Beginnings are always beautiful; and setting up a new home is one such lovely experience. Most of us start out small — the home of our dreams is more about feeling than about facade and it becomes an adventure of sorts, with many twists and turns as more characters enter the tale.
When we took the plunge into a nomadic married life in the military, we were not unduly worried by the prospect of shifting house every couple of years. Temporary shelters were usually provided and we made do, somehow stamping them with our personal seal within about 24 hours — ready to have friends drop in or relatives stop by.
A couple of extra mattresses over our strategically placed trunks, skilfully pinned colourful bedspreads and voila, we had as many settees and beds as we needed!
There was a kind of romance to all the adjusting we had to do during those first few months (in each place) — and when at last a proper brick and cement house with tiled flooring and actual rooms was allotted to us, we felt like Midas and Croesus and Onassis all rolled into one. We could hang curtains on windows and doors to beautify our personal space — no more did we have to string them across a barn-like structure that needed to be separated into sections to create bedroom and drawing room and kitchen!
Then there was the sometimes sorry state of the furniture we were allotted: sofas varied in size and comfort and colour within the same ‘set’, while tables and chairs did not and were duplicated in the same dimensions and colour in all the homes down the line.
Standard military issue
Yet, despite the sameness of everyone’s houses externally, there was as much variety as there were people because all our energies went into trying to make standard military issue take on a designer look.
We grumbled from time to time, but very few of us seriously considered getting our own furniture: only the well-heeled could take the risk of making furniture and then carting it from place to place!
We were therefore halfway to retirement before we gave a thought to what we would actually like to rest our tired bones on. By then we were well acquainted with the family’s foibles and failings and many choices that we would have made had we been a couple of newlyweds were discarded.
Delicate glass topped tables and slim legged chairs would not withstand our children’s rough handling. Intricately carved furniture that we so admired wherever we saw it would not survive long with a caretaker averse to dusting and cleaning.
Sleek and spruce white would show sticky fingerprints, black would highlight the dust that settled on it.
As each alternative was cast aside and we eliminated possibilities, we realised that we had reached the equivalent of painting ourselves into a corner: there was nowhere to go and nothing to choose from other than the most nondescript shapes and lines.
Blandly smooth surfaces, tamely neutral colours, nothing fancy, nothing even remotely nice looking. All functional and practical. Furniture with a purpose — for a home that could survive the minimum of care.
How rejuvenating it is therefore to watch now as a young couple who has not to worry about picking up and leaving town at a moment’s notice and has only their individual tastes to guide them goes all out for their first home together — confident that they can keep surfaces shining and hearts smiling for all the days of their lives!
Cheryl Rao is a journalist based in India.