A table, a wooden chair, a cupboard and a single bed — the recipe of life for a minimalist. I spent four years of my engineering life surrounded by nothing more than those four pieces of furniture. Life was good. I was content.
During my time, two years to be precise, at the Indian Institute of Management Ahmedabad (IIMA), the rock-hard wooden chair, a confidant with whom I had shared space for four years as an engineering student, was replaced by its sophisticated, extravagant cousin — a nice revolving chair. Elegantly decked with a semi-soft, orange-coloured cushion, the opulent chair took me on a whirling spree on her swift wheels on my first day at IIMA. I got my first taste of grandeur and luxury.
Wonderful! I could now speed from the door of my room to the balcony while comfortably resting in my chair. I could spin around to sort of dance to music blasting out of my speakers. The small room still had enough space to fit a hired cooler and my jumbo suitcases.
The dorm room offered me all the warmth I needed to call it my home. Within those cacophonous walls of the school, philosophy bumbled among the intellectual denizens. As a river carves out its trail through an even land enclosed by the abundant horizon, so did my imagination from the space enclosed by the four walls of the room. A ‘Philosopher’s Lane’, as I named it, ran through the length of the room, creating for me an untouched space to walk along in the quest of exploring the meaning of life. Answers outstripped questions. I leaned on the lane, nevertheless, for answers not found elsewhere. I learned how to walk alone on that path.
Eventually, I graduated and moved to the dusty avenues of Gurgaon. Hastily, I rented a fully-furnished studio apartment. The limited space in the apartment with a kitchen barely the size of a small bathroom brought to life the robot latent deep within me. When I used to move three steps from the kitchen to my left, I used to reach the television; a step more to the right used to lead me to the fridge. At a half-turn, the large bed used to greet me. My Philosopher’s Lane adjusted itself to the state of my mind and being. I tried to etch the lane along the stretch of the small balcony of my apartment, but the Philosopher found my proposal ludicrous. Strolling in my room with a book in hand was a privileged tour reserved for holidays at home.
Strange, I thought. Strange is the way we transition from the vastness of a house to adapt to a dorm room, realise our dreams of a new house with a fresh definition of a comfortable space, and again set the same framework for our children to improve upon. We redefine the idea of a home from a house with a courtyard to an apartment with a balcony, from letting our kids play with their cousins to teaching them how to play at play school.
I wondered what my children would think of a studio apartment. Would it be too big or too small for them? Was my “comfortable space” a product of my own experiences?
Strange, I thought. Strange how a single room means a house to a family of eight or ten. I had spent 13 months working as a freelance social worker with the underprivileged in Kolkata before I joined IIMA. A brick from the wall of their single-room house was missing. Folded newspapers took turns through the rectangular hole to fight the sun, the rain, and the wind. They slept with their legs curled up to create some space for everyone. They flashed rich smiles at tourists’ cameras amazed by their poverty.
Philosopher’s Lane?! The luxuries of my own thoughts troubled me.
I stopped pursuing that lane.