Source – Business Standard
The simple sofa set in what passes for our drawing room – but in reality is the living room, as I spend most of my time there – has not done too badly, considering it will celebrate its 25th birthday next year. Its lines have a mild elegant turn, but what’s really likable is that it’s light yet firm, giving loyal support to my ageing back.
So when we were deciding on how to do up our Kolkata flat, I was all for transporting it from Bangalore. The wife, of course, thought I was daft, and sat down with Bapon, a relative of a relative who did the interiors, to decide things. They chose a rather impressive-looking design whose cushions go down deep when you plant yourself on them. That makes it posh — but quite unkind to someone with a bad back who sits poring over newspapers for hours.
I can, of course, sit on the dining table’s straight-backed chairs, but am rather resentful about them. Visitors compliment the somewhat ornate look of the curved legs. But try dragging one a bit and you will realise that the slightly period look has come with period weight. I am keeping my fingers crossed about what will happen when we get much older and moving a heavy chair can be a chore.
Bapon’s work has been praised by virtually anyone who has come to visit us, but I have sulked right through ever since I was firmly ticked off early in the doing-up phase. I thought I was being smart and innovative and suggested keeping the water pipes in the bathrooms exposed — that is, not embedded in the wall. Other than it looking different and what I considered a bit avant-garde, my suggestion, I felt, had practicality. What if a pipe or a joint sprang a leak? If the pipes were embedded, you would have to dig and damage them. But the duo didn’t buy it. My plea that exposed piping was what defined Pompidou Centre in Paris, a landmark in architectural design, cut no ice.
My instinctive attitude all along has been: what you use must be convenient and comfortable, be it clothes or furniture. And when it came to buildings, being airy and well-lighted, or cool of its own accord in the Indian summer, was important. Looking good or smart came way afterwards and could be tolerated if it did not cost an additional bomb. I first became aware of this when, as a young scribe, I went to the Khajuraho dance festival decades ago. A special pavilion was put up where specially designed furniture was on display. All went well until I got it into my head to sit down on one of the sofas. I realised I had dropped a brick when my comment thereafter, that the stuff was a bit uncomfortable, drew sidelong glances and made someone mumble that looks also mattered.
Over time I have realised that putting a premium on functionality was an idea that was slowly gaining ground. Urban planning till the sixties set out to rebuild the world in terms of planners’ grandly conceived designs and according to the dictates of weighty theories that defined what should be laid out and how. People who would actually live in the tower blocks or use the geometrically laid-out streets were seldom consulted. Good design was assumed to be good for them — and no questions asked.
How people felt and lived, their conveniences, and how they coalesced and formed living communities have only in recent times taken precedence over designers’ notions of what is good. Quite fascinatingly, as consulting people before redoing their neighbourhoods has become the norm, separately and quite independently, the term “crowdsourcing” (evolving ideas totally from user feedback) has also come into vogue.
I have felt somewhat vindicated by all this; but nothing prepared me for what happened recently. The slightly upmarket apartment block where force of circumstances has found us is barely 10 years old, and all its systems should be running as good as new. But, lo and behold, what was that dark patch on the wall, roughly where all the pipes from two adjoining bathrooms congregated?
The plumber affirmed what was suspected. There was a leak somewhere inside, to get to which the mason, with his hammer and chisel, had to break down a good bit of well-finished wall and tiled floor. Out of sheer magnanimity, I stopped short of telling the wife that this would have been unnecessary if the pipes had not been concealed.