My mother and her sister (my aunt) are close. They talk almost everyday. Sometimes, they argue and fight and, sometimes they rant about the daily grind, together. Nonetheless, they talk everyday! And, sometimes twice a day. After the recent Chennai floods, the phone calls have increased. My aunt has been understandably quite upset and shaken for a long time. Although my uncle and aunt weren’t there during the floods (God has been kind as they were attending a marriage far from Chennai), their home was in tatters when they had returned. Considering both are religious to the core, they were shattered to see their home in shambles. It seems when the Chembarapakam dam released tonnes of water, it not only brought dirt but also carcasses of animals that had drowned. Not only did that leave an inescapable stench in the house, but also the thick layers of debris, that covered the walls and the floor. The view was quite gory. The heavy teak wood furniture was hurled across the room. Most of the electrical appliances were done for! Also, my aunt who loves her sarees – (each one a masterpiece) lost almost a major percentage of them. A newly purchased laptop was gone too. The dining table which is also made of teak was upturned. Of course, the damage was materialistic and, things that were lost could be bought. My uncle who is quite a strong and an optimistic person, handled the troubled phase with elan. He told my aunt, “Things could have been far worse. God is kind!” And, he immediately began with the cleaning operations. However, my aunt remained troubled. It was perhaps the shock of having faced the aftermath of a trauma her neighbours had experienced first hand, that haunted her for days. She had once mentioned how her neighbour was escorted out in the flood relief operations by dangling on a rope and then, landing in a boat. The experiences she heard from around the place depressed her more. And, her depression was quite rubbing off on uncle, who turned to my parents for counselling her. Usually, among my mother and aunt, the latter is aggressive. So, it was getting difficult for my mother to counsel her at times, as my aunt (who has been quite the protected child and the pampered of the four siblings) would just shut her ears and ramble deliriously about every little thing that may have gone wrong in the past. Beyond a point, my father intervened and considering that he is the elder most, my aunt mellowed down. He later talked to her almost every day, explaining to her about why one needs to take life in its stride and that, we have no control over Nature’s ways.
Few weeks have passed by then. Now , my aunt (who is an interesting subject as you all may have understood by now) in one of the conversations, came up with one of her old rants again, about the lost sarees and the papers of the students that had been corrected and, all that was lost. My mother could surely have made an excellent psychologist and a counsellor as she is capable of hearing people out, no matter how many times the same topic surfaces. So, my father joined in between and advised my aunt – “Now that you are moving to a new place shortly, make sure you have minimum or say, bare essentials! Don’t accumulate what you do not need and what, you cannot maintain.”
And my aunt retorted in her usual self–
“We have bare essentials only. A huge sofa set is a must. Where else will people sit and relax?“
Then there is this huge dining table. Where else will we sit and eat?
There is the huge teak wood bedstead with a huge mattresses. Where else would we sleep?
As far as kitchen is concerned, besides the gas stove, a microwave, an electric cooker, and a toaster are absolute essentials! And then, the utensils – you know are requirements and not elements of luxury.
Then, there is the rocking chair. Of course, where else will you sit and read?
The cushions, the pillows, the bedsheets, the curtains, the cupboards to stack clothes are not luxuries but a necessity. The huge flower vases and the many small showpieces and all the shebang are useful during the Navaratri Golu.
Then, a desktop, mobiles and laptops are a part and parcel of our lives. How can we survive without a phone these days? Apparently, social networking was a huge help during the flood phase.
And then, who can survive Chennai summers without ACs?”
And, her list of ‘bare essentials’ went on for a long time. My father had already left the conversation in between. Later, the discussion resumed at the dinner table between us. My mom continued, “You know, my sister is not absolutely wrong about the bare essentials. Let’s say the needs have increased.” We all sat silently for a long while after which my spoke slowly, “Your sister is right about the ‘increase’ part. However, it is not the needs but the desire to possess objects that appease our desires, that has increased. We have survived pretty well without using the ‘bare essentials’ in our own home, that have been more of sitting ducks than having been put to good use.. Common, you and I grew up in homes, where we sat down on a mat and, the guests did the same too. We ate with our hands. Also, we sat on the floor and ate. After having food, we sat in Vajrasan for fifteen minutes. We slept on the mats that were spread on the floor. The sofas, the bed stead and the dining table had a wonderful substitute in the form of a multi utility mat. Besides, we had hard and sleek cotton pillows that are now replaced by cushions that are the size of gigantic teddy bears! We used to sit in ramrod postures when studying. A study table was a prized possession of our grandfathers who would use it for signing their pension receipts and other stuff. Many a time, a study table those days would also contain a medicine cabinet and a stack of neatly arranged newspapers and magazines. But then, those are now a thing of a past. Apparently in current times, bare essentials have become a poor man’s needs and comforts have become our desires today. We are accumulating stuff either to show people what we have and how much we have or, because we have stumbled on a mental roadblock that we cannot survive without comforts as much as without the bare minimum”
Even as my own home is decked up with all that defines – what soothes the eyes, I knew deep down inside that he is right. If we were to adopt a simple living, all we would need is a couple of multi utility mats, a few utensils, a limited number of clothes, and some books to read. But then somewhere down the line, we have fallen for the charms of objects that only accentuate the decor of the house. Other than that, they have little or no use. Let’s say, our needs have been coupled with greed. I remember in my growing years, how my father had taught me and mother about the benefits of sitting on the floor and having food. And considering, we have a dining table, we have never used it for dining purposes. We have three huge bed rooms in our house with beds and mattresses and yet, we put the bed on the floor and sleep. This quality has helped me a lot in my later years when I stayed at different places for work. I could adjust anywhere and everywhere with little or, no comforts. Even today, while I am at my parents’ home, I enjoy returning back to the simple way of life, eating simple food, wearing simple clothes and being comfortable in my own skin (a luxury that evades my avatar of the fauji wife that I am). But as a fauji wife, I have improvised my self a bit. Definitely, my home may seem aesthetically beautiful with all the lampshades, cushions, table mats, bronze bowls, the velakus and what not! And yet, by those standards, my home is much simpler and less decorated than the others in the cant. A major part of me detests the clutter, given my upbringing. But then, that is just my way of looking at it.
However, some thoughts resurface and force me to ponder –
“Why do I really need my home to be some kind of an artsy museum?
“Do I need so many paintings on my wall?
“Do I need flower vases? “
“Do I require so many items of decor for which I have to spend an enormous amount of my time in just making sure they do not break and stay clean and shiny? What ulterior purpose does it serve me other than driving me crazy during the packing and the unpacking – a part and a parcel of every Fauji wife’s life!”
“Why do I own so many crockery pieces when I don’t have to entertain 20-30 guests for lunch or dinner or a high tea everyday? “
“Why do I need so many clothes? How many do I wear them regularly?“
“Do I need so many perfumes, body mists, lip balms, eye liners, eye shadows, lipsticks and all the makeup and body care paraphernalia?”
“Do I need an air fryer or an OTG even though I have an oven?”
“Why do I need to have everything that world has the ability to give, even though I may not necessarily need them in my life?”
Is frugal living looked so down upon? Is our life measured by the way we live, dress up or eat? Is a simple way of dressing up assumed to be classless?
What are your thoughts? Would love to know.