I realise that the reason I have trouble saying No, is because I didn’t hear it much when I was growing up (take a moment to crack your jokes about entitlement). My parents rarely said no to the Mad Sibling or me, and neither was it said to our friends, or theirs. Which meant we constantly had people in our home doing things that were highly inconvenient to us. Early risers would walk in before we’d got out of bed, latecomers would watch us float around with our toothbrushes in our mouths. And this was a joint family. Grandparents, old uncles and aunts come home to die, cousins we were local guardians to, and a surprising number of refugees – Sri Lankan, Palestinian, all sorts. You never knew who you’d bump into in the next room.
We learnt to step around camp beds, speak in whispers if some bed-ridden oldie had just fallen asleep, share one kg of chicken across 30 people and be grateful for the gravy, and to get dressed in the bathroom!
And we learnt to study in the midst of chaos. It’s a wonder we passed our exams at all. If I had a friend over and was blasting Chura ke Dil mera, the sibling would bow his head over his book and block me out. If he had a break and was strumming away, trying to get some Satriani bit just right, with friends, I added my tuppence and kept studying.
The year of my 12th boards, we were sometimes 12-14 of us studying in my room. I recall a friend lying under my bed and studying for his accounts paper, while trying to teach me.
This was my normal, and I was shocked to learn that most people didn’t live like this.
I swore that my kids would have a regular normal home unlike the madhouse I grew up in. And there would be times for friends to come and go. Except that the first time I was tested and the doorbell rang, I opened it, saw a hopeful child waiting there, and opened my mouth to say, ‘Brat is studying, beta’, but strangely the words that came out were, “Come in, darling!” I knew right then, I was incapable of anything else.
Now both my kids do their homework each evening on Skype with their father who lives in another country. I don’t know when they have exams, I don’t know what their homework is. They scan the chapter and send it to him. He reads it, writes questions and mails them back. Then they study over Skype while chatting with him about their day.
This evening the Brat has a friend over, and they’re supposedly studying for a physics paper. Except that this child is a year younger, so the Brat is ‘teaching’ him his physics lesson when he should be studying. The father called on Skype and I steeled myself for chaos. But now all three of them are chatting online and discussing the chapter. We have a new normal in this household. One where we have a houseful, and the OA often on Skype joining the conversation!
I wonder what my kids will seek to change.
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.
For anything I might have left out, go to the decor tag.
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!
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.
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.
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!