Palaces became mansions that turned bungalows which shrunk to residences that appeared apartments which finally shrank to the houses that we live in today – small scale huts, or grudgingly and very slightly magnified versions of the floor plans. Nanotech has driven out/into architecture and our residences are now resi-denser – any space is space wasted and room anywhere means room for improvement. Small homes are the only homes in an overcrowded city and there is no point dwelling (pun intended) on our circumstances. Or is there?
Living rooms were the nucleus of the entire household once – several square feet of free floor space, comfortable sofas scattered across the room and beams of sunlight streaming in, lent an ambience of luxury to the flat. Today, stackable plastic chairs comprise most of our upholstery and we proudly label sofas that can barely accommodate one-and-a half bums as loveseats. Who buys couches these days? Sofa-cum-beds(-cum-recliners-cum-study tables) are the only way to go. Bookshelves were accorded the place of pride and framed photographs and paintings were prominent placed; until the one-size-fits-all concept called ‘The Unit’ came along – this wooden panacea for the space-starved essentially consists of shelf upon useful shelf that contains everything from the TV and music system to phoren bric-a-brac and the token Harry Potter. The family computer often obstructs the right-of-way while the affluent purchase wall-mounted plasma sets which occupy airspace that would otherwise have been wasted. The living room now goes by the relatively non-committal moniker known as the ‘Hall’ – you may still call it your living room but you’ve got to agree that there ain’t much room to do much living.
The concept of threshold is obsolete – the rich and famous eliminated it by having lifts open directly into their homes while those of the middle-class that weren’t fortunate enough to have one, banish their shoe-racks to the building’s corridors – guests are welcome but their footwear is not.
Kitchens have gone from spacious to Spartan – cumbersome gas cylinders have been replaced by piped gas, microwaves rest atop fridges and the larder is represented by last week’s bulk shopping from Reliance Fresh that still clutters the platform. We happily spend thousands on modular kitchens (maximum utensils in the minimum utilisable space) and use the sink to store the rest. An idol-heavy stone slab nailed to the wall is the vestige of the erstwhile pooja room while a folding table and collapsible chairs banished to a corner represent the dining room, for the latter no longer exists. But the baap of all these is the kitchenette – inspired by little girls’ toy kitchen sets and serving the single undivided room fashionably called the ‘studio apartment’. Eat without eating into space.
A balcony is actually a full-fledged room over which the builder forgot to put a roof. Many of us remedy this deficiency by putting up a corrugated iron ceiling for protection from the elements and filling it with large ungainly objects like old Godrej cupboards and never-used treadmills. I even have friends who live on rent by calling their landlords’ balconies home.
Then there is the mysterious concept known as the flower-bed area. This is a six-by-two stretch of sunken floor that harbours Pappu’s bicycle and the washing machine but no flowers, and was invented for the express purpose of preventing arthritis. The ‘garden’ is none other than a combination of money plants, artificial flowers, Christmas trees, the single Tulsi in your Aangan and Pappu’s dead or dying Environmental Studies project.
The bedroom, thank God, is still unmolested, though storage cots and bunk beds that precipitate both comfort and little kids have begun to make an appearance. The bathroom, unfortunately, has been ravaged. Amalgamating the water closet and the shower closet has forced us to preen where we poo, with the wash basin thrown in for good measure. The Orient has emulated the West by substituting miniscule commodes for the old-fashioned (and hygienic) Indian loos; if you’ve noticed, they occupy lesser space. Brush, blush and flush all within two paces.
Walking five strides in any one direction can cause irreparable brain damage and attempting the Moonwalk in the confines of your bedroom leads to multiple fractures. Terms such as ‘built-up’ and ‘super built-up’ are weapons of psychological warfare that builders employ against us so that we may labour under the delusion that we’ve actually got the 650 square feet of living space that we pawned jewellery and double-mortgaged the ancestral house for, though our kids do their homework on the dining table and Grandma still has to sleep in the hall. Smaller houses bring neighbours closer together, literally – close enough for you to inspect every crater in the visage of the chaand ka tukda in your saamnewaali khidki and be informed of every twist and turn in their family crises.
And yet we put in hours of overtime, pay exorbitant maintenance bills and accept the loss of privacy to finally own a house of our own and call it home.
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