Worn out by the long journey on a rickety bus with sweaty old women carrying children sucking their thumbs, I walked towards my room – my world, my refuge, the place where I would spend most of my resting hours in the next two years in – in the fifth hut, the second last one. I had come so far, halfway across the globe to experience this. Difference. Jumping into this melting pot of exotic Asian beliefs, food, festivals and people. As the sweat spouted from my head and neck and dripped into most uncomfortable places, I pondered on how the oppressive sun ferments and brings out the warmth and colour out of the people. How different from my Scandinavian country mates, frigid in their bearing and bland in their speech!
My thoughts came to a train-wreck stop when I unlocked the bamboo door and entered the room. It was completely bare except for a sheet-covered mattress on a single wooden bed, a study table and chair and a narrow standing wardrobe.
I had to sit on the bed to stop my head from spinning. This was all I was given? Granted, I could go out and buy furniture, comforting reminders of home – no, necessities- the wardrobe certainly would not hold all the clothes in my suitcase! But it took me 10 hours to get here from the nearest city. What with orientation, in-college weekend activities and getting accustomed to the college, I might not be able to go shopping for weeks.
Now, the four bare brick walls face me blankly. Absently, I notice several spots where the paint has peeled off in narrow strips, and where it has been painted over in a reddish-brown hue darker than the original one. I uttered a silent prayer that this would not be a portent of my life here: dull, functional and utterly devoid of personality.
It’s been two weeks since I arrived in
However, my greatest acquisition so far is the set of drawers that I haggled for and bought at a very decent price today at the flea market in Pune, about two hours away by bus. With 3 large drawers and lovely bronze handles, it will definitely make my room look less like a whirlwind had come and gone, sweeping clothes all over the place.
In its own meagre way, my room is beginning to feel like my own, and at least there are hints of beauty here and there. The uneven paint which used to irk my aesthetic senses is now a familiar and comforting sight. Perhaps beauty is truly in the eyes of the beholder. Even that which is ugly can be appreciated in time, nostalgia dimming objective judgment.
Could the reverse be said, though? Could that which is lovely fade in beauty over time? Wasn’t it Keats who said “a thing of beauty is a joy for ever”? Could a beautiful room be appreciated forever, then? I suppose it could. The numerous castles and chateaux in
Perhaps aesthetic beauty was measured by different standards then, but I can’t imagine living in such a lavish setting where even the bookshelves are a work of art and everything has been passed down for generations. However to a scion of one of those old privileged families, the décor of their family mansion may be a source of pride and identity. For me, a child of the post-modern era, I tend to lean towards expressions of personal beliefs and individuality more than traditional styles. Either way, the importance people place on furnishing tells a great deal about them.
As I rush out the door with five minutes to spare till College Meeting starts, I wonder if everything can be interpreted as beautiful, even things like graffiti, if we consider the motivations of the creator. Decoration is a form of art, after all, and “art is what you can get away with”1. In a way, that’s true: art can be more about glamour and prestige than actual artistic quality. Perhaps if I became absurdly famous in 20 years, a picture of my room as it is now would be captioned as “obviously, the refuge of a brilliant mind too busy to bother with aesthetic decoration, spurning common furnishings for a simple lifestyle but incorporating eye-catching elements such as the cushion, poster and drawers.”
Pretension, that’s what it all is.
It’s three more days till school ends, and I leave the humid air of
I remember how much I hated this room when I first came. Now I can’t imagine leaving it. It has become an organic personality; it’s an extension of me. Where else do I head to after a long day of school and activities but my plushy bed covered with soft blankets and cushions in bright clashing colours? What better place could my friends and I stay to chat for hours but on the hand woven carpet that I bought from the market, from the seller who kept grabbing my hand and insisting that the fabric was “of the highest quality, yes ma’am”? I take the time to say goodbye to my room, memorising every detail in my mind before I was to take it apart, strip it of any connection to me till the next owner would come and bring life to it again.
On one wall there are photographs pasted everywhere, black and white, colour, large and small – each one of them marking and immortalising an important moment in my life. My birthday, thousands of miles away from home but surrounded with love from my friends. Sasha, my confidante and every-weather best bud2, is hugging me, smiling and laughing in one photograph. Some of the pictures are of home, with familiar figures that are a source of strength and inspiration for me in my most trying times. Taking them down will take hours, I know - not because of the physical task which is easy enough, just removing the Blu-tack from the walls- but the emotional step of packing all these memories away and storing them for another time, another wall, another place.
My friends’ rooms also show the gradual accumulation of “stuff” – trinkets, souvenirs, things that you have to buy just because it’s a steal – of the past two years. Interestingly, each one reflects the personality and character of the owner. Natalia’s is pristinely clean and tidy, not a speck of dirt to be found anywhere. The décor is tasteful, with framed photographs and watercolour paintings of the
I didn’t consciously set out to decorate my room in such a way, and it feels vastly different from the candy-frosted, pink-and-white interior-designed room that I go back to when I’m home for the holidays in
I pack my room up. I pack my world up.
1 Quote attributed to Andy Warhol.
2 Best bud, a shorter way of saying best buddy or best friend.