all of three days so I really shouldn’t be commenting just yet!). Lack of option about moving there, lack of housing options – yes I know you can get from 1 bhk penthouses to sprawling mansions – but there are 14 others just like yours. Nothing unique about it (Another brick in the wall now plays in the back of my head like the soundtrack to my life) except maybe the different colour curtains peeking through your windows. It means taking Amul Milk instead of Mother Dairy because that is what your local guy supplies. It means buying Vim instead of Odopic because that would mean trekking to the next market.
  2. It means bowing to monopoly. The cook servicing my building isn’t the best and is quite a nasty creature, but I can’t get another from the neighbouring building, whose cooking I might prefer, who knows how to make idlis, because they wont cut in on each other’s turf. The third time it happened I was tempted to push her over my 13th floor balcony and watch her go floating down screaming. To say nothing of pricing. The last one told me she won’t wash up the cooker and wok she’d used because it wasn’t the building policy. I told her that building policy could kiss my ass. This is my house, I am paying, so things are done my way  – so she could like it or lump it. She agreed. I think a little firmness is required. They are used to yuppies who don’t have time or the courage to argue with them.
  3. There is a uniform. Within 12 hours of hiring the cook she mistook me for a maid. I was down at the swimming pool with the kids and she entered the lift with me. I smiled at her, and continued to instruct my maid in Bengali on lift usage for days when I am not around. The cook began to get rather chatty with me and I replied politely. It was only after I walked into the house and began to talk to my mother in English that she asked me – are you the person I met yesterday, the one that hired me? Hmm… my simple work wear cotton salwar kameez obviously didn’t pass muster. Or else I shouldn’t have been at the pool, minding my own kids. When I met her the day before I had been in my home uniform of little faded cotton Sarojini Nagar sundress – which was probably more madam-like than my expensive pure cotton patiala set! From now on, it has to be shorts or capris if I plan to be recognised as mother and not maid!
  4. Men in elbow length ladies gloves. Yes, I get that the harsh sun burns your skin but it still looks bloody weird! I can still handle it on the bikers. But on the man sitting inside an AC car, I can only imagine that its vanity!
  5. The foliage. Somehow, nobody seems to be planting anything other than frangipani and palms. I know they are fast growing and hardy, but almost all buildings have only those and nothing else. No mango, leechi, guava, jackfruit, neem, nothing! It is truly fast food culture. Plant something that will grow fast and cover up the dry red countryside.
  6. Distance. I am going nuts having to plan my day. I am not a planner by nature and its not like me to work my day out well in advance. I know I will have to do it now, but it goes against my haphazard, easy going temperament. I am actually down to making lists these days and then staring at them in horror and wanting to burn them.
  7. The last one is something I can’t define. There is something very self indulgent about the way I live now. Within a gated community, with 100% power backup and water too (trust me, I don’t miss the lack of them!). But it seems as though my life has shrunk to fit into 10 acres or so and will stay that way. Walk within the compound, befriend those in the building, swim right there, play a game of basketball within the boundary walls, call the local store to deliver your goods, take a lift to go down (well, with my knees I shouldn’t be complaining!) and more. It’s almost as though I’ve got the world to stop and just focus on making things convenient for me. It’s taken the struggle out of my daily life and being the contrary person I am, I am complaining! It just somehow reminds me of those fake snow and ocean amusement parks where for a while you leave the real world out. No doubt my two hour commute each way, is enough to make up for any other lack of struggle but I feel stupid looking around the complex and getting excited over the presence of a doctor. It reminds me of living in a real organic city and having doctors, grocery stores and dry cleaners all living cheek by jowl with you. Not this orderly way of rows and rows of residences and a neat little pocket of 5 shops.
  8. I now get nostalgic each time I hear someone mention the word Delhi. Because really, I don’t live there anymore. Yesterday I went to drop the keys off with the old landlord and I noticed the repairs have already begun. And the first thing to go were my Warli figures; wiped out, along with all other traces of us having spent five years there. A man was filling sacks with the mud and plants from my tub and dumping them on the road. Blank walls stared back at me. This wasn’t really home. Home was the place where my babies were squealing in a swimming pool, threatening to jump off the 13th floor and running up and down the stairs of the duplex. I shut the door on the corridor and slowly came down the stairs one last time.  Funnily, my knees don’t ache anymore.
  9. Oh – and I had to add a new tag to my list. Gurgaon.