The decor itch was always there, but I never scratched it until a couple of years ago. Growing up in Chennai in a south Indian middle-class tambram (SITB) family, decor or decorating was the frantic dusting of the tea table before an athai or a chittappa stopped by for afternoon filter coffee, or a hasty swish of the “show-case” with that ubiquitous yellow mciro-fiber cloth before relatives came from Kerala, or Andhra or Coimbatore for an annual family event. Sure, we had all the trappings of a typical south Indian household--giant picture tube TV, a wooden show case of dark brown formica, with shelves stopping a mere inches from the ceiling (pray what could you possibly “display” and “show” on a shelf 10 feet above average eye-level?), some brass lamps from my mother’s trousseau and perhaps a stray bric-a-brac from a vacation nobody remembers.Lest you think otherwise, this was a household not scant of love, and affection and joy and lazy Sunday afternoon lunches taken in front on the TV watching a national award-winning mallu movie. But, a center fold for the Elle decor, it was not.So that itch began 20 years back. Why couldn’t we replace the sofa covers at home every so often i would wonder. Why not polish the brass lamp? Or, display Appa’s paintings more seductively? Perhaps our decor deprived yet oh-so-typical SITB home was also reflective of our conservative, salt of the earth sensibilities... a pretty lamp here or a nice wall art there ain’t gonna put food on the table or score a 100 on math exams. Who cares how the walls look if you feed folks great food and supply enough gossip/intellectual nourishment to keep them coming back?It’s that middle-class SITB ethos that I try to fight everyday now, as I re-arrange for a record 15th time, an arrangement of pottery on top of a kitchen cabinet in my suburban home in Atlanta.
Does it really matter that the male version of the mask be hung a few inches below the female version?(Purchased at a fair in New Delhi, knowing exactly where i would put it up!) What am I going for here? Artistic asymmetry? A statement on gender roles? Provoke a repartee from my husband? That's my SITB ethos. But the grown-up adult me, trying desperately to shed that ethos, says if it matters to me, then that’s all that matters! So, if it matters to me that I place, oh I don’t know, 20 cuttings of the money plants in tea cups and coffee mugs and steel tumblers around the house, just so they give me that few minutes of unadulterated pleasure, then that’s all that matters! SITB ethos, you may rest in peace!My new-found ethos is this: I like to coming home to pretty things, however shallow that sounds. I like bright, brilliant hues, and I like anything in miniature. I like to be reminded of the places I’ve seen and the people I’ve met. Hence, the masks on the mantel, or the tiny elephants. And the book marks. I collect book marks!I don’t like to splurge too much on prettying up the house, just because a) we are renting and b) well, at the end of the day, i would still like to prioritize where my money goes-$50 for a papasan from Pier 1 or put it away for a day’s worth of expenses on our next Central American jaunt?
My green thumb has come a long way-from naively feeding my one meager house plant with some boiled toor dal not knowing anything about how plants produce food (I assumed that somehow the dal would decompose and introduce its nutrients into the soil; the stench from the rotting lentils several days later merely underscored my naivete) to mixing chicken feed and water soluble one-one-one nutrients exclusively meant to promote green growth!Enjoy! And, thanks in advance to folks whose ideas I may have stolen artfully re-interpreted
GS works in International Development for an international NGO in Atlanta GA. She contributes regularly to India Currents and Khabar, two south Asian magazines published out of California and Georgia. More recently, her work can be found on Muse India and on JMWW, both online literary journals. She was born, brought-up and attended college in Chennai, India, and Atlanta GA. When not traveling for work, she travels with her husband for leisure, and together, they have traveled to Central America, the Caribbean and North Africa. When not writing reports for work, Girija writes for pleasure- about their travels and critiquing works of fiction, and non-fiction.
Bet you can't wait for part 2 now!! Have you joined the Green Thumb Decor.... its open all of April... :-)