Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Imagination and its Disuse

I am on the verge of resolving a quandary of intellect. For ages now, my dissertation has been making minor breakthroughs. I have pieced together bits and nuggest and chunks and jujubes to make what some might say a minor contribution. But, as people across the border from have been saying for a while, ya basta.

I mean really, enough already. This is not supposed to be work weighed down like this. It needs swiftness of purpose and fleetfootedness of feet. It needs flexibility. It needs sleight of imagination. It needs oomph. And I'm going to give it some.

In the hope this this will inspire some thought, here is a piece from a parallel project, one that came out of the dissertation process, but will not go into it.

My house - January 2007

My new studio apartment was all of 400 square feet. My landlords were easygoing and seemed to genuinely treat me like an adult. The space seemed like a canvas for me to fill, inhabit and enjoy. The apartment was on the first floor; the French windows opened out onto a large patio, which overlooked the street. It had a daybed to double up as a couch and a sideboard that could serve as my bookshelf. A frugal wooden table divided the kitchen area from the living room and in-built shelves lined one side of the kitchen counter. A small refrigerator stood guard on the other end and the tiny bathroom was tucked away to one edge behind the sideboard.

I made a list of things I needed. Cupboards, lamps, rugs, floor cushions, soft board, bedcovers, curtains, plates, glasses, wine glasses, cutlery, knives.

On the first day, I took my friend’s advice and stocked my refrigerator. The cheeky salesman at the corner store, a young boy, bantered and flirted as he offered to deliver my large order to the apartment. In relief and gratitude, I dropped off my list and he came by later in the day with milk, eggs, butter, bread, rice, lentils, spices (coriander, cumin, chilli powder, anise, fennel, mustard, turmeric, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves) and Nutella. Later in the day, he brought soap, shampoo, cleaning liquids and washing powder; Lux and Sunsilk and Vim and Surf. He gazed amused at my apartment and its messiness. As I set things down, I caught a whiff of my mother’s kitchen. This kind of “turning into our parents” I could deal with, I thought.

The next item required some serious thought. In the tiny alcove between my refrigerator and the bathroom was enough space for a tiny cupboard; the kind one might read about in children’s books where everything is neatly ordered, small people sized and beautiful to boot. While I enjoy walk-in closets as much as the next consumptive person, there is something so much more interesting about a cupboard. Its musty insides seem to speak of long-forgotten clothes hidden away only to come out in surprising moments of boring lives. One of my favorite activities as a child was to open my parents’ cupboard, to sift through photographs and enchantingly obtuse paperwork (bills, identity cards, old letters where my grandfather writes in equally obtuse longhand to my newly wedded mother). Opening the locker required special permission and parental supervision. So once a week I would sit under the watchful eyes of a parent and work my way through jewelry, gold and silver, tiny and large, ornate and ugly.

So I wanted myself a cupboard too. For this errand, my scooter would suffice. Riding onto the busy street, avoiding faster motorbikes and looming smoking trucks, I made my way to a cane store in the middle of the city. I had passed this store many times on my rides through town and always wondered at the variety of furniture it stocked. Sofas, lamps, bookshelves, coffee tables, chairs, tables, beds, all woven exquisitely from cane and rattan. Cane furniture, I’ve been told, is difficult to clean. Dust settles in the gaps between the strands and makes a home. But cane makes me think of colonial bungalows and gracious hosts and sunlit patios. So I walked in and spoke to the proprietor, a middle-aged man with a lovely moustache. Together, we designed an alcove-sized cupboard and a high-backed chair. He even offered to make a cup-holder for the chair. The furniture would be delivered within two weeks, he assured me. I took with me a an exquisite oval lampshade to hang from the ceiling.

Some things came with me from my parents’ place. An old National Panasonic that my parents had bought the year I was born took pride of place on a rickety cane chair by the door. It played Radio Mirchi, the city’s single FM channel all day long. To this day, I know the lyrics of all the Bollywood film songs released in 2007. I also brought with me books, comics, and cassettes. My comics had been bound meticulously by my father years ago and had been lying in the attic for too long. For a year, they came back to a bookshelf.

In this apartment, I hosted dinners, threw parties, shared drunken secrets, and interviewed respondents. Here, I cooked, talked, gossiped, sang and danced. In this tiny studio of four hundred square feet, people tended to stay. I was never short of company or music.

I had to dismantle everything when I left.