Bungalows with gardens, as residences, were taken for granted till we finally settled in Bombay in the mid sixties (it was still Bombay then!). That was when I was introduced to the boxed in way of life. The size of the box depended on social and financial status and, of course, inheritance. The smaller apartments were classified as either ‘shoebox size’ or ‘matchbox size’ and not much imagination is required to visualize these homes.
We finally moved into a one-bedroom apartment, small by the standards of the time but spacious by today’s. I found it claustrophobic. Yet, there are those who make their home in an 8 x 10 room, furnished with a bed, some folding chairs, a table, a cupboard, a fridge and a TV. The kitchen is a small platform at one end of the room and the bathing area a curtained-off alcove. Families of four, six and more have grown up happily in such cramped spaces. I have often wondered how.
In the last few months, we have had to share our living space with a burly, hirsute Haryanvi – the ward boy who cares for my husband in the daytime. Since he has, necessarily, to share the bedroom, I take myself off to the armchair by the window in a neighbouring room. When I am not cooking or pottering, this chair becomes my comfort zone – a place to read, to crochet, to daydream, to pray and to watch the cats or the rest of the world go by. There is elbow room for my cup of tea and the reading of the moment – books which take me to different places and through other people’s minds. Thread, hook and pattern dwell in the bag by my feet.
The chair, transformed by antimacassars and cushions, observes the seasons too: Christmas, Easter, Summer and the monsoon. Christmastime is special because I can sit next to the Nativity scene and take in the beauty of each hand carved figure, testament to a talent lovingly employed. At Easter, the aroma of Easter eggs fills the air; some received, some waiting to be gifted. Summer exposes me to the full heat of the sun, no tanning parlour required! And come the monsoon, the displays of thunder and lightning fill the window frame. The smell of freshened earth rises in the steam of the first rain and as the clouds let down their bounty, I sit snug and secure in my little world, appreciating the ‘awesome wonder’ on the other side.
It is a small space, confined and clearly demarcated. If I stretch my arms, I can almost touch the walls on either side. And, yet, here I am extraordinarily content. Could it be because the heart is at home?