Several houses in this gated community in which we live are being refurbished: some getting a major face-lift and some going through minimal changes. We look at them transforming before our eyes as we walk by every morning and wonder why we should content ourselves with the same old windows and doors and other accoutrements that were put in by the builders more than three decades ago.
A large part of our lives was spent in “allotted” accommodation. Being transferred from one town to another and shifting from one house to another within that town was the norm during the decades my husband spent in military service. We considered ourselves really fortunate if we landed in a place where we had a couple of rooms to move into immediately and were over the moon if we got “permanent” accommodation right from the get-go.
In those temporary shelters or full-fledged houses, we grew accustomed to making do with whatever we got and we felt at home within a day or so of entering them. How much did it take to make a home, anyway, we thought. A room or two, a bed, a table, a couple of chairs, a stove, a cupboard or a few shelves…and we were set. If there was more than that, great! If not, so what? We still had a place to cook, a place to eat, a place to relax – and if it was all done in one room, well, that saved us a lot of energy, didn’t it?
Given enough time in a cantonment town, we would get a proper house, and as the officer moved up the ladder, he eventually had earmarked houses – the height of luxury for us.
There were always adjustments to be made: whether we found ourselves with a tiny kitchen and had to do our chopping at the dining table, or whether we discovered an unexpected veranda where we could lounge with a book behind a screen of strategically placed flower pots and escape from the rigors of the day.
Sometimes, we couldn’t understand why an inconvenient nook had been created in a bedroom or why the electric switch panel was prominently positioned in the drawing room, or why one particular water stain just would not go away – but we found ways to circumvent such challenges. A cleverly placed table with a vase in that offending nook, a conveniently sized portrait over the switch panel, rearrangement of the sofas and chairs to hide the leakage: there was always an alternative, a shift, an upward move or a downward one to camouflage what we could not control.
This habit of making do with what we got followed us into our own home. We took what we got in this community of retirees rather than going through the effort (and expense) of building our own houses as our parents had done. Sure, I would have liked a larger kitchen and a walk-in cupboard – and if we are going there, why not an attic and a basement, as well, to store the treasures we have collected – but since we did not have those luxuries, we just sorted out, discarded, pushed something against the wall, hid something else in the loft, and moved on!
That does not seem to be the way things are done around us now. Instead, using the same framework that we have, walls are partially removed, doors are shifted, arches are added, windows are converted to doors, and other changes are made to expand rooms so that a bedroom or kitchen is of the desired size and facing a “suitable” direction.
Were we unimaginative or undemanding or just more willing to adapt as we tailored our needs and desires to suit the space we had – and why are we not so inclined to do so now?
- Cheryl Rao is a writer based in India